Michael P. Kuczynski

title.none: Kehew, Lark in the Morning (Michael P. Kuczynski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0703.010 07.03.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael P. Kuczynski, Tulane University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Kehew, Robert, ed. Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, translated by Ezra Pound, W.D. Snodgrass and Robert Kehew. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. xvii, 343. ISBN: $25.00 0-226-42933-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.03.10

Kehew, Robert, ed. Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, translated by Ezra Pound, W.D. Snodgrass and Robert Kehew. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. xvii, 343. ISBN: $25.00 0-226-42933-4.

Reviewed by:

Michael P. Kuczynski
Tulane University

This is an important book for a number of reasons. First, it is a handsomely produced and illustrated selection, in paperback, of some of the most important lyrics composed between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the south of France. Its nearest competitor, Frederick Goldin's Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouveres (New York: Anchor, 1973), has a much wider brief and is now available only in battered used copies or expensive hardbound reprints. Lark in the Morning is likely to generate a new wave of interest, among undergraduates and the general reader especially, in the emotional vitality and rhetorical freshness of a group of poets who (as the book's jacket points out) influenced profoundly not only medieval poets such as Dante and Chaucer, but English and French Romanticism and even, distantly, modern rock lyricists.

The book is also noteworthy as an anthology assembled by a non- professional medievalist, someone who certainly knows the basic scholarship in the field (there are good footnotes and a full bibliography), but who is animated primarily by an enthusiasm sometimes lacking in the work of professionals. The profusion of mixed and even concussive metaphors in Kehew's Preface and Introduction can get tiring. It is refreshing, nevertheless, to find the often recycled facts of troubadour culture (fin amor, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Albigensian crusade) folded in with the compiler's excited excurses on types of troubadour verse (e.g. the alba and the sirventes) and, in the briefer introductions that precede each group of poems, Kehew's riffs on extracts from medieval biographical sources on each of his poets.

As with any anthology, one could quibble with the selections. Why not include, for instance, Marcabru's pushy, self-promoting D'aisso lau Dieu ("For this I praise God," Goldin, 56-61), or Bernart de Ventadorn's languorous self-indictment, Lo tems vai e ven e vire ("Time comes, and turns, and goes," Goldin, 154-59)? Both poems exemplify, more tellingly than some of Kehew's choices, the linguistic aptitude and audacity of the troubadours. Kehew's selections, however, are determined by his aim to gather here only translations he himself has worked or those that have been written by two of his own literary precursors (in a moment of occupatio, he acknowledges them as his "superiors," p. xii), the Modernist poet Ezra Pound and W. D. Snodgrass, who made his early reputation with Heart's Needle (New York: Knopf, 1959), arguably the first book of American "confessional" poetry and a serious influence on Robert Lowell.

My reference to Lowell is not inapt, since he practiced a kind of translation that Pound (one of his idols) promoted and Snodgrass (his student) imitated: looser translation according to the sense or spirit of a foreign original, rather than strict translation according to the words. There is no such thing, of course, as an absolutely literal translation of a poem from its language-of-origin into another vernacular. But translations are literal in varying degrees and indeed, in various ways. Those interested in sounder word-by-word renderings of most of the poems in Lark in the Morning should consult Goldin. Kehew's volume, I reckon, won't be used by many scholars or graduate students. Readers fascinated by how one poet manages to engage the soul of another over an ample chronological and verbal divide, however, will find much to admire and think about in the versions of troubadour lyrics collected here. If I had to generalize, I would say that Kehew's own translations manage to be the most literal of the lot, and are perhaps for that very reason the least dexterous. Snodgrass, by contrast, is better at duplicating, with clever variations, troubadour rhyme schemes and Pound at capturing subtle points of meter and, that elusive feature of any translator's original, tone.

The violations of sense in some of these versions are annoying. For example, here are the opening French lines of Raimbaut d'Aurenga's very witty Escotatz, mas no say que s'es, followed by Snodgrass's translation as given across the page by Kehew:

Escotatz, mas no say que s'esSenhor, so que vuelh comensar.Vers, estribot, ni sirventes? p. 120)

Beg pardon, Lords, but who knows whatKind of a song this is I'll sing?Ballad, or blues or protest song? (p. 121)

In an anthology that makes much of the exact genre differences between troubadour lyrics, these loose equivalents (especially "blues" for estribot) deserve a more expansive note than Kehew provides (p. 321). Kehew should likewise have said something about Pound's use in some of his translations of archaic Middle English words to provide antique coloring (e.g., "swevyn" for dream on p. 39, "benison" for blessing on p. 199)-and for that matter, his own local use of some rather obscure English words for military ballistic devices ("perrier" and "mangonel," the second of these cognate with French manganeus in the translation's original, p. 130). Other features that might have made the book more reader-friendly would have been parenthetical dates for each of the French poets in the Table of Contents and at the back of the book, a glossary of troubadour genres and an index according to translator. There is also no discussion of music, a serious omission in a book that emphasizes troubadour "song." (To be fair, however, this last is an oversight that Kehew's anthology shares with Goldin's.)

These points aside, Lark in the Morning is a valuable book: a useful and stimulating introduction to a poetic tradition undergraduate students and the general reader might otherwise neglect. I can imagine it being used, to good effect, in undergraduate survey courses on medieval literature in translation and even in seminars on such topics as "translation" and "medievalism," where it could be paired with Chris Jones's recent critical study, Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), which also discusses Pound.