contributor.author: Kim Mrazek Hastings, Branford, CT

title.none: Fowler, Songs of a Friend

identifier.other: baj9928.9609.004 96.09.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kim Mrazek Hastings, Branford, CT, knhastings@aol.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Fowler, Barbara Hughes trans. Songs of a Friend: Love Lyrics of Medieval Portugal Selections from Cantigas de Amigo. Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. Pp. xiii, 122. $-29.951495. ISBN: ISBN Cloth- 0-8078-2271-x Paper- 0-8078-4574-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.09.04

Fowler, Barbara Hughes trans. Songs of a Friend: Love Lyrics of Medieval Portugal Selections from Cantigas de Amigo. Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. Pp. xiii, 122. $-29.951495. ISBN: ISBN Cloth- 0-8078-2271-x Paper- 0-8078-4574-4.

Reviewed by:

Kim Mrazek Hastings, Branford, CT
knhastings@aol.com

Barbara Hughes Fowler's Songs of a Friend: Love Lyrics of Medieval Portugal is a slender volume comprising translations of one hundred and three poems by forty-five poets (although, oddly, on p. xii Fowler states that she has chosen "just under one hundred representative poems to translate"). A two-and-a-half-page introduction provides basic information about the three principal genres of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Galician-Portuguese poetry: the cantigas de escarnho e de mal dizer (often obscene sociopolitical songs satirizing historical events, characters, or rival poets), the cantigas de amor (love songs in which a male poet addresses his unattainable beloved--an idealized lady of noble status), and the cantigas de amigo ("popular" or traditional songs in which the poet adopts a female voice to sing of a young girl's longing for her absent friend). The latter, which form the heart of Fowler's collection, are divided into subgenres, including barcarolas (sea songs), alvoradas (dawn songs), romarias (pilgrimage songs), cantigas de monteiro (mountain songs), bailadas (dance songs), and pastorelas (pastoral songs). The three types of poets composing cantigas--the trovador (a nobleman who expected no remuneration for his creative works), the segrel (a knight or squire who earned a living making verses), and the jogral (a paid performer who rarely produced original poetry)--are also identified. Unfortunately, Fowler fails to move beyond these categories to offer the reader a more comprehensive picture of the environment in which the verses whose "spontaneous secularism" she lauds flourished.

The Iberian Peninsula of the Middle Ages--whether one subscribes to notions of harmonious convivencia or not--was home to diverse peoples representing a multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Culturally, this pluralistic atmosphere yielded a virtually unparalleled artistic productiveness as poets and patrons of the arts alike exchanged ideas and influenced one another's work. In her brief discussion of the Galician-Portuguese poetic genres, Fowler mentions the close relationship of the cantigas de escarnho e de mal dizer to the Provencal sirventes and the indebtedness of the cantigas de amor to the troubadour tradition. The cantigas de amigo Fowler declares to be "more mysterious in origin," although they "seem to stem from a native Galician-Portuguese tradition." In fact, these lyrical love songs bear more than a passing resemblance to the kharjas (envois) to the Hispano-Arabic muwashshahat--hybrid poems in which a male voice (representing the "conqueror") sings in classical Arabic, followed by an "indigenous" female voice singing in a Romance vernacular--known to have appeared by the eleventh century.

Fowler's primary goal, though, is to give modern readers some idea of the "freshness and charm" of the medieval cantigas de amigo. As she herself concedes in her introduction, this is no easy task: the melodic nasal resonances of Portuguese are not readily transferred into English. The translations found in Songs of a Friend successfully convey the alternating/parallelistic structure of the cantigas de amigo, but overall they lack the lilting lyricism of the originals.

Lovely mother, I saw my friend / but did not speak with him and so I lost him, / but now I'm dying of love for him. / I did not speak because of my disdain; / I'm dying, mother, for love of him

for example, loses much as a conversion of

Madre velida, meu amigo vi, / no lhi falei e con el me perdi: / e moir' agora, querendo-lhi ben; / non lhi falei, ca o tiv' en desden; / moiro eu, madre, querendo-lhi ben.

The translations are, for the most part, accurate (although substituting "verdant" for "verde," "populace" for "gente," and "was wont to" for constructions with the imperfect tend to contribute to the stilted effect of the English versions). Occasionally the poems come across as too faithful to the originals: "Daughter, I'd like, if you please to know / about you and your friend one thing"; "Where my lover goes / he wants me much to go"; and "I believe that there comes here, / my mother, my friend" are rather infelicitous renderings of "Filha, de grado queria saber / de voss' amigu' e de vos unha ren"; "I vai o meu amado, / quer-me levar de grado"; and " tenho que ven i, / mia madre, o meu amigo."

Indeed, the one poem in which Fowler retains two untranslatable phrases arguably captures the spirit of the original most successfully. As with other "mysterious" refrains in the medieval lyric, "lelia doura / e doi lelia doura" may be onomatopoeic--in this case recreating the sound of a flute--or they may be imitations of Arabic refrains (this is where a broader view of the cultures of medieval Iberia would assist the reader). In Fowler's rendition:

I, the lovely one, didn't sleep, / lelia doura, / but my friend was wont to come to me, / e doi lelia doura.

I didn't sleep and was always grieved, / lelia doura, / but my friend was wont to arrive for me, / e doi lelia doura.

My friend was wont to come to me, / lelia doura, / and he'd speak so beautifully of love, / e doi lelia doura.

And my friend was wont to arrive for me, / lelia doura, / and he'd sing so beautifully of love, / e doi lelia doura.

I ardently desired, my friend, / lelia doura, / that you would be together with me, / e doi lelia doura.

It is worth noting that Frede Jensen opted to translate this poem in a similar fashion in Medieval Galician-Portuguese Poetry: An Anthology (New York: Garland, 1992). Many of the cantigas Fowler chose to translate also appear in that volume--in which Jensen more satisfyingly provides the Portuguese with translations on facing pages. The advantage of Fowler's smaller selection is that it is available in paperback and may be used for classroom use.