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In Trutina

This is my favourite song—In Trutina, from Orff’s Carmina Burana (1937). It has been my favourite song since I was a child and heard it as the introduction for the BBC documentary series Timewatch—suitably intercut with a sequence that showed a First World War soldier shot dead and then had his personal photographs of his family melt into a contemporary family from the then on-going Balkans war; perhaps with a blood blossom on the side.

In Trutina means “the balance” and its lyrics run:

In trutina mentis dubia

fluctuant contraria

lascivus amor et pudicitia.

Sed eligo quod video,

collum iugo prebeo:

ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

In the wavering balance of my feelings

Set against each other

Lascivious love and modesty

But I choose what I see

And submit my neck to the yoke;

I yield to the sweet yoke.

The song is about a woman who is undecided as to whether she should enter a nunnery or get married. Carmina Burana itself means “Bavarian songs” and the lyrics are derived from poetry discovered in a Benedictine monastery, although the poems themselves were mostly written by academics and students.

In the next song, the singer has apparently chosen love—Tempus est iocundum. She sings staccato “totus floreo, iam amore virginali” (I am bursting forth with first love); it is commonly assumed that this means she chose to marry—yet that is far from clear, since she could have as well chosen “the yoke” (yoga, literally) in the spiritual sense; and now, as a nun, her “first love” bursts forth for the divine. We do not really know because the song is a mystery and it is held in the balance between passionate love and divine love.

It is the song that I would like played at my funeral. It is about the Tao, the balance—it is where the carnal and the spiritual meet, so that you cannot tell if it is about a caress from a lover or from Christ.


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