De la jeune Dame et Coindeta sui

The other night I began tinkering with Lancelot’s adventure with the flying chess board. While this has absolutely nothing to do with my current research efforts, having acquired transcriptions of the manuscript I wish to work with, and no longer handicapped by the itsy bitsy pictures of the manuscript, I have found a translator’s paradise, randomly translating passages that I find most interesting. If you know me, you will know my predilection towards chess in medieval literature, making that particular passage all the more enticing. I do plan on blogging my findings soon, but that strand of research is a little more involving, meaning, it would not be feasible right now (of course in an ideal Christene-land I would just spend numerous  hours each day until I have translated the entire series and followed my whims of research into all crevices of rather “trivial” pursuits… *sigh*) Anyway, while running some searches to that end, I came across a mention of Clement Marot, and his “De la jeune Dame qui a vieil mary,” and it instantly reminded me of another poem someone had mentioned over a year ago.

First, here is Marot’s poem, with my translation:

De la jeune Dame qui a vieil mary

En languissant, et en grefve tristesse,
Vit mon las cueur, jadis plein de liesse,
Puis que lon m’a donne Mary vieillard.
Helas pourquoy? rien ne sçait du vieil art
Qu’apprend Venus, l’amoureuse Deesse.

Par un desire de monstrer ma prouesse
Souvent l’assaulx: mais il demande: ou est ce?
Ou dort, peult estre, et mon cueur veille a part
En languissant.

Puis quand je veulx luy jouer de finesse,
Hone me dict: Cesse, ma fille, Cesse!
Garde t’en bien, a honneur prens esgard!
Lors je respons: Honte, allez a lescart:
Je ne veulx pas perdre ainsi ma jeunesse
En languissant.

Of the Young Lady With An Old Husband

Languishing and in grave sadness
Lives my weary heart, once full of joy,
Since I was given an old husband.
Alas why? He knows nothing of the ancient art
Taught by Venus, Goddess of love.

By a desire to demonstrate my prowess
I often advance at him: but he asks: what is this?
Or sleeps, perchance, as my heart sleeps apart

Then when I want to betray him,
Shame says to me: Cease, my girl, Cease!
Guard yourself well, guard your honor!
Then I reply: Shame, away depart:
I do not want to spend my youth

(Side note: A huge thanks to Jenni Nuttall and Sjoerd Levelt who helped me figure out how to put columns in my blog – and I really hope this comes across everyone else’s screen as well).

Since many of the French ballads and chansons are found online, I looked this one up. While I could not find this particular one, I did find several by Clement Marot, performed by George Enescu at l’Accademia di Romania.

Clement Marot has an interesting history and brought much to the French literary tradition, which appears to be a constant with several authors of the time period (e.g. Francois Villon and Charles D’Orleans – who predate him a bit, but are still within range). However, his work departs from those of the previous generation as he is considered to have greatly influence the Pleiade poets through his various experiments with forms. This is immediately evident from his language that celebrates life not like the duke of Orleans who fixates on its juxtaposition to death, nor like Villon, whose poetry is in line with a memento mori. Rather, he abandons these motifs, as well as the artificial archaism that was currently popular. In doing so, the poem, though written circa 1532 is extremely easy to read. For example, while I comment that this is my translation above, it is not terribly different from others – there are very few ways you can translate his straightforward words that bear only slight connotations, and for the most part rely on dictionary definitions.

This particular poem was written only a little over a year before he left France, having now been put in jail twice for supposedly having eaten bacon publicly during Lent. Once he made his way out of France (another commonality between himself and Villon and the duke of Orleans), he composed the Blasons du corps feminin that, just like they sound, glorified the feminine body and also brought him infamy.

clément marot

(Clement Marot, portrait by Corneille de Lyon)

However, as I mentioned, reading Marot’s poem reminded me of another. I am referring to the anonymous 13th century female troubadour ballad, Coindeta sui. This is in no way related to my immediate research, but is far more in line with it (concerning the idea of women finding a means of expression and participating in literary culture), and if nothing else, it serves as a good exercise in translation. When I chanced upon this poem a while back it had already been translated, but I looked up the original and realized the translation I had found was more of a recreation than a pure translation (although it was beautifully done). I have rather pedantic tendencies in my translations, so I thought I would attempt a truer version of the poem, even if it is not as beautiful as the other, and certainly nowhere near as melodic as the original. In fact, after looking up the poem to gain insight into its origin and history, several scholars refused to translate it, believing such an endeavor would be superfluous and destructive to the quality of the original. Nevertheless, here it is:

Coindeta sui

Coindeta sui! si cum n’ai greu cossire
per mon marit, qar ne. l voil ne. l desire.
Q’en be. us dirai per que son aisi drusa,
Coindeta sui!
Qar pauca son, ioveneta e tosa,
Coindeta sui!
E degr’aver marit dunt fos ioiosa
Ab cui toz temps pogues iogar e rire.
Coindeta sui!

Ia Deus mi.n.sal se ia sui amorosa,
Coindeta sui!
De lui amar, mia sui cubitosa,
Coindeta sui!
Anz quant lo vie ne son tant vergoignosa
Q’er prec la mort qe.l venga tost aucire.
Coindeta sui!

Mais d’una ren m’en son ben acordada,
Coindeta sui!
Se.l meu amic m’a s’amor emendada,
Coindeta sui!
Ve.l esper a cui me son donada,
Plang e sospir quar ne.l vei ne.l remire.
Coindeta sui!

En aquest son faz coindeta balada,
Coindeta sui!
E prec a tut que sia loing cantada,
Coindeta sui!
E que la chant tota domna ensegnada,
Del meu amic q’eu tant am e desire.
Coindeta sui!

E dirai vos de que sui acordada,
Coindeta sui!
Que.l meu amic m’a longament amada,
Coindeta sui!
Ar li sera m’amor abandonada,
E.l bel esper que tant am e desire.
Coindeta sui!

I Am Pretty

I am pretty and my heart grieves
Due to my husband, who I neither want nor desire
I will tell you of my desire for love,
I am pretty!
I am petit, young and fresh,
I am pretty!
And deserve to have a husband who brings me joy
With whom I can always play and laugh.
I am pretty!

God save me if I ever loved him,
I am pretty!
I am bitter to love him,
I am pretty!
And when I see him, I feel shame
That I pray death will come take him soon.
I am pretty!

But of one thing my mind agrees,
I am pretty!
If my friend should give me his love,
I am pretty!
This hope is all I have been given,
I cry and sigh for having no sight of him,
I am pretty!

And for this a pretty ballad,
I am pretty!
And pray it is sung everywhere,
I am pretty!
And that other knowing women sing,
About my friend who I want and desire.
I am pretty!

I will tell you of the one thing I agree,
I am pretty!
That my friend has loved me so long,
I am pretty!
To him I abandon my love
And the hope of want and desire.
I am pretty!

I have to say that this was far more difficult for me than previous French poetry – it is of the southern region and relies heavily on dialect.


Orally relayed, this is an exquisite poem. However, the content, at least for me, is justified and simultaneously hollow. Of course I understand the plight of the young girl, forced to marry a much older man, against her will. She wishes his demise (and here I believe it has less to do with his actual age as it does with her choice in the matter). Yet, her very real plight is lessened through her superficial excuse. Even aside from my own translation, the typical understanding of “coindeta” relies on a meaning of beauty and youth, with previous adjectives being “lovely,” “fair,” and “graceful.” While she may be all of those things, I think this refrain (“coindeta sui” is repeated three to four times in each of the five stanzas), detracts from her more serious condition of being married off against her will, regardless of either of their physical traits. His age or virility almost seems a pretext to her want for another, which, for whatever reasons, she cannot have (and I am willing to bet there are socio-economic reasons for her being denied a marriage of her choice). In short, regardless of his age or appearance, he was thrust upon her against her will, and thus she sings her unhappy lament at the situation.


I was unable to find this exact song as well (although Amazon does sell it). However, here are other lovely songs of the troubadour tradition:



Chambers, Frank M. An Introduction to Old Provencal Versification. Volume 167.

Medieval Oral Literature. ed. Karl Reichl.

Medieval Women’s Song: Cross-cultural Approaches. eds. Klinck, Anne L. and Ann Marie Rasmussen.

Ouvres Completes de Clement Marot, available from the Harvard Library via Google Books.

Songs of the Women Troubadours. eds. Bruckner, Matilda T, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.