Medieval Verse: The Pastorela

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April 17, 2015 by phicks2012

ctree2This is the next in my series of short articles on verse forms used during the historic Middle Ages, and deals with The Pastorela

According to Wikipedia at
The pastorela (Occitan: [pastu’??l?], Catalan: [p?stu’????, pasto’??la]; “little/young shepherdess”, diminutive of pastora, feminine of pastor, meaning “shepherd”) was an Occitan lyric genre used by the troubadours. It gave rise to the Old French pastourelle. The central topic was always meeting of a knight with a shepherdess, which may lead to any of a number of possible conclusions. They are usually humorous pieces. The genre was invented by Marcabru, a chronic moraliser, who portrayed the “courtly” knight as a bumbling fool and the witty shepherdess as successfully blocking his advances.

Despite a fair amount of research, I’ve been unable to determine whether or not these verses regularly held to any particular rhyme scheme or meter, and so it would appear that they did not, and that the Pastorela relied more upon subject matter to define it than upon any specific form. Badinage between a Knight or Lord and a simple lass – often a shepherdess – seemed to be the traditional defining point, and humor also seemed to be integral. This means that a Pastorela is easy to write as long as the poet is able to come up with a witty poetic exchange between two socially disparate individuals – normally a high-born or highly-ranked man and a low-born or lesser-ranked woman of greater wit.

Since the period examples that I found were nearly all written in Medieval French, I will not include one here to illustrate the form. However, I have, by way of an example, created an original verse in the Pastorela form, and have included that verse — hopefully for your entertainment, especially if you are familiar with the SCA.


Pastorela No.1

A Lordly Knight came striding forth, his belt all snowy white,
Unto the lists to show his worth, where others stood to fight
His knightly chain was heavy gold, his spurs with polish shown;
His head was high, his stance was bold, his name was widely known.

And as he passed it happened that a Lady caught his eye,
Beneath a canopy she sat, with comely friends nearby.
Her flesh was smooth, her eyes were green, her visage wondrous fair,
And sang she songs with eglantine and daisies in her hair.

Her tresses black as raven’s wing and lips all ruby red,
She wore no silk nor golden ring; no crown adorned her head.
Her linen gown was simply made; no signs of rank wore she,
And as she sat all in the shade she was a mystery.

Thought he, she was a likely lass, and one untutored still,
Who would admire his coups de grace and marvel at his skill.
Here was a lass he could impress with all his rank and fame,
For surely there were none, he’d guess, who had not heard his name.

The Knight he sketched a Lordly bow, and flashed his finest smile;
“Milady, have you time enow to dally for a while?
For I am readying to fight, and soon the field will take,
But, for the nonce, for eyes so bright I would my wits forsake.”

“Milord, I think you flatter me, with words of honey spun!
Abandoning your wits?” quoth she, “Why, tis already done!
For you to favor such as I with such effusive praise
Must surely mean, if you’d not lie, you are already crazed.”

“For, as you see, I wear no crown, nor shining coronet,
While you, most surely, have renown and hazards to regret.
Why would you think to honor me with your attentions rare,
When there are Ladies in your lee that surely are as fair?”

“Tis true” he said, “that I have fame, and Ladies cluster round,
To earn my smiles, and who can blame them all when, pound for pound,
I am as fine a gentle Knight as e’er this Kingdom ‘s seen,
And when I triumph in the List may make of one a Queen?”

“Upon your brow a golden crown would sit with pomp and grace,
And garbed all in a velvet gown you well could take your place,
Beside me in your majesty on a carven throne.
Would you not like to be a Queen, and have your name well-known?”

“You promise me a Crown” quoth she, “if I will take your hand,
And dally till the sun dips down and darkness claims the land.
Assuming that I want a Crown, and virtue would forsake,
How will I know you can be bound by promises you make?”

“Because I am a Knight” quoth he, “and thus my word is sure.
I would not vow to make you Queen if only to procure
Compliance to my Knightly will. Upon my chain I swear,
That if you will but come with me, a Crown you well may wear!”

“Be you a Duke” she then did quip, “accustomed to the Throne,
Whose vaunted skill at rulership already is well-known?
And have you triumphed on the field, to earn the right to reign?
And other Ladies who did yield, have they as Queens been named?”

The Knight he stiffened, standing tall, quoth he “I’m in my prime!
I will be Crowned one day withal, if I’m but given time.
I have the faith, if you have none. I have the wit and skill,
And just because I’ve never won, don’t think I never will!”

“Then when you’ve triumphed in the List, return again to me.
I will consider then a tryst, whenever that might be”
She said to him. “But for the nonce I’ll linger on the downs,
And sing the merry day away, and will not dream of Crowns.”

The Knight he frowned and walked away, his armor still as bright,
His chain as gold in light of day, his belt as surely white.
His spurs as polished at his heels, and hearts still held in thrall,
But as he strode onto the field, perhaps not quite as tall.
[17 January, A.S. XLVII, 2013]

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April 2015


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