Marcabru was a Gascon, born in the first decade of the twelfth century. One of the vidas makes him a foundling, while he himself says he was the son of a poor woman named Marcabruna. He had many patrons throughout the Midi and Spain, including Guillaume X of Aquitaine, the son of "the first troubadour," and Alfonso VII of Castile and León.
The low birth and noble patronage are reflected in his point of view and in the variety of his style. No one equals him in the furor with which he denounces the effeminacy and depravity of courtly life and the conventions of courtly love. From this moral urgency and highly idiomatic style arises some of the most difficult poetry in the whole Troubadour canon, the first instance of trobar clu, the hermetic style. But these moralizing lyrics are only one mark of his range. At the other end are songs extolling true love; and other songs, such as A la fontana and the pastorela, which dramatize a profoundly medieval view of right order-they are among the most civilized utterances in Provençal poetry.
His influence was great, not only on the practitioners of the hermetic style, but on others who chose from the wide variety of his forms (compare his Estornel, no. 12, with Peire d'Alvernhe's Rossinhol), or who took up his moral stance (compare Peire Cardenal). But no one could ever re-create his irascible and exalted tone. About fourty-two lyrics are extant.
The most frequent theme in his songs is the distinction between true love and false love: true love is joyful, intense, in harmony with the welfare of a community and with divine intention; false love is bitter, dissolute, self regarding, and destructive. He denounces the courtly class for its preciousness and lust-it is on the way to ruin because it is infested with its own bastards, the women trick their husbands into raising the children of others, the men are cuckoos who lay their eggs in someone else's nest. And pandering to this cupidity are the troubadours, a vile crowd (gens frairina) of liars and madmen who defame love and glorify lust. … [from Frederick Goldin's Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouveres. NY: Anchor Books, 1973.]
L'autrier jost' una sebissa
Ves lieis vinc per la planissa:
15 "Toza, fi m ieu, cauza pia,
Don, fetz ela, qui que m sia,
"Toza de gentil afaire,
"Don, tot mon ling e mon aire
"Toza, ri m ieu, gentils fada,
50 "Seigner, tan m'avetz lauzada,
"Toz', estraing cor e salvatge
Don, hom coitatz de follatge
Toza, tota creatura
"Don, oc; mas segon dreitura
85 "Toza, de vostra figura
Don, lo cavecs vos ahura,
The other day, beside a row of hedges,
I came to her across the level ground.
"Girl," I said, "you're sweet and innocent,
"Master," she said, "whatever I may be,
"O you are a girl of noble quality,
"Master, my whole lineage and descent
"Girl," I said, "a gentle fairy
"Lord, you have praised me so high,
"Girl, every shy and wild heart
"Master, a man hounded by madness
"Girl, every creature
"Master, yes; but, as it is right,
"Girl, I never saw another
"Master, that owl is making you a prophecy:
Return to Spanish 591a (LBA) or Spanish 480 or Lírica homepage