January 24, 2010

"Oh how I love the springtime gay..."

This is a song by Bertran de Born, that I translated from Old Occitan for a the combat-themed A&S competition at "It's Only a Flesh Wound."  Video of that performance can be found here, compliments of Mistress Elashava bas Riva.  If I ever get a video of me singing it, I'll post it here.

Oh how I love the springtime gay
That brings the leaves and flowers out.
As much to hear the merry way
Of birds who throw their song about
To echo through the glen.
So much I love a meadow fair
Festooned with tents whose banners flare.
And oh! what rapture then
When ranks upon that field prepare,
Each armored knight upon his mare.

I love it when the scouts compel
The landed gentry there to flee,
A multitude of knights will swell
In hot pursuit and mounting glee.
And how I love it when
I see a crumbling castle tall
Besieged, with broken, tumbling wall,
The host advances then
Through sharpened staves contrived to maul
And ditches where the dead men fall.

So too I love the brave seignor
Who mounted, fearless, armored bright
Rides first into the fray and gore
For thus does he inspire with might
And valor all his men.
And when the battles escalate
Each man must cheerfully await
To follow him again.
For ‘till a foe you desecrate,
Your manhood’s only second-rate.

Club and sword and colored helm
Perforated, crumpled shield
Immediately overwhelm
The vassals fighting on the field.
Bewildered horses then
Run frantically, their riders bled.
And when they’re charging full ahead,
All brave and worthy men
Must look to hacking arm and head –
A coward’s worth less than the dead.

I tell you – sleeping, food nor drink,
Holds half the savor as the time
I hear both sides cry, “Too the brink!”
And when the panicked horses whine
And flee without their men.
I hear the cries of “Help!” in vain
And see them tumble, knight and thane,
in ditches on the fen.
Their splintered lances still remain
Upon the meadow, in the slain.

Go pawn your castle baron,
Your town, your city, all your store,
‘Ere ever you stop making war!

Notes: ISN'T THAT FREAKING AWESOME??? So like, I go up to the judging panel full of knights, and I'm all, "So I know the theme is combat, use your imagination," and then I'm all small and young and female and start talking about the gay springtime and the birds and crap, and the next thing you know, there's BLOOD AND DEATH AND SPEARS AND STUFF!!! I love that. And I love that this was written by a troubadour. The artistic movement that brought the world "courtly love." That's right. BEGONE, ye prevailing stereotypes! BEGONE!!!

Anyway. I tried to stick as closely as possible to the Old Occitan original in terms of meter and rhyme, so that I can match this translation up with Bertran de Born's melody. I could not have done this without William D. Paden Jr's volume on Bertran de Born, with literal prose translations and a big, honkin' glossary (the link will take you to a Google Books page that contains a generous preview of said volume). For the full documentation, download this here PDF.


  1. You rock!! This is such a good piece!

    I love your translation!! I will be teaching a War Song class next week, and I would love to use your translation if I can!

  2. Awesome translation! It's a great poem -- I begged a friend to help me do a rhyming translation years ago, so now I know of 3 different English versions of this poem. That rhyme, that is. Nice job, Isolde.

    Amelie d'Anjou
    P.S. I don't think this poem can be overperformed in the SCA -- it's just perfect.