The Medieval Verse: The Partimen


February 10, 2014 by phicks2012

If you haven’t figured this out by now, I’ve challenged myself to write a verse is as many Medieval forms as possible for publication in my SCA Newsletter, so here we go again!!

According to Wikipedia at:

The partimen (Occitan: [parti’men, pa?ti’men]; Catalan: partiment [p?rti’men, pa?ti’men(t)]; also known as partia or joc partit) or in French jeu parti (plural jeux partis) is a genre ofOccitan and Old French lyric poetry composed between two troubadours, a subgenre of the tenso or cobla exchange in which one poet presents a dilemma in the form of a question and the two debate the answer, each taking up a different side. It was especially popular in poetic contests.

A debate or dialogue in the form of a poem. According to Guilhem Molinier, the author of Las leys d’amors, a 13th-century treatise on how to write poetry in the style of thetroubadours, there is a clear difference between a partimen and a tenso: in a partimen the first speaker presents a problem with two possible solutions, leaving his opponent the choice of which solution to defend while taking it upon himself to defend the opposite side; thus, the participants each defend a theory not out of conviction but for the sake of discussion. The theorist admitted that the two terms were often used the wrong way.

Not only did the troubadours and trouvères not use the two terms as described, they also did not distinguish between the two genres. It is thus better to examine jeux-partis as they are grouped together in those troubadour and trouvère sources that present the poems by genre. A jeu-parti is a debate or discussion, usually between two authors who contribute alternate strophes. In some poems the debate is as described in Las leys d’amors. In others the discussion is in a question and answer form, or the first speaker presents his own opinion, immediately challenging his opponent to take a different point of view.

Jeux-partis deal with a variety of topics, but that of love, especially courtly love, occurs frequently. In most debates the opponents are addressed by name, many being well-known troubadours or trouvères; in other instances the poet introduces two apparently imaginary debaters, or initiates a debate between himself and an imaginary opponent. Each opponent usually contributes three stanzas and an envoi in which he appeals to someone to be his judge; in some poems the two participants appeal to the same person, but more often than not each participant chooses his own judge.

Some 200 Old French jeux-partis survive, about half of them with music. Their musical style is indistinguishable from that of trouvère songs in general; and since all of them are strophic, the music does not reflect the form of the debate.


According to Encyclopedia Britannica at:

Partimen, a lyric poem of dispute composed by Provençal troubadours in which one poet stated a proposition and a second disputed it. The first poet then defended his position, and the debatecontinued, usually for three rounds, after which the question was presented to an arbiter for resolution. The partimen was characterized by a more-limited and less-personal range of debate than a tenson, a similar form from which the partimen developed.


There seem to be few other on-line references to this poetic form, and I’ve been unable to determine whether or not this form was known to have any particular common meter or rhyme scheme. As a result my own attempt to use the form might not truly conform to period practice. However, the following does represent that attempt. It was written for publication in our SCA newsletter, and I hope that it will meet with your approval and result in some enjoyment:

Partimen No.1: What is The Dream?

What is The Dream? It is the Sovereign right
To chase bold visions of a simpler time
When dreams walked day-clad, rather than by night
Alone, when slumber offered them a better clime!
It is the seeking out by wisdom’s light
Of greater truths and ethics more sublime
Than any now arising in our sight,
But taught in ancient tale and eldritch rhyme!

Nay, I must speak, for I know best The Dream,
It is the magic realm of laughter born,
When we may sing and revel, and redeem
The youthful garments by our hearts once worn.
It is the place where merry stars may gleam
Above a world where we have cause to mourn
The loss of innocence , and sky-born beam
To see us rise and blow the revel horn!

Tis not, say I, the answers that you claim!
The Dream is glory, and in battle’s heat
Is called forth boldly in a monarch’s name
When shining swords in noble combat meet!
It is the mighty forge where honor’s flame
Is fanned, and where the hammers beat!
It is the womb from whence our honor came,
And will not waver even in defeat!

And I declare that all of you are wrong!
The Dream is neither fame that’s born of steel,
Nor laughter riding high on wings of song,
Nor yet the quest for truths that hearts may heal!
But all of these within The Dream belong,
And all within its boundaries are real.
So long as Thrones stand tall, and honor strong
Then we in faith and fealty may kneel.

[28 December, A.S. XLVIII, 2013]

2 thoughts on “The Medieval Verse: The Partimen

  1. woodie says:

    So ,you have interjected a third poet/commentor into the genre to be in line with the confusion between the two types.

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