The Monk Who Knew the Ways of Love

The Monk Who Knew the Ways of Love

By Michael J. Routledge

Reading Medieval Studies, Volume 12, 1986

Troubadour playing a fiddle – image from BnF ms. 854 fol. 49

Introduction: The concept of a poetry of clichés, uniform by accident or design, impersonal, and lacking in individuality, is foreign to the aims and methods of any of these poets. Each one has his own intentions, of arguing, persuading, entertaining, instructing, expressing his own feelings, or creating a new and perfect work art. Each is an ‘inventor’,

‘E son inl’entores / Dig tug Ii trobador.’

Thus Linda M. Patterson concluded her study, Troubadours and Eloquence, and, although the reference is to those five troubadours whose works she analysed, the methods of analysis and the conclusions reached indeed imply that a similar approach to the work of other troubadours would make it possible to extend this claim to originality and individuality much more widely.

Alongside this welcome tendency to view each poet as an individual we have also witnessed in recent years a quasi-structuralist approach which has stressed the uniformity to be found in the deeper structure of the grand chant courtois but which has paradoxically drawn further attention to what Paul Zumthor called ‘des combinaisons a la surface innombrables‘ and ‘plusieurs indices formels constants‘.

It has thus been suggested that the art of the troubadour or trouvere is original primarily in its exercise of choice within a relatively strictly limited field and that, if art results from the tension between freedom and restraint, between Dionysius and Apollo, then the two poles of this dialectic are the exercise of choice of expression and the limitation of the field in terms of subject-matter and linguistic register. J. Gruber’s recent study, Dialetik des Trobar, whilst seeing the dialectic of composition in terms of renewal rather than of an unconditioned choice, helps further to define the notion of originality in relation to the troubadour canso.

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