Peire d’Alvernhe


Peire d’Alvernhe
(fl. 1150–1180)
   Peire d’Alvernhe was a well-known TROUBADOUR, a contemporary of BERNART DE VENTADORN and GUIRAUT DE BORNELH. Nineteen of his songs are extant, in addition to a TENSO, or DEBATE POEM, he wrote with Bernart. In his verse he claims that wisdom acquired through the joy of love as well as a gift of eloquence combine to make him a great poet. One of his dominant themes is the moral effect of love. As with most of the troubadours, little is known with certainty about Peire’s life.According to his VIDA, he was from central France, born in Clermont in Auvergne. Peire seems to have visited several courts in southern France and in Spain, and there is some evidence that Ramon V of Toulouse was one of his patrons. Bernart Marti, a contemporary poet, claims that Peire was a canon of the church who abandoned his vows to become a troubadour. There is no way to tell whether this claim is true, but Peire did write some of the earliest religious verse in the Provençal language, and also seems to indicate in his later poetry that he is abandoning COURTLY LOVE altogether in order to pursue the love of the Holy Spirit. Peire was strongly influenced by MARCABRU, and thus chose to write much of his verse in TROBAR CLUS, the obscure, difficult troubadour style. He was one of the first poets to actually use the term clus in regard to his poetry. But he seems to have preferred the term vers entiers (literally “whole songs”), by which, according to Linda Paterson, he means “‘songs in which the [high] level of style is faultlessly maintaine,’ and its opposite indicates works in which too high a style has been attempted, resulting in laboriousness and obscurity” (Paterson 1975, 67). That is, Peire preferred the highest possible style, but believed that lesser poets should not attempt to write such verse. Essentially his was an elitist view of a kind of poetry appreciated by the select few.
   Peire’s best-known poem is his famous satire on the troubadours, in which he lampoons a dozen other poets, including Bernart, Giraut (who “looks like a goatskin dried out in the sun” [l. 14]), Guillem de Ribas (whose “singing sounds like hell” [l. 34]), and RAIMBAUT D’ORANGE (whose poetry has “neither warmth nor cheer” [l. 58]). Peire ends his satire with a boast (or GAP) about his own superiority, but then undercuts the boast with a poke at his own obscure style:
   Peire d’Alvernhe, now he has such a voice
   He sings the high notes, and the low (and the in-between),
   And before all people gives himself much praise;
   And so he is the master of all who here convene;
   If only he would make his words a little clearer,
   For hardly a man can tell what they mean.
   (Goldin 1973, 175, ll. 79–84)
   It has been conjectured that the 12 other poets were present at this song’s first performance, and that the tone is intended as good-natured joking, as the self-mockery at the end would suggest. Peire was highly esteemed in his own day, particularly for his outstanding melodies, as his vida makes clear. But DANTE also admired him for his poetic skill and his erudition, and lauds him in De VULGARI ELOQUENTIA.
   Bibliography
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Paterson, Linda M. Troubadours and Eloquence. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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