There is a particular and astonishing thought process at work in this passage, linking a memory ‘snapshot’ and the conceit of a poem. Roubaud tissues his writing throughout this book with asides and parentheses, not even counting the Insertions. To get to the particular path of reasoning I want, I’ve elided bits (Roubaud loves his digressions) and passages (Roubaud really loves his opinions) quite frequently, and I’ve left out the ellipses for the sake of my period key. If you want the unadulterated stuff, you can read the entire section (and the entire book, it seems) here on Google Books. At the end of the post, there is a link to a translation of the poem which Roubaud discusses. A few of Roubaud’s comments may be more interesting if you know that the poem is the precursor to the sestina. Instead of the sestina’s weaving pattern of end-words, Raimbaut “repeats the same words at the rhyme, in the same order, in every stanza.”
from §3 My returning to this image
Seeing that nocturnal windowpane covered with its flowers of frost has become habitual for me, very familiar. And sometimes the image appears to me on its own, at random, removed from its natural setting, without any particular thought of this memory preceding it. But I recognize it immediately—I can hardly fail to recognize it, since it resembles nothing so much as itself.
But one day, one day I managed to associate this image with a spoken word, a word from a poem (if I grant for a moment that poetry is speech, a “music of the mouth proffering speech in meter,” as Eustache Deschamps said), a word spoken, then, and put down on paper centuries ago, and now caught on this paper between the blank spaces, the “margins,” that define verse:
Er resplan la flors enversa
These words make up the entire first line of a canso (a “chanson,” a music-poem) by the troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange, written more than eight centuries ago: “Now shines [is resplendant] the inverse flower.” Raimbaut d’Orange wastes no time in revealing the primary sense of this strange grouping: “quals flors” he says (“which flower?”). And he answer himself, taking the spontaneous and absolute solipsism of all verse even further: “neus gels e conglapis” (“snow, frost and ‘conglapi‘”), introducing, with this last vocable—so rare that it appears only here—who knows what sort of frozen thing. I have decided to understand it, according to the needs of my own composition, as a vitrified conjunction of neus (snow) and gels (frost): as the condensation of a mist-noise and a cold substance, emblematic of the cold itself; and I hear in it an entire “glapissement,” a kind of screen, along with the scratching sound made by those transparent pellets of cold as they were scraped up, crying out under my nail:
Er resplan la flors enversa
Pels trencans rancx e pels tertres.
Quals flors neus gels e conglapis
Que cotz e destrenh e trenca.
(Then shines the inverse flower
among sharp cliffs and hills.
Which flower? snow frost and ice
that cuts and torments and slices.)
Now, every dawn is a new spring, even a dawn covered in frost. And in this paradoxical beginning of a lover’s canso, Raimbaut d’Orange—instead of following a tradition that would have him echo the sweet and didactic love songs of the teacher-birds, the teachers of the song, essenhadors del chan—gives voice instead to abstract nightingales. The poet sees blocks of ice in place of the craggy red mountains, which are now invisible; in place of the orioles or larks, whose throats are now numb; in place of their song now dead from the cold:
Vey mortz quils critz brays siscles
(I see dead calls, cries, noises, whistles)
For Raimbaut, invoking the great aviary cold of the hills, now gripped by frost , is a way to make the three-in-one flower of song, poetry, and love still more brilliant— the inverse flower absent from every bouquet (and here the absence is double). When I read this image, when I found myself gripped, transfixed, and benumbed by these words, flors enversa, I recognized them as my own (this was near the very beginning of my reading of the Troubadours, I still knew virtually nothing about them), and I spontaneously and sentimentally placed myself, implicitly and without at first realizing it, in one of the two camps—each devoted to a certain method, simultaneously antagonistic and interwoven—of the trobar, the art of the Troubadours.
For this is not simply an insolent metamorphosis of the tradition’s “spring-time” metaphor (the beginning of poetic singing, in the spring, identified with the love songs of the birds), but also the affirmation of a certain way of speaking in poetry, which goes far beyond the privileged moment in which the singing flowers of the frost are discovered. One could dub this the Way of Double Negation (which has its related and parallel forms in philosophy, theology, and even logic): the frost negates both the flower and the song. But in the desert of first, a paradoxical flower blooms—in its silence an insistent disharmony resonates, and from this “hirsute” blossoming, as from this polar atonality, are reborn, in the vibratory evocation of the verse, both a happy music and its simultaneous and hopeless disappearance.
The poetic method called “obscure” and “closed,” according to Raimbaut d’Orange and Arnaut Daniel, never forgets that beneath love’s greatest “joy”—its “joi“— lurks the frost of fulfillment, the ferocity of a reality mingled with death.
This is why, even if it wasn’t within my power to dissolve this association between childhood and a fragment of poetry, I did not for a moment refuse it. As I progressed (slightly) in my knowledge of the trobar, as I formed a clearer idea of it, this association became deeper and still more necessary, losing the sudden, fortuitous, and arbitrary character of its origins. The memory image of the square pane made hazy with frost, the night that it hid and then revealed, and the bedroom around me all acquired from this association a greater force of conviction (the conviction of being an authentic and significant revelation of the past) and a greater legitimacy.
The poem which Roubaud discusses may also be read at Google Books, in a translation by William D. Paden and Frances Freeman Paden, here.