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Goliardic Verse

Goliardic verse is a style of satirical Latin poetry written during the Middle Ages by young European clergy known as the Goliards. 

The authors of this verse were clerics who served at universities in France, Germany, Spain, England, and more. They utilized poetry, song, and other artistic forms of expression in order to speak out against contradictions they found within the church. They presented their works at feasts and during other public gatherings.

The word “Goliard” has a mixed and unknown origin. Some suggest it comes from the Latin for “gluttony” but it may also relate back to the giant, Goliath, who King David fight in the Bible. During the fourteenth century, the term “Goliard” was used to describe minstrels rather than clergy members. 

Goliardic Verse definition and examples


Goliardic Verse Definition

Goliardic verse is satirical poetry that points out the contradictions within the Church. It was created by “Goliards,” a term used to describe young male clerics. The poetry was written in Latin that was meant to be sung aloud. While much was created in order to comment on Church practices, other examples of Goliardic verse were focused on the extravagant lifestyles these men, who were supposed to be training as members of the clergy, chose to engage in. This included sex, drinking, and more.

Often, these Goliards were the youngest sons of wealthy families. According to scholars, these were young men who were often sent to universities and monasteries meant to train them as members of the clergy. But, they had no affinity for religion. They were, therefore, willing to speak out against the Church through writing and performance.

Characteristics of Goliardic Verse

  • Verse was often satirical and aimed at criticizing the Church and/or the Pope. 
  • Goliardic verse was written in Latin. 
  • Often humorous and entertaining. 
  • Sometimes depicted the cleric’s raucous lifestyle. 
  • Utilized texts from hymns and mass. 


Examples of Goliardic Verse

Lets Away with Study 

This is one of the best-known examples of Goliardic verse. It is composed of a few stanzas, originally written in Latin. The speaker asks that they be allowed to throw away their studies, treasure the pleasures of their youth, ignore important philosophical and religious thoughts, and live life to the fullest. The author utilizes symbolic images, such as spring becoming winter, to describe the day-to-day progression towards old age. Below are a few lines from an English language translation of this poem: 

Let’s away with study,

Folly’s sweet.

Treasure all the pleasure

Of our youth:

Time enough for age

To think on truth.

So short a day,

And life so quickly hasting,

And in study wasting

Youth that would be gay!

This poem uses simple language that many different readers, and listeners, would be able to relate to. It is easy to imagine these lines song aloud at a festival or performance. Anyone listening would be able to relate to phrases like these from the final stanza: 

So short a day,

And life so quickly hasting,

And in study wasting

Youth that would be gay!

Ley us as the gods so,

‘Tis the wiser part. 


The Confession of Golias by the Archpoet

The Confession of Golias’ is another well-known and commonly cited example of Goliardic poetry. This poem is longer than the previous example and describes hunger, drinking, living life to the fullest, feeling overwhelmed by study and learning, etc. Here are a few lines from the middle of the poem: 

Fasting, thirsting, toil the bards,

Swift years flying o’er them;

Shun the strife of open life,

Tumults of the forum;

They, to sing some deathless thing,

Lest the world ignore them,

Die the death, expend their breath,

Drowned in dull decorum.


Gaudeamus Igitur 

This is another Goliardic verse with an unknown origin/author. It is composed of short stanzas, mostly quintains, and has been translated to English. Here is the first stanza: 

Let us live, then, and be glad

   While young life’s before us!

     After youthful pastime had,

     After old age hard and sad,

   Earth will slumber o’er us.

Like the first example in this article, this poem uses its lines to speak about living life to the fullest, enjoying one’s youth, and making the most of life while one still can. Old age is when one can focus on studying and wisdom. But, for now, pleasure should be taken in all things when one is young. Here’s another interesting stanza from the poem: 

Perish cares that pule and pine!

   Perish envious blamers!

     Die the Devil, thine and mine!

     Die the starch-necked Philisitine!

   Scoffers and defamers!


FAQs 

What does goliard mean?

The term “goliard” is used today to describe minstrels, traveling singers, and performers, specifically those from the Medieval period. But, originally, the word was used to describe a particular group of young male clergy who spoke out against the Catholic Church through verse and song. 

What are the characteristics of the Goliards?

The Goliards were young, male, clergy members who wrote drinking songs and satirical Latin poetry that emphasized the contradictions they found within the Catholic Church. These poets were often the youngest sons of wealthy families who, against their will, were sent to universities in order to become members of the Church.

What is Carmina Burana?

Carmina Burana, or Songs of Bern, is a collection of 13th-century poems and songs that were composed by Goliards. It is a frequently cited source of important verses from that time period. It includes writers like the Primas of Orléans, the Archpoet, the Marner, and Marbod of Rennes. 

What are Goliard songs?

Goliard songs, or Goliardic verse, is writing that was created by students and clergyman during the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. It originated in countries like Italy, England, Spain, and more. These poems were written in Latin and were often humorous and satirical in nature. They celebrated living life to the fullest, disregarding one’s duties and responsibilities, and are often remembered for their depiction of contradictions within the Catholic Church.


Related Literary Terms 

  • Light Verse: poetry that touches on amusing, light-hearted topics. It does not deal with emotionally heavy themes or traumatic life events. 
  • Lampoon: a type of satire in which a person or thing is attacked unjustly. They can be found in prose and verse.
  • Satire/Satirical Comedy: used to analyze behaviors to make fun of, criticize, or humorously chastise them.
  • Aphorism: short, serious, humorous, and philosophical truths about life.
  • Farce: a genre of comedic literature. It uses exaggerated and outrageous situations to create humor and make the audience laugh.
  • Homily: a speech delivered by a religious person, usually a priest, in front of a group of people.
  • Carpe Diem: is used to describe a genre of poetry that seeks to “seize the day.” It inspires readers to live as well as possible.


Other Resources 

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