This article examines three multilingual lyrics from the Middle Ages in which linguistic difference is employed as a strategy for defining the relationship between language and poetic form. Two poems by twelfth-century troubadours, “Eras quan vey,” a descort in five languages by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, and “Lo ferm voler,” a sestina by Arnaut Daniel, are read as experimental compositions that promote the function of lyric forms to provide stability to the vernacular in a fluid oral context by communicating meaning in nondiscursive ways. The influence of these works—and also thirteenth-century Occitan grammars by Raimon Vidal and Uc Faidit—may be detected in a later multilingual poem by Dante Alighieri, “Aï faus ris,” which alternates among French, Latin, and Italian according to an intricate formal structure. While previous studies have argued that this fascinating poem strives to synthesize different languages to produce a perfect poetic idiom, this article contends that “Aï faus ris” in fact performs the limitations of human language and the inevitability of linguistic difference, advocating instead for the conceptual harmony of lyric form as an aesthetic vehicle.

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