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  • A Medieval Troubadour Mobilized in the French Resistance *
  • Roy Rosenstein

Introduction: The Place of Poetry under Vichy

Rien ne semblait plus anachronique que d’interroger, inter arma, le silence des Muses médiévales....

Frank 1

In Chantons sous l’occupation André Halimi details how raucously the band played on in wartime Paris. 2 If Vercors in 1941 advocated the practice of silence and Sartre in 1945 maintained that Paris had been dead for the four years of the Nazi occupation, Halimi and others have shown that Parisians [End Page 499] sang, danced, and laughed during the Occupation as never before. 3 Rarely had so many plays been staged, so many movies been produced. 4 While in other Nazi-occupied countries the theaters and restaurants remained closed, thus preserving a modicum of national dignity in defeat, in France the arts thrived and la vie mondaine accelerated its pace. Journalist Henri Amouroux rightly explains how cinema and theater provided more than entertainment and why they were periodically the target of curfews. In these wartime performances a seemingly insignificant phrase could take on a rich contemporary context. Thus a line like “toute la fleur du royaume se trouve en prison” in Montherlant’s La reine morte invariably provoked applause. Whether the text was classical or contemporary in origin, the audience “seized upon all the passages that could be linked to the current situation.” 5 In this broad sense, Resistance literature came to include any “poetry written and/or distributed in France during the Occupation, and which the reader sees as implicitly or explicitly conveying hostility to Nazism and Collaboration.” 6

Between 1940 and 1944 French audiences escaped their national misfortunes more through literature than through film and drama combined. “Never, perhaps, had literature played such a momentous part in the daily life of French readers,” wrote the late Henri Peyre in 1945. 7 As is often noted, the intellectual Resistance “fut surtout poétique.” 8 Every page of poetry, past or present, seemed to remind wartime readers of their current circumstances. One young poète résistant is categorical: “Never before had poetry played such a decisive role in history.” 9 Pierre Brunel of the Sorbonne is just as emphatic in confirming [End Page 500] the judgment of contemporary scholars and Resistance fighters alike: “During the war years, French poetry found a singleness of purpose and an audience that it had never enjoyed before.” 10

In anticipation of more comprehensive treatments of French Resistance poetry sens large, the present study proposes a necessarily modest and certainly partial approach to the role of poetry in the French Resistance. Following the general groundwork of Seghers, Gaucheron, Higgins, and others, it undertakes to track, if only schematically, the reaction to France’s fall as polarized across three territories—in American exile, in Vichy France, and in German camps—through a focus on one exemplary twelfth-century troubadour. Concurrently with the “nouvelle floraison poétique” hailed by André Rousseaux in 1941, 11 Jaufre Rudel was one earlier poet who enjoyed a resurgence of interest during the war. With respect to this troubadour, to date only Dietmar Rieger has mentioned in passing an oblique reference to Rudel’s trademark distant love in Aragon’s “Pour un chant (national)”: “Jaufre’s love from afar is set against a love for France.” 12 This particular troubadour’s legend and lyrics assumed new dimensions through their immediate relevance not only for Aragon but for all French nationals, both imprisoned at home and exiled abroad. Literary historian René Dumesnil observed as early as 1941 with respect to pre-war French classics: “Present circumstances give them new depth and extend their range.” 13 Regarding France’s medieval literature, a modern critic has noted how “the troubadours, just as much as Tristan, Roland, Lancelot, Perceval, or even Yseult..., emerge as agents of unity, even of unanimity, around whom it is still possible to muster the French people in 1940.” 14 [End Page 501]

As has been observed for centuries, “Frenchmen abroad seldom wholly give up the idea of going back to France some time or other.” 15 All French patriots and expatriates, wherever they found themselves after the Armistice in June 1940, whether...

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