Tag Archives: translation

Ne Reprenez, Dames, si J’ay Aymé…


(Engraving by Pierre Woeiriot)

Louise Labé was known for various reasons, all centered around the corpus of poetry attributed to her. Many believe her poetry had been the fabrication of notorious contemporary male poets seeking an outlet for their creativity. However, recent scholarship has decidedly credited Labé with her work, even as the specifics of her perhaps tumultuous life remain unaccounted for.

She was in fact the daughter of a well-off ropemaker in Lyon, and married a man of the same profession who was significantly older than her. She held a following of those enamored by her, either because she was charismatic, or due to her physical appearance according to those who testified to her unending beauty. Perhaps these traits are not as mutually exclusive as many texts have made them out to be.

I am less concerned with the details of her personal life, as I am with the message in her works, specifically her sonnets that recall earlier female writing, namely the trobairitz and their unprecedented chansons.

Labé wrote during a time of transition between what would later be referred to as the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, significantly living in a town that straddled both Parisian and Italian culture. This afforded her exposure to art forms and conventions appealing to both. The region was well known in literary circles for its connection to the Pléiade poets, however, Labé’s contribution to the form received mixed reviews. She has often been criticized for the lack of breadth her work provides. Once again the connection between herself and the trobairitz becomes apparent, as they too only ever sang about a single unrequited love, but nevertheless, their oeuvres were significantly smaller, often no larger than half a dozen works. Despite the modest size of Labé’s corpus, it was still considered too large to be only concerned with a single subject.

All of her work was published in a single volume, Œuvres, containing Débat de Folie et d’Amour, three elegies, and twenty four sonnets. Her last sonnet, “Ne Reprenez, Dames,” beautifully sums up the entire work as she appeals to the ladies of Lyon, candidly and unapologetically attesting to her love history, while reminding them that they may suffer the same fate. And the suffering might just be bittersweet.

Here is the sonnet and my translation:

Ne reprenez, Dames, si j’ay aymé,
Si j’ay senti mile torches ardenttes,
Miles travaus, mile douleurs mordentes.
Si, en pleurant, j’ay mon tems consumé,Las! que mon nom ne soit par vous blamé.
Si j’ay failli, les peines sont presentes,
N’aigrissez point leurs pointes violentes:
Mais estimez qu’amour, a point nommé,Sans votre ardeur d’un Vulcan excuser,
Sans la beauté d’Adonis acuser,
Pourra, s’il veut, plus vous rendre amoureuses,

En ayant moins que moy d’ocasion,
Et plus d’estrange et forte passion.
Et gardez vous d’estre plus malheureuses!

Do not reproach me, ladies, if I have loved
If I have felt a thousand torches burning,
A thousand labors, a thousand biting pains.
If, in crying, I have my days consumed,Alas! Let my name not be by you blemished,
If I have failed, my pains are present,
Do not further sharpen needles to a point:
But consider that love, at the right moment,Without your ardor by Vulcan excused,
Without beauty by Adonis accused,
Can, if he wants, to render you more in love,

Having much less occasion than me,
And with a stranger and stronger passion.
And take care not be be even more unhappy!

The rhyme scheme is abba abba ccd ccd, clearly in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, also known as an Italian sonnet. However, note her breaks in the octave and sestet, rearranging the rhythm into quatrains and tercets. Even though this is hardly anomalous to this text, it signals her penchant for authority over her work, and her larger departures from conventions.

Additionally, while the topoi remains intact, the genders are reversed, and in another comparison to the trobairitz, Labé usurps male control when crafting her sonnet that clearly subverts gendered norms as she endows herself, a female speaker, with authority. Further, as this piece references her singular concern throughout her corpus of works, namely her love for a man that was not her husband, she positions herself as an everywoman. She cautions her audience of their own susceptibility towards love who “pourra, s’il veut, plus vous redre amoureuses,” (can, if he wants, to render you more in love), implying a complete lack of autonomy on anyone’s part in trying to withstand the power of love.

The piece begins with an imperative against reproach for having loved, enumerating the various sensations love engenders, all of which more closely resemble torture rather than the bliss generally associated with amorous feelings. The images of burning pain and tears depict the suffering endured by the lover to better demonstrate the burden which comes with the feeling, garnering sympathy for the trials she must, almost unwillingly, endure. This duty-laced performance ties back into the beginning request, since reproach cannot be doled out towards those who lack the freewill to resist love in the first place.

The same imperative command appears in the second quatrain that again absolves the speaker of volition. Paradoxically she uses this sonnet to relinquish autonomy, but not agency. She attests to her lack of choice in the matter of loving, but does not demonstrate regret, nor account for acquiescing to acting upon it. After all, to love in one’s head against one’s will is different than to follow through with actions. She most notably does not attempt to absolve herself in this regard. Within this quatrain also commences the cautionary prospect of love overcoming the sonnet’s audience who judges Labé for her actions.

She references Vulcan who had to suffer Aphrodite’s indiscretions as she openly chased after Adonis, and then Ares (among others). Here the husband will not excuse the same conduct, nor be blamed for his wife’s infidelity. Labé then evokes the image of Adonis, but here the man’s perfect form cannot be accused of seduction, however, neither can the one encountering these passions. The blame rests squarely upon the shoulders of a disjointed love. As the last tercet asserts, love cannot be deferred, or ignored, only tolerated, and placated.

The closing line summonses  the beginning of the first quatrain as “malheureuses” refers to the unhappiness love has the ability to endow upon its victims. The caution she imparts in her closing remark is not against love, which is unstoppable, but against resisting it and causing more pain than is necessary. Here her line and stanza arrangement serves to increase the tension of the poem, relying on these final lines to convey the full impact of her meaning. Her last line, a full sentence, and the most compact complete thought within the sonnet, delivers the final shock. Passion can be “stranger and stronger” than anything felt before, and anything short of embracing it has worse consequences than all the reproach and rumors a town has to offer.

Castelloza, Disputed


(Castelloza, BnF MS 843 f. 125 – this folio features the beginning of  “Amics”)

While I don’t believe I am anywhere near done with my trobairitz research (can one ever be done with research?), I am on my final piece by Castelloza, and one which is all too often excluded from her oeuvre and disputed. Several scholars have over the years argued that this piece does not belong to her, especially since it only appears in one of the five manuscripts containing her work (Manuscript N). In many anthologies it is not included with her corpus, but rather attributed to Anon. at the end.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have not yet conducted extensive overarching analyses on her work, largely because I had not yet finished working on each piece individually. However, after finishing “Per joi que d’amor m’avegna,” I want to believe it is hers, and herein lies my bias. So I am currently grappling with stepping away far enough to objectively work with the piece. All the evidence I am finding confirms my suspicions that I may have been initially overzealous; despite an already small oeuvre to work with, there are many stylistic differences between this canso and the other three.

Yet, before delving into the larger implications, here is my translation along with a brief analysis.

Per joi que d’amor m’avegna
No m calgr’ ogan esbaudir
Qu’eu no cre qu’en grat me tegna
Cel qu’anc no volc obezir
Mos bos motz ni mas consos;
Ni anc nu fen la sazos
Qu’ie m pogues de lui sofrir;
Ans tem que m n’er a morir,
Pos vei c’ab tal autra regna
Don per mi no s vol partir.
Parti m’en er; mas no m degna,
Que morta m’an li cossir:
E pois noill platz que m retegna,
Vuilla m d’aitant obezir,
C’ab sos avinens respos
Me tegna lo cor joios.
E ja a sidons nu tir
S’ie l fas d’aitan enardir,
Qu’ien no l prec per mi que s teg
De leis amar ni servir.
Leis serva; mas mi’n revegna
Que no m lais del tot morir;
Quar paor ai que m’estegna
S’amors don me fai languir.
Hai! Amics valens e bos,
Car es lo meiller c’anc fos,
No vuillatz c’aillors me vir:
Mas no m volez far ni dir
Con ieu ja jorn me captegna
De vos amar ni grazir.Grazisc vos, cou que m’en pregna,
Tot lo maltrag el consir;
E ja cavaliers no s fegna
De mi, c’ us sol non dezir.
Bels amics, si fas fort vos
On teno los oillz ambedos;
E plas me can vos remir,
C’anc tan bel non sai cauzir.
Dieur prec e’ab mos bratz vos cegna;
C’ature no m pot enriquir.

Rica soi, ab queus sovegna
Com pogues en loc venir
On eu vos bais eus estregna;
Q’ab aitan pot revenir
Mos cors, quez es envejos
De vos mout e cobeitos.
Amics no m laissatz morir
Pueis de vos no m poso gandir,
Un bel semblan que m revegna
Faiz, que m’aucira’l consir.

The joys love brings me
I care not to feel
As I don’t believe he is pleased by me
He who has never observed
My good words nor my songs
Nor is there a good song
That tells me to go on without him;
I am afraid I will die
As he lives with another woman
And for me won’t leave her.
I will leave him; he insults me,
To death I am brought by worry
And since he does not retrieve me
He could at least observe
With light replies
To keep my heart in joy.
And his lady should not care
If I agitate him
Because I don’t ask him to stop
Loving nor serving her.
Let him serve her; but to me return
As to not let me completely die;
I am afraid of the strength of
His love that makes me languish.
O! Friend valiant and good,
Because you are the best that ever was,
Don’t try to make me turn from you:
But you still don’t want to do or say
What I need to hear to stop
Loving you and giving you grace.Thank you, what may come,
For all my suffering and pain;
And no knights should think
On me; for I do not desire it.
Fair friend, I greatly want you
On you I embed my eyes;
And it pleases me at you to look,
Since as fair as you there is no other.
To God I pray to hold you in my arms;
No other can be enough.

I will be rich, if I can know
How to find a place
Where we can kiss and embrace;
With this it is enough to revive
My heart, that you made wanting
For you and most greedy.
Friend don’t let me die
Because I cannot win from you
A fair smile that can revive me
And ameliorate my worry.

Regardless of the disputed status of this work, whether Castelloza composed it or not I think it can be agreed that it is nevertheless a beautiful piece worthy of analysis. Thus without broaching the issue of its origin for now, I want to focus on it as I had done in previous works, piecemeal.

While keeping in line with what may be referred to as traditional trobairitz canso material, or at least form, here the ennobling love is clearly absent. She does not look towards her lover as a means towards spirituality, where by loving him she straddles a realm between humility and divine devotion, both of which lead to a plane of higher existence. She is not exalted by her love for him. She is not justifying her love for one who is not her husband by explaining away the purity of her love. While she maintains a brief facade of undying, and undeserving love for him, here she sings of nothing deeper than lust.

Initially this may appear as a debasement of courtly love, or a degeneration of fin’amor which is supposedly the driving force behind her work. However, in recalling my reaction to and interpretation of fin’amor in a previous section, the concept is faulty from the onset. This song does not in fact detract from the tradition, but rather enriches it by adding yet another layer to the definition of love the audience has thus far been privy to – the human, and very much physical aspect of it.

She may well die on the streets of Southern France for the unrequited love of a man who’s cruelty is without equal, and who does not deign to acknowledge her existence, but even as she extols her continuous selfless love for him, she is not so naive as to negate her other needs or desires. Nor does she believe them to be mutually exclusive. And I am fairly certain her audience would not make the same mistake either.

Platonic romantic love is an unsustainable paradox, and consequently precisely what would be inferred from her words if lust, or physical desire, was to be completely removed from the equation. However, while lust in itself does not belong to a higher order of love, in combination with deeper love it is not an anomaly.

If Castelloza wrote this (and I am trying very hard to refrain from touching upon that question here), then she has amply demonstrated every facet of love, leaving plenty of room for even the more unsavory kind that is reliant upon the deceit of another, who in this case are her husband and the lover’s other women. If Castelloza didn’t write this, then the woman who did enters a tradition where various forms of love have already been dissected in song, and thus she is free to explore myriad avenues love crosses – even this. Regardless, the trobairitz composing this makes clear she is not searching for a soulmate as much as an amorous encounter “on eu vos bais eus estregna” (where we can kiss and embrace), even if, as she states earlier, she does not mind his serving and loving his lady as long as she gets some of his attention. In other words, she understand her predicament at having lost his affection, and in her abysmal condition will settle for the proverbial breadcrumbs. Or so it seems.

As I argued that the trobairitz invert the male/female dynamic found within general troubadour poetry, so do they play with the accepted concepts to create a voice outside that which is expected. Here, the singer’s voice is not a monotone insync with feeling that is reliant upon pleas and bargains. There is a certain self awareness and rawness in her words that cannot escape a closer inspection. As she instructs that “ja a sidons nu tir” (his lady should not care) about her existence she is candidly stating what we shall hear again a hundred years later in the mouth of the Wife of Bath: “He is to greet a nigard that wol werne / A man to light a candle at his lanterne; / He shal have never the lasse light, pardee (lines 333-335). In short, she does not skirt the issue, nor is her song an endless pit of pity – she approaches the situation fully aware, conceding her unending love, whether for convention’s sake or not, and makes evident her stance.

In the end, this is not a woman on her knees, but rather storming upon her lover, informing him or her presence (which he could not have possibly by now missed). Further, while she writes this she understands it serves a greater purpose – entertainment – and as such, she caters her words to the proper format while using her audience as a means of publicly calling out her lover for his neglect.

While those who hear her song fear for her sudden loss of life in the face of love, due to the earthly qualities of her malheur they sympathize with her. She is not a divine embodiment of female perfection, nor is she the slightly inverted prototype for Laura. She is a woman, scorned, in pain, frustrated, in love, in lust, confused, and singing about it.


(Close up from above picture)


Akehurst,F R P, and Judith M Davis. A Handbook of the Troubadours.

Bruckner,Matilda Tomaryn. “Fictions of the Female Voice: The Women Troubadours.”

Huchet, Jean-Charles. “Les femmes troubadours ou la voix critique.”

Mahn, A. Der Troubadours In Provenzalischer Sprache. 

Wilson, Katherina. Medieval Women Writers.