This was supposed to be a soliloquy

about Bertran de Born, a troubadour from

the 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 and 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 did not 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 Shakespearean

though after some more thought

another idea struck at two in the morning

flipping through the Berkeley edition from

Paden Sankovitch and Stӓblein, this squat

burgundy hardcover with horizontal pages

like the picture books your teachers read

while you sat crisscross on the carpet floor.

I thought of stuffy Georgian satirists

Ambrose Philips, Samuel Johnson, Pope

aristocratic wit that essays only what

pleases it, contemplates in heroic couplets

pretentious and slavish to Horace.

de Born would give a lengthy tract

moralizing in fine-tuned pentameters.

Merit would be his muse, her sisters Honor

and Goodness would grope men’s egos.

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 oaths on abbey missals

in your dreams, drumming on the field

in bloodied boots and otherwise silent

no one claps afterwards they just linger

dazed or mechanical, and big pupiled

inhaling the fetor of swollen unburied corpses

tossed in the water supply of a castle 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 but out of order

their contours never fitting together

only suggesting the wholeness of a jar.

But even the planhs aren’t that grim.

He mourns but he also canonizes Rassa

with Alexander and Arthur, with Roland

Oliver and all the heroes of Roncevaux.

That’s how you keep invitations to court

coming, and get your sons knighted at Le Puy.

 

But maybe I’d gotten this all wrong.

Near the end of his work we’re told

by the editors de Born becomes a monk

trades his panoply for a cilice and prayer beads

is humbled and self-satisfied with how patient

God has been with him all these years.

With great leaf-turning-over verse

his song absolves him of past indiscretions

which is what finally led me to what

this poem ended up being—a parody.

At last de Born seemed like the Arthur

not of Mallory but Monty, singing

the simulacra of a song that goes like this

in 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 and head

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 1 person

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