Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana

Facsimile of a 13th century German manuscript

Known best through Carl Orff's cantata for chorus and orchestra, the Carmina Burana is the largest surviving collection of Medieval Latin poetry. Although the songs were composed in the 12th century around the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II of England, and Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, they were not written down until almost a century later. The manuscript (of approximately 350 songs) was long forgotten and not discovered until 1803 in the Bavarian monastery at Benediktbeuern (hence the name "Songs of Beuern"). The poets were wandering scholars (vagantes) of various nationalities, who were not always looked favorably upon by the Church authorities, for many of the songs are biting satires. Most, however, are exuberant celebrations of perennial male student interests: wine, women, and song.

Included in the Carmina Burana are some 50 German songs, almost all of which are unique. This makes the manuscript an important resource in German 231: Damsels, Dwarfs, and Dragons - Medieval German Literature. The illumination displayed here appears at the end of the song "Ich was ein chint so wolgetan" (I was a child and fair to see), a type of pastourelle, in which a knight-with no thoughts of chivalrously wooing a high-born lady-forces his affections upon a simple peasant maiden. The use of macaronic verse adds to the lighthearted mood of the song. Since like most other pieces in the manuscript it was intended to be sung, the scribe added staffless neumes to indicate the tune. The full text of this song-as well as three stanzas from a famous drinking song-can be found in the binder accompanying the exhibit.

Roger Paas
Professor of German


I was a child and fair to see

Oh, what a lovely girl I was
virgo dum florebam [when I was young and pure]!
Everyone thought the world of me,
omnibus placebam [I charmed them, to be sure].

Refrain: Hoe et oe!
maledicantus tilie
iuxta viam posite!
[Alas and lack-a-day!
Thrice cursèd be the linden tree
that grows along the way!]

The fields I wandered unaware
flores adamare [to pluck me a bouquet];
a wicked stranger met me there,
ibi deflorare [to pluck ME, so to say].

Alas...

He took me by my snow-white hand,
sed non indecenter [not without hesitation]
and led me o'er the meadowland
valde fraudulenter [with some prevarication].

Alas...

He grasped me by my garment white,
valde indecenter [ very indecently]
and pulled at me with all his might,
multum violenter [excruciatingly].

Alas...

He spoke then: "We must hurry on,
nemus est remotum" [these woods look good enough].
I wish that I had never gone,
planxi et hoc totum [I cried, and all that stuff].

Alas...

"Thee stands a linden, pretty maid,
non procul a via [not very far from hence],
my harp is lying in its shade,
tympanum cum lyra" [and suchlike instruments].

Alas...

When the tree was overhead,
dixit: "Sedeamus," [he said, "Here's where we'll sit"],
spurred by passion then he said:
"ludum faciamus!" [Let's play around a bit.]

Alas...

He seized me then without ado,
non absque timore [not without nervousness].
"I'll make a woman now of you,
dulcis es cum ore!" [you've got a pretty face!]

Alas...

He pulled my clothing off in haste,
corpore detecta [he bared me pink as ham]
and straight into my castle raced,
cuspide erecta [with a rampant battering-ram].

Alas...

He took his quiver and his bow,
bene venabatur! [how well his hunt did go!]
And this was he who tricked me so,
"Ludus compleatur!" ["Thanks, darling. Cheerio!"]

Trans. David Parlett


The Archpoet's Confession

11. Item Three against me reads
"TAVERN." I won't skirt it.
Since I never passed one by,
now I shan't desert it -
not, at least, till I'm assured
the heavenly choir has started
droning " Requiem aeternam "
for this dear departed.

12. In a tavern I intend,
when time is called, to snuff it -
near enough to lots of wine
for dying lips to quaff it:
then may the angelic host
chant in all its glory
" Sit Deus propitius
huic potatori...
"

13. May the lantern of my soul.
flushed with tankards's fire,
pickled in sweet alcohol,
to the stars retire:
nothing beats a tavern wine -
it renders me more zealous
than the stuff they water down
in your Lordship's cellars.

Trans. David Parlett

Facsimile reproduction of the manuscript Clm 4660 and Clm 4660a

Carmina Burana. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München.
Brooklyn: Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1967

Special Collections M2 .P95 no.9