Preface and Acknowledgments
Six of the poems translated here were previously published as Lays of Courtly Love (1963), now out of print. Major changes have taken place in medieval studies during the last thirty years: as their interests have become less philological and more literary, medievalists have turned to close textual analyses, while feminist interpretations and the contributions of historians have further increased our understanding. I have revised my translations accordingly, often toward the more literal.
I would like to emphasize, however, that these translations are not intended to serve the purposes of scholars requiring a word-by-word version. Although I have tried to follow the text in all its detail, my principal aspiration has been to reproduce the literary experience of reading the poems. For most people in the Middle Ages, this would have been an aural experience. In a scene in Chré´©enâs Yvain, a young lady sits in an orchard, reading a romance aloud to her parents. It used to be a familiar part of family life for literary works to provide entertainment in just this way. My translations will function best if they are, at least in part, read aloud. Their prevailing rhythm will then be apparent, particularly if the rhymes are neither overstressed nor minimized.
Two poems have been added to this collection in response to a new interest in their subjects: few narratives treat violence against women as impressively as Philomena, a work scarcely thought of in 1963. Lanval's is a vision of female power, benevolent but opposed to the prevailing, patriarchal, society. But none of the authors represented here is concerned with presenting a fixed point of view as an argument in favor of one moral stance or another. The stories they tell have the ambiguity of life itself, their apparent values changing with our perspective. The reader need only try to see them whole.
This work began as a doctoral dissertation sponsored by Lawton P. G. Peckham, in whose Columbia University course I began to study Old French. I remember gratefully its Anchor Book editors, Carl Morse, who first welcomed the book, and Eugene Eoyang, whose enthusiasm for rhymes led to revisions.
This new edition has benefited from the contributions of many. Nancy Vine Durling's accurate reading and informed concern for the text increased my aspiration to accuracy. She is responsible for the presence of Philomena. To Harriet Spiegel, Minnette Gaudet, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, and Nicolas and Robert Terry, I owe thanks for useful suggestions; to Doris Kretschmer at the University of California Press, my gratitude for championing the project and for her patience. Rose Vekony has been the book's meticulous copy editor, to whom I am indebted for many improvements. Patricia Stirnemann led me through the mazes of Paris libraries to find the cover illustration, and nothing could have been more enjoyable. Finally, I don't commit anything to print without the advice of Elena Aguilar Koster and Kathleen Micklow, whose responses never fail to surprise and enlighten me; their friendship is built in to all my work.