Tell me now this, my heart,
because this I will not silence:
– Why do I follow your art,
Does the passion not suffice
for this trouble that I harbour?
For if it had entangled you
as it has entangled me,
and if yours would pine as mine,
you would say it is for certain
that this trouble is death nigh.
Nuno Pereyra, “Dyz-m’a myn meu coraçã”, Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende, texto estabelecido, prefaciado e anotado por Álvaro J. da Costa Pimpão e Aida Fernanda Dias, Coimbra: Centro de Estudos Românicos, Instituto de Alta Cultura, 1973. Translation for this website by Rita Faria.
This poem should not have been forgotten because it provided Miguel Esteves Cardoso with a motto for his brief chronicle on love, accurately entitled “Love” and published in A Causa das Coisas. MEC’s version is slightly different from the poem I found in Cancioneiro, and it goes “Dyz m’a mim meu coraçon / porque m’a isto nam calo, / poys ves nam chegua payxom / deste cuydado que falo”. At any rate, it was MEC’s text that brought this short, pretty poem to my attention, which I eventually found in the depths of the Cancioneiro Geral. It is actually an excerpt taken from a long dialogue comprised of several turns, in which Nuno Pereyra and Jorge da Silveira (the spelling of their names varies, which, interestingly enough, means there was not much of an “ortography” at this time) discuss love matters, namely “love” and “sighs” and the advantages and disadvantages of serving Lady “Lyanor da Sylua”. Based on other compositions, we know the advantages were negligible – composition 87 is again by Nuno Pereyra and about Lady “Lianor da Sylua, who, during the time he served her, got married”.
Because it is short and expressive, and because it resorts to the interesting artifice of recreating a dialogue between the poet and his heart, this brief composition should be read. It bears witness to the kind of poetry one can sing to, drawing from popular, traditional oral forms, but nevertheless adapted to the central themes of the Cancioneiro, specifically the plight of love (which, needless to say, leads nowhere). At the outset, I thought the poem was quite banal as it didn’t exhibit the intellectual depths of Bernardim Ribeiro or Sá de Miranda. But its banality is merely apparent. The syntactic prowess of this short poem explains its expressivity and enhances its complexity of thought – it starts by the vocative “my heart” to then introduce direct speech addressed to the poet’s own heart (“Why do I follow your art…”); and it then proceeds to explain the poet’s troubles in a continuous address to the poet’s own heart and its impossible daring. It’s from the initial vocative, the linguistic agent of this composition, that reflection ensues; and it is also this reflection that introduces the aforementioned artifice of alterity, whereby the poet examines his heart, which causes his pain, as if it resides outside of himself, as if it were, perhaps, the actual lover (“For if it had entangled you / as it has entangled me, / and if yours would pine as mine …”).
The poem is therefore not merely about syntactic prowess. It is indeed about the intellectual depths of Bernardim and Sá de Miranda, to the extent that (mainly) the latter display the impossible skill of examining themselves as if they were outside looking in. To me, a reader who is utterly incapable of performing such a complex philosophical operation (although I acknowledge its utility, as it would certainly save many appointments with psychologists), this is an admirable feat. And all this in a poem which appears to be so unpretentious, so short and written in such a casual manner. Thus, I like this poem because it is only apparently simple (very few can write something which is simple but only apparently); and because this simplicity conveys “an emotion”, to invoke what Rasputine told Corto Maltese after, funnily enough, he tried to kill him.
“An emotion” – I don’t think we can, or should, ask for more from love or from literature.
Rita Faria is a professor at the Catholic University of Portugal. She doesn’t know how to do anything else apart from reading and writing and wants to do nothing else apart from reading and writing. Besides this, she enjoys horror films, vampires, ghosts and zombies in general and thinks the Portuguese language is the most fun in the whole world.