held together by spit and coffee (laiqualaurelote) wrote,
held together by spit and coffee
laiqualaurelote

National Poetry Month #25 - Ma fin est ma commencement

Ma fin est mon commencement
Guillaume de Machaut


Ma fin est mon commencement
Et mon commencement ma fin
Et teneure vraiement.
Ma fin est mon commencement
Mes tiers chans .iii. fois seulement
Se retrograde et einsi fin.
Ma fin est mon commencement
Et mon commencement ma fin.

[trans. A. Butterfield]

My end is my beginning
And my beginning truly
my end and tenor.
My end is my beginning.
My third melody only recapitulates itself
three times and thus ends.
My end is my beginning
And my beginning my end.

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) was a medieval French poet who critics have called the 'last great poet who was also a composer'.  Wildly prolific, his work was admired well into the 15th century, and we count among his fans people like Geoffrey Chaucer, Jean Froissart and Christine de Pizan.
This little rondeau, seemingly simple, is actually one of Machaut's most ingenious constructions.  It is a canon cancrizan written for three voices, the tenor, cantus and triplum.  The refrain, 'My end is my beginning and my beginning my end', refers to the palindromic musical line of the song.  The tenor sings this palindromic line, creating a musical symmetry across a double axis.  The lines of the cantus and triplum are in fact mirror images of each other; in the original source, one singer simply reads the notes left to right while the other reads them right to left.  The whole effect is that the music creates and recreates itself in an infinite loop, even as the words move forward in a linear fashion.  BAM.  PARADOX.  Machaut: what a genius.

Here is a good cover on YouTube, though it doesn't say by what artists.
Tags: national poetry month
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