Sunday, November 29, 2009

Languedocian curates

1967 saw the publication of a hitherto unknown manuscript of medieval French poetry, in a critical edition by renowned scholar Luis d'Antin van Rooten. With the cryptic title of Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames (Words of the Hours: Root, Branch), the d'Antin manuscript provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Middle Ages. Here, with d'Antin's annotations, is one of my favourites:

Et qui rit des curés d'Oc?1
De Meuse raines,2 houp! de cloques.3
De quelles loques ce turque coin.4
Et ne d'ânes ni rennes,
Écuries des curés d'Oc.5
1 Oc (or Languedoc), ancient region of France, with its capital at Toulouse. Its monks and curates were, it seems, a singularly humble and holy group. This little poem is a graceful tribute to their virtues.
2Meuse, or Maas, River, 560 miles long, traversing France, Belgium, and the Netherlands; Raines, old French word for frogs (from the L., ranae). Here is a beautiful example of Gothic imagery: He who laughs at the curés of Oc will have frogs leap at him from the Meuse river and
3 infect him with a scrofulous disease! This is particularly interesting when we consider the widespread superstition in America that frogs and toads cause warts.
4"Turkish corners" were introduced into Western Europe by returning Crusaders, among other luxuries and refinements of Oriental living. Our good monks made a concession to the fashion, but N.B. their Turkish corner was made of rags! This affectation of interior decorating had a widespread revival in the U.S.A. at the turn of the century. Ah, the Tsar's bazaars' bizarre beaux-arts.
5So strict were the monks that they didn't even indulge themselves in their arduous travels. No fancy mules nor reindeer in their stables. They just rode around on their plain French asses.
Despite the antiquated French idiom in which the manuscript is written, many English speakers find that when these poems are read aloud, they sound strangely familiar.


Anonymous said...

I know what's number one on my Chritmas list this year!

Anonymous said..., Christmas.

-m- said...

A friend of a friend of mine composed a song cycle of several of these works for soprano and piano in SF a couple of years ago. They are terribly amusing.