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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Poems of Guillaume IX

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Jack's Naughty Bits

A little-known poet of eleventh-century France, Guillaume IX, is the earliest of the traveling Troubadours whose work has survived, and can thus be crowned, in a certain sense, the first love poet in medieval Europe. Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitane, Guillaume was a true philosopher king — but not exactly the kind Plato had in mind. No, instead of forging reason and wisdom into a perfect alloy, Guillaume neglected his civic duties in favor of versifying and skirt-chasing, concerning himself less with the laws of state as what he calls the “leis de con” (the laws of pussy). Writing in Old Provençal, Guillaume is widely considered the father of the courtly love lyric. And while in later hands these lyrics would become ornately stylized jewels on the nobility of love and the sanctity of the emotive heart, Guillaume’s prototypes are ribald, raunchy and brazen. In one, he asks to outlive the war so he can get his hands beneath his neighbor’s mantle; in another, he can’t pick between his two steeds (you know what kind); in a third, he sums up his life philosophy with the words:

I don’t like women who put guards on their quim,

And I don’t like ponds that don’t have fish to swim,

And I don’t like braggarts with their “Me, me, me”

For when you look at what they’ve done, there isn’t much to see.

    

But despite his dislike of boasting, Guillaume isn’t shy about proclaiming his bedroom artistry. He says he’s called the “Sure Master” for “so well have I learned the sweet game / that I’m a hand up on all other men.” But apparently things don’t always go his way, despite his skills. Pussy’s law, as it turns out, is that it gains from its losses. Just as a forest grows three trees where one was chopped down, leave your lover alone and she’ll replace you with three others.


    

My favorite of his poems, most of which I’ll translate below, is a tale of how he tricks his way into a threesome with two married women. Like Petronius before him, and Boccaccio and Rabelais after, it’s another case of brains winning beauty, but, in this case, not without a few scrapes.



* * *  



From the poems of Guillaume IX


Translated by Jack Murnighan



In Auvergne, just out of Limousin,

I was walking all alone

When I came upon the lady Garin

Strolling beside the lady Bernard

Both of whom said meek hellos

In the name of Saint Leonard.


And this is how I answered that day,

I didn’t say “yeah” or “nay,”

Nor one word of sense did they hear me say,

Just: “Babariol, Babariol,

Babariay.”


Then Agnes says to Ermessen:

“We’ve found what it was we sought.

Sister, by God, let’s take him in

For he is mute

And so he’ll never dispute

Or tell what we do with him.”


“But Sister, this man is ingenious

He stopped speaking simply for us;

So let’s go fetch a cat,

Who’ll claw down his back,

And we’ll see if the show’s made for us.”


So we ate and drank — it was quite a feast,

Till Agnes came back, holding the beast.

Then she took off my shirt

And to make sure it hurt

Dragged it from my back to my knees.


Though the pain I did repent

My crafty ruse did not relent,

And, convinced, they set a bath to run.

I knew I had gone

Into a carnal oven

And eight days passed ‘fore we were done.


And boy did I fuck them, as you will hear,

One hundred and eighty-eight times!

So much I did fear

I would break all my gear,

I can’t tell you the pain I was in.

No, I can’t tell you the pain I was in.