Cantigas de amigo. Structure.

Cantigas de amigo. Structure.

Introduction.
The Cantigas de amigo (Songs about the Beloved), together with the Cantigas de amor (Love Songs) and Cantigas de escarnho or de mal dezir (Songs of Ridicule and Insults), constitute a major contribution to the lyric poetry in medieval Europe. They were composed in the 13th and 14th centuries in Galician-Portuguese, the language that straddled the northern border of Portugal and Galicia, in the north west of the Iberian Peninsula. [Even today, Galician is more closely related to Portuguese than to Spanish.]

The cantigas de amigo are love poems/songs characterized as having, for the most part, a young, unmarried girl who speaks about her emotions which originate from her relationship with her beloved. She conveys her feelings, mostly heartache but occasionally joy, usually to her mother, girlfriend(s), or her beloved/ lover, and sometimes to objects of nature: e. g. flowers, trees, the sea…

The simplicity and apparent spontaneity with which the young girl expresses her feelings are generally attributed to the influence of traditional and anonymous folk lyrics sung by women going about their work in rural and coastal villages in Galicia and northern Portugal.

What appears to have happened is that beginning in the 13th century and continuing into the 14th, these traditional lyrics served as sources of inspiration for poets who were attracted by a form of love poetry that balanced or contrasted with another kind of love poetry that dominated lyric verse in Europe from the 12th to the 14th centuries: courtly love verse originating in Provence (southern France). Courtly love was aristocratic, the singer was male, the lady a noble, indifferent even cruel to her lover, but still the object of his adoration. The language used was drawn from the vocabulary of feudal relationships: the lover was her vassal and she his “lord” etc. This is the basis of the cantigas de amor

The songs that inspired the cantigas de amigo offered an original twist to the cantigas de amor. Together they were like the two sides of a coin, and those poets who wrote cantigas de amigo were also excellent practitioners of the cantigas de amor: they were cultured individuals –including nobles and royalty– writing for a refined audience.

Structure.
When composing cantigas de amigo, the poets adopted not only the language and imagery of the traditional folk lyrics but also in many of the poems they used stanza forms drawn from those lyrics. These can be identified by the extensive used of parallelism, repetition and refrains.

Structurally, such cantigas may begin with an initial stanza of two to four monorhymed lines usually followed by a single line refrain. The following cantiga de amigo by an obscure, 13th-century poet, Nuno Fernandes Torneol, is one of the best known of all cantigas de amigo.

1. “Levad’, amigo que dormide-las manhanas frias”
todalas aves do mundo d’ amor dizian:
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

2. “Levad’, amigo que dormide-las frias manhanas”
todalas aves do mundo d’ amor cantavan:
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

3. Todalas aves do mundo d’ amor dizian,
do meu amor e do voss en ment’ avian:                              
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

4. Todalas aves do mundo d’ amor cantavan,
do meu amor e do voss i enmentavan:
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

5. Do meu amor e do voss en ment’ avian,
vós lhi tolhestes os ramos en que siían:                                          
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

6. Do meu amor e do voss i enmentavan
vós lhi tolhestes os ramos en que pousavan:
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

7. Vós lhi tolhestes os ramos en que siían
e lhis secastes as fontes en que bevian;
“Leda m’ and’ eu.”

8. Vós lhi tolhestes os ramos en que pousavan
e lhis secastes as fontes u se banhavan;
 “Leda m’ and’ eu.”

Translation.
1. “Awake, my love, sleeping away the chilly mornings”/ all the birds in the world were singing of love:/ “I am happy.”  2. “Awake, my love, sleeping away the cold mornings”/ all the birds about love were singing:/ “I am happy.”  3. All the birds in the world were singing of love;/ about my love and yours they had in mind:/ “I am happy.”  4. All the birds about love were singing,/ about my love and yours they were commenting:/ “I am happy.”  5. About my love and yours they had in mind:/ you took away the branches on which they were sitting:/ “I am happy.”  6. About my love and yours they were commenting:/ you took away the branches on which they were resting:/ “I am happy.”  7. You took away the branches on which they were sitting/ and you dried up the fountains in which they were drinking;/ “I am happy.”  8. You took away the branches on which they were resting/ and you dried up the fountains in which they were bathing;/ “I am happy.”

This cantiga has prompted a lot of discussion. On the surface, it seems straightforward: the young girl addresses her lover, calling upon him to wake up and listen to the birds singing about their love. This makes her happy. However, her lover has cut the bough on which the birds sat and dried up the fountain where they drank.

The first four stanzas suggest a harmonious picture with the birds singing of the mutual love of the young girl and her lover. Is her happiness the result of a night spent with her lover? Does she want him to wake up to share her happiness? But why is he asleep in the first place? Maybe things are not what they seem? Certainly, by the end the picture has changed totally with images of rupture: the broken bough and the dry fountain. Is the “chilly” morning an omen of things to come in the second half of the poem? Clearly, the girl attributes the rupture to her lover. Does he no longer love her? Is that why he is asleep … she no longer interests him? Is it she who feels cold (i. e. fearful) in the morning and projects her fear on to nature? But why is she still happy, according to the refrain?

The poem is a succession of statements which prompt a series of questions that have no satisfactory answer. Perhaps that is its strength and why it is so popular. It is ambiguous, a mystery and what better mystery than one involving love.

Structurally, the cantiga consists of eight monorhymed couplets and a refrain. The rhyme scheme is AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc with assonantal rhyme in i-a in the uneven stanzas and a-a in the even. [Underlined in red in the text. For an explanation of assonance, see Spanish Ballads, Metre, Rhyme, Style.]

The continuity of the rhyme scheme throughout the poem unites the two halves, bringing together as it were the dominant image of love in the first half and rupture in the second.

However, the most striking structural component of the cantiga is the parallelism and repetition. They suggest the slow unfolding of a dance routine where two lines facing each other move rhythmically and unhurriedly to the music. [We’ve colour coordinated the lines to help identify the parallelism and the repetition.]

At the same time, they serve as memory aids. Take, for example, stanzas 1 and 2. Both lines of stanza 1 are repeated in parallel fashion in stanza 2, the only difference being the inversion of the last words last words: manhanas frias are inverted to frias manhanas; dizian is replaced by a synonym, cantavan. Inversion and the use of synonyms are very commonly used techniques in folk songs and something which any singer could easily adopt and listeners easily anticipate.  The refrain is the linking line throughout, and one which listeners could well intone with the singer. 

Now let’s take stanzas 3 and 4. Notice that line 1 of stanza 3 is a repeat, word for word, of line 2 of stanza 1 followed by a new line: do meu amor e do voss en ment’ avian.  Line 1 of stanza 4 is taken, word for word, from line 2 of stanza 2 and is followed by a line parallel to line 2, stanza 3: do meu amor e do voss i enmentavan. This becomes line 1 of stanza 6.

It sounds complicated, but in fact it is easily understood once the basic formula is recognized: AB, CD, BE, DF, EG, FH, GI, HJ. This kind of pattern has a technical name: leixa-pren, meaning “to put down and take up again;” it both ensures unity and continuity.

One more example: a very well-known cantiga by King Dinis (1261-1325), one of the best practitioners of this kind of verse.

1.–Ai flores, ai flores do verde pinho,
se sabedes novas do meu amigo?
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                        

2.–Ai flores, ai flores do verde ramo,
se sabedes novas do meu amado?
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                          

3. Se sabedes novas do meu amigo,
aquel que mentiu do que pos comigo?
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                           

4. Se sabedes novas do meu amado
aquel que mentiu do que a mi a jurado?
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                           

5.–Vos me preguntades polo voss’ amigo,
e eu ben vos digo que e sa’ e vivo
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                         

 6. Vos me preguntades polo voss’ amado,
e eu ben vos digo que e viv’ e sao
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                       

7. E eu ben vos digo que e sa’ e vivo    
e seera vosc’ ant’ o prazo saido.
Ai, Deus, e u e?                                                             

8. E eu ben vos digo que e viv’ e sao
e seera vosc’ ant’ o prazo passado.
Ai, Deus, e u e?

Translation.
1. Oh flowers, oh flowers from the green pine,/ Have you any news about my boyfriend?/ Oh, God, where can he be? 2. Oh flowers, oh flowers from the green branch,/ Have you any news about my darling?/ Oh, God, where can he be? 3. Have you any news about my boyfriend,/ He who lied about what he agreed with me?/ Oh, God, where can he be? 4. Have you any news about my darling/ He who lied about his vow to me?/ Oh, God, where can he be? 5. –You are asking me about your boyfriend,/ I am happy to tell you he is well and alive./ Oh, God, where can he be? 6. You are asking me about your beloved,/ I am happy to tell you he is alive and well./ Oh, God, where can he be? 7. I am happy to tell you he is well and alive./ And he will be with you before the agreed time./ Oh, God, where can he be? 8. I am happy to tell you he is alive and well./ And he will be with you before the time has passed./ Oh, God, where can he be? 

The theme of the cantiga is simple; a young woman poses a series of questions to the flowers in the first half regarding the whereabouts of her lover who, she fears, has broken his promise to her. A flower replies with a series of responses assuring her that he is safe and will be with her by the agreed time.

The language is unassuming and direct, typical of an uncultured or folk audience. The personification of the flowers creates a sensation of intimacy between the young woman and nature, with the latter an active participant in the feelings being expressed.

The questions and responses are balanced equally in parallel fashion, four stanzas each.  The rhyme scheme is AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc, AAc, BBc. The rhyme is assonance, i-o in the uneven stanzas, and a-o in the even. The continuity of the rhyme scheme throughout the poem unites the two halves, and underlines the closeness between the girl and nature.

However, there is a change in the parallelism after the 4th stanza. If we follow the pattern we find in Nuno Fernandes Torneol’s poem, line 1 of stanza 5 should be the same as line 2 of stanza 3: aquel que mentiu do que pos comigo? However, line 1 of stanza 5 is Vos me preguntades polo voss’ amigo, reflecting the change of voice from that of the girl to the flowers. It’s a clever way, which could well be indicated when sung or danced by a change of singers/dancers.

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. The translation of Pero de Armea and Lourenco in the text above are from Cohen.
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.
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 good introduction to the material, as well as brief biographies of the poets. Some of the cantigas are translated into English verse.