LES DEUX AMANZ THE LAI OF THE TWO SWEET YOUNG THINGS
Marie de France tr. Jane Tozer








jadis avint en Normendie
une aventure mut oïe
de deus enfanz que
s'entr'amerent;
par amur ambedeus finerent.
un lai en firent li Bretun:
de Deus amanz recuilt le nun.
verité est kë en Neustrie,
que nus apelum Normendie,
ad un haut munt merveilles grant:
la sus gisent li dui enfant.
pres de cel munt a une part
par grant cunseil e par esgart
une cité fist faire uns reis
quë esteit sire de Pistreis;
des Pistreins la fist il numer
e Pistre la fist apeler.
tuz jurs ad puis duré li nuns;
uncore i ad vile e maisuns.
nuns savum bien de la contree,
li vals de Pistrë est nomee.
li reis ot une fille bele
e mut curteise dameisele.
cunfortez fu par la meschine,
puis que perdue ot la reïne.
plusurs a mal li aturnerent,
li suen meïsme le blamerent.
quant il oï que hum en parla,
mut fu dolent, mut li pesa;
cumença sei a purpenser
cument s'en purrat delivrer
que nul sa fille ne quesist.
e luinz e pres manda e dist:
ki sa fille vodreit aveir,
une chose seüst de veir:
sortit esteit e destiné,
desur le munt fors la cité
entre ses braz la portereit,
si que ne se reposereit.
quant la nuvelë est seüe
e par la cuntree espandue,
asez plusurs s'i asaierent,
que nule rien n'i espleiterent.
teus i ot que tant s'esforçouent
quë en mi le munt la portoënt;
ne poeient avant aler,
iloec l'esteut laissier ester.
lung tens remist cele a doner,
que nul ne la volt demander.
al païs ot un damisel,
iz a un cunte, gent e bel;
de bien faire pur aveir pris
sur tuz autres s'est entremis.
en la curt le rei conversot,
asez sovent i surjurnot;
e la fillë al rei ama,
e meintefeiz l'areisuna
que ele s'amur li otriast
e par drüerie l'amast.
pur ceo ke pruz fu e curteis
e que mut le presot li reis,
li otria sa drüerie,
e cil humblement l'en mercie.







In Normandy, in days of old
Occurred a tale thatís often told
Of two young souls who loved so madly
That their adventure turned out sadly.
Their tragic story touched the Bretons
Who made the lai Les Deus Amanz.

You can still find, in Normandy
(Known as Neustria in their day)
A mountain of prodigious size -
Right on its top, their tomb still lies.
Beneath it, at the kingís command
Was a strong city, finely planned.
He was the lord of all the land
And nation of the Pitrians -
Therefore, he called his city Pitres.
With many a handsome house and street
The town is standing to this day
(I recommend a weekend stay).

Around the handsome citadel
Is countryside we all know well
Along the valley of the Seine -
Le Val de Pitres is its name.

The widowed king has no heirs male;
His only offspring is a girl
The heroine of this sad tale.
Sheís courtly, sweet and beautiful
The only comfort of his soul
And single object of his love
Now that his wife has passed above.
Many of his staff and ministers
Find his devotion to her sinister;
They blame the king, and some reprove him.
Their stern reproaches shame and move him.

So the old king sat down and planned
How any suitors for her hand
Might be forestalled. Then he can have her
Entirely to himself forever.
So itís proclaimed both far and near:
"All hopefuls should get one thing clear:
It is decided and decreed
All claimants must perform this deed
A rigorous and stringent test :-
Without a pause for breath or rest
He must climb up the lofty mountain
Carrying the lovely maiden
In his arms, and never falter
If he would wed her at the altar."

When the news spreads through the land
Many decide to try their hand
At this absurd and pointless deed -
No man Jacques of them succeeds.
Some of them, by gallant struggle,
Get half way up before they stumble;
Without the strength for one step further
Their brave attempt to win is over.
When it was known the task was hopeless
No man paid court to the princess.

Well, a young fellow lives nearby,
A countís son, pleasing to the eye
Noble and decent, with ambition
By splendid feats to gain position
And to cement his place at court,
His only cultural resort.
(Though physically heís ineffectual
He is a true French intellectual.)
He visits often. There he sought
To woo the princess, whom he loved.
Would she agree to be betrothed
And to return his tenderness
Deeper than mere words express?
Because he has her fatherís favour -
For he is handsome, courtly, brave - her
Heart is willing, and sheís glad
And proud to love this charming lad.







ensemble parlerent sovent
e s'entr'amerent lëaument
e celerent a lur poeir,
que hum nes puïst aparceveir.
la suffrance mut lur greva;
mes li vallez se purpensa
que meuz en volt les maus suffrir
que trop haster e dunc faillir.
mut fu pur li amer destreiz.
puis avient si que a une feiz
que a s'amie vient li danzeus,
que tant est sages, pruz e beus;
sa pleinte li mustrat e dist:
anguissusement li requist
que s'en alast ensemble of lui,
ne poeit mes suffrir l'enui;
s'a sun pere la demandot,
il saveit bien que tant l'amot
que pas ne li vodreit doner,
si il ne la poïst porter
entre ses braz en sum le munt.
la damisele li respunt:
"amis," fait ele, "jeo sai bien,
ne m'i porterïez pur rien:
n'estes mie si vertuus.
si jo m'en vois ensemble od vus,
mis pere avreit e doel e ire,
ne vivreit mie sanz martire,
certes, tant l'eim e si l'ai chier,
jeo nel vodreie curucier.
autre cunseil vus estuet prendre,
kar cest ne voil jeo pas entendre.
en Salerne ai une parente,
riche femme, mut ad grant rente;
plus de trente anz i ad esté.
l'art de phisike ad tant usé
que mut est saives de mescines:
tant cunust herbes e racines,
si vus a li volez aler
e mes lettres od vus porter
e mustrer li vostre aventure,
ele en prendra cunseil e cure;
teus lettuaires vus durat
e teus beivres vus baillerat
que tut vus recunforterunt
e bone vertu vus dufrunt.
quant en cest païs revendrez,
a mun pere me requerez;
il vus en tendrat pur enfatn,
si vus dirat le cuvenant
que a nul humme ne me durrat,
ja cele peine n'i mettrat,
s'al munt ne me peüst porter
entre ses braz sanz resposer."








They meet as often as they can
To talk together, and to plan
A happy future. They conceal
All the strong passions that they feel
From all potential spying eyes -
Even their tears of grief, their sighs.
Their suffering was so intense!
Yet the young man thinks it good sense
To bear their sorrows for a while
Rather than haste their love, and fail.
His loveís the cause of great distress
So he goes off to see his mistress
Who is so lovely, good and wise.
He begs, lamenting on his knees:

"Letís run away, my darling, please,
This is a risk we both must take.
I can no longer stand this ache!
If I should ask your fatherís blessing
To take his most adored possession
I know heíd never let us marry
Unless I pass the test to carry
You in my arms up to the summit.
The prospect makes my spirits plummet."

"My love" says she, "I know full well
This is one challenge you would fail
You havenít got the strength and fitness.
Yet I am sure, as Godís my witness,
My fatherís anger would be pitiless.
If we eloped, his grief and rage
Would eat his heart out all his days.
I love him so, the dear old man,
Iíll keep him happy if I can.
To cause him hurt is inconceivable -
Our futureís not yet irretrievable.
Now, listen, for Iíve planned it out.

At Salerno, I have an aunt
A dame of substance and of parts;
Sheís studied all the healing arts
For thirty years, from learned masters.
She knows the salves, the brews, the plasters
Charms, herbs and roots and magic potions
Brought from strange lands and distant oceans.
If youíre prepared to travel there
Iíll write a letter you can bear
To introduce yourself to her.
When once you tell her of our plight
Sheíll give you all the help she might
With good advice and tender care.
Iím sure you can depend on her.
She will prescribe you distillations
Tinctures, tonics, medications
That will bring comfort, lend you strength
And get you into shape.

At length
When you return, ask for my hand
And, if things go as I have planned,
My father, thinking you a stripling
And physically quite a weakling,
Will gladly read you the decree
Whereby no man may marry me
Save the one who can carry me
Held in his arms, up to the top
With never a breather, or a stop."
li vallez oï la movele
e le cunseil a la pucele;
mut en fu liez, si l'en mercie;
cungé demandë a s'amie,
en sa cuntree en est alez.
hastivement s'est aturnez
de riches dras e de deniers,
de palefreiz e de sumers;
de ses hummes les plus privez
al li danzeus of sei menez.
a Salerne vait surjurner,
a l'aunte s'amie parler.
de sa part li dunat un brief.
quant el l'ot lit de chief en chief,
ensemble od li l'a retenu
tant que sun estre ad tut seü.
par mescines l'ad esforcié,
un tel beivre li ad baillié,
ja ne serat tant travaillez
ne si ateint ne si chargiez,
ne li resfreschist tut le cors,
neïs les vaines ne les os,
e qu'il nen ait tute vertu,
si tost cum il l'avra beü.
puis le remeine en sun païs.
le beivre ad en un vessel mis.
li damiseus, joius e liez,
quant ariere fu repeiriez,
ne surjurnat pas en la tere.
al rei alat sa fille quere,
qu'il li donast, il la prendreit,
en sum le munt la portereit.
li reis ne l'en escundist mie;
mes mut le tint a grant folie,
pur ceo qu'il iert de jeofne eage:
tant produme vaillant e sage
unt asaié icel afaire
ki n'en purent a nul chef traire.

Such clever, witty, wise advice:
The girlís not just a pretty face.
This puts new heart into the lad -
"Thanks, darling, Iíd be very glad
Of any nostrum of your auntís.
Your blessing, please. Iíll leave at once!"
He rushes home to pack and plan
The journey out, as best he can
Heíll take a modest baggage train -
Only his most trusted men,
His finest clothes, a deal of moneys,
Palfreys to ride, and good pack-ponies.
Itís a long journey that heís making
A truly massive undertaking
But heís too love-sick to despond.
He pores over the mappemonde:-

"All the way from Normandy
Across the Alps to Italy
Then, somewhere south of Napoli -
Salerno."
How he hopes that he
Will find material help and counsel
From the aunt of his dear damsel.

They reach the auntís house with good speed.
"Your niece sends greetings. Here, please read."
She reads intently, from the top
Right to the end. Sizing him up,
The aunt invites the youth to stop
With her.
"Youíre such a slender chap
A little half-starved whippet pup!
Drink this, my dear, to build you up.
Itís potent stuff - a single swig
Will make you lively as a grig!"

This is a complex preparation
Of elixirs and macerations
With healing herbs from far off nations.
She heals the young man with this potion.
However weakened by exhaustion
Bowed down by burdens or affliction
Depressed in spirits by emotion
And the anguish of the soul -
This medicine will make him whole.
By the powers of cabbalism
It restores the organism;
Acting through the venous system
From the beating of the heart
It circulates to every part
Right to the marrow of the bones!
Hereís an end to sighs and moans.
Itís a fast-acting remedy
One sip, then - farewell malady.

He rides back to his native soil
With the potion in a phial.
Though heís delighted to be home
He doesnít dawdle there for long
But rushes off to see the king.

"I beg you for your daughterís hand.
Believe me sir, I understand
The task that I must undertake
To prove myself a worthy mate.
Iíll carry her, in these my arms,
Up to the top, no fear of harm."

His majesty did not forbid it,
Yet, I believe, considered it
Madness in one so very young
- And, in appearance, far from strong -
When sturdy citizens had failed.
No valiant heart had yet prevailed;
Brave, tough and wise men all gave up
Before they reached the mountain top.
terme li ad numé e pris,
ses hummes mande e ses amis
e tuz ceus k'il poeit aveir:
n'en i laissa nul remaneir.
pur sa fille e pur le vallet,
ki en avwnture se met
de li porter en sum le munt,
de tutes parz venuz i sunt.
la dameisele s'aturna:
mut se destreint, mut jeüna
a sun manger pur alegier,
que a sun ami voleit aidier.
al jur quant tuz furent venu,
li damisels primer i fu;
sun beivre n'i ublia mie.
devers Seigne en la praerie
en la grant gent tut asemblee
li reis ad sa fille menee.
n'ot drap vestu fors la chemise;
entre ses braz l'aveit cil prise.
la fiolete od tut sun beivre -
bien seit que el nel vout pas deceivre -
en sa mein a porter li baille;
mes jo creim que poi ne li vaille,
kar n'ot en lui point de mesure.
od li s'en veit grant aleüre,
le munt munta de si qu'en mi.
pur la joie qu'il ot de li
de sun beivre ne li membra.
ele senti qu'il alassa.
"amis," fet ele, "kar bevez!
jeo sai bien que vus alassez:
si recuvrez vostre vertu!"
li damisel ad respundu:
"bele, jo sent tut fort mun quer:
ne m'arestereie a nul fuer
si lungement que jeo buësse,
pur quei treis pas aler peüsse.
ceste gent nus escrïereient,
de lur noise m'esturdireient;
tost me purreient desturber.
jo ne voil pas ci arester."
quant les deus parz fu munté sus,
pur un petit qu'il ne chiet jus.
sovent li prie la meschine:
"ami, bevez vostre mescine!"
ja ne la volt oïr ne creire;
a grant anguisse od tut li eire.
sur le munt vint, tant se greva,
ileoc cheï, puis ne leva;
li quors del ventre s'en parti.

He sets the day for his attempt
No knight or bondsman is exempt
All of his friends and neighbours come -
No-one is left at home, not one.
When folk hear of this event
No invitation need be sent!
The people pour into the town
From the regions all around.
A princess, carried by her swain
Across mountainous terrain
Could you resist it?
- Nor could they!

In preparation for the day
The girl, to make it simpler for him
Starts on a diet to make her slim.
She starves herself, as if for Lent
Like the most zealous penitent.

Oh, the poor princess, what folly!
Now girls, donít ever be so silly.
Worries about how slim you are
Bring anorexia or bulimia.
Perhaps you will agree with me
That hereís a tragic irony.
He loved her for herself entire
Aflame with youthful wild desire
For her sweet soft voluptuous curves.
And she loved him, all bones and nerves;
An intellectualís always gaunt
(And Iím - one of the few that arenít).

On the anticipated morning
He rises as the day is dawning
The first arrival at the start
With apprehension in his heart.
Despite his welter of emotion
He has made sure to bring the potion.
Along the valley of the Seine
All through the throng that crowds the plain
His highness leads the young princess.
Choosing the simplest, lightest dress
Sheís wearing nothing but her shift.

Sheís up in his arms, so slight to lift.
He, knowing that sheíll not deceive him
Gives her the tonic for safe-keeping.
By evening, she will be his wife
And so he trusts her with his life.

But, ah my dears, I have a notion
Heíll gain no profit from the potion
For youth knows no restraint or caution
When in the grip of deep emotion.
Middle age brings moderation
And a true sense of proportion -
At least, friends, thatís what Iíve been told.
The young think first love wonít grow cold
And hope theyíll die before they get old.

Heís off, at high velocity
And up the first stretch with alacrity
To the first mark, quick as can be.
He canít believe it. Heís halfway!
Heís so thrilled that he doesnít think
About the flask of magic drink.
But she can hear that he sounds puffed:
"Darling!" she urges "Take a draught!
I can feel your strength is flagging
Take a sip, please, from the flacon.
Health and vigour are imparted."

"Dearest, I feel - puff - quite strong-hearted.
While I can still take three steps forward
My no means will I - puff - pause or stop,
Not even for a - puff - tiny sip!
Once the masses see me - puff - pause
Theyíll deafen me with groans and roars
It would be - puff - dreadfully - puff - off-putting
And Iíd be sure to lose my footing!
I canít a - puff - fford to break my stride
Or I will stumble, slip and slide.
Please, honey, - puff - no more interruptions."

Onward he climbs the lofty mountain.
Now theyíre two thirds of the way up
Heís quite done in and fit to drop
But, somehow, just keeps on his legs.
Over and over, how she begs:
"Darling, please, darling, take your drink!"
But he can barely hear or think.
In fact, he chooses not to hear
Or to believe his anxious dear.

No, he will do this thing alone
Prove to himself that he is strong.
In agony, he struggles on.
A few more steps, and he has done it
At last, he makes it to the summit.
But heís incurred such grievous strain
And suffered such appalling pain
He slumps, and does not rise again.
A fluttering within his chest
And then -
his heart flees from his breast.
la pucele vit sun ami,
quida k'il fust en paumeisuns;
lez lui se met en genuilluns,
sun beivre li voleit doner;
mes il ne pout od li parler.
issi murut cum jeo vus di.
ele le pleint a mut haut cri;
puis ad geté e espaundu
li veissel u le beivre fu.
li muns en fu bien arusez,
mut en ad esté amendez
tut le païs e la cuntree:
meinte bone herbe i unt trovee,
ki del beivrë orent racine.
or vus dirai de la meschine:
puis que sun ami ot perdu,
unkes si dolente ne fu;
lez lui se cuchë e estent,
entre ses braz l'estreint e prent,
suvent li baisë oilz e buche;
li dols de lui al quor la tuche.
ilec murut la dameisele,
que tant ert pruz e sage e bele.
li reis e cil kis atendeient,
quant unt veü qu'il ne veneient,
vunt aprés eus, sis unt trovez.
li reis chiet a tere paumez.
quant pot parler, grant dol demeine,
e si firent la gent foreine.
treis jurs les unt tenu sur tere.
sarcu de marbre firent quere,
les deus enfanz unt mis dedenz.
par le cunseil de cele genz
desur le munt les enfuïrent,
e puis atant se departirent.
pur l'aventure des enfaunz
ad nun li munz des Deus amanz.
issi avint cum dit vus ai;
li Bretun en firent un lai.

The princess sees her fallen lover.
Heís fainted, and will soon recover.
She kneels beside him, tries to slip
The potion-flask between his lips.
"Speak to me, darling!"
He cannot
For he was dead before he dropped.
In grief, she gives a piteous wail
And hurls away the precious phial
Sprinkling the magic potion
Over the herbage on the mountain
Watering the barren earth
And engendering rebirth.
So potent was its growing power
That many a healing herb and flower
Took root there, having been well-nourished;
There, to this day, they grow and flourish
And you may pick them, for good health.

Ah, but I forget myself.
Now I must tell of the poor maid
Who has lost her bonny lad.
Her grief has driven her quite mad. She
Lies beside his poor, racked body
Clasping him in wild embraces
Showering eyes and lips with kisses
With her pale forefinger she traces
Each loved feature of his face.
Grief for his anguish breaks her heart
And she expires there, on the spot.
So ends the life of this princess
In all her sweet wise loveliness.

When the couple donít appear
The king, and all those waiting there,
Are anxious, and make up their minds
To follow, and look out for signs.
Alas, we know what they will find.
The king collapses on the ground.
When he recovers from his swoon
He grieves aloud with howls and cries.
None of the strangers is dry-eyed.
For three whole days the hills resound
With the lamentable sound
Vast crowds of mourners gather round
While the two lie there on the ground.
On the fourth day, they are entombed
In a fine marble mausoleum
There, on the summit of the mountain
Where, so they say, you can still see them.
Then, the throng turns for the descent.
In solitude, the king laments,
And, for all I know, repents.


Thus ends the tale of the ordeal
Of two who died in time of trial.
For the young loversí sad romance
The mountainís called Les Deus Amanz.
It came about just as I say
And Breton singers made this lai.

Trans. Copyright © Jane Tozer 2004


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