Sunday, April 1, 2012

Medieval French Verse: Now this is classic...

Mots d'Heures: Gousses, RamesWhen I was in second-year French in high school, my teacher brought in a lovely little hardback of Luis d'Antin van Rooten's brilliant Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames.  The "Words of Hours" were aptly named: the book kept my class enthralled for quite a long time.  Publishing these poems in 1967, Luis d'Antin van Rooten claimed that he was presenting recently-discovered medieval French verse.  (There is some internal evidence that this may not in fact be true.)

Despite the very elementary level of my French at that point, I was utterly charmed by these poems.  And for years I have been trying to remember the name of the slim volume, or find someone else lucky enough to have been exposed to these poems.  Only very recently did I manage to run across the book--and find that it is in fact still in print!

These poems, as puzzling as they may at first seem, offer up a very rich reward for all who read patiently.  Recite them aloud a few times, especially savoring the rhythmic sounds of the verses, to hear these strangely familiar sounds.  (If you can't speak a word of French, or don't think your reading conveys their incredible sound, try listening to the poem on the Guardian site.)  Here is one example:

Un petit d'un petit
S'étonne aux Halles.
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent.

Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes.

* * *

 So--what do you think?
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