More Goliard poetry: Now, now

Now, now meadows are green
Now, now all the young girls
are happy and the earth
puts on a smiling face.
Now has Summer appeared
she comes in happy flowers dressed.

The wood is turning green,
the fruit trees are in leaf,
now harsh winter is gone;
For you, O happy youth,
with joyful flowers now
love brings maidens.
So let’s go forth and fight
under Venus’s flag,
let’s turn away sadness
we here who are in flower.
Just seeing and talking
hope and love take us to joy!

This is a Goliard lyric for spring. It seems appropriate for the time of year. I have taken some liberties with the translation because it is rather difficult to get the Latin right. Read it yourself and see what you think.

Iam iam virent prata
iam iam virgines
iocundantur, terre
rident facies.
Estas nunc apparuit,
ornatusque florum lete claruit.

Nemus revirescit
frondent frutices,
hiems seva cessit;
leti iuvenes,
congaudete floribus,
amor allicit vos iam virginibus.

Ergo militemus
simul Veneri,
tristia vitemus
nos qui teneri:
visus et colloquia,
spes amorque trahant nos ad gaudia!

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Ibn Sahl- The earth has donned a green cloak

The earth has donned a green cloak
and dew spreads pearls across the hills,
the flowers awake, seeming like camphor,
and penetrating musk the dust;
the lilies salute the roses,
a pearly mouth that kisses a red cheek.
The river between its banks seems
a sword hanging from a green sword-belt,
and the zephyr that runs across its surface,
a hand that writes on this page;
you might say, if it shines like silver,
that the sun’s hand converts it into yellow gold,
or even that a cheek, that was white,
goes blushing for shame.
The birds rise up, giving prayer
having the whole wood as their stage.

Ibn Sahl of Seville from Locus Amoenus (Barcelona, 2009)

Ibn Sahl (d.1251) “his love poems as well as his melancholic descriptions of evenings, have captivated his listeners, and his moaxajas are still present in the musical repertory of the North of Africa.”

Locus Amoenus is an attempt to gather together in one volume the lyric poetry of seven centuries of what we might call medieval verse. We have already seen some of the Goliard poetry of the Cancionero de Ripoll. Now I have turned my attention to the south, to Sevilla. There are personal reasons for this: I am not an academic writer; the poetry follows the patterns of my life.
Last week I went to Sevilla with my daughter who is a keen student of archaeology. We went to Mérida first and then on to Itálica and Sevilla. As you might have guessed, her interest is Roman culture and she is currently on a dig in Valladolid which will hopefully find evidence of the immediately pre-Roman civilization in the area.
I was struck by the continuities. Imagining myself into a Roman villa, with its pools surrounded by arcades and it gardens set into patios, then going to the Alcázar in Sevilla and walking around the Jewish quarter afterwards, I started to think that the invention of the patio was necessary to the place; that it was not really important who invented it, whether it was Roman or Arab or Jewish. The fact that there were Muslim craftsmen working on Christian Pedro the Cruel’s palace speaks to me profoundly about these continuities. States, religions and rulers go to war. People get on with living, borrow good ideas, steal designs and thoughts and talk across cultures unless they are coached in fanatacism by their leaders. This would mean that Arab poetry should be intelligible to us.
It is, isn’t it? I love that metaphor of the wind on the river surface like the hand that writes on the page. It is something that makes the world of sense when I look at the page of Arabic in the dual language edition.
Here I am going to translate from the introduction, by Carlos Alvar and Jenaro Talens, to help you understand what a moaxaja is.

The earliest testimony of lyric poetry in romance language comes from the jarchas, short compositions that are found at the end of some poems in Arab or Hebrew (called moaxajas), the authors of which are, except in a very few instances, from between the mid eleventh-century andthe end of the twelfth-century, contemporary with the goliards and a half century before the first Provençal troubadors.
   The jarcha is the base from which the moaxaja is built and in many cases it exists apart from it, so that one jarcha may be used by various different authors of moaxajas. It is not surprising then that modern critics should have suggested the chronological precedence of the jarcha and, just as much, its character as testimony to traditional lyric poetry pre-dating the troubadors.
   The jarchas make up the end of the last strophe of the moaxajas, compositions written in classic Arab or in Hebrew, although the jarcha can appear in any of these two languages, in its vulgar form (the most common cases) and, partially or completely, in Romance language (Mozárabe). However, the Arab or Hebrew alphabet is always used, even in jarchas in Romance language, so that the written form is Semitic, whilst the morphosyntaxis comes from Latin. This mix (aljamía) poses considerable problems in the interpretation of the texts, which are made worse by the fact that Semitic languages only rarely have vowels in the texts.
   Jarchas are usually formed by just one strophe (verse) of four lines, with rhyming on the even lines and not on the uneven lines; the lines are of six or eight syllables. This is the most common metric scheme but it is not the only one.
   As for the content, they are, fundamentally, love songs put into the mouth of a disconsolate woman, who complains to her mother about the absence of her lover and about the suffering she goes through because of her love. In spite of all this, the girl expresses a joyful and passionate love, which might be related to other compositions of a similar type in the European west: villancicos or carols, Frauenlieder, chansons de toile, etc.

[Note in Spanish a strophe is what we typically call a verse in English and a verse is what we typically call a line.]
Locus Amoenus, Carlos Alvar, Jenaro Talens, Jarcha, Moaxaja, Ibn Sahl, Sevilla, Lyric poetry

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Cancionero de Ripoll-  In April Time

Cancionero de Ripoll- In April time…

In April time, when the wood is decked green
and the field with rosy flowers is dressed,
tender youth is enflamed with love.

Enflamed with love is tender youth,
all the little birds sing out together
and the wild blackbird calls sweetly.

Then Love comes out to battle with his mother Venus
and does not stop flexing his ebony bow
in order to extend his mother’s dominions.

Coming back from the hunt at that time of year,
with the sun going down to set in the west,
I started to call for my wandering dogs.

Looking around I could not find them,
which gave me no small sadness
so I did not stop seeking them.

Whilst I was looking, the son of Venus
leaning on his bow looking like a god,
asked: “Where are you going, my lovely boy?

Once more the quivers of Diana are broken,
from now on Cupid’s bow is the one to use,
so I advise you to stop worrying now.

To stop worrying is my advice to you now.
It is not right to hunt at times like this;
It is much better to be at play.

Perhaps you do not know of Cupid’s games?
It would be a great shame if such a fine youth
were not to play well in the court of Venus.

If you should once play in her game of love,
for nothing else would you ever give it up,
but forever faithfully serve her in your mind.”

Hearing his words, I was shaken to the core,
as though in great fear I fell to the ground:
and so a new flame burst out inside me.


April Time Cupid

This curious Goliard song from the Cancionero de Ripoll talks about love without talking about the beloved in any way at all! The Goliards were wandering scholars or clerici vagantes famous for their drinking songs and love songs. The Carmina Rivapullensia or Songbook of Ripoll, however, was put together in a monastery. Perhaps the wandering scholar of this song stopped his wandering at Ripoll; or could it be that he is imagining the whole thing?
I have two versions of the song. One is in Locus Amoenus, Carlos Alvar and Jenaro Talens eds (Galaxia Gutenberg: Barcelona, 2009) and the other is in Poesía Goliárdica, tr. Miguel Requena (Acantilado: Barcelona, 2003). I am going to put the Latin version of the first edition here with the variations of Requena in square brackets, because they are not quite the same.
Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus
et pratum roseis ornatur floribus,
iuuentus tenera feruet amoribus.

Feruet amoribus iuuentus tenera,
pie cum concinit omnis auicula,
et cantat dulciter siluestris merula.

Amor tunc militat cum matre Venere,
arcus heburneos non cessat flectere, [arcum eburneum]
ut matris ualeat regnum extendere.

Venatu rediens eodem tempore,
sol cum descenderat uergente cardine, [descenderet]
errantes catulos cepi requirere.

Quos circumspeciens nusquam reperio,
unde non modicum sed satis doleo;
non cessans igitur perditos querito.

Illos dum querito, filius Veneris,
in arce residens ad instar numinis, [in arcu residens]
inquit: “quo properas, dilecte iuuenis?

Diane pharetre fracte sunt denuo,
arcus Cupidinis sumetur amodo;
laborem itaque dimittas moneo.

Dimittas moneo laborem itaque;
non est conueniens hoc tali tempore
venari; potius debemus ludere. [Veneri potius…]

Ignoras forsitan ludos Cupidinis,
sed ualde dedecet, si talis iuuenis
non ludit sepius in aula Veneris.

Si semel luseris in eius curia,
non eam deseres ulla penuria,
illi sed seruies mente continua.”

Ad cuius monitus totus contremui,
uelut exterritus ad terram cecidi;
sic nouis ignibus statim incalui.

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Goliard Poetry

Goliard Poetry
O let us now be happy
Whilst we are still so young.
After our happy youthful days,
After our bitter older age,
Down to the earth we come.
Where are they?  Where did they go
those who lived before us?
Either to hell down below,
or to heaven you must go,
if you want to see them.
Long live the University
And long live the teachers:
Long live the fraternity
docents and doctors, live!
Forever may you flourish!
Our life is but a breath
And shortly we’ll be done.
Quick comes the shadow of death
and takes us with its evil stealth.
You should suffer for no one!
Out with all grim sadness
and he who loves assaulting;
perish the devil in his badness,
false brothers in their madness,
and he who loves insulting.
Long live all young women
enchanting and beautiful.
Long live all good women,
tender, loving women
hardworking and dutiful.
Long live the Republic
and those who rule it too.
Long live our city state
and the charity of donors
whose gifts protect us too.
Long live our company,
May all students live long!
May truth proudly advance,
May brotherhood flourish,
And the country get rich and strong.


Goliard poetry flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at the same time that Provençal troubador poetry was flourishing.  It is a simple kind of verse, written in Latin with a heavy dependence on rhyme and a simple measuring of syllables in the line.  It is very much associated with groups of students due to the predominance of themes relating to student life and loves, although there are also satirical poems that castigate vice and the failings of the church.

With the rise of universities wandering priests and scholars went from city to city and this proud, free life provides the undercurrent of goliard poetry, which seems to take its name from a derivation of the Latin word “gula”, with all that this suggests of consumption at the table, in the bars and in love.  I am drawn to the Goliard poets after reading Iglesia Alvariño because he wrote a biographical sketch of Noriega Varela, comparing the poet directly to Goldmund in Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund.  Goldmund is a wandering youth who seems to be modelled on a goliard.

It is also appropriate to me at this time of year because I am on the Camino de Santiago, that great melting pot of wandering nations where the scholar, the devout and the vagabond all go together.  I am going to put up several examples of Goliard poetry over the week.  This one sets the tone.

Here it is in Latin:

Gaudeamus igitur,
iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem,
post molestam senectutem
nos habebit humus.
Ubi sunt qui ante nos
in mundo fuere?
Adeas ad inferos,
transeas ad superos,
hos si vis videre.
Vivat Accademia,
vivant professores,
vivat membrum quodlibet,
vivant membra quaelibet,
sempre sint in flore.
Vita nostra brevis est,
brevi finietur;
venit more velocitur,
rapit nos atrociter,
nemini parcetur.
Pereat tristitia,
pereant osores;
pereat diabolus,
quivis antiburschius
atque irrisores.
Vivant omnes virgines,
graciles, formosae!
Vivant et mulieres
tenerae, amabiles,
bonae, laboriosae!
Vivat et Respublica
et qui illam regit!
Vivat nostra Civitas,
Maecenatum charitas,
quae nos hic protegit!
Vivat nostra societas,
vivant studiosi.
Crescat una veritas,
floreat fraternitas,
patriae prosperitas.

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The Oak Wood

 Iglesia Alvariño-  As Carballeiras
Oh, my girl, how dark the rustling
our footsteps make in the oak grove!
Our feet go sinking happily
in the soft leaves, amongst the ferns.
And the wood fills up with happiness,
an old friend to soulful young men.
Now they are coming with the cart and rakes
to pick up the leaves.  The chestnut leaves
are almost dried out and fermenting
and the grass in the pastures fine.
How tender and fine comes the new moss
with the water of September all green!
In amongst the oak trees, in a clearing,
are piles of leaves, and what joy
for the children to roll about playing!
They will take it away on carts in the evening
and the oak grove will then fall deep
into the silence of sun and still water.
The ageing trees, now bid farewell,
fill up with sun amongst their branches,
silvered with moss and shining gold
with the afternoon sunlight, against the sky.
Orphaned and cold, already on the branches,
the hawk’s chicks are balancing.
Our footseps already fade away.
And the night will gently bring in its fears.


Ai, neniña, qué escuro aquel runxir
dos nosos pasos pol-o caraballido!
Vanse enterrando ledas as pisadas
na brandura da folla, entre os fieitos.
E o souto énchese todo de ledicia,
vello amigo dos mozos señardosos.
Ora veñen co engazo e cos carrascos
para apañar a folla.  A dos castiros
xa está case curtida e apodrenta
a i-herba dos pasteiros miudiña.
Qué tenro e fino ven o musgo novo
coa i-auga de setembro verdecido!
No medio dos carballos, nun relanzo,
as pilas de follascca, qué ledicia
para xogar os nenos âs rouladas!
Levarán-a nos carros â tardiña,
a afondaráse logo a carballeira
nun silencio de sol e auga parada.
As álbores velliñas, xa despidas,
enchéranse de sol por entre as gallas,
prateadas de musgo e ourilocentes
coas raiolas da tarde, contra o ceio.
Orfos e fríos, inda sobre as polas,
abanearánse os niños de buxato.
Os nosos pasos xa non terán voz.
E â noite virá o medo demansiño. 

This poem starts with “the dark rustling of feet” which fade away at the end of the day.  As you have probably noticed from the previous poems that I have translated by Iglesia Alvariño, the poet has a sharp eye and ear for detail and we are given images of soulful young men in the wood, farmhands gathering in the leaves, children happily playing and then, gradually the emptying of the woodland, leaving it gilded in evening light.

This would be a bucolic paradise if that “dark rustling of feet” did not set up the expectation of a darker conclusion: the “niños de buxato” who are left in the wood when the footsteps of the visitors have faded away.

It reminds me of a Poussin landscape: once you have seen the snake the whole thing is transformed! 


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Iglesia Alvariño-  Sun!

Iglesia Alvariño- Sol 


Sun on the peak!
Springtime sun.
River of sun!
Sea of sun!
-Look, look!
On the sea of sun the fields go floating
with the wind in the birch trees’ green sails.
The cottages of the moorlands
are seen all at once, at four thirty sharp,
through the three lit-up hollows beneath the granary.
When the people awoke
the mangers of the oxen were already swimming in sun. 

Cómaros Verdes, 1947

I’m rather pleased with my new collection of poetry.  I already knew Iglesia Alvariño because he wrote a biographical sketch of Noriega Varela who accompanied me for a long time in my pack on the Camino.  As a poet I find Iglesia Alvariño sensitive and daring.

The simplicity of this poem reminds me of Novoneyra and pre-dates him by a couple of decades.  Here it is in the original:

Sol na cume!
Sol de primavera.
Río de Sol!
Mar de Sol!
-Mirái, Mirái!
No mar do sol van boiando as chousas
coas velas verdes das bidueiras ô vento.
As casiñas da chaira
foran a pique, ô fío das catro e media,
pol-as tres lumieiras do celeiro.
Cando despertóu a xente,
xa nadaban en sol as cambeleiras dos bois.

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Iglesia Alvariño- O Longo das Ribeiras

Ó Longo das Ribeiras


 Along the water’s edge, in longing

I go, my girl.

Where are the boats and flowers?

The rivers no longer flow anywhere.

The far distance and the sea don’t exist.

Everything is here at the edge and clear.

The hour, anchored,

a barren stretch with no birds, no wind.

The sources of sleep

are full of dust,

and these eyes are tired and ageing.

But night must come

that was lost behind the mountains of Urbazán,

with the happiness of its wake of longing.

And then I will hoist all the sails

of these anchored hours,

poor, barren, with no birds, no wind.

Ó longo das ribeiras, arelante,

eu, meniña.

¿Ónde as barcas e as froles?

Os ríos xa non corren pra ningures.

Non esisten os lonxes nin a mar.

Todo está â beira e craro.

A hora, ancrada,

insua erma sin páxaros nin vento.

As fontelas do sono

están cheas de pô,

e os ollos están cansos e velliños.

Mais ha vir a noitiña,

que se perdéu nos montes de Urbazán,

coa alegría do seu ronsel de arelas.

I-entón eu ergueréi as velas todas

destas horas ancradas,

pobres, ermas, sin páxaros nin vento.

Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño, Cómaros Verdes, 1947 (Voz de Galicia, 2002)

Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño (Seivane, Abadín, 1909-Santiago, 1961) emerged before the Spanish Civil War publishing the collections Señardá (1930) and Corazón ao vento (1933).  These books continue the landscape poetry of Noriega Varela.  He reached his poetic maturity with Cómaros Verdes, from which this poem is taken.  

Here he abandons rhyme and achieves a richness of poetic tone using short lines and repeating key words, particularly arelante/arelas.  The themes of the collection are saudade, reflections on nature and the strange linking of death and longing that are such common features of Galician poetry.

I bought this book for myself for my fiftieth birthday.  This poem that talks about ageing seemed appropriate.  The rhythm of the day is seen reflected in the rhythm of a life.  We are taken to the hot middle of the day along the water’s edge where everything is still.  The sources, or fountains, of sleep are full of dust.  Night brings sleep and dreaming.  It has a “ronsel de arelas”, “a wake of longings”.

This wake of longing reminds me of Eduardo Blanco Amor’s Ronsel da Morte.

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