Saturday, May 20, 2006

ausias march

discovery of the week: you're in the second story books warehouse in rockville, 50% off everything in the store, trolling through the poetry section and there's this weird, thin green-and-beige spined book with the words "edinburgh bilingual library" and "selected poems" by someone you've never heard of printed on it, so of course you pick it up and read.

Ausias March (1397-1459) is widely recognized as the finest poet working anywhere in Europe between Chaucer and Villon.

i mean that's pretty much all you need to read in order to confirm this as a must purchase; a penciled-in $1.50 on the inside first page upper-right corner merely guarantees that this will be an inexpensive gamble that is almost certain to pay off. but you read on.

That he wrote in Catalan has restricted full appreciation to specialist scholars. This is unfortunate, for not merely the quality of his poetry, but equally its content, give it a necessary place in this history of medieval courtly poetry, especially in that March significantly modifies the tradition, replacing it in part with a tormented introspection, brooding on morality, on death, on the conflict between spirit and passionate flesh. Across two centuries he beckons to Donne.

how entirely all over this am i? turns out there was for all intents and purposes no catalan poetry prior to ausias march because they all wrote in provençal like his buddies to the north. in 1213 tho, king peter I of aragon was killed at the battle of muret, fighting in defense of the albigensians (oh it's so robert duncan and da vinci code!), at which point catalonia and provençe begin to go their own ways. by the 1270s, ramon llull is able to establish catalan as a medium for literary prose, but his entirely religious and sometimes mystical poetry is still all written in provençal. aside from one jordi de saint jordi, who wrote late troubadour poetry in a slightly catalanized provençal but died in 1425 in his early twenties before he could develop it further, it's all up to ausias march.

i so rarely read back in the tradition this far that i don't have a good sense for what's a genuine troubadour sentiment, what's late parody, etc. or how catalan differs linguistically from provençal (they look pretty similar to me, tho if you have any romance languages you can definitely get the gist of it). i don't think i could spot trobar clus if it came up and bit me on the nose. but here's a stanza from ausias march (followed by a prose translation by arthur terry):

Alt e amor, d'on gran desig s'engendra,
e esper vinent per tots aquests graons,
me són delits, mas dòna'm passions
la por del mal, qui em fa magrir carn tendra;
e port al cor sens fum continu foc,
e la calor no em surt a part de fora.
Socorreu-me dins los térmens d'una hora,
car mos senyals demostren viure poc.

Pleasure and love, from which great desire is born, and hope, which passes through all these stages, are sources of delight to me, but the fear of misfortune, which makes my tender flesh grow thin, brings me suffering; and I carry in my heart a continual fire without smoke, and the heat does not reach my outer part. Help me within the space of an hour, for my symptoms show that I shall not live much longer.

the hell with donne, how about reaching across four centuries to baudelaire? "la por del mal" is so, so close to "la puer du mal" and "les fleurs du mal" -- rock on, ausias!

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