The Poets

October 15, 2010

Carl Orff's In Trutina

On my way home from work Wednesday I was listening to classical music on Colorado Public Radio (they were having a fundraiser) and to my delight they played a song from among Carl Orff's collection, Carmina Burana ... the piece they played was In Trutina.

Now I've heard this piece plenty of times, but it wasn't until then that I first learned of the song's poetic value.

Turns out that 'Carmina Burana' is a name that Orff borrowed from an early medieval manuscript that consisted of roughly 254 poems and satirical stories. The name itself means "Songs from Benediktbeuern".

The collection of poems, almost all of which were written in Medieval Latin, was discovered in a Benedictine monastery in 1803 and was dated back to as early as the 11th century.

It was from this collection that Orff selected 24 poems that would eventually come to constitute his Carmina Burana.

Among these poems is the one I mentioned hearing two days ago, In Trutina. Here's the Latin version followed by an English transliteration. Short but gorgeous.

In Trutina

In trutina mentis dubia
fluctuant contraria
lascivus amor et pudicitia.
Sed eligo quod video,
collum iugo prebeo:
ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

In Trutina

I am suspended
between love
and chastity,
but I choose
what is before me
and take upon myself the sweet yoke.

Of the Poem (More Ambiguity)

Some say it's a poem about a young girl's decision to fall in love rather than to become a nun. She says she's trapped between love and chastity; that is, between marriage and sisterhood.

That she chose marriage is said to be clear from the last line where she apparently refers to it as "the sweet yoke". I contend that this isn't necessarily the case ... "the sweet yoke" could just as easily refer to her commitment as a nun and a lover of God alone (Matthew 11:30).

Funny. Seems the key to interpreting the poem adequately rests on a single word found in line 5: "what". If we knew "what" was there before her we'd know "what" it was she chose.

And so here we are, forced by the presence of ambiguity to arbitrarily choose what the poem means to us subjectively.

Truth be told ... I like that kind of freedom.

If you’d like to hear the song (in Latin) click here … it’s only a few minutes long, and I promise you’ll enjoy it. Notice the different rendering of it in English.

Also, I've come across a slightly different Latin spelling for Trutina- Truitina. Just thought I'd have you know.


John W. May said...

In Trutina

In trutina mentis dubia
fluctuant contraria
lascivus amor et pudicitia.
Sed eligo quod video,
collum iugo prebeo:
ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

Notice how the rhyme scheme plays out:


In other words, aaabbb. It almost seems- and indeed I'd submit- that the poem was initially two three-lined stanzas (or two tercets). Is this significant? No. Just interesting. It begs in me several questions ... "Who composed this poem, and why" ... "What poetic style or tradition influence the writer" ... "Why tercets" ... Why the subject (and to whom)" ... things like that.

Obiterspeak said...

The poem is beautiful, John, and thanks for sharing it. As always, "what" you say makes me think:

>> Seems the key to interpreting the poem adequately rests on a single word found in line 5: "what". If we knew "what" was there before her we'd know "what" it was she chose.

If the poem is a prayer then "what is before" her or that which she is facing is Christ on the Cross or the Blessed Sacrament (the image of His Great Sacrifice). This supports your view:

>> "the sweet yoke" could just as easily refer to her commitment as a nun and a lover of God alone (Matthew 11:30).

I have watched radiant Benedictine nuns kneeling before and adoring the Blessed Sacrament when I visit Tyburn Convent. At first, it was with envy that I watched them until I realised that even if I am not a nun I can choose to adore my Lord as fervently, although differently. Indeed, we can all choose the way of liberty (regardless the worldly paths we take or who we are) and to become the passionate and faithful lover of God.

John W. May said...

.. wow ..

Obiterspeak … I appreciate you.

Obiterspeak said...

...and on this journey home, how nice to find a kindred soul!

Anonymous said...

The "what" that is before her is obviously alluding to her choosing to give herself to the man that has been trying the get with her throughout the whole Carmina Burana.

If you continue to listen to it, you will find that the final Soprano solo "Dulcissime" is where she declares she will give herself to him.

This does not take away from the beauty and awe behind this poem. Quite the contrary, it gives it an earthy and human quality which is beautiful in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

I think the yoke is the decision to give his/her life to God. The poems were found in a monastery. In what context would an 11th century poet use the word yoke? Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says take my yoke upon your yoke is easy and my burden light. Carl Orff's opera is merely an interpretation of a the poem In Trutina, not the final word.

James3am said...

I'm coming late to the party, but I think interpretation depends GREATLY on how you choose to view the poem: As a single work or as part of a whole. Viewed as a single work, the ambiguity is understandable, but when viewed in context of the greater story of "Carmina Burana", ambiguity fades.
The next number, "Tempus es Iocundum", is a joyful celebration wherein the soprano soloist sings "totus floreo, iam amore virginali" (I am bursting with first love).
This number is IMMEDIATELY followed by the soprano soloist singing "Dulcissime".

totam tibi subdo me!

Sweetest boy!
I give myself to you utterly!

It seems clear that, to Orff, at least, "In Trutina" was a profession of love and commitment to an earthly man, not a heavenly one.

Anonymous said...

The "Carmina Burana" of Carl Orff is his *own* selection of poems from the large medieval anthology which is the manuscript nicknamed "Carmina burana." There is no cyclic aspect to the medieval original; that is an aspect crafted by Orff when he chose 24 of the 254 poems to form his libretto. The poems were collected by the monks at Benediktbeuren (=Burana) but not written by them; rather, most were written by university-educated clerics, often in a satirical, if not bawdy mode, and don't particularly have anything to do with each other. This is not to discount the 'yoke of Christ' interpretation for "In trutina," but just to say that they weren't necessarily pious poems just because they come from a manuscript that was compiled in a monastery.

Unknown said...

Yours is an attractive interpretation, but unfortunately when you look more closely at the sources, the theory doesn't quite hold up. "In trutina" is actually not a stand-alone poem but a brief passage taken from a much longer song, "Estatis florigero tempore," which is all about the seduction of a girl by a boy. Check out this link (see CB 70, about 2/3 of the way down):

The "In trutina" part comes at "In the heart’s scale trembling" in this translation. There's nothing about God in the song, but plenty about Venus, and right after the "In trutina" part, you'll see that the "yoke" in question belongs to the love goddess.

As Anonymous said in June, just because a manuscript was found in a monastery doesn't mean it had to be religious in nature. It'd be logical to think so, but medieval monasteries were actually repositories for documents of all sorts, sacred and secular. In Carmina Burana, there are 254 pieces, mostly thought to be written by students, and about half are love songs. The content is often pretty earthy; one song features a marathon lovemaking session with Venus herself in a brothel. Others concern drinking, gambling, and outright mockery of the Church. I'm sure the pope would not have approved, but while the Church had great power then, there were those who wore their religion lightly -- even in the monasteries.

I was hesitant to write this -- years after your post, I know -- because it seems you derive real meaning from your view of the song, and on the surface it is a lovely reading. But I'm afraid it doesn't accurately reflect the context the song came from, and in case someone comes here while doing research, I wanted to help provide that context. Take care, and God bless.

(By the way, my name's Jessica, though my account is coming up for some reason as "Unknown.")

Anonymous said...

Actually, the choice made by the narrator of the poem isn't at all ambiguous. If you look up the word "yoke" on wikipedia, you'll find that there is a very long, centuries-old tradition in Europe of yoking oxen specifically in pairs. Single yokes, although not unheard of, would have definitely been outside the norm. Thus, the word yoke implies two people pulling together, as two halves of a team, and in a medieval agrarian society, it would have quickly been recognized as a fairly transparent metaphor for marriage. The singer definitely chose romantic love in this case, not god. You've made the mistake of interpreting this poem from your own perspective as the denizen of a post-industrial, 21st century cultural context which no longer has any practical experience of, nor need for yokes.

Floyd said...

A yoke is not only for pairs of oxen . In the orient a yoke may be for a single person , suspending a load on two ends of a yoke going over both shoulders. The yoke of Christ is probably of that type, common in his time and place, and today. Thanks for the informative discussion. Whether for God or a husband, a love can be equally consuming, and valid,and symbolic of the love of God for each child. Thanks for this lovely tune and expression of divine love. At 85 years. Floyd

evilme708 said...

And in the context of Carmina Burana this makes perfect sense... It is followed by an ode to her lover's sweetness, then a powerful and passionate hailing from said lover, and then the dramatic and ruinful O Fortuna

paul stanton said...

Lucia Popp is divine. Articulation, acting, phrasing and what a tone. This will be my funeral accompaniment, no doubt about it.

Obiterspeak...the 'what' surely elicits a profane i.e. material entity, as indeed confirmed by the companion pieces: the eternal struggle between corporeal pleasures and sublimated intellectual ones (cf the later sequence with Nazaza depicted as both Queen of Heaven (eternal) and queen temporal (mortal)! This aria perfectly captures both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Which way did the young woman take? My money's on the way of earthly love. The music is spiritual in nature, but the way 'suave' is repeated, followed by a scalar descent to earth pushes me towards this conclusion.

As of April 9th, 2010