Journal 3 True Adventures, Allegories, and Audience
For this journal, you need to respond, citing textual moments from all three authors’ texts, effective
Journal 3 True Adventures, Allegories, and Audience
For this journal, you need to respond, citing textual moments from all three authors’ texts, effectively and clearly to the prompt:
Each poem attempts to teach its audience by engaging that audience. What strategies does each author use? How does each author teach her/his audience to anticipate the lesson available? How does each author, working in a different genre of poetry (Marie’s “true adventures,” Langland’s allegory, and the Gawain poet’s combination of the two), create that impact?
As with all journals, I’m not interested in what I wrote in the lectures; I literally know that stuff. I’m interested in how you engage with those texts you read / watched and how you think about them. PROLOGUE TO THE LAIS
Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf ©1992
Whoever1 gets knowledge from God, science, and a talent for speech, eloquence,
Shouldn’t shut up or hide away;
No, that person should gladly display.
When everyone hears about some great good Then it flourishes as it should;
When folks praise it at full power,
Then the good deed’s in full flower.
Among the ancients it was the tradition (On this point we can quote Priscian2)
When they wrote their books in the olden day What they had to say they’d obscurely say.
They knew that some day others would come And need to know what they’d written down; Those future readers would gloss the letter,
Add their own meaning to make the book better. Those old philosophers, wise and good,
Among themselves they understood Mankind, in the future tense, Would develop a subtler sense Without trespassing to explore What’s in the words, and no more.
Whoever wants to be safe from vice Should study and learn (heed this advice) And undertake some difficult labor; Then trouble is a distant neighbor–
From great sorrows one can escape. Thus my idea began to take shape:
I’d find some good story or song
Ki Deus ad doné escïence
E de parler bon’ eloquence
Ne s’en deit taisir ne celer,
Ainz se deit volunters mustrer. Quant uns granz biens est mult oïz, Dunc a primes est il fluriz,
E quant loëz est de plusurs,
Dunc ad espandues ses flurs.
1 “That person should display him or herself.” Marie writes as if it’s a man she’s discussing, but the pronouns can also refer to a woman (Marie herself).
2 A famous Byzantine grammarian. He didn’t say this, though.
To translate from Latin into our tongue; But was the prize worth the fight?
So many others had already tried it.3 Then I thought of the lais I’d heard;4
I had no doubt, I was assured
They’d been composed for memory’s sake About real adventures–no mistake:
They heard the tale, composed the song,
Sent it forth. They didn’t get it wrong.
I’ve heard so many lais, I would regret
Letting them go, letting people forget.
So I rhymed them and wrote them down aright. Often my candle burned late at night.
In your honor, noble king,5
3 Marie may have been thinking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which for the Middle Ages was a wonderful collection of classical stories which could be isolated as reading exercises in Latin or translated into the vernacular. Three of these stories at least were in circulation in French in Marie’s time: Pyramus et Tisbé, Philomela, and the Lai de Narcisse. The fact that the Narcisse was perceived as a lai reinforces the idea that Marie was looking for material of this type in other languages.
4 The “lais Marie has heard” belong to a completely oral genre of which we seem to have only indirect evidence. The process Marie describes runs as follows: an event (adventure) gave rise to gossip and stories, from which a poet composed a lyric set to music (lai) in the Breton language; the lai was then sung by Breton minstrels from generation to generation, making the details and truth of
the original adventure easier to remember correctly. Marie’s undertaking is to preserve in written, rhymed narrative these lyrics and also the surviving versions of the stories they represent. Marie ends every single lai with a note about its composition, in most cases mentioning that “the Bretons” or “the old ones” or just “they” composed the lai to remember the story.
Two of Marie’s lais describe the composition of the oral lais by participants in the stories they represent. In Chevrefoil, Tristan commemorates a written text (his name and perhaps other codes inscribed on a stick) and a spoken conversation by composing a song for the harp. In Chaitivel, a young woman whose lovers have all died or been castrated resolves on a commemorative composition which is begun and finished by her (apparently) but “carried abroad” by other singers who vary in the name they want to give it. In both stories, it seems clear that Marie draws on other sources besides this single lyric composition for her own lai. It has been suggested by Dolores Frese that the lyric lai on which Yonec is based has in fact survived in Middle English; the tone and imagery of the Corpus Christi Carol are close to those of Marie’s lai, but Marie would have drawn on plenty of other oral material to fill in the names and events to which the lyric refers.
5 The “noble king” to whom Marie dedicates her lais is probably Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189), famous as a king of England though he had realms in what is now France; it may however be his son “Young King Henry” who was crowned in 1170 and died in 1183. Both kings were patrons of Anglo-Norman poets.
Whose might and courtesy make the world ring– All joys flow from you or run to you,
Whose heart is the root of every virtue–
For you these lais I undertook,
To bring them together, rhymed, in this book. In my heart I always meant
To offer you this, my present.
Great joy to my heart you bring
If you accept my offering–
I’ll be glad forever and a day!
Please don’t think that I say
This from conceit–pride’s not my sin. Just listen now, and I’ll begin.