Jul 3, 2008

A Medieval Rose

Those of you who are frequent readers of this blog, and certainly those who know in world or out, have an understanding of my love of poetry, romance, and of the Medieval time period. I have recently been doing a little research on a work that has intrigued me for a number of reasons, some of which will be quite obvious simply from the title of the work.

Le Roman de la Rose

This poem was begun in 1225-40 by Guillaume de Lorris, and completed from 1270-78 by Jean de Meun.

Title Page

One of the most popular works of medieval French literature, Le Roman de la Rose survives today in some 300 manuscripts dating from the late 13th to early 16th century, and in numerous printed editions from the 15th and 16th centuries. Widely read throughout Europe, the poem influenced much of the literary output of the Middle Ages and was enjoyed by poets such as Chaucer, Gower, Dante and Petrarch.

The poem is written in octosyllabic couplets, and is cast as an allegorical dream-vision, that describes a young man's initiation into love and his efforts to possess the rosebud of which he is enamored. The first 4, 058 lines were composed by Guillaume de Lorris, of whom very little is further known; the remainder—nearly 18, 000 lines more—is the work of Jean de Meun, a Parisian writer and intellectual.

Guillaume created a narrative set in the Garden of Delight. His narrator meets the God of Love and his entourage. As he gazes into the fountain of Narcissus, he spies there a rosebud with which he falls in love. The God of Love then delivers a sermon about behaviour in love, based largely on Ovid's Art of Love. At this point in the dream, the Lover is influenced by many in the entourage of the God - Reason tries to dissuade the Lover; Ami offers courtship advice. The allegorical construct is such that there is no real figure for the lady, whose various attributes are represented by the Rose and by the figures that surround it. The two with whom the Lover interacts directly are male: Bel Acueil, a pleasant young boy who allows him to approach the Rose, and Danger, an obstreperous peasant who chases him away. Two other guardians of the Rose, Fear and Shame, are female. With the aid of Venus, the Lover manages to kiss the Rose; Jealousy builds a fortified tower to protect The Rose. The original poem ends with the Lover's lament.

It's unclear whether it was Guillaume's intent to end the narrative at this point, although in doing so it would have followed the lyric model whereby the Lover never consummates his love or desires. After Guillaume's death, there was a fairly rapid ending of the poem created which allowed the Lover to spend a night of bliss with The Rose. Jean's continuation is transformational. The poem expands to include rational, erotic, self-serving, procreational, and sacred forms of love. In a thinly veiled allegory of sexual intercourse, the Lover finally succeeds in penetrating to the inner sanctum where the Rose is enshrined; the poem ends with his awakening at daybreak.

Jean's expanded focus also allows for extended discussion of such diverse issues as language and signification; Fortune, destiny, and free will; government and justice; optics and meteorology; and the role of procreation in the natural and supernatural order of things.

Le Roman has been far reaching in influence both in the Middle Ages as well as into the 20th century. Part of the story was translated from its original Old French into Middle English as The Romaunt of the Rose, which had a great influence on English literature. Chaucer was familiar with the original French text, and a portion of the Middle English translation is thought to be his work. C. S. Lewis' 1936 study The Allegory of Love renewed interest in the poem.

Friends, there is much more to be written on this work regarding structure, allegory, courtly love, the appetite of the people of the Middle Ages for this work, the critical reception over the centuries, as well as the influence it has exerted. And I am sure that several of my readers would enjoy discussion of the Old French and Middle English languages primarily employed.

Perhaps your humble narrator will continue this discussion in the near future, but for now I leave you with the Summary Outline of Le Roman de la Rose as created by Jacob Babb, and a portion of the work translated. Warning: this may only (and I sincerely hope this is the case) whet your appetite.

Prologue (ll. 1-20)
The Dreamer Falls in Love
The Dreamer finds and explores the Garden (ll. 21-1422)
The paintings of undesirable people on the wall (ll. 139-460
The beautiful people of the Garden and the God of Love (ll. 707-1232)
The Dreamer (now become the Lover) falls in love with the Rose; the God of Love instructs him in love (ll. 1423-2748)
First approach to the Rose and setback (ll. 2749-3081)
The Lover asks for the Rose; Resistance chases him away (ll. 2863-2954)
Reason reasons with the Lover (ll. 2955-3082)
Second approach and setback (ll. 3083-4190)
Friend, Candor, Pity, and Venus help the Lover to approach the Rose (ll. 3083-3454)
Warm Welcome allows him to kiss the Rose (ll. 3455-80)
Warm Welcome taken and imprisoned by Jealousy and friends (ll.3481-4190) (End of Guillaume’s part, beginning of Jean’s continuation)
The Attack on the Fortress
Reason lectures the Lover at great length; he still will not listen (ll. 4191-7200)
Friend returns with more advice (ll. 7201-9972)Monologue of the Jealous Husband (ll. 8437-9330)
The God of Love returns, decides to help the Lover (third attempt on the Rose) (ll. 9973-11983)
The Lover rejected by Wealth (.. 10021-237)
Love’s barons are assembled (ll. 10400-888)
The revelation of False Seeming (ll. 10889-11984)
The attack begins; a gift sent to Warm Welcome; The Old Woman speaks her mind (ll. 11985-14777)
The Lover chased away again; the assault resumes (ll. 14778-15795)
Venus comes to the rescue (ll. 15597-846)
The Lover wins the Rose
Nature confesses to her priest, Genius (ll. 15863-19380)
All of creation is reviewed (ll. 16699-18990)
Nature complains that man does not do her bidding (ll. 18991-19304)
Genius gives his sermon to the troups (ll. 19369-20673)Full pardon is granted to everyone who serves Nature through procreation (ll. 19475-20652)
The Fortress is taken (ll. 20653-21315)
The story of Pygmalion (ll. 20786-21184)
Venus sends her torch into the tower (ll. 21221-246)
The Lover possesses the Rose and awakens (ll. 21316-750)


**Lady Reason's Definition of Love
Tant com ainsinc me dementoie
des grans douleurs que je sentoie
ne ne savoie ou querre mire
de ma tristece ne de m’ire,

ors vi droit a moi revenant
Reson, la bele, l’avenant,
qui de sa tour jus descendi
quant mes conplaintes entendi.

'Beaus amis, dist Reson la bele,
conment se porte la querele?
Seras tu ja d’amer lassez?
N’as-tu pas eü mal assez?
Que te semble or des maus d’amer?
Sunt il trop douz ou trop amer?
Sez en tu le mean eslire
qui te puist aidier et soffire?
As tu or bon seigneur servi,
qui si t’a pris et aservi
et te tourmonte sanz sejour?

'Volantiers, or i'entent donques.
Amours, se bien sui apensee,
C'est maladie de pensee
Antre ·ij· persones annexe,
Franches entr'els, de divers sexe,
Venanz a genz par ardeur nee
De vision desordenee,

Pour acoler et pour besier,
Pour els charnelment aesier.
Amant autre chose n'entant,
Ainz s'art et se delite en tant;
De fruit avoir ne fet il force,

S'il sunt aucun de tel maniere
Que ceste amour n'ont mie chiere,
Toutevois fins amanz se faignent,
Mes par amors amer ne daignent
Et se gabent ainsinc des dames
Et leur prometent cors et ames,
Et jurent menconges et fables
A cels qui trouvent decevables,
Tan qu’il ont leur delit eü.
Mes cil sont le mains deceü
Car adés vient il mieuz, beau mestre
Decevoir, que deceüz estre;
Meesmemant en ceste guerre,
Quant le maien ni sevent querre.

While I moaned thus about the great sorrows
I was suffering,
not knowing where to seek
a remedy for my grief and affliction,

I saw fair Reason
coming straight back towards me.
She had descended from her tower
because she heard my complaints.

'My fair friend,’ said Reason the fair,
'how is our discussion going?
Will you be tired of loving on day?
Have you not suffered enough?
How do the woes of love seem to you?
Are they too sweet or too bitter?
Are you capable of choosing the proper mean among them,
the appropriate degree which would suffice?
Is he a good lord who has thus captured and subjugated you
and who torments you without respite?

'Willingly! Now listen carefully!
Love, if I think correctly,
is a sickness of thought
that takes place between two persons
who are close to and open with each other
...It arises in people from burning desire,
born of disorderly glances,

to embrace and kiss each other
and to have the solace of one another's body.
A lover so burns
and is so enraptured that
he thinks of nothing else;
he takes no account of bearing fruit,
but strives only for delight.

There are those of a certain kind
who do not hold this love dear,
yet who always pretend to be courtly lovers.
However, they do not deign to love for love
and thus deceive ladies
by promising them their hearts and souls
and by swearing lies and fables to those whom they find gullible,
until they have taken their pleasure with them.
But such people are less deceived than the others;
for it is always better, good master, to deceive than to be deceived,
particularly in this war,
when one never knows how to find the right medium.

** The Deflowering of the Rose
N'iert il ne fraiez ne batuz.
Et pour ce m'i suis anbatuz
Que d'autre antree n'i a point
Pour le bouton cueillir a point.
Si saurez com ie me contins:
Tant que a mon gre le bouton tins
Le fet orraiz et la maniere
Pour ce que le mestier vous iere
Quant la douce seson vandra
Seigneur vallet qu'il convandra
Que vous ailliez cueillir les roses
Ou les ouvertes ou les closes.
Que si sagemant i ailliez
Que vous au cueillir ne failliez
Fetes si com vous morroiz fere
Se mieuz n'an savez a chief iere
Car se vous plus largetemant
Ou mieuz ou plus soutinemant?
Poez le passage passer
San vous destraidre ne lasser
Si le passez en vostre guise
Quant vous auroiz la moie aperte
Tant aiez au mains davantage
Que je vous apraign mon usage
San riens prandre de vostre avoir
Si man tenez bon gre falloir.
Quant giere ileuc si anpressiez
Tant soit du rosier apressiez
Que mon vouloir poi les mains tendre
Au raiseaus par le bouton prendre

Bel acueill par dieu me plait
Qui nul outrage fet ni ait
Et ie li mis moult en couvant
Pour ce qu'il m'an parlaie souvant
Que ia nule riens ne feroie
For sa volanté et la moie.

Par les rains saisi le rosier
Qui plus sunt franc que mil osier

....Quand an si haut degre me vi
Que i'oï si noblemant chevi
Que mes proces n'iert mes doutables
Pour ce que fins et agreables
Fusse ver touz mes biens sereurs
Si com doit fere bons deteurs
Car moult estoie a eus tenuz
Quant par eus iere devenuz
Si riche que pour voir le fiche
Richece n'estoit pas si riche
Au Dieu d'amours et a Venus
Qui m'orent aidié mieuz que nus
Puis a touz les barons de l'ost
Don ie pour dieu qu'il ia ne l'ost
Des secours au fins amoureus
Antre les besiers savoureus

...Grant m'orent arriere mis
Especiaument ialousie
A tout son chapel de soussie
Qui des amanz les roses garde
Moult an fet ore bone garde
Ainz que d'ileuc me remuasse
Ou mon veull oncor demourasse
Par grant ioliveté cueilli
La fleur du biau rosier fueilli
Ainsic oï la rose vermeille
A tant fu iorz et ie m'esveille.

At least I know for certain
that at that time it was not a well-worn, beaten path.
Since there was no other place
whatsoever where I might enter to gather the bud,
I hurled myself through that path.
You shall know how I carried on
until I took the bud at my pleasure.
You, my young lords, shall know both the deed and the manner,
so that if, when the sweet season returns,
the need arises for you to go gathering roses,
either opened or closed,
you may go so discreetly that you will not fail in your collecting.
Do as you hear that I did,
if you know no better how to achieve your goal;
for, if you can negotiate the passage better, more easily or deftly,
without straining or tiring yourself,
then do so in your way when you have learned mine.
At least you will have the advantage that I am teaching you my method
without taking any of your money,
and for that you should feel grateful.

Cramped as I was there,
I had approached so near to the rosebush
that I could reach out my hands at will to take the bud from the branches.

Fair Welcoming had begged me for God's sake
to commit no outrage,
and, because he begged me often,
I promised him firmly
that I would never do anything except his will and mine.

I seized the rosebush,
fresher than any willow, by its branches,

When I saw myself raised to such high degree,
an estate gained so nobly that my methods were not suspect,
because I had been loyal and open toward all my benefactors,
as a good debtor should be - for I was very much bound to them,
since through them I had become so rich that (I declare it as the truth)
there was no wealth as rich - when I saw myself thus,
I rendered thanks, among the delicious kisses,
ten or twenty times, first to the God of Love and to Venus,
who had aided me more than anyone,
then to all the barons of the host,
whose help I pray God never to take away from pure lovers.

...Before I stirred from that place
where I should wish to remain forever,
I plucked, with great delight,
the flower from the leaves of the rosebush,
and thus I have my red rose.
Soon it was day, and I awoke.