Cantigas de amigo. Songs about the Beloved.

Cantigas de amigo. Songs about the Beloved.
The Cantigas de amigo are secular love poems or songs composed in Galician-Portuguese roughly between the early 13th century and mid-way through the 14th century. Numbering 500, they have survived in two early 16th-century Cancioneiros (Songbooks), which are copies –made in Italy for the Italian humanist Angelo Colocci– from a cancioneiro, now lost.

The larger songbook, the Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional (CBC), is in the National Library in Lisbon (this collection is still often referred by its original name of Colocci-Brancuti); the second copy, the Cancioneiro da Vaticana (CV), is in Rome.

Both of these Cancioneiros also contain two other categories of cantigas, composed likewise in Galician-Portuguese, the Cantigas de amor (Love Songs) and the Cantigas de escarnho or de mal dezir (Songs of Ridicule and Insults). With these and the cantigas de amigo, the CBC has a total of some 1680 poems; the CV has over 1,200 poems. Many of the poets who figure in these Songbooks practiced all three kinds of cantigas.

The Cantigas de amigo.
Of the three categories, the cantigas de amigo have attracted most attention in Spain and Portugal. There is natural pride in these songs. They are viewed as original, “home grown” products, as opposed to the cantigas de amor and the cantigas de escarnho/ de mal dezir, which were strongly influenced by Provencal poetry, the most prestigious and dominant voice in lyric poetry in Europe from the 12th to the 14th centuries.  [For reasons, see Introduction]

Nevertheless, the difference between the cantigas de amigo and cantigas de amor is less than might appear at first. Traditionally the cantigas de amigo have been viewed as popular, spontaneous creations inspired by folk songs heard in rural areas, coastal villages etc. in the north west of the Iberian Peninsula. This is true for most but by no means all.

Speaker, Addressee and Authorship.
1. The speaker in most of the cantigas de amigo is female, unlike the cantigas de amor where the speaker is male. This is perhaps the most common identifier of the cantigas de amigo. As speaker, she is a young, unmarried girl who reveals her emotions related in some way to love.

However, frequently the narrating voice is that of an objective third person or even the girl’s mother or there may be dialogue.

2. Those the girl addresses are usually her mother, girlfriend(s), or her beloved. In the more folk-inspired poems, she might also address objects from nature: flowers, meadows, a fountain, trees, stags, or the sea, waves, boats, all appropriate for Galicia, a coastal region.

3. The authors of all of these cantigas are male! They were in fact educated, cultured poets who included aristocracy and royalty (there are 88 poets recorded, including the Portuguese king, Don Dinis, 1261-1325). Those who were nobles were usually recognised as troubadours, those from lower social cases were known as minstrels. This has given rise to discussions about male appropriation of the female voice. However, to try and determine how authentic the female voice is in the cantigas is to enter into a labyrinth without satisfactory resolution and is, furthermore, not our concern in this post.

Cantigas de amigo or Cantigas de amor.
Given that numerous poets who composed cantigas de amigo also wrote cantigas de amor, it is predictable that Provencal or courtly influence might enter the former. However, anthologies that include cantigas de amigo tend to select those with little or no courtly influence, giving rise to generalizations of spontaneous, folk-inspired poetry which are not completely accurate. E. g. Margit Frenk Alatorrre’s Lirica hispanica de tipo popular (1966) contains 30 cantigas de amigo, all of which might be classified as “spontaneous” i. e inspired by folk lyrics. The same can be said of a recent collection: Anthology of Medieval Spanish Poetry (2010) by Annete Grant Cash and James Murray.

The following two poems are classified as cantigas de amigo, but they both betray Provencal or courtly influence. The only feature that binds them to cantigas de amigo is the female speaker.

The first is by Pero de Armea, active probably mid 13th century .
1. Amiga, grand’ engan’ ouv’ a prender
do que mi fez creer mui gran sazon
que mi queria ben de coraçon,
tan grande que non podia guarir,
e tod’ aquest’ era por encobrir
outra que queria gran ben enton.

2. E dizia que perdia o sen
por mi, demais chamava me senhor
e dizia que morria d’ amor
por mi, e que non podia guarir,
e tod’ aquest’ era por encobrir
outra que queria gran ben enton.

3. E, quand’ el migo queria falar,
chorava muito e jurava log’ i
que non sabia conselho de si
por mi, e que non podia guarir,
e tod’ aquest’ era por encobrir
outra que queria gran ben enton.

Translation.
1. My friend, I’ve been gripped by deep deception/ from one who had me believe for a long time,/ that he loved me with all his heart/ so much so that he couldn’t save himself,/ and all this to conceal/ another girl whom he loved a lot then./ 2. And he would say that he was losing his mind/ over me, and furthermore would call me [his] lord/ and would say that he was dying of love/ for me and that he couldn’t save himself,/ and all this to conceal/ another girl whom he loved a lot then./ 3. And when he wanted to talk to me/ he’d weep a lot and then swear/ that he didn’t know how to [use his] reason,/ because of me, so that he couldn’t save himself/ and all this to conceal/ another girl whom he loved a lot then.

This poem opens in typical cantiga de amigo style: the young girl addresses a girl friend and pours out her feelings regarding her boyfriend’s deception. But in her description, she appropriates the male voice using images that could have been borrowed from a cantiga de amor. According to the young girl, her boyfriend claimed to be “unable to save himself,” to have “lost his mind,” that he was “dying of love,” that he “cried and swore” his love. He didn’t know what to do, having “lost his reason.” He even called her his “senhor,” his “lord” (a common feudal address straight from Provencal poetry!).

The second poem is by a troubadour known simply as Lourenço. Little is known about him, although it is believed he was active in the second and third quarters of the 13th century.
1. Assaz é meu amigo trobador,
ca nunca s’ ome defendeu melhor,
quando se torna en trobar,
do que s’ el defende por meu amor
dos que van con el entençar.

2. Pero o muitos ve~ en cometer,
tan ben se sab’ a todos defender
en seu trobar, per bõa fe,
que nunca o trobadores vencer
poderon, tan trobador é.

3. Muitos cantares á feitos por mi,
mais o que lh’ eu sempre mais gradeci
é como se ben defendeu:
nas entenções que eu del oí
sempre por meu amor venceu.

4. E aquesto non sei eu per mi
se non por que o diz quen quer assi
que o en trobar cometeu.

Translation.
1. My friend is such a trobador/ That no man has ever defended himself as well/ When he‘s turned to song/ As when he defends himself for my love/ Against those who debate with him./ 2. Although many come to take him on/ He defends himself so well against them all/ In his singing, in good faith,/ That the trobadores never could/ Beat him, he‘s such a trobador./ 3. He‘s made many songs for me,/ But what I thank him for most/ Is how he defended himself/ In the debates I heard of his:/ He always won, for my love./ 4. And this isn‘t just something I know/ But something anybody says/ Who has taken him on in song. (Translation from Cohen, p. 179.)

The young girl’s comments here focus not on love but on her boyfriend’s ability as a troubadour able to defend himself against all those who debate with him about love. But what it is really about is Lourenco’s self-eulogy as a troubadour, a eulogy which almost falls into mere word play with its repetitive use of trobar/trobador (6 times), and words related to debate (entencar: twice), defence (defender: 4 times), and victory (vencer: twice), challenge (cometer: twice).

This third example, Tres moças cantavan d’ amor, shows a measure of the difficulty in determining the degree of difference between a cantiga de amigo and a cantiga de amor. Rip Cohen (one of the most authoritative scholars on the cantigas) classifies it as a cantiga de amigo, but the editors of the Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs (Cantigas medievais galego-portuguesas) consider it a cantiga de amor. This is Lourenço again.

1. Tres moças cantavan d’ amor,       Three young girls were singing of love,
mui fremosinhas pastores,                  very pretty shepherdesses,
mui coitadas dos amores,                   very anguished by love,
e diss’ end’ u~ a, mha senhor:            and one of them, my lord, said:
“Dized’, amigas, comigo                      “Sing friends, with me
o cantar do meu amigo.”                     a song about my boyfriend.

2. Todas tres cantavan mui ben,         All three sang very well,
come moças namoradas                     like young girls in love
e dos amores coitadas,                       and fully stricken by love,
e diss’ a por que perço o sen:             and the one for whom I’ve lost my mind said:
“Dized’, amigas, comigo”                     “Sing friends, with me
o cantar do meu amigo.”                      a song about my boyfriend.

3. Que gran sabor eu avia                   What great pleasure I felt,
de as oír cantar enton                          hearing them sing then
e prougue mi de coraçon                     and it warmed my heart
quanto mha senhor dizia:                     when my lord said:
“Dized’, amigas, comigo”                     “Sing friends, with me
o cantar do meu amigo.”                      a song about my boyfriend.

4. E, se as eu mais oísse,                    And if I could have heard more,
a que gran sabor estava,                      it would have been a great pleasure,
e que muito me pagava                        and would have pleased me a lot
de como mha senhor disse:                  how my lord said:
“Dized’, amigas, comigo                       “Sing friends, with me
o cantar do meu amigo.”                       a song about my boyfriend.

Is it a cantiga de amigo or de amor? It combines elements of both. Three young girls (moças) singing about love is very much in the amigo camp as is the reference to shepherdesses (pastores), common in folk lyrics. One of them, the speaker’s girlfriend invites the others to join her in the refrain “Sing with me…” So we have the female voice. All of this, then, fits the amigo requirement. 

However, the female voice is actually conveyed by a male speaker, who is the principal speaker (a feature of the cantigas de amor). And, although he refers to three pretty (fremosinhas) shepherdesses (where in a cantiga de amor his lady(ies) would belong to nobility), he then refers to the effect on him more in keeping with the courtly love (amor): losing his mind (perco o sen), and three times refers to his beloved as “lord” (senhor).

The “Popular” Cantigas de Amigo.
By “popular” here, we mean the kind of cantigas that regularly find their way into anthologies. They tend to contain little or no courtly imagery/content and have a more “spontaneous” feel related to folk lyrics.

In addition to the comments made above under Speaker and Addressee, these cantigas can usually be identified by 1. their relative brevity and directness/ simplicity of speech; 2. the use of local place names associated with the sea; 3. by references to local pilgrimage shrines; 4. by dawn settings; 5. by the use of nature, often in a symbolic context associated with rituals of fertility, young courting couples etc; 6. Certain adjectives describing the beauty/ attractiveness of the young women appear routinely: e. g. velida, louçana, fremosinha, bem-talhada (“with a good figure”). These are regularly used to fulfil the demands of rhyme.

A further help in identifying these folk-song inspired lyrics is the relative brevity of the stanzas used: often two lines followed a two-lined or single line refrain, together with a pronounced use of parallelism and repetition.

Various critics have classified some of these cantigas into bacarolas (related to the sea), cantigas de romaria (pilgrimages) and cantigas de alba (dawn).

The four following cantigas de amigo belong to the popular kind inspired by folk lyrics/ songs. The following poem by Martin Codax (middle to last quarter of the 13th century) is a popular example whose every simplicity captures well the heartache of the young girl:

1. Ai ondas que eu vim veer,                   Oh waves that I’ve come to look at,
se me saberedes dizer                            Can you tell me why
por que tarda meu amigo                        my beloved lingers
sem mim?                                                      without me?

2. Ai ondas que eu vim mirar,                  Oh waves that I’ve come to watch,
se me saberedes contar                          Can you explain to me why
por que tarda meu amigo                         my beloved lingers
sem mim?                                                      without me?                                                                                                    

Some of these natural objects may acquire symbolic importance related to fertility rites. For example, a girl washing her hair in a fountain, spring or river when a stag appears and stirs the water. Hair has long had erotic connotations; washing it in water is a prelude to sexual activity which is reinforced by the arrival of the stag, a symbol of male virility.

Take the following example by Pero Meogo, probably from the late 13th century:
1. Enas verdes ervas                   On the green grass
vi anda’las cervas,                        I saw the does pass by,
meu amigo.                                     my darling.

2. Enos verdes prados                 In the green meadows
vi os cervos bravos,                     I saw the bold stags,
meu amigo.                                     my darling.

3. E com sabor delas                   And with pleasure [from seeing the does]
lavei mais garcetas,                     I washed my tresses,
meu amigo.                                     my darling.

4. E com sabor delos                   And with pleasure [from seeing the stags]
lavei meus cabelos,                     I washed my hair,
meu amigo.                                     my darling.

5. Des que los lavei                     After I washed it [my hair],
d’ouro los liei,                               I bound it with gold [strands],
meu amigo.                                     my darling.

6. Des que las lavara                   After I washed them [my tresses]
d’ouro las liara,                            I bound them with gold [strands],
meu amigo.                                    my darling.

7. D’ouro los liei                           With gold I bound [my hair] up,
e vos asperei,                              and waited for you,
meu amigo.                                    my darling.

8. D’ouro las liara                        With gold I bound [my tresses] up
e vos asperava,                           and waited for you,
meu amigo.                                    my darling.

The young girl, addressing her absent beloved, explains in delicate but clearly erotic language that she was sexually ready for his arrival.

The background has an idyllic, pastoral quality … grass, meadow and water (stream? river? pond? It doesn’t matter), ideal for making love. The sensuality of the girl is evoked by the loose hair which she first washes and then binds with gold.

The sight of the does and stags prompted the girl to prepare herself by washing her hair and, as she states explicitly, wait for her beloved. It is here that the real impact of the poem is felt, i. e. appropriately at the end. With all the suggestive imagery of the first six stanzas, we might be led to conclude that consummation followed. But, on the contrary, we are left hanging in the air… did the beloved in fact arrive? We simply don’t know. All the verbal tenses are in the past. Indeed, the young girl may in fact be reproaching her boyfriend. Something like, “I got all ready for you, washed my hair, but where were you?” It’s a very good example of a seemingly straightforward love poem, but it ends undermining or at least casting doubt on the expected or anticipated outcome …

The following is by Airas Nunes, probably last quarter of the 13th century.
1. Bailemos nós ja todas tres, ai amigas,
so aquestas avelaneiras frolidas,
e quen for velida, como nós, velidas,
se amigo amar,
so aquestas avelaneiras frolidas
verrá bailar.                                                                 

2. Bailemos nós ja todas tres, ai irmanas,
so aqueste ramo destas avelanas,
e quen for louçana, como nós, louçanas,
se amigo amar,
so aqueste ramo destas avelanas
verrá bailar.                                                               

3. Por Deus, ai amigas, mentr’ al non fazemos,
so aqueste ramo frolido bailemos,
e quen ben parecer, como nós parecemos,
se amigo amar,
so aqueste ramo, sol que nós bailemos,
verrá bailar                                                                   

1. Let us dance now, all three of us, friends,/ under these flowering hazelnut trees,/ and whoever is pretty, like us pretty ones,/ if she loves a boy,/ under these flowering hazel nut trees,/ she’ll come to dance./ 2. Let us dance now, all three of us, sisters,/ under this bough of these hazelnut trees,/ and whoever is lovely, like us lovely ones,/ if she loves a boy,/ under this bough of these hazelnut trees/ she’ll come to dance./ 3. By God, oh friends, as long as we’re doing nothing else,/ let’s dance under this flowering bough,/ and whoever is good looking, as we are good looking,/ if she loves a boy,/ as long as we dance under this bough,/ she’ll come to dance.

Here the flowering hazelnut tree –beneath whose branches three pretty girls dance– suggests a rustic setting. While dancing, the girls invite any other pretty, lovestruck girl to join them. Dancing is associated with communal folk activity while the hazelnut tree is a symbol of marriage and wisdom and is associated with Celtic lore (appropriate here since the Celts were amongst the early settlers of Galicia). Repetition and parallelism capture the repetitive motion of group dancing, while adjectives such as velida(s) and louçana(s) are standard to describe young girls in the cantigas de amigo.

A favourite of anthologies, the following is by one of the best exponents of the cantigas, King Dinis of Portugal.
1. Levantou s’ a velida,                               The pretty girl got up,
levantou s’ alva,                                          she got up at dawn,
e vai lavar camisas                                     and goes to wash some clothes 
eno alto,                                                          at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                        she goes to wash them at dawn.

2. Levantou s’ a louçana,                            The beautiful girl got up,
levantou s’ alva,                                          she got up at dawn,
e vai lavar delgadas                                    and goes to wash some garments
eno alto,                                                          at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                        she goes to wash them at dawn.

3. [E] vai lavar camisas                               And goes to wash some clothes
levantou s’ alva;                                          she got up at dawn,
o vento lhas desvia                                     the wind carries them away
eno alto,                                                          at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                        she goes to wash them at dawn.                                       

4. E vai lavar delgadas,                              And she goes to wash some garments,
levantou s’ alva;                                          she got up at dawn,
o vento lhas levava                                     the wind lifted them off
eno alto                                                           at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                        she goes to wash them at dawn.

5. O vento lhas desvia,                              The wind carries them away,
levantou s’ alva,                                         she got up at dawn,
meteu s’ alva en ira                                    it made the girl angry
eno alto                                                           at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                       she goes to wash them at dawn.

6. O vento lhas levava,                              The wind lifted them off
levantou s’ alva;                                         she got up at dawn,
meteu s’ alva en sanha                              it made the girl cross
eno alto,                                                          at the stream,
vai las lavar alva.                                       she goes to wash them at dawn.

The young girl does not speak but is clearly central to the action. Thematically, she gets up and goes to wash some clothes in a stream, a common image in folk lyrics. But the wind then whisks the clothes away, which makes her angry. This seems quite straightforward, but this cantiga is a complex and ambivalent poem.

The complexity arises from its structure of parallelism and repetition. Typical of folk lyrics is parallelism where one word is replaced by another with similar meaning. E. g. Levantou s’ a velida, … e vai lavar camisas … Levantou s’ a louçana, …. e vai lavar delgadas. An identical parallel structure continues in stanzas 3-4 and 5-6. This kind of parallelism features prominently where oral transmission is common, functioning as a kind of memory aid for the singer and also engaging listeners as they anticipate the replacement synonym (e. g. velida-louçana).

The repetition of the refrain lines 2, 4, 5 in each stanza is another memory aid, although Dinis complicates it a little by inserting one line (line 2) in the middle of each stanza instead of placing it at the end with lines 4 and 5. It’s an original touch, and its repetition emphasizes the dawn, a time when lovers traditionally separated.

But why is the young girl washing clothes? Is it after a night of love making? Are they indeed her clothes? Nowhere is the feminine possessive adjective used. Could they be her lover’s? Is that why she is angry? Losing her lover’s clothes? It’s ambivalent, a bit of a mystery.

Then there’s the matter of the word alva. It means “dawn,” but it also refers to the girl as lines 3 in stanzas 5 and 6 make clear. So, then, does the repeated line 2: levantou s’ alva, really mean “alva (the blond girl) got up?” More ambivalence. Finally, the wind. Why does it anger the girl?

The following is another by Pero Meogo. 
1. Tal vai o meu amigo, con amor que lh’ eu dei,
come cervo ferido de monteiro del rei.

2. Tal vai o meu amigo, madre, con meu amor,
come cervo ferido de monteiro maior.

3. E se el vai ferido, irá morrer al mar;
si fará meu amigo, se eu del non pensar.

4. [E se el vai ferido, al mar ira morrer;
Si fara meu amigo, se eu non lhe valer.]

5. – E guardade vos, filha, ca ja m’ eu atal vi
que se fez coitado por guaanhar de min.

6. E guardade vos, filha, ca ja m’ eu vi atal
que se fez coitado por de min guaanhar.

1. So goes my boyfriend with the love that I gave him,/ like a stag wounded by the king’s hunter./ 2. So goes my boyfriend, mother, bearing my love,/ like a stag wounded by the head huntsman./ 3. And if it goes wounded, it will go and die in the sea;/ and so will my boyfriend if I don’t think about him./ 4. [And if it is wounded, to the sea it will go and die,/ so will my boyfriend if I don’t help him.]/ 5. Be careful, my daughter, for I’ve seen men like him/ who made out they were sad to win me over./ 6. Be careful, my daughter, for I’ve seen his likes/ who made out they were sad to win me around.

A distressed young girl addresses her mother, fearing for her beloved. She equates his suffering with that of a stag which, wounded by the king’s head huntsman, attempts to escape but ends up dying in the sea. In order to save her lover, the girl wants to help him. However, her mother, the voice of experience, cautions her daughter because she has been deceived by men who pretended to be sad in order to presumably seduce her. The poem ends ambiguously. Did the young girl listen to her mother? We are left to decide for ourselves.

The five “popular” cantigas above are typical of the songs inspired by folk tradition; they are the kind that have made greatest literary impact. They tend to focus on a simple narrative and reduce the descriptive elements to a single “event” or moment. Descriptive adjectives are quite minimal and are likely to be repetitive within a chosen context. So, for example, where there are stags, we can expect the adjective ferido (“wounded”), a young girl will be velida/ loucana (“pretty”), and so on. They are, in fact, more like epithets, a characterizing word accompanying a noun.

The result of limiting adjectives to a characterising function is to get to the essence of the sentiment expressed by the speaker or narrator. That the first, very brief example above, Ai ondas que eu vim veer, contain no descriptive adjectives is perhaps not surprising given its brevity, but the much longer cantiga by King Dinis, Levantou s’ a velida, doesn’t have any descriptive adjectives either (the velida and loucana here function as nouns, i. e. “pretty girl”). Since adjectives slow down action and emphasise condition, their lack allows the king to catch the lyrical instant or capture an impressionistic moment. This is not an easy task but is the result of artistic refinement at the hands of a gifted poet.

Conclusion.
The cantigas de amigo had an undeniable attraction for both cultured poets/musicians and a refined audience. Together with the cantigas de amor and cantigas de escarnho or de mal dezir, they constitute a major contribution to lyric poetry in medieval Europe. However, although the cantigas de amor and cantigas de escarnho or de mal dezir are clearly offshoots of Provencal, courtly poetry, the cantigas de amigo owe their originality and freshness to the folk lyrics of the north west of the Iberian Peninsula. Courtly elements do creep in, but as a body the cantigas de amigo are undeniably different and novel, and recognition must be given to those talented poets/musicians who were so able to capture the essence of the oral traditions by which they were surrounded.

Sources.
Brenan, Gerald  The Literature of the Spanish People Cambridge 1951. Although published in 1951, Brenan’s twelve pages on Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry still contain some of the most penetrating observations on the cantigas de amigo.
Cohen, Rip has a critical edition of the Cantigas de amigo available on the following site: https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/33843 There is a very good introduction in English and an explanation of the criteria used for the edition. A translation of the poems into English (Section 9) is an invaluable tool.
Deyermond, A. D A Literary History of Spain: The Middle Ages London, New York 1971.
Michael, Ian “The Galician-Portuguese Lyric,” in Spain: A Companion to Spanish Studies ed. P.E. Russell. London 1973.
Rip Cohen ed.  https://cantigas.fcsh.unl.pt/manuscritos.asp?ling=eng Contains all the poems in Galician-Portuguese from the three Cancioneiros. There are English translations of all the introductory materials and a very good introduction to the material, as well as brief biographies of the poets and a glossary. Some of the cantigas are translated into English verse. Easy to navigate and extremely useful.