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  • Writer's pictureB F Gypsy Scholar

Troubadour Canso and Sirventes in translation

Raimon de Miraval, “Bel m'es qu'eu chant e coindei” (It pleases me to sing and rejoice)

It pleases me to sing and rejoice,

since the air is warm and the weather delightful,

and in the orchards and hedges

I hear the chirping and warbling

of the little birds

among the green and the white and the multicolored

Then the one who wants

Love to help him, should strive

to adopt the behavior of a lover

I am not accepted as a lover, but I pay court

and I do not fear suffering or burden,

nor do I complain easily or become angered,

nor do I lose courage on account of arrogance.

However, fear makes me silent,

for to the fair and high-born lady

I dare not show or expose my heart,

which I keep secret from her

since I have known her great merit

Without entreaty and without concession,

I have experienced grievous torment

trying to discover how I might seem truthful

if I set forth her great merit.

For until now no lady born

of woman has had merit that might

be worth anything compared to hers.

And I know many a merit highly valued,

yet hers has vanquished the best.

She is willing to be nobly courted,

and fine conversation pleases her as does joy,

and she is displeased by the boor

who turns away from these and acts like a fool;

but worthy (suitors) are welcome,

to whom she is so charming

that upon going out from her presence,

all praise her more

than if they were her slaves.

I do not believe that the beauty

of any other lady can ever be compared to hers,

for the newborn flower of a rosebush

is not fresher than she (is):

well-made and gracefully formed body,

mouth and eyes the light of the world,

such that Beauty could never have done

more for her even if she used therein all of her power,

so that none remained (for any other ladies).

May my Lady not get angry

if I throw myself upon her mercy,

for it is not my intention to become unfaithful

or turn towards an inferior love,

for I have always wanted the best

outside and inside my dwelling place;

and I am not boastful about her,

for I have desired no more

than that she receive and greet me graciously.

Chanson, go for me and tell the King

whom joy guides and clothes and nourishes,

that in him there is nothing improper,

for I see him just as I want him to be.

Provided that he recovers Montagut

and returns to Carcassonne,

then he will be emperor of merit,

and here the French, there the Muslim

will fear his shield.

Lady, you have always helped me

so much that I sing on account of you

I would compose any songs

until I had given back to you the fief

of Miraval, which I have lost.

But the king has promised me

that I will recover it before long,

and my Audiart, Beaucaire.

Then will ladies and lovers be able

to return to the joy they have lost.


Guillaume de Machaut, “Amours me fait desirer” (Love makes me desire)

Love makes me desire

And love

So madly in my heart

That I cannot hope

Or think

Or imagine in any way

That the sweet, noble face

Which has stolen my heart

Might give me joy,

If love does not act helpfully


That I can have it without struggling.

So hard is what I have to endure

That I cannot

Last for long;

For I wish to hide in my heart

And carry around

This love secretly

Without seeking relief

As in torment

I wish rather to end my life.

And yet I do not think


That I can have it without struggling.

But desire sets afire

And doubles

This love so cruelly

That it makes me forget everything

Nor do I have any

Thought except for it alone.

And therefore lovingly


I pine away without tasting joy.

So I shall die of it, if quickly

She does not agree

That I can have it without struggling.


Peire Cardenal, “Clergue si fan pastor” (Against the Clerics)

The priests who claim they shepherd us

are cut-throat killers. When I see

them draped in habit-holiness

I see the old wolf Ysengri

who feared the mastiffs, so he threw

a tricky sheepskin over his head,

and once inside the sheepfold fed

on every lamb he wanted to.

All those who used to rule the world—

emperors, kings, and counts and dukes

and knights and every sort of lord—

have lost their grip, since now it looks

like power is in the grasp of clerks

who lie, betray, and thieve and seize,

and rage at men who will not brook

their doing exactly what they please.

They’ve less worth and more foolishness

the higher up in rank they rise:

more treachery, less love and peace,

less honesty, more blatant lies.

The things I say of wicked priests

were never spoken, never heard

of anyone, since ancient days,

except the enemies of God.

A table in refectory

to me is not a place of honor,

because the greedy friars I see

grab double helpings first at supper.

Boot them! They never serve the poor.

But then, when has a poor rogue sat

next to a rich rogue anywhere?

So I’ll excuse these rogues for that.

No chiefs or sultans rattle them.

Abbots and priors never ride

to war to take the Holy Lands—

that would be work! They strain their pride

to grab at lands right here, and toss

Lord Frederic out of Sicily.

He’ll never again enjoy the place,

they harry him so viciously.

Clerics! Whoever thinks you have

kind hearts has totted up your sum

all wrong and has deceived himself:

I’ve never looked on nastier scum.


Peire Vidal, “A per pauc de chantar” (I almost abandon singing)

I almost abandon singing, for I see youth and valour dead, and merit finds no source of nourishment, because everyone repels and rejects it; and I see evil, which has conquered and overcome the world, so hold sway that that I can hardly find a land whose head it has not caught in its snare.

In Rome the Pope and the false doctors have thrown the Holy Church into such disarray that God is angry; for they are so foolish and sinful that the heretics are on the rise. And since it is they (the clergy) who are the first to sin, it is difficult for anyone else to behave otherwise, though I do not wish to defend such people.

The whole horror stems from France, from those who used to be better, for the King is not faithful or true towards merit or towards Our Lord. He has abandoned the Sepulchre and buys and sells and deals just like a servant or burgher, which is why his French subjects are put to shame.

The entire world is so twisted that we could see it was bad yesterday and worse today; and never since he infringed God’s safe-passage have we seen the Emperor grow in merit or goodness. However, if from now on he foolishly lets Richard go, now he is in his prison, the English will vent their scorn on him.

I am heavy-hearted on account of the kings of Spain, because they are so keen for war among themselves, and because they send grey and bay chargers to the Moors out of fear; they have redoubled the latters’ pride through which they themselves are subdued and defeated; and it would be better, if it pleased them, for there to be peace and lawfulness and faith among themselves.

But let no man believe I will humble myself on account of the men of power, if they take a turn for the worse; a noble joy leads and nourishes me and keeps me joyful in great sweetness and causes me to dwell in the true friendship of the lady who pleases me most: and if you wish to know her identity, ask over there in the Carcasses.

Moreover she never tricked or betrayed her beloved, or put on false colours, nor is there any need, for the colour born in her is as fresh as a rose at Easter. She is lovely beyond all loveliness and combines sense with youth, which is why the most courtly people take pleasure in her company and speak praises and honourable things about her.


Peire Cardenal, “Tartarassa ni voutor” (Buzzards and vultures)

Buzzards and vultures

Do not smell out stinking flesh

As fast as clerics and preachers

Smell out the rich.

They circle around him, at once, like friends,

and as soon as sickness strikes him down

they get him to make a little donation,

and his own family gets nothing.

Frenchmen and clerics win praise

For their felonies, because they succeed;

usurers and traitors

take the whole world that way,

for by falsehood and fraud

They have so confounded the earth,

there is not one religious order

which does not know their “rule”.

Do you know what happens to the wealth

of those who get it badly?

A mighty robber will come

who will not let them keep one thing –

Death, who strikes them down, who sends them across

in four ells of linen,

in a strange mansion,

where they find a great hoard of affliction.

O Man, why commit such madness,

transgressing the commandment

of God, who is your Lord,

who formed you out of nothing?

He sells his sow in the market place (= is fool)

who fights with god,

he shall get the wages

Judas traitor got.

O true God, full of sweetness,

Lord, be our protector,

keep all sinners

from the suffering of Hell, and from the torture,

and untie them from the sin

in which they are caught and bound up,

and give them faithful pardon

when they keep faith in their confession.


A Note on Peire Cardenal's sirventes, “Tartarassa ni voutor” and Raimon de Miraval's canso, “It pleases me to sing and rejoice.”

Peire Cardenal's sirventes (“Tartarassa ni voutor” - Buzzards and vultures) uses the melody and poetic form of Raimon de Miraval's canso to create a parody of the love song. Both have similar openings, each proclaiming the singer's intention to rejoice with song:

It pleases me to sing and rejoice

Since the air is warm and the weather fine

And in the orchards and hedges

I hear the chirping and warbling poured forth by the little birds

Between the green and white foliage

At that time he should arrive,

the one who wants love to help him adopt the behavior of a lover.

(Miraval, cobla 1)

I have the right to rejoice

and to be cheerful and happy,

and to recite lovesongs and lais t

o unfurl a sirventes,

because loyalty has defeated

Falsehood, and I have just heard

that a mighty traitor

has lost both

his power and his strength.

(Cardenal, cobla 1)

While Miraval's canso deploys the expected imagery of nature's beauty in the service of romance, Cardenal's contrafact derives its force from the subversion of that trope. His invocation of divine justice against a traitor may have been particularly poignant for his audience, still reeling from the defeat at Muret. Bel m'es qu'ieu, written (according to the razo) in celebration of Pedro of Aragon's alliance with Toulouse and Foix, was an optimistic celebration of courtly love topped off by an enthusiastic call-to-arms.

Cardenal's sirventes of “love and war” is a good example of what has been termed: “Songs as Political and Social Commentary and Propaganda.”

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