2300-2200 BCE800-9001000-11001100-12001200-13001300-14001500-16001600-17001700-18001800-19001900-2000Mezzo Cammin
The Countess of Dia and the Women Troubadoursby Maryann Corbett

n writing a life for the Countess of Dia, what we have to go on is one paragraph. It is written in Old Occitan (also called Old Provençal1 ) and it appears in four different thirteenth-century manuscripts, now housed in the Vatican Library and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (Pillet viii-xvi). Translated, it reads:

The countess of Dia was the wife of En Guillem de Poitiers, a lady beautiful and good. And she fell in love with En Raimbault d'Orange, and wrote many good chansons in his honor.
(Bogin 163).

This small biography, or vida, accompanies a group of four lyric poems. The poems are collected with many other groupings by poets from the same time and language. The pieces that go with this vida seem intensely personal; they appear to celebrate the flowering, and then lament the fading, of the poet's own love affair. But no amount of scholarly digging has revealed definitively who this poet was, or who her lover was. How is it that so small a body of work and so little information justify the curiosity and scholarship that have been lavished on its author?

All this interest depends on these facts: The troubadours of Languedoc—Bernard de Ventadorn, Bertran de Born, Arnaut Daniel, and many others—were the promoters of the tradition of courtly love. That tradition is the origin of streams of medieval poetry that run through Dante and Chretien de Troyes and Guillaume de Lorris down to Spenser and beyond. (The troubadours wrote often about other subjects, including politics, social conditions, and religion—especially the Crusades and the Cathar wars—but their songs of courtly love are their most famous products.) Courtly love, or fin'amor, constitutes a way of thinking about relationships between men and women that we still grapple with today, one that confusingly regards women as objects of desire and untouchable saints to be worshipped from afar. The women who wrote in this tradition are the earliest female composers of secular song in the Western canon.

About four hundred names of male troubadours have been preserved, but only about twenty names of women. (The number varies; some anonymous poems may or may not be by women, some attributions are contested, and some men sometimes wrote in female personae.) There are vidas for only eight of them—five are their own, three are mentions in the vidas of others—and most of them are well-connected women from powerful families. Of those women, the Countess of Dia is the one whose poems have come down to us in the greatest number of copies, a testament to the appeal of her work to the early compilers. In addition, we have music for one of her texts, and we have none for any of the other trobairitz, the Old Occitan term for female troubadours. By exploring what we can know about the Countess of Dia and her poems, we might be able to address the larger question about the women troubadours. In a poetic tradition so focused on men's love for women, do the women have different things to say?

Life: vida versus history

The manuscripts that preserve the poems of the troubadours date from the thirteenth century or later. But the people who wrote the Old Occitan poems lived and flourished mostly in the twelfth century. We know this because many of the troubadours were nobles, even kings, and their activities are independently recorded in other documents such as chronicles, charters, church records, and letters. (Guilhem I of Peitieu and Raimbaut d'Aurenga are examples.) The poems also commonly talk about other people who lived and wrote during the same period—they are deeply intertextual—so historians can often make inferences about one poet from the works of others. The interplay among the poems and the hints of romantic involvement among the participants have tempted romance-minded readers to dig into the texts for narrative excitement. That excitement, followed upon by historians of the nineteenth century, yields the following standard picture:

The Countess of Dia, whose name we think was Beatriz because of names in other documents, was married to Guilhem, count of Poitou, or Poitiers. She lived during the twelfth century; the timing is uncertain. The place called Dia, whether she lived there or was born there, is assumed to be the modern town of Die, in the Drôme department of southeastern France. Like other noble women, the countess would have enjoyed relative wealth, authority over her husband's vassals when he was away fighting, and the pleasures of the social life of her own court. She would have been the object of courtly attentions by those vassals and by other noble men who were singers, poets, and followers of fin'amor in the fashion of the day. Raimbaut d'Orange, or d'Aurenga, the troubadour named in her vida, was prominent among those poets, and among his many poems is a tenso, or debate poem, between two lovers that seems a perfect counterpart to the sad narrative in the Countess's songs. Her songs and his support the idea in the vida of a love affair between them. The two seem like the perfect model of the courtly-love story.

And this is where the problems begin concerning "the mysterious Beatriz, countess of Die, whose name was not Beatriz, who may never have been a true countess, and who possibly did not come from Die" (Burl 154). Despite the confident sound of the biographical sketch above, the fact is that many decades of research have not turned up a woman who corresponds exactly to the details stated in the vida. On the one hand, "the Countess of Dia" is attested in a charter from the late 12th or early 13th century (Paden, Voice 231). On the other hand, no one can find a Guilhem of Poitou who held title to the county of Die (Bogin 163-4). The modern town of Die is an unimportant and out-of-the-way place, an unlikely location for a cultured court, and its medieval inhabitants seem to have used a nonstandard dialect, not the Old Occitan of the important troubadours (Burl 154). The mismatches of data in this case are all the more striking because in most cases the place names in the vidas are quite precise, so that we know they must have been first recorded by people who knew those places (Schutz 225-232).

And since there may be at least a century of lapse between poet and vida, it is safe to assume that the vida or our reading of it is in error. It is safer still to assume that the prose material in the troubadour chansonniers, or songbooks—including the vidas—is fiction, a creation built up by editors and scribes from the details of the poems (Gaunt/Kay 253-54). The vida of another woman troubadour, Azalais de Porcairagues, is so similar to that of the Countess that we begin to suspect both are cut from a standard template: Say who her relatives were, say which knight she loved, say she "made many good songs about him," even if "many" seems to mean "one." Further examples of the compilers' imagination are the small manuscript illuminations in the songbooks, like the one at the head of this article.

It is also possible that "Countess of Dia" is not a title at all. Both "Comtessa" and "Dia" are plausible given names for the period. And it is also possible the "the Countess of Dia" was the wife of a Guillem de Poitou who was count not of Die but of Valentinois. Perhaps she took the title "Countess of Dia" after her son assumed the title of count of Valentinois. There are more uncertainties: perhaps the Countess's romantic interest was not Raimbault d'Orange but another troubadour, Raimbault de Vaqueiras—or another of the many available and less interesting Raimbaults (Burl 158). The list of Raimbault d'Orange's many connections with other poets seems not to include the Countess of Dia, at least not by that title; the woman who does show up on this list is Azalais de Porcairagues (Gaunt/Kay 289). For a long time, it was believed that the tenso, or debate poem, "Amics, en greu consirier" was written by Raimbault and the Countess together, and that the words of the female speaker were hers. This was assumed not only because of the words of her vida, and because the poem is structured as a conversation between Amics (a lover) and Dona (a lady), but also because its first line is very like the first line of the Countess's canso "Estat ai en greu consirier." But recent scholars conclude that the tenso is the work of Raimbault alone, again subtracting something we once thought we knew (Paden, Voice 49).

Would we do better to choose a different person to represent the women troubadours? Most of the troubadour poems with female narrators (identified grammatically) have no attribution; they are anonymous. The named women are mostly just as mysterious as the Countess of Dia, for the same reasons. Only two or three of their lives have left a better paper trail: those of Marie de Ventadorn, Tibors de Sarenom, and Garsenda de Proensa, and for each of those women only one poem survives. Castelloza, the other so-called major woman troubadour, has only three or four poems extant and is only tentatively connected to one other figure of the period, Peirol (Gaunt/Kay 281). So the Countess remains as good a representative as any and better than most, and the old romantic rumors about her arouse our curiosity. But to say anything about her, we need to talk about troubadour society in general.

Troubadour Life and Song

The society to focus on is that of the nobility in Languedoc, especially the lands held by the counts of Aquitaine and Toulouse. While courtly love also inspired poets in Italy, Spain, Andaluz, and Germany, the only region in which women wrote of fin'amor is present-day southern France, or Occitania. Meg Bogin (21-36) argues that different laws of inheritance there, which allowed women to own property and pass it on, and the effects of the Crusades, which left the management of Occitania's great estates to women for long periods, permitted these women an unusual degree of social influence.

Guilhem of Peitieu, ninth duke of Aquitaine, is generally counted the inventor of the special brand of poetry that mixes straightforward sex with tenderness and with the notion of the lady as the lover's dompna, or female superior, addressed in the poems as midons, "my lord." Exactly how the new concept of lady-as-lord arose is much debated. The influences usually credited are Andreas Cappellanus and the book called De Arte Honeste Amandi, the Mozarabic love poems of al-Andaluz, and newly recovered access to the works of Ovid. (The list of works consulted, below, and the links to online resources include books that treat this background in more detail.)

The makers of this poetry were of the nobility, not wandering minstrels but courtiers. The songs written by those who took up the new methods were meant for performance. Whether their authors, who were skilled amateurs, performed the songs themselves, or had them performed by professionals called joglars and joglaressas, is not always clear and probably differs from song to song. For some, we should imagine a quiet chamber and a small group, for others, a great hall and a rowdy assembly. Some songs, such as the cansos or love songs, seem suited for intimate gatherings and others, such as the political or satirical poems, or sirventes, for large, public performances. And some seem so intensely confessional that their public performance, even with the changed names known as senhals, might have been personally and politically a tense affair—unless everyone understood that they were not the confessions they seemed to be.

If the songs were primarily for performance, how soon were they preserved in writing? Were their composers actually literate? Were songs passed down orally for a significant while? How much did they change in the transmission before they were finally set down, in thirteenth-century Italy, after they had been brought there by the troubadour Uc de Saint Circ?

All these are common lines of scholarly inquiry, and absolute answers are few. But even though the picture is blurry, the troubadour poet we generally picture is a man in a subordinate position to a lord, writing songs in praise of a woman above his station. As a practical matter, vassals who relied on the support of a lord had good reason to act in a way that flattered that lord's wife, and composing songs that extolled the lady's worth would serve that purpose. Further, women in Occitan society were not powerless; they held lands and money in their own right, and when their husbands were at war, they were in authority (Burl 146). But poems that talked openly about adultery and named names would be risky, so general language and guarded references like the senhal, or code name, often kept the songs unclear, and secrecy was a value along with honor and reputation. Thus another point of debate about fin'amor is whether so many affairs really took place, or really were consummated. It may be safer to assume that men and women were free to fantasize about such love, though not to act on it. Safer still, and a common critical view since the 1960s, is Erich Köhler's sociological reading: that the love-lyrics are the product of the ambitions of landless knights of the lesser nobility who sought to integrate themselves into court culture through their art and their ideas (Gaunt/Kay 18).The main point, though, is that the usual pattern of the courtly love poem is gendered, and in one direction: a man's devotion to a woman, and a man's conception of the feminine ideal. Whether the women saw it the same way is a question worth exploring.

Versification: The men, the women, and the Countess

To get an idea of a typical troubadour's canso, we can read and listen to an example: Bernart de Ventadorn's most famous song, Can vei la lauzeta mover."

Even without knowing the language, we can observe some features of the poetry, and we recognize them as familiar. By the early twelfth century, the name "new song" was being given to this newly popular method of making verse. "New song" was metrical, although it made use of stress rather than syllable length as in classical Latin. It counted syllables and kept the length of verses to a set number. It was usually strophic; that is, the music was written for one stanza and the melody repeated identically for all the rest. Above all, it rhymed, and it did so in virtuoso style, because Occitan is rich in rhymes. And it linked verses together by end rhymes in a dizzying array of patterns. While a few patterns were popular and repeated often, hundreds of unique and complex patterns appear in the 2500 or so texts that have survived (Chambers 136).

These elements sound quite ordinary to us, especially in combination with the "new" material of sexual longing. In some ways, they sound like the usual shapes and tropes of twentieth-century popular song, in the manner of Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, early Lennon/McCartney or the country-western ballad. The rhyming intensity of troubadour verse could also be compared to rap. It is useful to recall that nine hundred years ago, this combination of attributes had, as Margaret Switten puts it, "all the attractiveness of a new technology" (Gaunt/Kay 145).

When scholars generalize about the troubadours and trobairitz, they sometimes say that the women's poetry is less formally sophisticated than the men's, simpler in its rhyme schemes, plainer in its diction. As a generalization, this is valid. Only two poems by women are in trobar clus, the characteristically difficult, intentionally obscure style of troubadours like Marcabru and Arnaut Daniel. Daniel's most famous formal invention, the sestina, seems not to have been used by any trobairitz. Can we theorize about reasons for the greater directness? For the women, were the personal relationships paramount? Was the poetry felt, rather than a game or a courtier's demonstration of skill, because these women were mistresses of their courts, not courtiers?

The idea is tempting but does not hold up. In formal sophistication, the Countess's poetry is a counterexample to it (Bogin 69). For instance, her "Ab joi et ab joven m'apais" is in the form called rims derivatius, or derived rhyme. The pairs of rhymed words in this form are all derived from the same lexical root, and the derivative pairs are arranged in couplets: apais 1, apaia 2, gais 3, gaia 4, and so on. The derivative pairs link words in contrasting rhyme sounds (-ais, -aia). The tornada, or short final stanza, conventionally repeats the corresponding rhymes of the preceding full stanza, but in reverse, from the last rhyme backward (Paden, Intro 52, Voice 20). In her poems "Estat ai..." and "Fin ioi..." she repeats in the first two stanzas not only the same rhyme scheme, but the same rhyme sounds, changing them in the third when she addresses a different hearer.

The relative polish of the Countess's work may well be the reason that it turns up in more copies than the work of the other trobairitz. On the other hand, the song whose music survives, "A chantar m'er...," is in a comparatively simple form, coblas singulars, or stanzas with the same rhyme scheme but without repeating the exact rhyme sounds. But the stanzas are also linked by the -ens rhyme sounds, which carry particular force because of their placement and repetition (Switten, in Gaunt/Kay 151). On the whole, the Countess's work has plenty of the sonic flair that characterizes the troubadours.

As the women saw it: Love in the Countess's poems

Many readers first encounter troubadour poetry and courtly love through Dante, his exaltation of Beatrice, and the honor he pays to Arnaut Daniel in canto 26 of the Purgatorio. But by contrast with Dante, the poetry of the original troubadours does not limit itself to the idealized lady "on a pedestal," like the image we find in Victorian recreations of the medieval. That ideal appears sometimes—for example, in Arnaut Daniel's "Pos vezem de novel florir," where the poet talks about the need to be submissive to love, to be considerate of strangers and neighbors, and to serve everyone with perfect courtesy (Gaunt/Kay 30). But the troubadour's attitude to women can also be despairing, and rather close to anger, as when Bernart de Ventadorn condemns all women because his desired lady will not give him what he wants. It can be frankly carnal, and we might remember that Dante places Arnaut Daniel in Purgatory for the sin of lust. It can even be misogynistic, as in the works of Marcabru, who spends many lines condemning unfaithful wives, with the strong implication that this means all wives (Gaunt/Kay 51).

The Countess's poems never condemn the opposite sex as a whole, but they otherwise cover a range of feelings. They appear to address themselves to the poet's own love relationship alone; the only group they generalize about is the court gossips (lauzengiers), who are able to destroy reputations by spreading rumors. But if we examine them carefully, it is not at all clear that they are confessional in the modern sense. The lyric "I" in these poems is probably not the poet. The courtly narrator who is deeply concerned for reputation in "Ab joie et ab joven" sounds quite different from the randy one in "Estat ai en greu cossirier" who talks openly about wanting a night of love, or the bold one who insults her jealous husband in "Fin ioi me don' alegranssa." On close inspection, the poems seem to be various threads in the standard fictional tapestry of fin'amor and not the autobiographical works that the vida almost advertises. The lauzengiers and the gelos, the concern with pretz or honor and valenssa or worthiness, the joy of love and the complaint of the rejected lover, all are the standard tropes that would be expected of a court poet, male or female, in twelfth-century Occitania.

The measure of quality is what the poet has done with the standard trope. And as Peter Dronke makes clear (103-106) in his translation and interpretation of "A chantar m'er," the Countess's song of complaint is a work of high art, psychological depth, and complexity beneath its simple surface. The poem searches and questions, wondering how the affair has gone wrong, longing to make the lover remember, reproaching him for his coldness and pride. It even impulsively interrupts its own argument, distracted by the force of the memory of the affair's early days. The rhetoric "mirrors the obsessive quality of the lady's questioning and rebuking." Dronke also notes similarities between this song and the Heroides of Ovid and points out that if the Countess was of the higher nobility, she could certainly have had an education that included access to Ovid.

A very different poem, but an equally skillful and individual work, is "Estat ai," which in many ways contests the courtly code. In contrast to the male troubadours' works that assume the woman's distance and silence, the woman in this poem talks back, as Tilde Sankovitch spells out. The poem's narrator loves "to excess," in opposition to the norm of mezura. She wants that love "known for all time," in opposition to the value usually placed on secrecy. She boldly declares that she wants her jealous husband out of her bed and her lover in it, an attitude not characteristic of the distant lady on a pedestal. (Gaunt/Kay 120-121).

So are these very different poems really pictures of the same person? Or is it fair to accuse the compilers of the chansonniers of perpetrating a fraud? They would not have seen it that way. But what they have done in creating a vida for the Countess and presenting the songs that support their story is simply what they did for the lives and songs of many troubadours, major and minor. And the slant of the chosen presentation is not always to soften or romanticize the women. Stephen G. Nichols lists and categorizes the ways in which the compilers took liberties with their material to improve the story being told: they had no scruples about changing the attributions of songs, shuffling the order of stanzas or adding new ones, rewriting lines, and juxtaposing one poet with another for special dramatic effect. Nichols points to a specific example involving the trobairitz in the manuscript Pierpont Morgan 819: a trio of poems by the Countess, Castelloza, and Azalais is sandwiched between two copies of the same set of poems by Guilhem de Peitieu. The two Guilhem copies present their poems in different orderings, so that the whole man-women-man sequence begins and ends with the extremely ribald poem known as the "red cat song." (To get an idea of of that poem's nature, see the translation by John Niles.) Perhaps the intention is to put the women down. Or perhaps, as Nichols argues, it is to give them an ideal context for being ribald in their own right (Gaunt/Kay 76-80).

If so much about the troubadours is fiction or imagination, do we really know anything about the woman troubadour who has left us more poems than any other named woman of that time and place? We know this: that she wrote skillful poetry and song about the same themes that occupied the men of the time. Did she write on more themes than these? Because the compilers who preserved her work usually chose to shape it as a romantic narrative, we will never know. The same romantic narrative keeps attracting readers, and distracting them, to this day.

The poems

Texts of poems, from Bogin:


Ab joi et ab joven m'apais,
e jois e jovens m'apaia,
car mos amics es lo plus gais,
per qu'ieu sui coindet' e gaia;
e pois eu li sui veraia,
be.is taing q'el me sia verais
c'anc de lui amar non m'estrais
ni ai cor que m'en estraia.

I content myself with joy and youth
and joy and youth content me,
for my lover is the most joyful,
so that I am charming and joyful;
and since I am true to him
it is quite fitting for him to be true to me
for I have never ceased loving him,
nor have I any intention to cease.

Mout me plai, car sai que val mais
sel qu'ieu plus desir que m'aia,
e cel que primiers lo m'atrais
Dieu prec que gran joi l'atraia;
e qui que mal l'en retraia,
no.l creza, fors so qu'ie.l retrais
c'om cuoill maintas vetz los balais
ab qu'el mezeis se balaia.

I am delighted, for I know he is the worthiest,
the one that I most desire to possess me,
and as for the one who first brought me to him,
I pray God to give him great joy;
and whoever speaks ill of my lover to him [this intermediary],
let him not believe it, except what I have told him;
for a man often picks the rods
with which he himself is beaten.

Dompna que en bon pretz s'enten
deu ben pausar s'entendenssa
en un pro cavaillier valen
pois qu'ill conois sa valenssa,
que l'aus amar a presenssa;
que dompna, pois am'a presen,
ja pois li pro ni li valen
no.n dirant mas avinenssa.

So a lady who cares for good reputation
surely ought to set her affection
on a worthy, noble knight,
once she recognizes his worth.
Let her dare to love him openly,
for once a lady loves openly,
never again will the worthy or the valiant
speak anything but praise of her.

Qu'ieu n'ai chausir un pro e gen,
per cui pretz meillur' e genssa,
larc et adreig e conoissen,
on es sens e conoissenssa.
Prec que m'aia cerzenssa,
ni om no.l puosca far crezen
qu'ieu fassa vas ni fallimen,
sol non trob en lui faillensa.

I have one [who is] worthy and noble
by whom merit improves and is ennobled,
generous and adroit and discerning,
in whom there is wit and wisdom.
I pray him to believe me,
and not let people make him believe
that I would commit a disloyalty toward him—
provided that I not find disloyalty in him.

Amics, la vostra valenssa
sabon li pro e li valen,
per qu'ieu vos quier de mantenen,
si us plai, vostra mantenenssa.

Lover, the worthy and valiant
recognize your valor,
and for this reason, I ask straightaway,
if you please, for your protection.

[Translation by Sarah Kay, in Paden, Voice 176-77] IV


Fin ioi me don' alegranssa
per qu'eu chan plus gaiamen,
e no m'o teing a pensanssa
ni a negun penssamen,
car sai que son a mon dan
fals lausengier e truan,
e lor mals diz non m'esglaia,
anz en son dos tanz plus gaia.

Fine joy brings me great happiness
which makes me sing more gaily,
and it doesn't bother me a bit
or weigh my spirit down
that those sneaky rivals and gossips
are out to do me harm.
Their evil talk doesn't dismay me.
It just makes me twice as gay.

En mi non an ges fianssa
li lauzengier mal dizen,
c'om non pot aver honranssa
qu'a ab els acordamen,
qu'ist son d'altrestal semblan
com la niuols que s'espan
qe.l solels en pert sa raia,
per qu'eu non am gent savaia.

Those nasty-worded enemies
won't get an ounce of trust from me.
For no one will find honor
who has anything to do with them.
They are like the cloud that grows
and billows out until
the sun loses its rays:
I have no use for such as them.

E vos, gelos mal parlan,
no.s cuges que m'an tarçan
que iois e iovenz no.m plaia,
per tal que dols vos deschaia.

And you, gossiping jealous [husband]
don't think I'm going to hang around
or that joy and youth don't please me:
beware, or grief will bring you low.

(translation: Bogin 91)


A chantar m'er de so qu'eu no volria,
tant me rancur de lui cui sui amia;
car eu l'am mais que nuilla ren que sia:
vas lui no.m val merces ni cortezia
ni ma beltatz ni mos pretz ni mos sens
c'atressi.m sui enganad' e trahia
Com degr' esser, s'eu fos dezavinens

I have to sing of what I would not wish,
so bitter do I feel about him whose love I am,
as I love him more than anything there is;
with him, grace and courtesy are no avail to me,
nor my beauty, merit, or understanding,
for I am deceived and am betrayed as much
as I would rightly be had I been unwelcoming.

D'aisso.m conort, car anc non fi faillensa
Amics, vas vos per nuilla captenenssa;
ans vo am mais non fetz Seguis Valensa,
e platz mi mout quez eu d'amar vos vensa,
lo meus amics, car etz lo plus valens;
mi faitz orgoil en digz et en parvensa,
et si etz francs vas totas autras gens.

Friend, comfort me in this: that I never failed you
through any behavior of mine;
rather, I love you more than Seguis loved Valensa,
and it delights me that I vanquish you in loving,
my friend, for you are the most excellent.
To me you show arrogance in words and presence,
and are well-disposed toward everybody else.

Meraveill me cum vostre cors s'orgoilla,
amics, vas me, per qui'ai razon queu.m doilla;
non es ges dreitz c'autr' amors vos mi toilla,
per nuilla ren que.us diga ni acoilla.
E membre vos cals fo.l comensamens
de nostr'amor! Ja Dompnedeus non voilla
qu'en ma colpa sia.l departimens.

It amazes me that your being turns to proudness
with me, friend—and for this I am right to grieve;
it is not fair that another love takes you from me,
however she may address or welcome you;
and remember how it was at the beginning
of our love…God forbid
that the separation should be fault of mine!

Proeza grans, qu'el vostre cors s'aizina
e lo rics pretz qu'avetz, m'en ataïna,
c'una non sai, loindana ni vezina,
si vol amar, vas vos no si' aclina;
mas vos, amics, etz ben tant conoissens
que ben devetz conoisser la plus fina;
e membre vos de nostres partimens.

The great merit that shelters in your person
and the rich worth you have, disquiet me—
since there's no woman, far or near,
who, if she would love, does not submit to you;
yet you, my friend, have enough discernment
to know who is the loyalest.
And remember our understanding.

Valer mi deu mos pretz e mos paratges
e ma beutatz e plus mos fins coratges;
per qu'eu vos man lai on es vostr' estatges
esta chanson, que me sia messatges:
e voill saber, lo meus bels amics gens,
per que vos m'etz tant fers ni tant salvatges;
no sai si s'es orgoills o mal talens.

Mais aitan plus voill li digas, messatges,
qu'en trop d'orgoill an gran dan maintas gens.

My worth and my nobility must speak for me,
and my beauty, and still more my loyal heart,
and so I send you, where you are staying,
this song, which shall be my messenger;
and I want to know, my fair gentle friend,
why you are so hard and strange with me.
I don't know if it is pride or evil spite.

But I also want you to tell him, messenger,
that many suffer great loss through too great pride.

[Translation: Dronke 103]


Estat ai en greu cossirier
per un cavallier q'ai agut,
e voill sia totz temps saubut
cum eu l'ai amat a sorbrier;
ara vei q'ieu sui trahida
car eu non li donei m'amor,
don ai estat en gran error
en lieig quand sui vestida.

I was plunged into deep distress
by a knight who wooed me,
and I wish to confess for all time
how passionately I loved him;
Now I feel myself betrayed
for I did not tell him of my love.
therefore I suffer great distress
in bed and when I am fully dressed.

Ben volria mon cavalier
tener un ser e mos bratz nut,
q'el s'en tengra per ereubut
sol q'a lui fezes cosseiller;
car plus m'en sui abellida
no fetz Floris de Blanchaflor:
eu l'autrei mon cor e m'amor
mon sen, mos houills e ma vida.

Would that my knight might one night
lie naked in my arms
and find himself in ecstasy
with me as his pillow.
For I am more in love with him
than Floris was with Blanchfleur.
To him I give my heart and love
my reason, eyes and life.

Bels amics, avinens e bos
Cora.us tenrai e mon poder?
e que jagues ab vos un ser
e qe.us des un bais amoros!
Sapchatz, gran talan n'auria
qe.us tengues en luoc del marit,
ab so que m'aguessetz plevit
de far tot so qu'eu volria.

Handsome friend, tender and good
when will you be in my power?
Oh, to spend with you but one night
to impart the kiss of love!
Know that with passion I cherish
the hope of you in my husband's place,
as soon as you have sworn to me
that you will fulfil my every wish.

1 Old Provençal is the older name and the term that is probably familiar to more people. Old Occitan is preferred now because Old Provençal is misleading about the geographical area where the language was used, and Old Occitan better expresses the connection between the language and the area historically known as Occitania.

Works Consulted

Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans., introduction and notes by John Jay Parry. Columbia University Press, 1969.

Aubrey, Elizabeth, ed. Poets and Singers: On Latin and Vernacular Monophonic Song. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009.

Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadours. New York: W.W. Norton, 1980.

Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. "Fictions of the Female Voice: The Women Troubadours," Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), 865-891.

Burl, Aubrey. Courts of Love, Castles of Hate: Troubadours and Trobairitz in Southern France, 1071-1321. Chalford, Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2008.

Chambers, Frank. An Introduction to Old Provençal Versification. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1985.

Cheyette, Fredric L., and Margaret Switten. "Women in Troubadour Song: Of the Comtessa and the Vilana," in Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, Vol 2, 1998, 26-46.

Dante Alighieri. Vita Nova. Trans., introduction and notes by Andrew Frisardi. Northwestern University Press, 2012.

Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (203) to Marguerite Porete (1310). Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Gaunt, Simon, and Sarah Kay, eds. The Troubadours: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love. Oxford University Press, 1936, repr. 1973.

Niles, John D. "Three Songs from Guilhem IX," Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 4 (1976), pp. 483-489.

Paden, William D. An Introduction to Old Occitan. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1998.

______________, ed. The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Pillet, Alfred, and Henry Carstens. Bibliographie der Troubadours. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968.

Schutz, A.H. "Where Were the Provençal vidas and Razos Written?" Modern Philology, Vol. 35., No. 3, 225-232.

Shapiro, Marianne. "The Provençal Trobairitz and the Limits of Courtly Love," Signs, Vol. 3. No. 3. 1978, 560-571.

Smith, Nathaniel B., and Thomas G. Bergin. An Old Provençal Primer. New York: Garland, 1984.


The following recordings contain performances of the Countess of Dia's song A chantar m'er de so:

Cants de Troubadours et Troubairitz des 12th et 13th Siecles, Avinens
A Medieval Banquet (six CDs). Martin Best Medieval Ensemble.
Troubadours. Clemencie Consort.

An extensive list of recordings of troubadour song appears in Appendix One of Burl, above.

Links to online recordings of "A chantar m'er...."

Recording One
Recording Two

Link to Online resources

Countess of Dia
Years: 1150-1200
Birthplace: France
Language(s): Old Occitan
Subjects: Courtly love
Firsts: Among the first named European women to write in the vernacular rather than in Latin. Among the earliest female composers of secular music. Only woman troubadour for whose work some written musical notation survives.
Entry By: Maryann Corbett
32 Poems
The Academy of American Poets
The Atlantic
The Christian Science Monitor
The Cortland Review
Favorite Poem Project
The Frost Place
The Iowa Review
Light Quarterly
Modern American Poetry
The Poem Tree
Poetry Daily
Poetry Society of America
Poets House
Raintown Review
String Poet
Valparaiso Poetry Review
Verse Daily
Women's Poetry Listserv
The Yale Review

Bread Loaf
Poetry by the Sea


Barefoot Muse Press
David Robert Books
David R. Godine Press
Graywolf Press
Headmistress Press
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Louisiana State University Press
Northwestern Univ Press
Ohio Univ Press
Persea Books
Red Hen Press
Texas Tech Univ Press
Tupelo Press
Univ of Akron Press
Univ of Arkansas Press
Univ of Illinois Press
Univ of Iowa Press
Waywiser Press
White Violet Press

City Lights
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Joseph Fox Bookshop
Prairie Lights
Tattered Cover Bookstore

92nd Street Y
Literary Mothers
Poets & Writers