Joan Bodon: Toulouse (From Occitan)

I have received 3 angry emails from French readers who, incensed that in a note about Occitan's role in medieval Europe I should mention the current endangered status of Occitan in southern France, took it upon themselves to chastise me for in the words of one "legitimizing a patois." This translation is dedicated to them. For I can think of no better means by which to show them the depth of my regard for the points they raised, than by a translation of Tolosa by Joan Bodon (known in French as Jean Boudou) in which the poet invokes the illustrious medieval heritage associated with the language whose modern form he is a native speaker of, and meditates on the deracination of Occitan culture. 

Though I have studied medieval Occitan, I am not well-versed at all in the modern language, and have not studied it systematically. I have only recently started acquainting myself with modern Occitan, and its poets (and, given that I now live in Delhi, even that has had to take a back seat to spoken Hindi which I'm learning for far more practical purposes like grocery shopping.)

However, apart from the fact that the modern language is not prohibitively difficult for someone who knows the medieval version, I have also known this particular poem for quite some time because it was included in a copy of Bodon's Sus la Mar de las Galèras which I found in the back of a used bookstore a few years ago and bought for a dollar out of sheer curiosity, and it has stuck with me ever since. Sus la Mar de las Galèras is one of two books of modern Occitan poetry I actually own, the other being a collection of poems by Ives Roquetta (or Yves Roquette) from which I translated Tota Lenga a while back.

I've given some notes on context following my translation. Because I have not made much study of the modern language, I am aware that I may be missing things. Therefore, I have also mentioned some points of doubt in philological notes following the original text, along with my thinking behind them. If you're a speaker of modern Occitan and would like to enlighten me about something I missed or just got flat-out wrong, by all means do so.

This song has been set to music by J.M. Leclercq. Youtube recording available here.

ADDED, Aug 14, 2017:

After 2 years of studying Modern Occitan, and engaging with language partners on Skype, I feel comfortable enough with the language to make recordings in it. I've added a recording of me reading the Occitan.  

Joan Bodon (mid 20th century)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Occitan

            This translation dedicated to three angry Frenchmen

So, why Toulouse at night?
A long shriek through the air...
The woman with big breasts
In the long street out there.

I will cross the canal:
Clamença awaits me there!...  
But I won't find the house,
Or the room of yesteryear.

Who'll speak with me of love? 
So many teeth chipped, weak...
Colorful ladies' dresses
And all the hands that seek...

The last Count Raymond's fall...
Montmorency's last stand...
They'll think I'm nuts. My story
They will not understand. 

So why Toulouse at night?
The faucet and the sponge,
The woman with big breasts
Sitting on a chaise longe.  


Toulouse was at the end of the Middle Ages the center of what remained (within Occitania itself anyway) of Occitan literary culture, and the site of an attempted revival of the Occitan poetic tradition. 

Stanza 2: 
Clamença Isaura (fr. Clémence Isaure) was a legendary figure credited with instituting the Jòcs Florals or Floral Games, held in Toulouse. The Floral Games were originally organized in 1323 by the Consistòri del Gay Saber to patronize Occitan poetry and keep the dying Occitan troubadour tradition alive by sponsoring poetry contests specifically in Occitan, judged according to criteria based on a prescriptive manual of good troubadour style. Though Occitan was the language of the competition, it was not only Occitanians who were allowed to compete. Occitan-writing Catalans participated as well. Even the few poets from northern France who composed in Occitan were admitted, and one, a Parisian named Pierre de Janillac, a law student studying at the university in Toulouse, mastered the local language during his time in the south well enough to win a prize for a poem composed in it in 1497 (the registry specifies that this was n'ostant qu'el fos Francès, per çò que dictec el lengatge de Tolosa "although he is French, for he composed in the language of Toulouse.") Eventually, however, French-language poets were admitted alongside Occitan. Finally toward the beginning of the 16th century only poets composing in French were officially allowed to compete, thus turning the original purpose of the games completely on its head. This was however not for lack of would-be Occitan competitors, for the language was still in wide currency in Toulouse and in 1564 there were complaints that no suitable French-language poet could be found to enter the Games. (The actual use of the language would take much longer to erode. Much later, after Occitan had ceased being used for writing, the French tragedian Racine during his stay in Uzès complained about being unable to make himself understood in French to people who spoke "a mixture of Spanish and Italian" in 1661, having "as much need of an interpreter as would a Muscovite in Paris." James Boswell in 1765 complains about the same "detestable corruption of Italian and French." And in 1864, the last French census to collect data on linguistic competence reported that in many departments in the Pyrenees, over 90% of the local populace still spoke nothing but Occitan.)

Stanza 4: 
The last Count Raymond was Count Raymond VII of Toulouse, whose subjection to King Louis IX in the humiliating Treaty of Meaux marked the end of Occitan political autonomy (particularly the transfer of control of Toulouse to the king directly upon the death of his son Alfonse) at the tail end of the Albigensian crusades when Occitania had already been effectively subjugated. 
Henri II de Montmorency was a nobleman and military commander executed in Toulouse as an admonitory example to the rest of the nobility, for trying to lead an armed rebellion against cardinal Richelieu. 

Stanza 5:
Yes, I used the "incorrect" American spelling (to indicate the common colloquial American pronunciation) of "chaise long(u)e" based on folk etymology from "lounge." I did it for the rhyme and because I'm just in a mood to screw with standard French right now. Either that or I'm just another ignorant American who just doesn't know French like he should. One of these is more likely than the other.    

The Original:


Perqué Tolosa la nuèch?
Un sisclal que s’esperlonga...
La femna gròssa del pièch
Dins una carrièira longa.

Traversarai la Canal:
La Clamença que m’espèra...
Mas trobarai pas l'ostal
Ni la cambra d’un còp èra.

Qual me parlarà d’amor?
Tant de caisses que se bèrcan...
Las cotilhas de color
E totas las mans que cèrcan.

De Montmorency lo Duc...
De Ramon lo darrièr Comte...
Mas passarai per caluc:
Degun compren lo meu conte.

Perqué Tolosa la nuèch?
Lo grifol e mai l’esponga,
La femna gròssa del pièch
Sus una cadièira longa.

Philological Notes:

Caisses: Plural of cais (tooth) in medieval and modern Occitan, from Vulgar Latin *capseum "box-like thing, molar, set of teeth" (c.f. Catalan queix "lower maxillary", Spanish quijada "jawbone") 
The poet may also be suggesting the loss or dereliction of Occitanian patrimony by punning off of the word caissa "box, chest, trunk (for storing valuables)" from Latin capsa "box." (Modern French caisse is a medieval borrowing from Occitan, whereas the direct modern French reflex of the Latin etymon through Old French is châsse "reliquary.") The spelling suggests that "teeth" is the meaning of the word on the page, however, and it makes more sense in light of the use of the word bercar "to break a piece off of, to chip" with the reflexive form. 

Cotilhas: plural of cotilha which in medieval Occitan is a word for "(woman's) coat" (c.f. Modern French cotillon "petticoat", Catalan cotilla "corset," Jèrriais cotelle "skirt") Glossaries of modern Occitan dialects I consulted do not list this word. Another possibility is that it refers to the dance known also as cotillon in French and English. Though the word is familiar to me, I had to make an educated guess at what a modern speaker of Occitan would mean or understand by it. 

Caluc: not found in medieval Occitan. Modern Occitan (and generally non-standard southern French) word for "imbecile, lunatic, near-sighted, cross-eyed" presumably from Latin caligo "fog, haze" via the same Vulgar Latin formation that yields Italian calùgine "down", or from some unattested Vulgar Latin compound whose last element is from Lat. luscus (c.f. fr. louche) Glossaries list different overlapping semantic ranges for this word. I went with the meaning I know from non-standard French, as it seemed to fit best in context.       

Grifol: in medieval Occitan a variant form of the word for "holly" (agrefol, grifuelh, from Latin acrifolium) but, apparently, in the modern language the word means "fountain" or "faucet." This would seem more appropriate. 

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