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Warbled Words: the "Starling" and "Nightingale" Poems
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WARBLED WORDS: THE "STARLING" AND "NIGHTINGALE" POEMS Marcabru wrote two poems. "Estomel, cueill ta volada" (PC 293.25) and "Ges 1'estornels non s'oblida" (PC 293.26) which form a narrative doublet.1 In the first, a man sends out a bird messenger to his lady; in the second, the woman receives the message and gives her reply. In each poem, one member of the couple speaks—in the first, the man and in the second, the woman. The bird also has something to say. This outline has perhaps disposed the reader to imagine a romantic and courtly story. Such is not the case—the bird is a raucous, untidy starling while the lady turns out to be very uncourtly. Peire d'Alvemhe has also left two sets of poems which are very similar to Marcabru's, at least in form. "Rossinhol. el seu repaire" (PC 323.23) and "Ben atengut dreg viatge" (PC 323.24).2This time a nightingale is sent by the man to the lady, and this time our romantic sensibilities are not disappointed—a lover's reunion and tryst are anticipated. The two sets ofbird poems are the only such doubletswhich exist in the troubadour corpus and are usually considered to be linked to each other. Because they are so closely linked, the question ofwhich pair was written first has long engaged scholars. It is my argument that Marcabru's parodie lyrics were composed before Peire's more traditional verses. This article will consider earlier scholarship on the chronology of the four poems and examine in detail Marcabru's starling poems in light of his oeuvre and in terms of antecedents. I propose that Marcabru composed independently of Peire and that Peire's poems are a logical and temporary development from Marcabru's. Critics such as MoIk believe that Marcabru's starling poemswere followed by Peire's poems (107-8). Yet this conclusion does not seem satisfactory on several counts. Marcabru's starling poems have been seen as a parody of the courtly love situation. So argues Topsfield who does admit, however, a certain seriousness in these poems (913 ). Following this parody, if such it be, would be Peire's nightingale poems which seem to be in the perfect mould for courtly troubadour poetry. But isn't it more usual for the parody to come second? Rita Lejeune has felt especially uncomfortable with this order and contends, on the contrary, that Peire d'Alvemhe influenced WARBLED WORDS Marcabru in this instance (Thèmes communs"). She notes the main points of resemblance between the two sets of poems, including the theme of the bird messenger, the setting in a diptych of poems, one conforming to the mould of canso with the man's side of the relationship emphasized, the second being a woman's song which gives the lady's response (Lejeune 82). Lejeune points out the rather unusual yet striking formal characteristics of the two sets ofpoems. In both strophic schemes, the poets have used rhyme and length of line to produce a very special effect. The two poems in each set have the same rhyme and length of line scheme. Marcabru's two songs have each seven couplets with seven syllable lines broken by a series of six three-syllable lines in the second halfof the strophe. Furthermore , these short lines have the same rhyme. Each of Peire's poems has six strophes; again, short lines are interspersed with longer ones. According to Lejeune, Peire's scheme seems more complex and at the same time, more classic (82). Lejeune concludes that Peire d'Alvemhe's poems are classic gems in the troubadour tradition whereas Marcabru's are a parody in which the bird behaves like a parrot and the lady is the complete antithesis of the aloof domna (87). She concludes that Peire's poems must have been the first and goes to great lengths to elaborate a scenario whereby the careers of Peire d'Alvemhe and Marcabru overlapped in order to let Peire come first. She postulates that Peire wrote his nightingale poems around 1 1 50 and certainly before 1 155 when Marcabru had probably ceased to compose. Furthermore, Lejeune suggests that...