Two Poems by the Twelfth-Century Knight-Troubadour Bertran de Born

Bertran de Born (c.1140-1202), lord of Autofort, was one of the most famous French troubadours of the Twelfth century. His poetry covers a wide variety of topics, including warfare.

Bertran de Born as a knight

Be’m plai lo gais temps de pascor[1]

Well do I love the cheerful spring,

which brings the leaves and flowers;

and I also love to hear the merriment of the birds,

who send their song ringing through the woods;

and I am glad to see tents and pavilions

pitched in the meadows.

Great is my joy when I see knights and armored horses

ranged on the battlefield.

 

And I like to see the foragers

send the people and the cattle fleeing before them

and it pleases me when I see many soldiers

come running after them;

and it warms my heart to see strong castles besieged,

the palisades smashed and broken down,

and to see the army on the river-bank

protected on all sides by ditches,

and strong, tight-made palisades.

 

And I am well pleased by a lord

when he is the first to attack,

on horseback, armored, fearless:

thus does he inspire his men

with boldness, and worthy courage.

And when the battle is joined

each man must be ready

to follow him with joy:

for no man is held to be worthy

until he has taken and given many blows.

Maces and swords, colorful helms,

shields riven and cast aside:

these shall we see at the start of the battle,

and also many vassals struck down,

the horses of the dead and wounded running wild.

And when he enters the combat,

let every man of good lineage

think of nothing but splitting heads and hacking arms;

for it is better to die than to live in defeat.

 

I tell you, I find no such savor

in eating or drinking or sleeping

as when I hear the cries of “attack!”

from both sides, and the noise

of riderless horses in the shadows;

and I hear screams of “Help! Help!”

and I see great and small alike

falling into the grassy ditches

and the dead

with splintered lances, bedecked with pennons

through their sides.

 

Love wants a chivalrous lover

skilled at arms and generous in serving

who speaks well and gives greatly,

who knows what he should do and say,

in or out of his hall,

as befits his power.

He should be full of hospitality, courtesy, and good cheer.

A lady who lies with such a lover as that

is clean of all her sins.

 

Al nou doutz termini blanc

In the sweet white time

of early spring, I see the signs

of the fresh season, which delights the senses

the most gentle, most charming,

and best time of the year,

when a man should be at his happiest,

and I enjoy everything the most.

 

That’s why I’m depressed, for I am standing still…

 

A sty in his eye and a canker-sore

to the man who now counsels [King Philip of France].

Miserable mourning is never the equal

of noble action;

nor are rest and relaxation

as good as war, trouble and action.

Let [King Philip] know that!

 

Never have we seen him smash an arm or a side

nor inflict a severe wound on a leg or head!

Nor have we seen him at Rouen or Sées

at the head of his men, or a great army.

He should remember what men say of him:

that he has never broken a lance on a shield.

 

Without fire and without blood,

waged for a king of no great power

who is scorned and made a liar,

war is then no noble word;

yet he can just lie around and grow fat!

A youth who does not feed on war

soon becomes fat and detestable.

[1] Occitan text from The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born, ed. W.D. Paden et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 339-343, 357-359. Translation by Clifford J. Rogers.

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