FREDERICK II (1194-1250), Holy Roman Emperor

Dolze meo drudo e vatene;                                My sweet love is leaving;

meo sire, a Dio t’acomando                               my lord, I recommend your soul to God,

che ti diparti da bene                                         that you are leaving me

ed io tapina rimanno.                                         and I stay here unhappy.

Lassa! La vita m’e noia,                                       So be it! Life bores me,

dolze la morte a vedere                                       so sweet is it to see death

ch’io nom penssai mai guerire                             that I think I shall never recover

menbrandome fuor di gioia.                               remaining beyond happiness.


Membrandone che ten vai,                                 Remembering that you will leave,

Lo cor mi grena gran guerra                               My heart suffers greatly.

Frederick, King of Sicily from 1208 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1220, was a man of stupefying culture and curiosity, known to his contemporaries by the Latin phrase stupor mundi (the ‘wonder of the world’ - hence my deliberate use of the adjective 'stupefying'). He founded the University of Naples, spoke Italian, Latin, German, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and French, patronized poets, sponsored translations of lost Greek works from Arabic to Latin, and wrote the first treatise on falconry - one of his great passions - De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (‘The Art of Hunting with Birds’). He also compiled a book of laws, the Liber Augustalis, which was used until the time of Napoleon.

In this poem, believed to have been composed by Frederick, he deals with a common theme - the sad departure of a lover - in short but powerful lines. He is writing in the tradition of the troubadour poets of Provence: the word “drudo” derives from Provençal “drut”, lover, used in the plural as ‘drutz’ by Arnaut Daniel, the poetic mentor of Dante. Similar combinations of images of love, death, sadness and warfare are found in many contemporary poems in Provence and Italy.

Poetically, there are three things which I love about this poem: first, the changes in rhythm, such as the beautiful, sighing and arresting “Lassa”, ‘let it be’, or ‘so be it’ after three flowing lines unbroken by punctuation; second, the powerful play on words between “menbrandome” and membrandone”, remaining and remembering, or reflecting; and, thirdly, the extraordinary alliteration of the last line, where the repeated ‘gr…’ and 'g' heighten the sense of anger and loss. Anger above all, at the war which presumably forces the departure of a knight, with warlike marching sounds impossible to replicate in translation.

It’s a poem that needs to be heard, so I have made an audio version which can be heard here. It must be said that although the words are similar to modern Italian, with the exception of the Provençal vocabulary and several archaisms, no one knows for sure how they would have been pronounced.