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Discussing Poetic Forms with “The Poet from Double Oak”

A Tale of Serendipity and the Triolet

 

     I love the word, serendipity. My copy of Miriam Webster’s

 

Collegiate Dictionary defines serendipity as the faculty or phenomenon of

 

finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.  The first time I

 

encountered the word I was rather surprised that such a jolly combination of

 

letters actually spelled a word. You might call it serendipitous. I was

 

delighted recently by a serendipitous event at my house. My daughter,

 

whose work is forest ecology in Wisconsin, has an undergraduate degree in

 

music history. She loves early music, thirteenth century to seventeenth

 

century, and last year gave me a Compact Disc of early music performed by

 

Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. When she was home for Christmas, we were

 

discussing the music, and she showed me another CD, this one by Fortune’s

 

Wheel. All the lyrics are in French, and she was showing me the words,

 

many by Adam de la Halle, a thirteenth century poet/composer.  It was at

 

that point that serendipity happened. I can’t read French, but I can tell when

 

something rhymes and I found myself looking at triolets written by de la

 

Halle. I was astounded. I knew the triolet French form (ABaAabAB) had

 

been around for centuries, but I never expected to be looking at some of the

 

poems in their original, thirteenth century French. I had always assumed that

 

today’s triolet form had evolved over the centuries, but there it was, a triolet

 

approximately seven hundred and fifty years old and in the form I

 

recognized.  

 
     I looked at the poems and their rather literal translations. The form, of course, was lost in the translation, and it occurred to me that it would be fun to paraphrase the translation and convert it to an English triolet-- what a fun exercise! My wife, Sue Ann, and I recently traveled to Arizona and took turns driving. When I found myself in the passenger seat and in charge of what music would be played on the CD player, I took the opportunity to listen to the triolets and convert their translations to the triolet form. The results were mixed.

                                                  Tant con je vivrai                                      

                                                   Tant con je vivrai

                                                    N’amerai autrui que vous;

                                                   Ja n’en partirai

                                                   Tant con je vivrai,

                                                   Ains vous servirai:

                                                   Loiaument mis m’i sui tous.

                                                   Tant con je vivrai

                                                   N’amerai autrui que vous;

                                                                      Adam de la Halle (c. 1237 - 1285/88)

 

 

                                                   As long as I live

 

                                                   As long as I live

                                                   I shall never love anyone but you.

                                                   I shall not leave you

                                                   as long as I live;

                                                   rather I shall servce you.

                                                   Loyally I’ve given myself wholly to you.

                                                   As long as I live,

                                                   I shall never love anyone but you.

                                                                      Translation by Fortune’s Wheel

                                                  

                                                  

 

                                                   For all of my life 

                                                   For all of my life

                                                   I shall love but you only.

                                                   With you as my wife

                                                   for all of my life

                                                   I shall keep you from strife

                                                   and not let you be lonely.

                                                   For all of my life

                                                   I shall love but you only.

                                                                      Triolet Paraphrase by J. Paul Holcomb

 

My attempt at maintaining meaning and form seemed fairly successful until my daughter told me that these were songs of the troubadors and trouveres so their pledge of love would be for the lady from afar. To move meaning to a husband/wife relationship would not be altogether faithful to the poet’s original thought.  My challenge to readers of this column is to take the words and make a triolet of courtly love… I might try again one day, but for now I will settle for this effort. 

The second triolet I attempted to paraphrase to form refers perhaps more clearly to the courtly relationship because I was puzzled by it when I went to transform it.

 

                                                   Li dous regars de ma dame

 

                                                  Li dous regars de ma dame

                                                   Me fait esperer merchi;

                                                   Diex gart son gent con de blame!

                                                   Li dous regars de ma dame

                                                   Je ne vi onques, par m’ame,

                                                   Dame plus plaisant de li.

                                                   Li dous regars de ma dame

                                                   Me fait esperer merchi;

                                                            Adam de la Halle (c. 1237 - 1285/88)

 

                                                  

                                                   The gentle gaze of my lady 

                                                   The gentle gaze of my lady

                                                   gives me hope of mercy;

                                                   God guard her gentle heart from blame!

                                                   The gentle gaze of my lady

                                                   By my love, I have never seen any

                                                   lady more gracious than she.

                                                   The gentle gaze of my lady        

                                                   gives me hope of mercy.

                                                                      Translation by Fortune’s Wheel

                                                   The softness in my lady’s eyes 

                                                   The softness in my lady’s eyes

                                                   helps me to know that mercy’s real.

                                                   God lets no anger in her rise.

                                                   The softness in my lady’s eyes

                                                   causes me lovingly to realize

                                                   she reacts from love she will feel.

                                                   The softness in my lady’s eyes

                                                   helps me to know that mercy’s real.

                                                                      Triolet Paraphrase by J. Paul Holcomb

 

I wasn’t totally satisfied with this attempt either. I felt I lost the note of graciousness, but perhaps this one is more courtly. I haven’t gotten my daughter’s reaction as of yet.  I think these attempts, though, demonstrate how pleased I was to have this opportunity, out of the blue, to look at triolets in their original form. I should warn you that the pieces, and included others, are referred to as rondeaus, a term which when used to refer to music is different than the term poets know as referring to a well-defined form.

Now you have seen serendipity in action. If you are as intrigued as I was with the triolets, I invite you to have a look at the CD. It is Pastourelle by Fortune’s Wheel and produced by DORIAN Recordings. There is at least one more triolet that I haven’t included here and there is music on the CD that may surprise you. It is done to show the music of that time so the vocals are done without vibrato and the instruments used include the vielle and the harp. I found it all beautifully done. Since I have previewed the experience for you, you have some idea of what to expect, so it can’t be as serendipitous for you, but you will find it enriching. And maybe this time you will write that triolet you have been putting off. 

 

J. Paul Holcomb, “The Poet from Double Oak”