The Carmina Burana (“Songs of Beuren”) is unquestionably the most famous collection of medieval poetry in the modern imagination, in no small part because of the industry of the composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), who in 1937 put twenty-four of these poems to music for chorus and orchestra. His arrangements have subsequently enjoyed immense success in concert halls, television commercials, and film soundtracks. Given the enduring popularity of Orff’s compositions, it is surprising that the enterprise of translating the entire manuscript of the Carmina Burana into English has proven elusive until very recently. Many scholars have translated excerpts from the collection in anthologies of medieval verse over the past hundred and thirty years, but never the Songs of Beuren as a whole. David A. Traill’s prose and verse translation of the entire corpus of the Carmina Burana is thus reason to celebrate. In these two handsome volumes, he presents the text of over two hundred and fifty poems (most of them in Latin with a handful of Middle High German and a smattering of French) with lucid facing-page translations, making available for the first time the complete contents of the largest anthology of poetry to survive from the Middle Ages.
Scott G. Bruce
The Medieval Review