Roses in the Lyric of Cerverí de Girona

Statement of intent: This project looks at material references of roses in troubadour lyric to explore potential channels for the medieval introduction of roses.

Troubadour lyric interprets the rose differently from other Mediterranean traditions, taking a more abstract than representational approach. Roses feature in the Natureingang topos as signs of spring, never occupying the end rhyme but rather supporting rhymes elsewhere through fixed formulae. The garden topos is infrequent in troubadour lyric. Later Marian texts associate roses and lilies with the Virgin Mary. In many ways, the rose is not a rose, but rather a nature trope and an element of sound that embodies the malleability of troubadour lyric. Cerverí de Girona contests these conventions by rendering the rose in material representation rather than abstraction.

Martín de Riquer describes “Del mon volgra que son noms dreitz seguiz” (PC 434, 6) as a moralizing song that uses wordplay to treat the themes of temporal impurity and original sin. The second stanza compares the rose to cultivated plants as a symbol of order:

L’olivier fai oli, qu’es dous e fis,
e del pomier vezem lo pom eyssir,
e las moras del morier revenir,
e del rozier la roza s’espandis ;
e s’il mons fos e nos aitals co fom
al comensar, tug foram clar e mon.

While the image of a rose springing forth from a rosebush is common enough in troubadour lyric, the comparison with cultivated plants is not. Olives, apples, and mulberries were regional staples and required a certain degree of expertise to grow. Roses come up as springtime fixtures but this parallel suggests cultivation of roses similar to that of olives, apples, and mulberries. The wordplay of the stanza reinforces the stability of contemporary cultivation practices to emphasize the return to an original state of grace.

Martín de Riquer sees “Si tot m’esmay can la cigala canta” (PC 434a, 63) as a song with shifting rhymes in the manner of the sestina that considers the fate of the powerful in death and judgment given that all are equal before God. The first stanza describes the rosebush in a way that suggests processing of the flower:

Si tot m’esmay can la cigala canta
e-l arberspis e-l rossynols se’n laixa,
e-l rozer son ses fuylls e ses flors sech,
e vey del lirio el camp cazer la brancha,
obs m’es que vir mon cor a far un vers.

Cerverí de Girona inverts the Natureingang topos by composing an image of desolation where there ought to be beauty. As part of this image, the leaves and flowers of the rosebush are dry. The proximity of dryness and roses is not common in troubadour lyric and instead resonates with 14th century cargo lists in Marseille. While Cerverí de Girona uses the dry leaves and flowers of the rosebush to evoke desolation, the unique tie connecting the quality of dryness to the rose echoes the processing required to transform the rose’s fragrance into perfume.

In both songs, Cerverí de Girona presents the rose in a material form that stands out from other troubadour representations. The songs show the development of the rose from an abstract convention to a material object. The references to cultivation and processing imply the integration of the rose into regional economies. In this way, the abstract rose of the troubadours suggests a contemporary material reality behind the subject.

Sunday, June 8, 2014
Statement of Intent: 

This project looks at material references of roses in troubadour lyric to explore potential channels for the medieval introduction of roses.