The Understanding

Sara Norja

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[Editor's Note: The following lyric is a chassiolet, a Middle Argental verse-form predominantly written and performed by men. The chassiolet remained a male genre throughout the period, despite the increase in female poets. This lyric is the only extant example of a chassiolet traceable to a female poet, Maaldalene of Gentiane (?1176-1243). The manuscript has been badly damaged by fire and water.

These fragments are among our only evidence of the Silopphic love experience in Middle Argental verse.

A sense-by-sense translation follows. All punctuation and italicisation are editorial additions. Other markings follow the conventions outlined in the preface to this edition.]

 

Those men, they’ve spoken to you in metaphors:

oh my precious dove, I shall catch you in my nets, my love

they’ve talked as court-huntsmen do of the chase

little doe, I shall seek you in the woods, though you run

yes, the king’s men talk of women and the leaping hare

in the same breath.

 

I set my teeth together \bright pearls they call them,

I call them knives/ I watch the king's men whisper

in your ear, I watch, my stomach twists. You're trapped

in the sweet nets of their words.

 

[illegible due to water damage] your eyes seek me

in the crowd {. . .}

 

I don't wish to run you down to the ground, to spear you

with love's raging blade. I feel no thrill

in the morning air, hounds seeking the swift-footed fox,

except the thrill of the ride:

 

wind-hair, mare-muscles, the trees' greenery.

 

Why then should I chase you with my words and wooing?

Could I not speak to your soul with my soul's tongue?

 

I wish to wind you around the spool of my heart.

I wish to {. . . . .}

 

Dare I come to you by night? Dare we set off together

not a-chasing, not a-hunting, but, harness-bells ringing,

ride in search of solace?

 

[water damage] and your hand in mine

my lady, my love {. . .}

 

[burn marks]

 

for I want not the chase but the secret joining,

the long ride together, the understanding.

 


Sara Norja's academic interests are centred on medieval manuscript studies; occasionally this bleeds out into her poetry. Born in England and currently settled in Helsinki, Finland, she lives for the wind, words, dance, and moments of wonder. Her poetry has previously appeared in such publications as Curio, Polu Texni and Strange Horizons. She blogs at http://suchwanderings.wordpress.com.


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