Ancient Complaints of Brittany, chosen and translated by André Markowicz and Françoise Morvan.

The Gwerz , a lament over the misfortune of submissive, abused, betrayed, violated but still rebellious women. It was known that Françoise Morvan, a talented researcher, translator, and theater woman, was naturally working with Chekhov’s Russian as with the Irish language of Synge. André Markowicz, his accomplice translator and theatrical man, was known not to be outdone by the works of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Pushkin and Shakespeare. But it was not yet known that they liked to collect and translate the Gwerz , of Ancient Complaints of Brittany , a precious work published by Éditions Ouest-France, whose Breton is reviewed by Marthe Vassallo.

As time passes, Breton folk culture remains alive thanks to the music and the most prestigious form of Breton song, the great lamentation that is the Gwerz ; we could appreciate it with the voice of Denez Prigent at the last Interceltic Festival of Lorient (FIL August 2011). The Gwerz is a great, mysterious and tragic song that belongs to popular poetry and history, since it is about literary, intellectual and moral history.

If the song could live so intensely in the Breton interior, it was because it was sung, the expression of ” a vision of the world shared by those who transmitted it ” (Françoise Morvan). In 1905, Anatole Le Braz is sensitive to the eloquent protest of the Gwerz, which, if it speaks of a golden age of the past, is first of all a restrictive vision of the two leading classes in Brittany, the nobility who owns the lands, and the clergy who possess the souls.

Let’s not go into insider quarrels; Let us point out that the Breton fund of Barzaz Breiz , the epic made from popular poems, has been politically rectified by the agreed-upon La Villemarqué, inspired by the tradition and in the pay of the religion and the landed property that submit without sharing the peasant of Lower Brittany. In exchange, the same epic, “the incarnation of the truth of a people” is analyzed with more clairvoyance by Luzel.

On this subject, he speaks of songs that are often incomplete, altered, and irregular, such as ” a singular mixture of beauties and trivialities, of faults of taste, of coarseness that feels a bit of their barbarism, and of simple and natural poetry, tender and sentimental, human always, and goes straight to the heart, which interests us and moves us by I do not know what secrets, what mystery, much better than the poetry of art … “

The Gwerz has been both sacred and suspected, constantly collected, studied and transcribed. Reserved for the poorest, and transmitted by illiterates, the Gwerz continued its natural and melancholy path in the shadows. Now, thanks to the appearance of the VCR, the Gwerz of the last singers and bearers of the pure oral tradition could happily be captured. They were taken over for fun by young singers in understanding the beauty of the songs. Thanks to the excellent repertoire of Yann-Fanch Quémener, Ifig Troadec, Erik Marchand, Nolwenn Le Buhé, Annie Ebrel, Marthe Vassallo.

The Gwerz , the unfolding of a long narrative according to ritualized forms, requires time, calm and an intimate knowledge of the Breton language. This is why the concern of enlightened translators has been to translate “as closely as possible and true” in order to transmit this universe of poetry ” which surpasses and grows.”

But what is the Gwerz about? Women’s misfortune and their rebellion – again and again, beyond times and countries. The strangely modern theme of the Gwerz is that of the abused woman, betrayed, raped, murdered, subjected to the violence of her parents, her husband, the lord … Few positive male figures in Breton laments, if not is this young Lord Comte who refuses to marry a fairy, when he is already married; and his young wife, who had given birth, remains faithful to him, while death has carried off the brave man. On her tomb, the young widow is ” Cold, faint, inanimate At the place where death struck her. A beautiful tragic symbol of eternal human love.

As a rule, the negative figures of the male, depraved and abusive lords of young girls, undecided clerics who do not take up their passion for love and prefer to take orders, comparable to decadent squires and highwaymen, dominate; incestuous fathers, soldiers, captains, sailors, thieves, blasphemers and rapists.

The Brigand’s son says he did not steal people, but an old knife, a white handkerchief and ” a beauty of blood red, A beauty of eighteen years, His heart is cold from now on. All women, unfortunate heroines, protest against the violence suffered. The Bergère is murdered by three young men, Marie Derriennic , affected by leprosy, is locked up for life by her parents in a mud house: ” Marie Derriennic from the top of the wood is the most beautiful girl who would have been better face less beautiful She is suffering from new evil.

Elsewhere, a young woman is married against her will to L’Enragé , a man with red eyes who is tearing her heart: ” What good is it for me to be charming?”

Renée Le Glaz , forcibly married not to his beloved but to the vulgar Erwan Geslard, a nobleman with a great look, can only promise him his next widowhood: ” If tomorrow I am married In three days you will bury me. The young woman casts her curse on this forced husband, on her father and on her mother too, ” And all those who deprive their children of living and choosing freely”.

These words reveal an avant-gardism of the thought, a promise of rebellion feminine to come, when one knows that most of Gwerz go back to the classical time. Claudinaïc was abused, raped and betrayed by M. de Villeneuve; reduced to killing her little girl, she is condemned to the stake for infanticide. She should not have been alone at the stake: ” If justice were more just, If we really said the law, Then M. de Villeneuve Should burn, there, with me. “

Now the woman, as a victim, can change into an executioner. The stepmother thus abuses her son-in-law and leads him to death. Aliette Roland is a mother who kills one of her sons so that the younger can inherit. Marianna is a brigand, a hateful witch, who wants to destroy the world and burn the firmament: ” If I could live another one or two years, I would leave this world ruined and ravaged. “

As for the Lord of Kersaozon , he is a judge in Rennes; a father wants to marry his heiress, ” beautiful as a star, ” to this old notary to win his trial selfishly, but the girl tells the father his four truths: that the gentleman is gentleman and baron, he does not like it. As for Anne Le Gardien , he is an extraordinary figure of strength and conviction who mocks the Lord of Mezomeur who wants to make love to him. In revenge, the dethroned brought seventeen lords whom Anne knocks down with a stick hidden between her skirt and petticoat.

Far from expressing the love of the good people for its nobles and priests, the Gwerz are the expression of a deep revolt. The passage from life to death, and vice versa, is often solicited in Breton complaints. Skolvan , bishop of Leon and repentant son, comes out of the world of death to come and beg his mother – a figure of heroic and all-powerful woman – to forgive his past crimes. Dom Yann Derrien leaves on his side to save the soul of his mother.

Garan Le Bris , called to serve at sea, wants to be warned when his mother dies: he gets the favor of hearing the bells ringing in his village of Cavan. Returning from the sea five hundred leagues away, he took his poor mother in his arms, and his exhausted heart broke. The Breton imagination is whimsical, open to all pagan, sacred or profane fantasies. The Gwerz is an ineffable poetic object, a mixture of hope in life and despair in trial, gravity and grace, a compound of deep sadness and candid joy, a cocktail of revolt and fatalism. As Françoise Morvan writes, ” Often poetry is born precisely from the silence, the gap, the jump over what does not have to be said and wins to remain mysterious, because the great art of the Gwerz is also its way of discovering the abyss between words and the abyss of existence. An illumination of an exceptional, inextinguishable, vivacious and beautifully alive heritage between fairies and witches, dragons and princesses in the soul, between the threatening shadow of death and the saving light of the desire to live.

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