Friday, October 31, 2014

When the soft wind turns bitter

The Natureingang, 'nature opening', is found in many forms of Medieval poetry: the Latin verse of the clerici vagantes and Goliards, the songs of the Troubadours and Minnesingers, lyric poetry in French, English, Irish.  Spring would be the setting for songs of love and pastoral dialogues, whilst the end of summer and the onset of winter would signify loss and mourning.  Such poetry can therefore be grouped according to mood, like books of haiku arranged according to their season word (kigo).  The sleevenotes to one recording of songs by the early thirteenth century German poet Neidhart explain that he tended to classify them 'into “summer” and “winter” songs, according to which season he employed in the Natureingang (nature introduction) that opens nearly every song. Here he establishes an emotional backdrop for the lyrics: “Winter” symbolizes a melancholic atmosphere and is well suited to introducing topics that strongly refer to classical Minnesang, while descriptions of the approaching summertime are generally used for lighter subjects, often containing dance descriptions.'  You can hear one of these, 'Welcome the Sweet Summer Weather', in the clip embedded above.  The lines below begin another, sadder song:
Everything that all summer long was full of joy
turns to sadness with this winter-long, arduous time.
The birds have everywhere fallen silent with their singing.
Flowers and grass are utterly withered.
Look, how much cold frost covers the forest canopy.
The heath lies pale for good reason...
It occurred to me that it might be possible to string together nature openings to form a seasonal cycle, beginning now, in autumn, at a turning point in the year.  Here, for example, are lines are from some troubadour poems:

When the soft wind turns bitter
And the leaf falls from its branch                              

For I see the oaks reft of their leaves,
While nightingale, thrush, woodpecker and jay
Shiver with cold, and from the chill retreat               
[Peire d'Alvernhe]

When the ice and cold and snow retreat
And warmth creeps back into the land                      
[Guiraut de Bornelh]

Such sweetness spreads through these new days
[Guillem de Peitus] 

When tender grass and leaves appear
While buds along the branches throng                      
[Bernart de Ventadorn]

Now high and low, where leaves renew,
Come buds on bough and spalliard pleach               
[Arnaut Daniel]

In April when I see all through
Mead and garden new flowers blow                         
[Peire Bremon lo Tort]

When the days grow long and warm with May,
How sweet the birds' song sounds afar                      
[Jaufre Rudel]

(Translations from Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, ed. Robert Kehew)

The Natureingang was not only used in lyric and love poems.  As K. H. Jackson points out (in a book I quoted earlier this month), it also served to set the scene for longer poems like the Canterbury Tales and Vision of Piers Plowman.  I will end here therefore with Chaucer's opening lines; as we head towards winter, they offer a sweet reminder of spring... 
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages...

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