Bernard of Cluny by John Balnaves (
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(...continued from Chapter 6b)


Bernard did not use the Goliardic measure, though the verse form of the epilogue to the Mariale is somewhat similar to it. Nor was it used in any liturgical verse, but it is found in some non- liturgical hymns. John Pecham, for example, used it in his Philomena, "one of the loveliest of all the poems of the Passion."50 Philomena, the nightingale, represents the Christian soul.

Philomena, praevia
temporis amoeni
Quae recessum nuntias
imbris atque caeni,
Dum demulces animos
tuo cantu leni,
Avis prudentissima,
ad me, quaeso, veni ...

Oci, oci, anima
clamat in hoc statu,
Crebro fundans lacrimas
sub hoc incolatu,
Laudans et glorificans
magno cum conatu
Christum, qui tot pertulit
suo pro reatu.51

Old English and Middle English verse used a combination of stress and quantity. A stressed syllable is usually also a long syllable, though stress may occur when there is a short accented syllable followed by a short unaccented syllable in the same word. Every half line must have two and only two stresses, but there is no strict count of the number of syllables. In every line, both stresses of the first half-line may, and one must, alliterate with the first stress of the second half line. Alliteration of all four stresses is not permissible in Old English, but may occur in Middle English, as Piers plowman shows:

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.
Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles
Me bifel a ferly, of Fairye me thoghte.52

But, beginning in the twelfth century, there emerged a different verse form in Middle English, which was based solely on stress, without any element of quantity. It consisted of lines with seven accents, four in the first half-line and three in the second half- line. The lines rhymed in couplets. The earliest example we have is the Poema morale, which dates from about 1150.

This became the metre of most of the popular ballads in the vernacular and, as we have seen, of many nursery rhymes. It is similar also to the Goliardic metre, with the important difference that, in the Goliardic measure, the syllable count is exact.

Bernard of Morlaix hardly ranks among the foremost Latin poets of the twelfth century. His accomplishments in prosody are by no means exceptional, though the sustained use of the difficult metre and rhyme of the De contemptu mundi was, as he himself recognised,54 something of a tour de force. Bernard was well versed in, and able to use with effect, classical metres. He was also skilled in and added something to the development of metres which had few classical precedents but which had links with the Saturnian metre, with the Psalms (by way of the Vulgate) and with the Roman liturgy. The same metrical forms showed extraordinary vitality in Middle English verse and in later popular ballads, as well as in English nursery rhymes.

Much of Bernard's verse has the four features which, taken together, distinguish the Latin verse forms which emerged in the twelfth century from earlier Latin verse, and indeed from any earlier verse forms whatever. Those features are: a metre which is based upon an exact count of syllables; a metre which is based on stress; a metre in which the stress is close to that of the ordinary spoken language; and a regular and exact use of rhyme.


Bernard was able to write rhymed verse and unrhymed verse with equal facility, and evidently gave careful thought to the occasions on which rhyme was appropriate.55 While his use of accentual metre had no classical precedents, his use of rhyme had its roots in classical Latin.

The origin of rhyme is a matter of controversy. F.J.E. Raby points out that the use of rhyme was perfectly well known to the writers of antiquity.

Parallelism of form was the most marked feature of both Greek and Latin rhetorical prose. To this parallelism of form is joined the rhetorical device of Dmoiot"leuton ("similar ending," assonance or rime) which had the effect of prominently marking the end of the clause ... Hence, it appears reasonable to assume that the use of the rhetorical rime in rhythmical prose, after passing into the popular sermons of the Greek and Latin Church, found its way into Christian poetry at a time when the feeling for quantity was dying out and a new verse- form was being constructed.56

While admitting that "rhetorical rime" had appeared in classical poetry, he argues that it was used on rare occasions, was avoided by the best classical poets and was a device consciously borrowed from rhetorical prose.57

Ernst Robert Curtius explains the many ways in which the modern terms "poetry" and "prose" do not have the same denotations or connotations as their classical or medieval counterparts. In particular, the ars dictaminis did not have a twofold division into poetry and prose, but rather a threefold division, in which both artistic prose ("eloquentiae prosa") and poetry are regulated discourse. Prose is regulated by rhythm, while poetry is regulated by metre or by rhythm and rhyme. The third member of the triad is prose as unregulated discourse. Artistic prose "required a great expenditure of time, talent and erudition" and there was also "a plain prose of factual communication." The boundaries between poetry and prose were therefore somewhat blurred. The matter is further complicated by the application of the term prosa to rhythmical poems, especially sequences.58

But despite these careful and useful distinctions, Curtius still appears to regard rhymed verse as having developed from the rhythmical cadences of artistic prose rather than from any element in classical poetry. The existence and nature of rhyme in classical and medieval Latin prose is illustrated by Raby, who gives examples from Apuleius, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine of Hippo.59 The cadences of rhymed prose persisted throughout the middle ages. They are common, for example, in the prayers of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to whom may be credited the first limerick:

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentiae et libidinis exterminatio
Caritatis et patientiae
Humilitatis et obedientiae
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.60

But it may be questioned whether rhymed prose was the only, or even the chief factor in the development of rhymed Latin verse. We are so accustomed to thinking that classical Latin verse does not rhyme that we are perhaps in danger of not seeing rhyme when it is obviously and deliberately there.

Cui dono lepidum novum libellum
arida modo pumice expolitum?
Corneli, tibi: namque tu solebas
meas esse aliquid putare nugas
iam tum, cum ausus es unus Italorum
omne aevum tribus explicare cartis
doctis, Juppiter, et laboriosis.
quare habe tibi quidquid hoc libelli
qualecumque; quod, o patrona virgo,
plus uno maneat perenne saeclo.61

Once one adverts to the rhyme scheme of this poem of Catullus, it becomes impossible to dismiss the rhymes as something that necessarily and accidentally happens in an inflected language, or to maintain that it is a chance by-product of rhetoric. It seems clear that Catullus intended the effect and that his use of rhyme was deliberate. Walter Ludwig, discussing the origin and development of the Catullan style in neo-Latin poetry, quotes the following imitation of Catullus by Friedrich Taubmann in 1594:

Cum mollissima sit Venus deorum
Non versus amet illa mollicellos?
Cum blandissima diva sit deorum,
Non versus amet illa blandicellos?
Aut his est reperire molliores?
Aut his est reperire blandiores?
Aut pro conditione belliores?
Aut ad Cypridis orsa lectiores?
Hoc, pol, hendecasyllabo Phaleuco
Nullius mollior esse blandiorve,
Nullus bellior esse lectiorve
Docti judicio potest Catulli.62

One might suppose that Taubmann was modelling his poem not only on the style and verse form of Catullus, but also on the rhyme patterns of his poems. Yet the rhyme is evidently invisible to Walter Ludwig, who nowhere mentions it in his discussion. It may be that Catullus was relatively unknown in the twelfth century.63 But Bernard of Morlaix refers to Carmen 66 in the De contemptu mundi64 and, if only from florilegia, there seems to have been an awareness of some of Catullus' poems among his contemporaries. The possibility of a direct influence on twelfth century verse forms and rhyme cannot be ruled out.

It is true, of course, that rhyme is very rarely sustained through a whole poem in that fashion in classical literature. Vergil has a quatrain structure which recurs quite often and which shows an obviously deliberate use of rhyme.

ite meae, quondam felix pecus, ite capellae.
non ego vos posthac viridi proiectos in antro
dumosa pendere procul de rupe videbo;
carmina nulla canam; non me pascente, capellae.65

The quatrains show not only end-rhyme or assonance with the scheme abba but also a rhyme or assonance of the first half of the first line with the first half of the fourth line (quondam, canam). Nevertheless, obvious, regular and sustained rhyme of that sort is relatively rare in classical poetry. But rhyming figures of a less obvious character, involving not only rhyme in the sense of conventional end rhymes, but also assonance, alliteration, rhymes in parallel metrical positions, repetition of entire verse lines, and similar effects are very common indeed. Eva H. Guggenheimer has shown that, except for the general rule that figures of any kind should never be obtrusive or monotonous, ancient literary theorists did not disapprove of the use of rhyme in poetry.66 She analyses the kinds of rhyming figures that commonly occur in classical poetry and provides a wealth of examples.67

It is not strictly correct, therefore, to say that rhyme was "as foreign to the Romans as to the Germanic peoples."68 Nor need we seek the origins of rhyme only in classical prose; classical poetry may have had at least as much influence on the development of rhyme in the verse of the twelfth century as classical prose. But if we think of rhyme as being identity of sound between words or verse-lines extending from the end to the last fully accented vowel and no further69 and if, in addition, we insist upon a regular scheme of rhyme in that sense throughout a whole poem, then it can properly be said that rhyme is an invention of the twelfth century.

It is an exaggeration to claim that the large number of medieval Latin poems which employ classical metres are mostly "without merit, being little more than exercises in versification."70 Bernard's poems in classical metres are in no way exceptional; many of his contemporaries wrote unrhymed hexameters and elegiac couplets, and some wrote unrhymed lyric metres. In Anglo-Latin verse, unrhymed classical metres were less common from the middle of the thirteenth century until their artificial revival in the Renaissance.71 As Bernard's poems illustrate, the Latin poems of the twelfth century which used classical metres were by no means without merit.

But it is certainly true that the great achievement of twelfth century poets was the development of verse with the characteristics of syllable-count, stress and rhyme. A metre based solely on syllable count is not, as we have seen, very interesting. But when that is combined with a system in which the stress of the metre coincides with the stress and rhythm of the ordinary spoken language, a very powerful poetic instrument emerges. Not only is the system itself effective, but it makes possible a kind of counterpoint, when a poet deliberately introduces a conflict between the metric stress and the natural language stress.

Vicem amicitiae
vel unam me reddere
oportebat tempore
summae tunc angustiae,
triumphi participem
vel ruinae comitem ...72

The word "unam" in the second line of the part of Peter Abelard's poem quoted above, and the word "triumphi" in the fifth line, are examples of just such a conflict, in a context in which (as is clear if the passage is read aloud) it is intended for poetic effect. Gerard Manley Hopkins observes that this kind of counterpoint is "a thing so natural that our poets have generally done it, from Chaucer down, without remark and it commonly passes unnoticed ..."73 It can, of course, be found in poets before Chaucer. It was an invention of the twelfth century Latin poets.

When to that powerful instrument was added, in the twelfth century, the equally powerful instrument of rhyme, there occurred a significant revolution in Latin verse, which during the subsequent centuries greatly influenced the development of vernacular verse. The revolution can hardly be called a renaissance, because it was the emergence of something really new. It had, in its disparate parts, various predecessors, as we have seen, but it was a new development. It was in no sense the revival of something which had died.

The classical learning of the twelfth century was part of a continuing Latin tradition. Within that tradition, there were new developments in metre and rhyme which quickly found a place in vernacular poetry. New developments also took place in allegory, which is explored in the next chapter.

1Elegiacs ought to have an even number of lines, but lines are wanting after 62, 296 and 398.
2De castitate servanda, 1-4.
3In libros Regum, 1-6.
5Carmina de Trinitate, 1-6,
6Pecierunt = petierunt (petiverunt).
7Carmina de Trinitate, 816-822.
8Carmina de Trinitate, 1006-1010.
9Carmina de Trinatate, 1012-1013.
10Carmina de Trinitate, 1061-1070.
11The literal meaning of "versus" is "furrow."
12The false quantity in "iras" cannot be excused for Bernard's reasons, given above. Rhyme and stress seem to be over- riding quantity. But "patre" is Halvarson's emendation. The manuscrpt reads "pape," which would allow the line to scan correctly (Halvarson, p.97).
13De octo vitiis, 1-4.
14Mariale, Prologus, 1-7.
15A.G. Rigg, A history of Anglo-Latin literature 1066-1422, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.320. See also Dag Norberg, Introduction a l'etude de la versification latine medievale, Stockholm, Almqvist and Wiksell, 1958, p.67.
16De contemptu mundi, 1,1-6.
17Analecta hymnica, 48, 246.
18Ernst Robert Curtius, European literature and the Latin middle ages, translated from the Germnan by Willard R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990 (Bollingen series, 36), p.152.
19J.M. Neale, The rhythm of Bernard of Morlaix, monk of Cluny, 7th ed., London, Hayes, 1865. Neale did not attempt to imitate the metre and rhyme of the original.
20Charles Lawrence Ford, Hora novissima, a metrical version of some portion of the first book of the Latin poem by Bernard of Morlaix entitled "De contemptu mundi", London, Houlston, 1898, p.24. There are worse renderings. John Julian quotes, for example, a translation by S.A.W. Duffield, which goes "These are the latter times, these are not better times: let us stand waiting." (Dictionary of hymnology, 2nd ed., London, Murray, 1907, p.534.)
21Quoted in Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p. 316, note 3. It is not, as Raby seems to suggest, a rendering of the passage beginning "Urbs Sion aurea" (Book 1, lines 269ff.), from which Neale took his hymn "Jerusalem the golden". It is, in fact, a translation of the passage beginning "Urbs Sion inclita" (Book 1, lines 337 ff.)
22Mariale, Rhythmus 1, 1-2.
23Mariale, Rhythmus 2, 1-2.
24Analecta hymnica, 48, 237-238.
25ibid., 278-279. On the metre of the rhytmi of the Mariale, see also Norberg, p.44-45.
26Mariale, Epilogus, 1-2.
27Or perhaps, in the context of a revival of classical learning, it is a regression!
28De contemptu mundi, Prologus.
29Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite; its origins and development, Blackrock, Four Courts Press, 1986, v.1., p.425.
30Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, v.1, p.435- 436. See also Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p.210.
31PL 131, 984, 989.
32PL 131, 1005-1026.
33Notker says "Gemidia nuper a Nordmannis vastata." The devastation of the monastery occurred in 851.
34PL 131, 1003-1004.
35Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, v.1, p. 436- 437.
36Analecta hymnica, v. 8,9,10,34,37,39,40,42 and 44.
37Raby gives many examples of early sequences (Christian-Latin poetry, p. 212-219.)
38Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, v.1, p.438.
39The Penguin book of Latin verse, introduced and edited by Frederick Brittain, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1962, p.230.
40Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, v.1, p.439, note 112.
41Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, v.1, p.438- 439.
42Psalm 118, in the Vulgate, for example.
43PL 43, 24-25, 31. See also Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p.20-22.
44H.W. Garrod, "Note on the Saturnian metre", in The Oxford book of Latin verse from the earliest fragments to the end of the Vth century A.D., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1912, p.505-512.
45ibid., p.508-510.
46Oxford book of Latin verse, p.3.
48Garrod, "Note on the Saturnian metre," p.506.
49Waddell, Medieval Latin lyrics, p.170. Die Gedichte des Archipoeta, ed. Heinrich Watenphul and Heinrich Krafeld, Heidelberg, Winter, 1958, p.73.
50Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p.425.
51Analecta hymnica, 50, 602-603. See also the devotional poems Multi sunt presbyteri and Christiani nominis in Penguin book of Latin Verse, p. 270-274 and 278-281.
52William Langland, Piers plowman, B-text, Prologue 1-6.
53Richard Morris, Specimens of early English ... Part 1, From "Old English homilies" to "King Horn," AD 1150 - AD 1300, 2nd ed., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1848, p.206.
54De contemptu mundi, Prologus.
55See above, p.320.
56Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p.22-24.
57ibid., p.24.
58Curtius, European literature and the Latin middle ages, p.147-150.
59Raby, Christian-Latin poetry, p.23.
60From the prayers after Mass in the Roman rite.
61Catullus, 1.
62Walter Ludwig, "The origin and development of the Catullan style in neo-Latin poetry," in Latin poetry and the classical tradition; essays in medieval and Renaissance literature, edited by Peter Godman and Oswyn Murray, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p.183.
63ibid, p.186-187. See also C.J. Fordyce, Catullus, a commentary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961, p. xxv-xxvi.
64De contemptu mundi, 2,525 quotes from Catullus, 66,83.
65Eclogues, 1,74-77. See also Eclogues, 7,65-68; Eclogues, 8,76-79; Georgics, 1,406-409.
66Eva H. Guggenheimer, Rhyme effects and rhymimg figures; a comparative study of sound repetitions in the classics with emphasis on Latin poetry, The Hague, Mouton, 1972, p.61-72.
67ibid., p.143-224.
68Curtius, European literature and the Latin middle ages, p.390.
69On this definition, "greet" rhymes with "deceit" and "quality" with "frivolity", but "seat" does not rhyme with "deceit" nor "station" with "crustacean." Bernard, along with other twelfth-century (and modern) poets does not always strictly follow that rule. He rhymes "lucris" with "volucris," for example (De contemptu mundi, 2,277-278).
70Charles H. Beeson, A primer of medieval Latin; an anthology of prose and poetry, Folkestone, Bailey Brothers and Swinfen, 1973, p.26.
71A.G. Rigg, A history of Anglo-Latin literature, p.313.
72Peter Abelard, Planctus, in Medieval Latin lyrics, edited by Helen Waddell, 4th ed., London Constable, 1935, p.168.
73Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems, edited by Robert Bridges, 2nd. ed., London, Oxford University Press, 1937 (Oxford bookshelf), p.2-3.