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    The Affective World of Troubadour’s Songs


    The paper below is memorable. This is because it is the first academic writing in my previous university life.   Viewing the paper from today, although the English is no good, and the expressions is overwording, I still like it very much, not only of ideas but also the first success of developing my thinking pattern.

    The Affective World of Troubadour’s Song: 

    A symbol of the relief from religious restraint


    From time to time, the artistic value of poem not lies in the elegance and sensuous words, but rather, the idea or symbol concealed behind these words. In a similar way, what the troubadours, a group of poet-musicians from the aristocratic class of France active from the 11th to 12th century, leaves to the world is a treasure of heartfelt, profound and consummate affectionate musical works. Although this affection is somewhat idealistic and unattainable, its influence is still far reaching till to many centuries, constituting part of what is  now called European humanistic culture. It was in the 11th century that the troubadours first began to appear. The combination of the ‘Heroic Chivalry’ and the ideal ‘Courtly Love’ that they contributed found expression in the daily words and deeds of the medieval people. The first troubadour of record was Duke William of Aquitaine. His poetry is said to contain all elements of ‘Courtly Love’, a kind of lovely affection commonly reflected in many troubadours’ poems. The nature of ‘Courtly Love’ is rather ambivalent, sometimes positive and joyful, but sometimes  melancholic and miserable. Although many of the extant troubadour poems exalt the pure and passionate affection of the ‘Courtly Love’ between a gentleman and a courtly lady in the surface, such passions, however, always give evidence of presenting somewhat the religious symbolism as a personal emotional reaction to the social/liturgical orders and codes beneath.[1] In the following discussion, I shall examine the affective world of troubadours through their songs and lyrics, especially seeking the underlying tones of the words, so as to reveal how the ‘Courtly love’, was shaped and shaped the medieval musical culture.


    It is almost impossible for us to understand the symbolism of the troubadours’ poetry without referring to the culture and religious situation in the Middle Ages. Medieval people lived under a restrained world of codes and rules. Treaties, guidance, manners, no matter on chivalry, on hunting, on table, on liturgy, subliminally directed their daily life[2]. In addition, the Catholic Church acted as the ministry of God’s representative on earth. It was the sole means of maintaining the divine, godly, order of the terrestrial world regardless of her ‘greedy zeal’ in accumulating their prestige and wealth incessantly. The Church doctrine and liturgy not only gave coherence but also restraints to everyday life.


    The promise of salvation, the soul’s redemption from sin and its eternal life in a world to come, for instance, was assured by the Church through the ways of burdensome sacraments[3]. No matter is the ‘Ladder of Salvation’ of the wall painting of Chaldon Church, or the ‘Ladder of Perfection’ by Whicker, gives the impression of how a medieval individual should put in effort for the whole life but still wore an entire face of fear and uncertainty in the last judgment before the awe-inspiring God[4]. The rooted religious affection of the poets, therefore, like the common medieval people, unavoidably was a contradictive amalgamation of anxiety and devotion, as well as desperation and piousness. It is because of these underlying negative emotions that rooted unconsciously in the mind of the troubadours, the ‘Courtly Love’ that flourished in their poems becomes a kind of substituted and transformed affection, becoming a relief from the liturgical rigidities. In this sense, the poems of troubadour comprise religious symbolism.


    According to the Webster’s Third New International Dictationary, the word ‘relief’ means that an feeling of removal or lightening or setting free of something burdensome, painful or distressing. One of the ways to remove the stress of the afflicting emotion, in general speaking, is to let the negative affection substituted by another positive one. In the daily experience, for instance, consoling by good friends or enjoying a nice trip can always assist to calm down, or to relieve from the vigorous and agitated emotions after the quarrel between a couple of lovers. It is because the negative affection is overcame, or substituted, by some positive affection. The same thing happens in the poems of the troubadours. It is obvious that the troubadour song presented a kind of love so-called ‘Feudalization’ of love. The lady was called ‘midons’ or ‘senhor’. Only a bad lord refused to protect and aid his vassal with pity. In some poetry of the troubadours, the lady is depicted as so lofty and unapproachable, somewhat like the God in certain ways, that the lover in aspiring to her is like a lesser, humiliate knight seeking a seat by a mighty baron[5]. It can be imagined that a medieval man who was zealous, heartfelt and devout but could not touch even the corner of the “Ladder of Salvation’. Where his affection could be released? It is not surprised to assert that the loyalty or honesty between the lord and the vassal in the feudal society resembled the dedicated love towards God. The more the man dedicated loyally as a serf to his lord, the ‘midons’, the more the man felt relief from the restricted emotion because of the more acceptance from the lord. In Pus Vezem, Guilhem of Poitou, also named William of Anquitane, stated:


      Flowering fields again we see, the meadows rich with greenery, the

      springs all rippling lucidly, the wind, the breeze

      With every man that joy should be, which brings him ease…………


      Obedience he must not spurn,

      Bowing to many. In his turn he must do pleasant deeds to earn

      The love he has to sought.

      Yes, like a serf he now must learn silence in court………


    Interestingly, ‘Feudalisation of Love’ consists of certain elements of what is said to be called ‘Courtly Love’. The poet is about a serf and how he feels if he could gain more freedom from the rigid and aloof world by showing absolute obedience to the lady in regardless of whatever the pain brought. The rising of love is linked with the spring. The lady is the most beautiful in the world and the poet is submissive to her power.[6] With releasing of his obedient love, poet seems to gain the freedom from his restrained affection world, in the other word, from the very hypocritical and superficial religious orders, and those sacraments. Through the use of feudal metaphor in troubadour’s poem, the negative, unrequited affection towards God was substituted by a kind of positive and rewarding feudalized fidelity, though deriving from poets’ imagery, was still a way of passionate relief. In fact, troubadours showed no pretence of worshipping aloofness. They really wanted the consummating embrace. But not all the idealistic love in the poems give a perfect result from their ‘Midons’, or the lady.


    Undeniably, many of the ‘Courtly love’ ideas presented in the poems flourishes with grief, sorrow and disappointment. To love is to suffer, and even it associates with distressing physical symptoms such as an inability to eat or sleep[7]. The tenets of such love requires a knight to prove his love for his lady by performing courageous, and often impossible deeds; he must even be willing to die for her. If this kind of affection is another form of affection to substitute the rigid and unfulfilled Christian love, we can understand why when Pope Urban II proclaimed for the bloody crusade in 1095A.D., albeit irrational, the response was a tremendous success that totally exceeded his expectation. However, what remaining nowadays is only a horrible and bloody historical record of mankind.


    In the troubadour’s song of ‘Distant Lady’, the religious symbolism in the poetry, again, is obvious. The troubadour secularizes this highly self-devoted, vassal-like or even serf-like affection believing that the lesser he asserted his own will, the more he accepted by the lady, that is, he was closer to the top of the ‘Salvation Ladder’[8]. Jaufre Rudel, undoubtedly, depicts us a clear picture of the writer’s devout affection, his inner intense religious love and how it is sublimated and realized into the metaphorical feudal affection towards his ‘Lady’. The ‘Distant Lady’ in the song can be every woman truly loved and loving. The separation is not meant that she is unreal or unattainable but, on the other hand, it is the aim in life to seek or to discover, no matter for the poet or for the others. Rudel wrote:


       When now the days are long in May,

       I love to hear the birds far distant,

       And when the song has died away,

       I dream about a love as distant………..

       Sad and rejoicing I shall part from her,

       When I have seen this love far away:…………


       He speaks the truth who I says I crave

      And go desiring this love far away

    For no other joy pleases me more,

    For my godfather gave me this fate

      Than the rich enjoyment of this love far away[9]…….


    In a more concrete sense, Rudel’s poem shows us that seeking for the Courtly Love from the distant ‘Lady’ is the seeking for the love, or the pity from the angry God. The more he suffered in the course of seeking, the more godly devotion he had sacrificed, and thus, another way of relief of his onerous affection. This might be the aim in life of the poet, to some extent, the aim in life of every medieval man[10]in order to fulfill the unsatisfied religious heart.


    As we have seen that how the metaphoric ‘Feudal Love’ or ‘Courtly Love’ plays an important role in troubadours’ poem and is related with their religious affection, it is interested to point out that the cult of the Virgin Mary in the High Middle Ages is also another factor affecting their underlying emotion of the poems. Ironically, Christianity succeeded ultimately in this period because it represented a return to the pagan way of worshipping the original goddess which devotion to the Roman gods or ancient earthly goddess had precluded though the Church had attempted to stamp out previously. The importance of the adoration of the ‘Mother of Heaven’ was not only meant that the rank of the woman, at least in the middle class, was exalted, but also the rigidities of fear underlying the medieval world-views dominated by the concept and image of God’ s harsh judgment, was gradually broken down. The adoration of the Virgin, therefore, satisfied some of the attitudes that went to the troubadour system with its worship of the ‘Lady’. In a more progressive sense, the ‘Feudal Lady’ in the poem of troubadour is now transformed into Virgin Mary who was defined as a human character that could really temper justice with mercy, even with a warm or a merciful smile. On the other hand, Virgin Mary, the intercessor for the salvation of wicked human soul, tended to be humanized. She was seen as a real, fleshy and attainable human of tenderness and compassion. No matter is the ‘Goddess’ transformed to “Lady’ or vice versa, the restrained religious affection is relieved through this religious symbolization process. In poem of Bernart De Ventadorn, the ‘Lady’ is transformed to become the Virgin Mary, Goddess of love, mercy and pity. The ‘God-liked Lady’ is all beautiful and amiable. She lifts all worshippers including the poet himself up to passionate perfection and completeness and never lets down his hopes. The poem states:


        This love wounds me so gentle

        In the heart with sweet savor

        A hundred times a day I die of grief

        And revive with joy another hundred………

        good will be the reward after suffering


    All the gold silver in the world

    I would have given, if I had it

    Provided my lady might know

    How truly I love her………


    When I see her, it certainly shows

    In my eyes, my face, my color

    For I tremble with fear, like the leaf in the wind

    I haven’t the judgement of a child

     So overwhelmed am I love

      And toward a man who is thus vanquished

    A lady could show great pity[11]……….


    Ventadorn obviously expressed the devotion of a knightly servant to the ‘Lady’, but in one aspect as we have seen, the energies that had alienated into God struggling for salvation had been drawn to the ‘Lady’, a ‘God-liked Lady’ that was more attainable, more perfect and even more human-liked. In a more ridiculous way, the image that appeared before the poet’s eyes when he prayed was his human ‘Lady’, not the angry God swaying to and fro in acceptance of salvation.


    On the other hand, in the song of Guiraut Riquier, Humils, forfaitz, repress e penedens, we explicitly find that the previous concentrations of love on the feudal ‘Midons’ turned to the Goddess Mary requesting for mercy and redemption. The Goddess, ‘Virgin Mary’, was transformed to become a humanized person, a real person in life that was more sensuous and attainable. He definitely wrote:


    Humble, guilty, accused and repentant,

    Saddened, unhappy to return,

    I am, for I have lost my time on account of sin,

    I beg mercy, lady, gracious Virgin,

    Mother of Christ, son of the all-power, that you take no account of my sin towards you,

    If it pleases you, consider the need of my miserable soul………….


    Again, in another song of Riquier, he begged for love and pardon even more honestly. His poem Be.m degra de chantar tener states:


    I should certainly refrain from singing,

    For to song, happiness is fitting,

    And worry constrains me so much

    That it causes pain from all sides,……………..


    My sense, my joy, my displeasure

    My pain and my profit truly

    For I scarcely say anything else good………


    With a great umber of setbacks

    From which it seems that He is against us

    On account of disordered desire

    And overweening power………


    Lady, mother of charity,

    Secure for us, out of pity,

    From your son, redeemer,

    Grace, pardon and love[12].

    Goddess Mary is humanized in the poem. This upsurge of deep pagan elements that revived popularly in the medieval period was returned to the hands of Troubadours’. The expression of the poet’s deep and pious devotion of Mother of Heaven was now turned towards his ‘Humanized Lady’. He was requesting for mercy, for redemption, even for the salvation[13]. The goal of joy after redemption, seen as the motive force of love, is interpreted in terms of poet’s experience as he offered his devotion in the face of setback and disappointment. The previous unattainable desires for the religious affection of satisfaction are fulfilled through his own created ‘Virgin Mary’, a humanized Goddess.

    In conclusion, it is because of this kind of substituted or transformed lovely affection, the ‘Feudal Love’ or ‘Courtly Love’, relieves the troubadour poets from the restrained religious affliction. Perhaps, this may be the reason why the music of the troubadour was so popular in the Middle Ages. The echo was clear. Whether the influences are directly or indirectly, the ideas of pure love lauded by nobility and idolized by the troubadours spread rapidly and extensively like diseases. Under the influence, Tristram and Ysolt, Wace’s Brut and the romance of Troy were written. Andress Capellanus, furthermore, viewed ‘Courtly Love’ which embraced in the affection world of the troubadours’ poetries, as an art of rules and he regulated these rules into his remarkable work of The Art of Courtly Love. Whether this work is satirical, sincere, or debatable is not the most important. Its recognition is nevertheless the golden testament of love to all medieval people. It is also regarded as the incipient of the ‘Romance Love’, which is the most essential love culture of the European world[14].

    The impact of the troubadours’ poems, however, was far beyond this limit. We find that more and more the secular used the religious symbolism that prevailed in troubadours’songs. Chretiende Troyes took over a great deal of the religious vocabulary and turned it to the use of sensual love. Love was adoration. In Gottfried’s Tristan of the early thirteen century there was a Cave of Lovers described as a richly adorned church with its shrine. In the center was ‘the nest of crystalline Love’ with design and proportions explained after the modes of the Gothic World[15]. As the time passed, more and more different kinds of sculptures, literatures, poems reflected in religious symbolism, and even frequently, gave evidence of hostility, or fierce attack on the social inequity and corrupted Church and thus, enforced the reformation of the Church. The poets, the artists tended to express their personal ideas and affection, at the same time, release their religious or social restrained emotions through their artistic activities. Therefore, through the contribution of the troubadours’ music and their ways of discharging the affection by using religious symbolism, it is undeniable to assert that the most precious and valuable lyric poetry in Western humanistic culture begins with the ‘Troubadour’.



    Andrea Hopkins, The Passionate Code of the Troubadours, New York: Harper San Francisco 1994.

    Fiero Gloria K., The Humanistic Tradition: Medieval Europe and the World Beyond, 2nd ed., Singapore: Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1995

    Goldin Frederick, Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1983.

    Lindsay Jack, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976.

    RosenbergSamuel N., et al., Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.

    Stoner Kay, L., The Enduring Popularity of Courtly Love




    David Leung (theorydavid)
    2013-10-12 Published

    [1] Gloria K. Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition: Medieval Europe and the World Beyond, 2nd ed., Singapore: Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1995, pp75-76.

    [2] Hopkins Andrea, The Passionate Code of the Troubadours, New York: Harper San Francisco 1994, p15.

    [3] Gloria K. Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition: Medieval Europe and the World Beyond, 2nd ed., Singapore: Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1995, p80.


    [4] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, pp214-217.

    [5] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, pp213.

    [6] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, pp15-17.

    [7] Hopkins Andrea, The Passionate Code of the Troubadours, New York: Harper San Francisco 1994, pp6-7.

    [8] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, p221.

    [9] Frederick Goldin, Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1983, pp104-107.

    [10] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, p69.

    [11] Samuel N. Rosenberg, et al., Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998, p65.


    [12] Samuel N. Rosenberg, et al., Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998, pp172-173.

    [13] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, p215.

    [14] Kay L., Stoner, The Enduring Popularity of Courtly Love

    [15] Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and Their World, London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1976, pp222-224.

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