Medieval Verse: The Cantiga de Amigo

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February 21, 2014 by phicks2012

Letter PI write poetry because I enjoy doing so, and I challenged myself a while back to write at least one poem in each of the traditional medieval verse forms I found listed on-line. Partly, I was doing this just to see if I could, but also I figured the challenge would provide me with poems to publish in my monthly SCA newsletter “The Equinox”, and supply our local Arts & Sciences officer with items for her quarterly report, proving that Arts & Sciences are, in fact, actually being engaged in locally!

So now we have “Medieval Verse: The Cantiga de Amigo”

According to Wikipedia at

The Cantiga de amigo (Portuguese: [k?~’ti?? dj ?’mi?u], Galician: [ka?’ti?a ðe a’mi?o]) or Cantiga d’amigo (Old Galician-Portuguese spelling), literally a “song about a boyfriend”, is a genre of medieval erotic lyric poetry, apparently rooted in a song tradition native to the northwest quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula. What mainly distinguishes the cantiga de amigo is its focus on a world of female-voiced communication. The earliest examples that survive are dated from roughly the 1220s, and nearly all 500 were composed before 1300. Cantigas d’ amigo are found mainly in the Cancioneiro Colocci-Brancuti, now in Lisbon’s Biblioteca Nacional, and in the Cancioneiro da Vaticana, both copied in Italy at the beginning of the 16th century (possibly around 1525) at the behest of the Italian humanist Angelo Colocci. The seven songs of Martin Codax are also contained, along with music (for all but one text), in the Pergaminho Vindel, probably a mid-13th-century manuscript and unique in all Romance philology.

In these cantigas the speaker is nearly always a girl, her mother, the girl’s girl friend, or the girl’s boyfriend. Stylistically, they are characterized by simple strophic forms, with repetition, variation, and parallelism, and are marked by the use of a refrain (around 90% of the texts). They constitute the largest body of female-voiced love lyric that has survived from ancient or medieval Europe. There are eighty-eight authors, all male, some of the better known being King Dinis of Portugal (52 songs in this genre), Johan Airas de Santiago (45), Johan Garcia de Guilhade (22), Juião Bolseiro (15), Johan Baveca (13), Pedr’ Amigo de Sevilha (10), João Zorro (10), Pero Meogo (9), Bernal de Bonaval (8), Martim Codax (7). Even Mendinho, author of a single song, has been acclaimed as a master poet.

The cantiga de amigo have been said to have characteristics in common with the Mozarabic kharajat, but these may be merely coincidences of female speaker and erotic themes.
Below are two cantigas d’amigo by Bernal de Bonaval (text from Cohen 2003, tr. Cohen 2010).

Bernal de Bonaval 7
Rogar vos quer’ eu, mha madre e mha senhor,
que mi non digades oje mal, se eu for
a Bonaval, pois meu amig’ i ven
Se vos non pesar, mha madre, rogar vos ei,
por Deus, que mi non digades mal, e irei
a Bonaval, pois meu amig’ i ven

I want to ask you, my mother and my lady,
That you not speak ill of me today, if I go
To Bonaval, since my boy is coming there.
If it doesn’t upset you, my mother, I will ask,
By God, that you not speak ill of me, and I’ll go
To Bonaval, since my boy is coming there.


Bernal de Bonaval 8
Filha fremosa, vedes que vos digo:
que non faledes ao voss’ amigo
sen mi, ai filha fremosa
E se vós, filha, meu amor queredes,
rogo vos eu que nunca lhi faledes
sen mi, ai filha fremosa
E al á i de que vos non guardades:
perdedes i de quanto lhi falades
sen mi, ai filha fremosa

Lovely daughter, look what I’m telling you:
Do not talk with your boyfriend
Without me, o lovely daughter.
And, daughter, if you want my love,
I ask you that you never talk with him
Without me, o lovely daughter.
And there’s something else you’re careless about:
You lose every word you talk with him
Without me, o lovely daughter.


Those are the period examples, but as usual I could not leave that well enough alone! I set out to compose one of my own, as demanded by “The Challenge”, and found that it was not particularly difficult to manage. After all, these poems are short and sweet, with several repeated lines, right?

So, the verse below is my own first attempt at a Cantiga de Amigo, and I hope you enjoy it!


Cantiga de Amigo No.1: Speak to me Mother

Speak to me mother of love and of duty
Tell me my love is enthralled by my beauty.
Tell me his heart will eternally true be.
Speak of fidelity and of allegiance.
Swift, reassure me that of his love and constance.
Tell me his heart will eternally true be.
Tell me that truth lies in his every soft glance
Come and assure me that love is a long dance.
Tell me his heart will eternally true be.

[8 November, 2013]

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