Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Minnesänger Mittwoch.

1) I experience an unnatural joy in the presence of the older siblings of all my favorite languages,
2) It's February,
3) I'm a sap, and
3) I haven't done a medieval post in a while,

I have decided to dedicate this post to the fine tradition of courtly-love poetry, Middle High German style. (Before I begin, you should know that all the information that follows will be broadly generalized, and woefully incomplete. This is just an introduction.) For the non-English majors out there in the world, courtly-love poetry was big in the High Middle Ages, and was most often written by men for an audience of women, and centered on the theme of unrequited love.* The poetic tradition was an extension of the lord-follower relationship in Europe of the time, but replaced the lord with the beloved woman. Duty to one's lord becomes duty to one's lady, often a married lady (hence the neccessity that the love remain unrequited). Following Ovid's description of love-sickness, the speaker/singer of these poems often described himself as becoming weak and pale, dying for love. For the non-German majors, Middle High German was the version of German spoken and written between about 1050 and either 1350 or 1500, depending on how you classify language change. The end date of MHG is still being argued among germanists, so pick your favorite of those two possibilities and go with that. Minnesänger (singular, Minnesang), adopted much form and content from the French and Spanish traditions of courtly love, and were quite popular at courts across the German language areas of Europe during the 12th and 13th century. There were differences, of course, among the traditions. The Germans, ever contemplative, tended to speak/sing more often about the philosophical problems presented by love than their Latin-European contemporaries. /didactic ramble

For February, I am offering to the internets one very small Minnesang, with which you can win friends and influence people. (Ok, geeky people, but geeky people need love too)

Short example, by an unknown poet (possibly female):

Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn:
des solt dû gewis sîn;
dû bist beslozzen in mînem herzen,
verlorn ist daz slüzzelîn:
dû muost och immer darinne sîn.

My own inexact and very clunky translation:

You are mine, I am thine:
This should be known to you;
You are locked in my heart
The little key is lost
You must always be therein.

*This would change when Walther von der Vogelweide** started a new tradition of courtly-love poetry called nidere minne (lower love) or Mädchenlieder (girl's songs), insisting that love must be "mutual." In short, Walther was a horndog. The problem with nidere minne is that it involves consummation of the relationship, a dangerous prospect if you're talking about the wife of a guy who has the power to kill you, and so those poems are about courtly men and their peasant mistresses. See "unter den linden" for details. Hohe Minne, or high love, poetry was thought to purify a man's soul, all that denying of the flesh stuff.

** This name is close enough to a double entendre to create great joy in my prurient life. Germans call birds Vogeln, but they also use the word vogeln as a replacement for our English verb "to fuck." Ergo, Walther could be from the bird meadow, or ... from that other meadow. Yes, I know, I'm a child.


Anonymous said...

Not that I think that you will ever need a Swedish translation of this Heo Cwaeth, but in case you do, below it is. Linguistically talented that you are, I am sure you can see the resemblance, even though I left out the diacritics:

du ar min, jag är din
detta skall du veta
du är inlast i mitt hjarta
forlorad är den lilla nyckeln
du maste alltid darinne vara

Have a good Thursday, Kicki

Bardiac said...

Naw, just a good Freudian!

I remember back in High School (which, seriously, is pretty amazing since HS was a long time ago and I wasn't paying attention anyways) being REALLY irritated when a psych teacher said that in dreams birds stood for sex.

Then, years later, I learned about the German pun thing (because I was reading Freud in a decent translation), and understood where he was getting that idea, and how utterly clueless that teacher was about Freud since he hadn't realized that it was a VERBAL thing, and language dependent, rather than a visual pun or sign or something.

Gah, now I'm thinking about how much I hated high school. When I really should be thinking about German puns and meadows and other fun stuff!

HeoCwaeth said...

Kicki, that is too cool! Now I'm all jealous that you get to know Swedish.

Bardiac, now I have visions of your teacher flapping about and cawing in his romantic interludes. It's super-funny, you should try it.

Ironically, my least favorite high school teacher after the evil chem teacher (who had a natural edge), was an English teacher who just rode the Freudian hobby-horse for all he was worth. Made me nuts at the time. "Hey, guy, anybody NOT in love with his mother?"