Rafting through Battlefields ["Dum Diane vitrea" Eighth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
An Opening Question
Pondering Love’s Dualities
Closing

{Enjoined in love’s embrace – along with that bird’s. Image found on Michael Delahoyde’s Courtly Love webpage.}

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Abstract

The poem wraps up with a brief meditation on the nature of love (possibly both physical and emotional).

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Translation

“Oh in how great the unreliable varying
of the spirit of love!
It is as a wandering raft upon the seas,
when free from anchor,
In flux between hope and fear, both dubious;
So goes the battle of Venus.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 8)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been translated and posted.

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An Opening Question

As the cap on the bottle of wisdom that is this poem, this final stanza rings so true that some might call it cliché. All’s fair in love and war, love is a many faceted thing, etc, etc, etc. But there’s more to it than that.

The images that this stanza evokes are those of the unanchored raft (“ratis”), and a battle (or, more stiffly, “campaign,” (“militia”)). Both of these are set at the whim of chance, and no manner of preparation can bring complete success. Neither being incredibly knowledgeable about seamanship nor a well-seasoned veteran will grant you a 100% guaranteed survival or victory. And of course, so it goes with love.

But why the image of a raft and a battle? Why not double down on the same image, rather than invoking both?

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Pondering Love’s Dualities

Because, at least so far as my theory goes, this stanza cuts to the quick of the poem and the poet’s point for one final time. These images, at their most basic, are about the conflict of humans v. nature, and humans v. humans. Such a duality of imagery sets up the poem to make a point about the dual facets of love that seem to be the poet’s major concern.

If this was written by Abelard, than his feelings towards love (particularly if it was written *after* the business of Eloise was *ahem* cut off) would definitely be much more than something romantic or cynical. Though both are certainly present. What could be more romantic than comparing one’s feelings of love to an unmoored raft, and what more cynical than reducing them to something that can be worked through with a mixture of tactics, strategy and chance?

But the argument to be made about the poem being about physical and emotional love gets most of its steam from the adjective attached to battle – “Venus” (“Veneris”).

Without delving too deep into ancient meanings of the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite) – at my own peril, I admit – invoking this love goddess suggests a leaning much more to the physical side of things. First and foremost among my reasons for thinking so is the fact that whomeever the poet is, they are more than likely Christian, and so any pagan deity is going to be used as a simple reference rather than anything particularly deep.

Besides that, there is something of a tradition of referring to the journey of the Christian mystic to god as being adrift at sea (and, though it may not directly relate, Anglo-Saxons associated such journeying with the extremities of loneliness, something that might come into the emotional mix of vacillating love). Because there’s the possibility of the raft image making this religious reference, I think that it’s quite likely that the direct reference to Venus is included to balance the poem.

The placement of these images, then, takes on some extra meaning. After all, it’s definitely no secret that the majority of the poem has had connotations of physical rather than spiritual love, and so placing the spiritual before the physical in this the final stanza suggests that the spiritual must precede the physical. Or, at the least, it implies that it can in itself be a mooring for the fluxes in the physical aspect of love, if you can manage to find anchor.

What then, the poem ultimately says is that it’s necessary to love spiritually, or platonically, or just plain emotionally, before loving physically. This highlighting of the spiritual while closing with the physical is a convenient and brief way to excuse what has come before while keeping tongue firmly in cheek (just as Chaucer’s retraction does for The Canterbury Tales).

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Closing

That’s it for new entries for the rest of the month. Watch this blog on Tuesday 4 December, for the final “Dum Diane vitrea” entry (including recordings of it in Latin and English), and a special announcement about a major change coming to this blog.

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