This was supposed to be a soliloquy

about Bertran de Born, a troubadour from

twelfth century Limousin. I wanted to start

with his line about springtime pleasing him.

I wanted you to hear de Born like he was

Richard III or Coriolanus begrudging an aside,

bloviating on all the pornographies of war—

beautiful buckram, helmets and hauberks,

waving gonfalons, brains greasing clubheads.

 

Bertran was loyal to warfare the way a knife

submits to the whetstone that sharpens it,

said he was so damn tough the shreds of war

clung to him, said a man who didn’t tire of war

was worth more than a falconer on the riverbank

whatever that means. It pleased him when scouts

put herds of peasants and goats to flight.

Peace was anathema. It softened landlords,

made them idle and fond of hosting tourneys

whose pomp and pageantry the baron despised.

His villainy seemed positively Shakespearean,

though after more thought another idea struck

flipping through the Berkeley edition from

Paden Sankovitch and Stӓblein, this squat

burgundy hardcover with horizontal pages

like the picture books your teacher reads

as you sit crisscross on the carpet floor.

 

I imagined those stuffy Georgian satirists,

Ambrose Philips, Samuel Johnson, Pope,

aristocratic wit that assays and

contemplates in heroic couplets,

that worships at the altar of Horace.

de Born would give a lengthy tract

moralizing in fine-tuned pentameters.

Merit would be his maiden and muse

her sisters Goodness and Chastity.

He would tell Papiol to hasten his words

so the Angevins would learn courage

was not to parlay when armed afield,

and a man cleaved in half to his breeches

was a wonderful thing to witness.

 

Then I imagined him as one of Browning’s

the way Fra Lippo Lippi, poor brother Lippo,

says you’ve caught him at the end of an alley

where the women leave their doors ajar.

He’s put you on the spot, made you complicit,

even has you falling in love with warfare

and swearing in oaths on abbey missals,

in your dreams drumming on fields

in bloodied boots and altogether silent,

no one claps afterwards they just linger

big pupiled, dazed or mechanical, inhaling

the fetor of swollen unburied corpses

clogging the waterways of a chateau besieged

by petraries and burning French countryside.

 

How prophetic it all seemed, like Eliot

whose Tiresias with wrinkled dugs had foreseen

the sterility of springtime, of gardens planted

year after year with handfuls of dust

that gave nothing back, only history and fear.

The burgundy book suddenly fragmented,

each poem become like a shard of pottery

neatly arranged on the table but out of order,

only suggesting the wholeness of a jar.—

But even the planhs aren’t that grim.

He mourns but he immortalizes Rassa

among Alexander and Arthur, among

Roland Oliver and the heroes of Roncevaux.

That’s how you keep invitations to court coming.

That’s how you get your sons knighted at Le Puy.

 

I thought perhaps I’d gotten this all wrong.

The last third of the book we’re told

by the editors de Born becomes a monk,

trades his panoply for cilice and prayer beads,

is humbled by God’s patience with him.

With great leaf-turning-over verse

he absolves himself of past indiscretions

which is what made me think of Arthur

not Mallory’s but Monty’s, an Arthur singing

the simulacrum of a song that goes like this

from the Tony Award-winning Spamalot.

A song that knows we’ve heard it all before.

That’s the trouble, it just goes on and on.

The only thing you can do is have fun with it—

like the scene where Arthur fights the Black Knight.

I like imagining Bertran de Born amputated

down to his bloodied torso, his limbless body

jumping up and down like a coiled spring,

his sense of bravery refreshingly undiminished,

barking with pride, tis but a flesh wound.

That’s how the Cistercian monk pleases me.


R. Charboneau

2 thoughts on “How Bertran de Born Pleases Me

  1. How great is this! I always end up learning so much from your poems. I was getting all riled up to go to war alongside Bertran de Born. It’s such a shame he quenched his thirst for blood in the end.

    Have you thought of doing doodles for these longer poems? I think they’d work terrifically.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s