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Introduction to Provencal, Lyric Poetry

Provencal was originally used in all the south of France, as far north as Poitou, Limousin and the Dauphine. Romance language descended from Latin. XIth century Earliest texts (3) survive from XIth century. La Chanson de Sainte Foy (1033) is the only one of real merit. XIIth Century Period of the early troubadours. Dominant genre lyric poetry, especially the chanson (love poetry); also important, sirventes (satire); moral and religious poetry and the partimen (debate poetry).

Principal poets: Guillaume IX of Aquitaine, Marcabru, Jaufre Rudel, Cercamon, Bernart de Ventadour, Bertran de Born, Arnaut Daniel and Raimbaut d’Aurenga. Wrote for a society where patronage was the rule. Poetry governed by strict conventions as regards rhyme and metre. Music very important. Poets were usually composers as well and set their poems to music. Society destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade (first part of the thirteenth century). Many southern lords destroyed or impoverished and replaced by northern invaders.

Deathblow to troubadours, many of whom fled to Aragon and Italy where troubadour poetry continued to enjoy great prestige. Dante admired the troubadours very much. XIIIth century XIIIth century sees poetry continue with poets like Peire Cardenal and there are some surviving poems, which show that there was an epic tradition (Daurel et Beton), and a romance tradition (Jaufre and Flamenca). XIVth century Poetry becomes conventional with few outstanding poets, but real efforts to preserve the traditions and language. 1323 foundation of the Consistori del Gai Saber.

The Jeux Floraux at Toulouse where prizes were awarded to the best poets. Religious poetry flourished (La Vida de Sant Onorat) and there was some epic poetry (Ronsasvals). Some theatre and prose especially religious (Barlaam et Josafat), but also secular (Melusino, Chronique de Montpellier). XVth century A period of decline in quality and quantity. Some theatre (les mysteres rouergats and alpins), some prose (Chronique des Comtes de Foix et seigneurs du Bearn by Michel Bernis 1445). Period when Provencal writers are turning towards French for political and prestigious reasons.

XVIth century Despite the edit de Villers-Cotterets (1539) enforcing the use of French in official documents, a period of some revival. Particularly inGascony where the efforts of the navarese Kings to maintain their independence meant some of Gascon. Pey de Garros (1565) wrote Psaumes for Jeanne d’Albret. Guillaume du Bartas (also wrote in French) and Auger Gaillard (Lou Banquet 1583 republished three times) both use Gascon. In Provence Louis Bellaud (1543-88) and Pierre Paul poets of some merit with many followers. XVIIth century Goudelin (1589-1649) outstanding poet of Toulouse life.

Several Gascon writers continue the tradition of defending their language. Many followers of Goudelin. Francois de Cortete, seigneur de Prades (1586-1667) very popular Agenais dramatist. Considerable output of varied quality in Provence but Nicholas Saboly (1614-75) at Avignon had great success with his Noels and later influenced Mistral and Roumanille. XVIIIth century Tradition of worker poets who wrote about their everyday lives. Much satirical and light-hearted poetry. Most important Toussaint Gros (Marseille 1698-1748) whose Pouesios Provencalos(1734) very influential.

L’abbe Favre (1723-83) whose satirical Lou siege de Cadaroussa is very representative in showing some French influence but still very clearly southern in style and language. Theatre quite important. Jean de Cabannes from Aix, Etienne Pelabon from Toulouse etc, show the importance of the theatre in the south. XIXth and XX centuries Those who prepared the way for the Felibrige: philologists, historians and supporters of patois, romantics etc. Succession of dialect writers, of whom the most important is Jasmin from Agen (1798-1864).

Widely recognised (Sainte-Beuve, Louis Philippe, Napoleon III ) but was never an ally of Mistral. Also Victor Gelu (1806-85) from Marseilles, a nostalgic poet who also did not get on with Mistral, and above all Roumanille. Lively atmosphere of festivals and theatre. 1854 foundation of Felibrige (Mistral, Roumanille, Aubanel, Mathieu, Brunet, Tavan and Giera). Only the first three are important poets. Success due in large part to Mistral’s Mireio (1859) instantly recognised as a chef d’oeuvre, followed by other poetic narrative and lyric poetry. Roumanille above all a prose writer.

Aubanel also an important lyric poet. Many other writers in Provencal in second half of century and first part of XXth. See Rostaing et Jouveau, Precis de litterature provencale, (849-09ROS) for the list which is by no means complete. Relatively few women writers of merit. Much of the work is poetry, but in the XXth century increasing amounts of prose of quality (d’Arbaud, Bayle, Boudon) Provencal hampered by attitude of government, by quarrels between the different dialects and recently by quarrels between politicised occitaniens and the more conservative mistraliens.

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