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In high school, I sang in a pretty high-powered choral program.  At the end of my sophomore year, the entire choral department put together Carl Orff’s magnificent Carmina Burana, a flamboyant setting of a series of Latin and German poems written centuries earlier by (apparently) a group of monks who were, uh, not very monastic. In the standard conception.

The poems are collectively categorized as “cantiones profanae,” which probably should be translated as “secular” but they are frequently a little on the profane side.  They glorify drinking, gambling, and the pleasures of the flesh.  Furthermore, the fabulously successful marriage of medieval poetry with 20th-century music lends the work a drama and exuberance that truly does justice to the texts.

One of my favorites is very short, and is seen as the inner turmoil of a young woman trying to decide between a secular life and joining a convent.  “In Trutina” is less bombastic than many of the other movements – sweet, and almost romantic, it makes the heart ache for the girl’s struggle to choose.  And it ends without a clear indication of which way she has decided to go – she says she chooses what is before her, and takes on the “sweet yoke.”  Given the nature of Carmina Burana as a whole, it is easy to read this as succumbing to physical desire, but the nature of medieval spirituality, especially for women with the rise of the cult of Mary and the feminization of the divine, means that it could as easily mean a spiritual marriage to her faith.

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.

A lovely audio version: