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De Insulis

De Insulis

Alain De Lille (Alanus De Insulis) is a French poet and theologian from the 12th century. His birth date is estimated to be somewhere between 1120 and 1128 and his death, circa 1202. We know very little about his life. De planctu naturae (Nature’s Complaints), written around 1160-70, and De miseria mundi,written around 1182-83, are among his greatest works.

De planctu naturae

De planctu naturae is a chantefable, i.e. “a medieval tale oscillating between recited prose and singsong verses”. It is a satiric tale of humanity’s vices. Through this work, Alain de Lille “was hoping to relax the theologian structure perceived as the only truth by introducing Nature as an intermediary between the world and God”. Still pertinent today: “Nature complains about men’s relinquishment of its laws and takes part into civilization’s conquest over chaos by putting Venus in charge of re-establishing the universal order with the help of Cupido.” The following poem is an ode taken from the second part of De planctu naturae. Liva inserted divisions and chose titles for creative purposes.

1. Regula mundi
Daughter of God and mother of all,
Link of the world and its firm tie,
Beauty of the earth, mirror of what runs past,
Torch of the globe;

Peace, love, virtue, government, power,
Order, law, term, road, guide, origins,
Life, light, brightness, shape, face,
Rule of the world;

You, who submit your reins to the pace of the world,
Tie in a harmonious bind all that you consolidate
Into being,
And, through the concrete peace unite
Sky and earth;

You, who apply the pure ideas of the Word
To the touch of every sort of being,
Adorn matter into form, and shape with

2. Lucido lunae
You, who are favoured by the heavens of which air is the servant,
Who are honoured by the earth and revered by the waters;
To you, as to the ruler of the world,
Every element is paying tribute;

You, who chain up days and nights in their alternation,
Dispense the day from the candle of the sun,
And bring to sleep the clouds of the night,
Under the clear mirror of the moon;

You, who gild the pole with various stars,
Make serene again the sphere of our ether;
Fill up the heavens with the stars’ gems and a colourful army;

3. Terra superbit
You, who modify the face of the heavens into Proteus
Where you create new arrangements,
Populating our air with birds and gripping everything under your rule;

Under whose sign the world rejuvenates,
And the forest’s hair curls with leaves
And, the earth boasts,
Wrapped in our cloak of flowers;

You, who appease and enhance the threats of the waves,
Cutting the marine fury short,
Fearing that the anger of the waves
Might bury the surface of the continents;

4. Lingua fidelis
Expose the motive of your journey to me;
Why are you gaining the earth, Celestial traveller?
Why are you offering our world the gift of your Divinity?

Why are tears streaming down your face?
What are the tears on your visage foretelling?
Tears are faithful interpreters of an inner pain.

De miseria mundi

The hymn De miseria mundi has certain similarities with Anticlaudianus, another work by the same author. The poet compares the human condition with that of the rose and “deals with the four makers of the world: God, Nature, Fortune, and Vice”. As aforementioned, divisions and titles were inserted by Liva.

1. Omnis mundi creatura
Any worldly creature
Is like a book, a painting,
To serve as a mirror,
Faithful representation
Of our life, of our death,
Of our state, of our lot.

Our condition is painted by the rose,
Of our state, a great gloss and
A lesson from our existence:
In full bloom in the early morning,
Flourishing flower falling out of blossom
In the oldness of the night.

2. Rosa marcet oriens
The flower expires by breathing,
It raves by fading,
Starts to die at birth.
Both ancient and new,
Both elderly and damsel,
The rose fades at birth.

So the spring of our age,
In the very morning of youth,
Flourishes for a brief moment,
But this morning is soon excluded
By nightfall while the twilight years conclude.

3. Sic mors vitam
By ending its beauty,
Age or the course of time sweep it away,
Soon deflowers its splendour.
Flower turns into fruit, gem into mud,
Man turns to dust, and to death
Paying his tribute here below.

For his life, for his being are
Sorrow, pain, necessity
To end in death.
So death shuts life, mourning shuts laughter,
Shadow shuts daylight, the tide shuts the sea and night shuts morning.

4. Mortis est conclusion
The first strike comes to us
From a dead-face sorrow,
From an ordeal mimicking death;
Subjecting us to sorrow,
Transforming us into grievous beings,
And death concludes it all.

5. Luge penam
Thus enclosed under this law,
Man, decipher your condition,
Look closely at who you are,
What you were before your birth,
What you are, what you will be,
Deepen this vision.

Weep in sorrow, lament your offence,
Suppress your impulses, break your pomp,
Cast off your pride;
Leader and coach driver of your soul,
Lead it and direct its course
Not to veer to evil.

Liva chose these texts for the deepness and wisdom they contain but also to work with a great opus as was the case for Requiem. The two texts seemed to have chosen Liva, and not the other way around.
Liva then freely divided them into strophes to obtain five subheadings for each work and create a multi-movement musical structure.