Listen to part of a lecture in a poetry class, the professor is discussing medieval poetry.
OK, so the two poems we are looking at today fall into the category of medieval times, which was how long ago?
Almost a thousand years ago, right?
Yes, that's right.
[Interrupting] But, professor, are you sure these are poems?
I mean I thought poems were shorter; these were more like long stories.
I mean, one of them was all about love, but the other one, the chan—[shan]—chan— whatever it's called, the other one, well it was all about fighting and battles.
I mean, can both of them be considered poems?
Well, think back to the very beginning of this course.
Remember how we, we define poetry?
In the very broadest sense, we said it's written to evoke, to make you, the audience, have some kind of the emotional experience through the use of imagery, um, some kind of predictable rhythm, and usually, but not always, there’s more than one meaning implied with the words that are used.
Let's start with the Chanson poetry first. That’s [slowly] chanson.
Chanson poems became popular in Europe, particularly in France, and the term is actually short for a longer French phrase that translates to a... huh... songs of deeds.
Now they were called songs of deeds because [ironically] strangely enough, they were written to describe the heroic deeds or actions of warriors, the knights during conflicts.
We don't know a lot about the authors, it's still contested somewhat, but we’re pretty sure about who the chanson poems were written for.
That is, they were written for the knights and the lords - the nobility that they served.
The poems were sung, performed by a minstrel, a singer who travelled from castle to castle, singing to the local lord and his knights.
Ah... well, would someone summarize the main features of the Chanson poem you read?
Well, there's a hero, and a knight, who goes to battle, and he is admired for his courage, bravery and loyalty, loyalty to the lord he serves, his country and his fellow warriors in the field.
He's a... he has a... he's a skilled fighter, willing to face the most extreme dangers, sacrificial, willing that sacrifice anything and everything to protect his king and country.
Ok, now ,given that the intended audiences for these poems were knights and lords.
What can we say about the purpose of Chanson poetry?
What kinds of feelings were it meant to provoke?
I guess they must been really appealing to those knights and lords who were listening to them.
Hearing the songs probably made them feel more patriotic, made them feel like it was a good noble thing to serve their countries in whatever way they could.
Good, we've got a pretty good picture of what the Chanson hero was like.
Now let's compare that to the hero in the other poem.
The other poem is an example of what's called Romance Poetry.
And the hero in the romance poem was also a knight.
But what made the knight in Romance Poetry different from the knight in Chanson poetry.
Well, first, the purpose of the hero's actions was different.
The hero in the Romance Poetry is independent, purely solitary in a way, not like the Chanson poet who was always surrounded by his fighting companions.
He doesn't engage in the conflict to protect his lord or country.
He does it for the sake of adventure, to improve himself, to show he's worthy of respect and love from his lady.
He's very conscious of the particular rules of social behavior he has to live up to somehow.
And all of those actions are for the purpose of proving that he is an upright,moral, well-mannered, well behaved individual.
You may have noticed that in Chanson poetry there isn't much about the hero's feelings.
The focus is on the actions, the deeds.
But the Romance Poetry describes a lot of the inner feelings, the motivations, psychology you could say, of the knight trying to improve himself, to better himself, so that he's worthy of the love of a woman.
What explains this difference?
Well, un,digging into the historical context tells us a lot.
Romance Poetry emerged a few generations after Chanson, and its roots were in geographical regions of France that were calmer, where conflict wasn't central to people's lives.
More peaceful times meant there was more time for education, travel, more time for reflection.
Another name for Romance Poetry that's often synonymous with it is troubadour poetry.
Troubadours were the authors of these new Romance poems.
And we know a lot more about the troubadours than we do about the Chanson authors, because they often had small biographical sketches added to their poems that gave pretty specific information about their social status, geographical location and small outline of their career.
These information wasn't particularly reliable because they were sometimes based on fictitious stories of great adventure or scraped together from parts of different poems.
But there is enough there to squeeze or infer some facts about their social class.
The political climate have settle down enough so that troubadours had the luxury of being able to spend most if not all of their time, creating, crafting or composing their love songs for their audiences.
And yes these poems were also sung. Many troubadours were able to make a living being full-time poets, which should tell you something about the value of that profession during the medieval times.