Introduction to the Medieval Galician lyrics

María X. Rodríguez Valcárcel

“The Road to Santiago brought not only pilgrims, but trade and culture, including Provençal courtly love songs. These were imitated and developed in Galician-Portuguese, which was the language of poetry throughout most of the peninsula”.

Dunne, J. Anthology of Galician literature (1196-1981), Xerais-Galaxia, Vigo, 2010.

Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, there was a poetic movement in the Galician language throughout the West of the Iberian Peninsula. These compositions (a number of 1679) arrived to us in the form of the Cancioneiros.

Medieval Galician lyrics was written in the kingdoms of Galicia (before and after the independence of Portugal), Leon and Castile. From the fifteenth century onwards there was a period of decadence in Galician language and literature due to political and sociolinguistic circumstances.

Medieval Galician Lyrics grew out of Provençal poetry, but it was not a simple imitation and in fact it maintains a distinct personality of its own.

This literature lasted from the late twelfth century until 1354, the year of the death of D. Pedro, Count of Barcelos, and the last patron of this type of poetry.

We can distinguish three different types of Galician medieval verse:

The Cantigas de amigo have love as their theme and are placed in the mouth of a woman in love, even though they were written by men. These are the most indigenous of the forms of secular Galician verse and have strong influence from popular verse. But they were created in Court under rigorous formal criteria.

The Cantigas de amor have also love as their theme but here the subject is masculine; in this case there is a strong influence from Provençal verse.

The Cantigas de escarnio e maldicir have a satirical theme; in the case of escarnio the author uses hidden meanings; in the case of maldicir he uses a much more open form of criticism.

Religious verse stems from an imitation of secular love poetry, and is represented by four hundred and twenty-seven compositions written by King Alfonso X, The Wise. These compositions are dedicated to Virgin Mary.

RODRIGUEZ GONZÁLEZ, L. (2010) “A short introduction to Galician Literature” en Toro Santos (editor) Breogan’s lighthouse. An anthology of Galician Literature, Francis Boutle Publishers, London.

Song of a friend/ Song of women in love:

Mendinho ( 13th century)

At simon`s chapel I took my seat and and was caught by the waves, how tall they seem. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?

At the chapel before the altar altar-stone I was caught by the waves, they seem to grow. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?

And was caught by the waves, how tall they seem, I have no boatman to row for me. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?

And was caught by the waves, the sea bellow, I have no boatman, nor know how to row. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?

I have no boatman to row for me, fair maid I shall die on the open sea. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?

I have no boatman, nor know how to row, fair maid I shall die on the sea bellow. I was waiting for my friend! Will he come?


Song of love/ Song of men in love:

Dinis of Portugal, (c.1300)

Though I`m so far away from my lady and her favours, God forbid I be favoured, I`ll stay far away, if my heart`s not closer to her than her own.

Though I`m far from the place where my lady is now, no favours should she show, I`ll stay far from that place, if my heart`s not closer to her than her own.

Though I`m far from where I could bid for her grace, God forbid she be gracious, I`ll stay here, far from there, if my heart`s not closer to her than her own.

Hers sometimes wanders, but mine`s always with her.

Song of mockery/ Song of ridicule:

Fernan Velho (13th century)

Maria Perez went and declared this the other day, she said she felt like such a sinner, she immediately promised Our Lord, for the evil ways in wich she`d lived, she would have a priest at her disposition for the sins she`d been led to commit by the devil, with whom she`d always lived.

She declared such grave sins to be hers she immediately went to God in supplication, saying she preferred to serve him than the one she`d always served; and, for as long as she lives, she says she would have a priest she can defend herself with against the devil she served.

And since at her sins she`d had a proper look, she was terribly afraid of her end and had a great wish to make amends; and so it was that a priest she took and the bed she lies in she made his and says she`ll have him for as long as she lives. And all this trouble for the Lord`s sake she took!

Ever since this pact between them she blessed, there was always great love between her and the devil superior she served, or at least until Balteira confessed. But ever since he saw how the priest came between them like this, the devil had to admit defeat, since the day she confessed.


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