In medieval stories and legends, we often hear about the secret messages that lovers send each other. Unfortunately, usually those messages were so secret that they didn’t survive to modern times… with a few amazing exceptions.
I recently stumbled upon an article by Peter Dronke, who was an important scholar on medieval Latin literature (pretty cool stuff in my opinion, but then again, I’m a librarian…). Dronke translates and analyses a love letter that was written by a young girl to a certain “H”, around the 12th century. We have no idea who this girl was, but she surely knew how to write a love letter!
She’s a bit insecure about her writing herself, though. Although she must be well-educated (she mentions Classical authors such as Cicero and Virgil), she also says at the beginning of her letter:
So if I express something
less elegantly than I’d like,
I don’t want you to laugh at me,
as long as you perceive tenderly,
together with me, what I long for in my mind.
(Confession: this is just how I feel whenever I send something to my editor.)
Thankfully, our young lady isn’t deterred by her own insecurity. She continues to tell H:
For from the day that I first saw you I began to love you.
You penetrated my heart’s inmost being forcefully,
and, through the advance of your most joyous conversation,
have, wondrous to tell, arranged your own seat there,
and, lest any impulse should topple it,
have fastened it most firmly by your letter writing,
as if the seat were a stool, or rather, a throne.
Hence no forgetting can ever wipe you from my memory,
no darkness will be able to obscure you,
no clash of winds and clouds, however violent, can disturb you.
Later in her letter she teases him about advice he has given her: to stay away from knights (“as if they were some kind of omen”). She tells him she doesn’t reject their advances entirely, although she will of course never be unfaithful to her lover. As if to reassure him, she writes:
You are the chosen one among thousands,
you alone have been received as a secret spot
in the secret recesses of my mind,
you alone suffice me for all things,
at least if, as I hope, you do not break loose from my love.
She speaks some more about faithfulnes and its unmeasurable value, and promises again to stay true to him. Then comes the end of the letter, which is my favourite part of all:
I could have written more; I said, there is no need:
You are mine, I am yours,
of this you shall be sure.
You are locked
within my heart,
the little key is lost,
and there within you must forever rest.
Sadly, we have no idea who H. and his lady were – or what happened to them. Did remain in love? Were they able to marry? We’ll probably never know. But for my own peace of mind, I’m definitely chosing to believe they spent the rest of their lives having “most joyous conversations” together!
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