O Fortuna from the Carmina Burana collection (contributed by Mark Walker)

The various and mostly anonymous authors responsible for the collection of poems now known as the Carmina Burana were a motley assortment of disaffected monks, students and clerici vagrantes (‘wandering clergy’), often referred to collectively as ‘Goliards’, an obscure catch-all term for these writers of satirical and/or profane songs about love, sex, drinking, gambling and other vagaries of Fortune. The manuscript, once housed in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern, was first published in 1847 under the title Carmina Burana (‘Songs from Benediktbeuern’). In 1937, German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) made a selection of the pieces set to new music. Orff’s opening lyric, O Fortuna – an invocation to fickle Fate – is the work’s signature piece, and has been used widely in films and TV.

Mark Walker

O Fortuna,

velut luna

statu variabilis,

semper crescis

aut decrescis;

vita detestabilis

nunc obdurat

et tunc curat

ludo mentis aciem,



dissolvit ut glaciem.


Sors immanis

et inanis,

rota tu volubilis,

status malus,

vana salus

semper dissolubilis,


et velata

michi quoque niteris;

nunc per ludum

dorsum nudum

fero tui sceleris.


Sors salutis

et virtutis

michi nunc contraria,

est affectus

et defectus

semper in angaria.

Hac in hora

sine mora

corde pulsum tangite;

quod per sortem

sternit fortem,

mecum omnes plangite!


O Fortune,                     

just like the moon                      

variable in state,             

always waxing              

or waning;                 

detestable life 

now hardens           

and then softens       

the mind’s understanding as a joke;        

it melts poverty,                     


as [the sun melts] ice.      


O monstrous Fate                

and empty,                       

you are a whirling wheel,            

an evil condition,                 

a vain safety                     

always dissolving,      


and veiled 

you will also assail me

now through the game

of your villainy

I bear my naked back.


Fate of safety

and virtue

opposed to me;

always in servitude

there is affection

and its absence.

In this hour

without delay

touch the beat in my heart;

because through Fate

Fortune has overthrown the strong

all mourn with me now.



Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (www.pineapplepubs.co.uk).


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