Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Trobairitz Sing of Love

The Trobairitz, female troubadours (22 October 1071)

William IX, duke of Aquitaine and the most famous troubadour, was born on 22 October 1071. Because we know so little about the women poets, known as the trobairitz, who followed in this tradition, I've used his birth date as the occasion to write about them.

(By the way, in addition to being a renowned knight and a great poet, William seems to have been a despicable man, known as "one of the greatest deceivers of women." And his granddaughter was a woman we've met before, Eleanor of Aquitaine.)

Beatriz, countess of Dia,
from a French manuscript,
thirteenth century
The trobairitz all lived and wrote in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Occitania, which included parts of southern France, Italy, and Spain. (See the map, below.) The word derives from the Proven├žal word "trobar," meaning "to work" or, in the sense of poets (troubadour as well as trobairitz), "to make."

There is very little extant information about these aristocratic women who composed the music, wrote the verses of the lyrics, and then performed them. The names of twenty survive, although only nineteen of these names are linked to specific poems--and only two trobairitz, the Countess of Dia and Lombarda, have more than one poem attributed to them.

Among the surviving lyrics in the tradition of fin' amors, or courtly love, the sex of the writer may not always be clear, so the number of songs attributed to the trobairitz varies from twenty-three to forty-six. 

Their names? Tibors, Beatriz of Dia, Almucs de Castelnau, Iseut de Capio, Azalais de Porcairages, Maria de Ventadorn, Alamanda, Garsenda, Isabella, Lombarda, Castelloza, Clara d'Anduza, Bieris de Romans, Guillelma de Rosers, Domna H., Alais, Iselda, Carenza, and Gormonda de Monpeslier. 

I've taught these poems to a number of students over the years. Their favorite? By far the lyric of Tibors (b. c. 1130):
Sweet handsome friend, I can tell you truly
that I've never been without desire
since it pleased you that I have you as my courtly lover;
nor did a time ever arrive, sweet handsome friend,
when I didn't want to see you often;
nor did I ever feel regret,
nor did it ever come to pass, if you went off angry,
that I felt joy until you had come back;
nor . . . 
I remember many wonderful class discussions about the effect of the final, incomplete line--is the poem a fragment? Is the speaker's mouth stopped by a kiss? Or?

Castelloza, from a French manuscript,
thirteenth century
Students also love the debate between Almucs de Castelnau and Iseut de Capio and the beautiful chanson by Bieris de Romans addressing her female beloved, Lady Maria.

I have quoted the lyric by Tibors, above, from Meg Bogin's bilingual anthology, The Women Troubadours

There are also many recordings available, and a great number of performances online, like this one or this one.