September 7, 2014
SUNDAY FROM MY DESK
I received as a gift Une Anthologie de la Poesie Francaise to keep me company on my long travels. Edited by Jean Francois Revel – a philosopher, journalist, teacher, and someone passionately committed to his ideas – I have for many years loved his quote, “Friendship has always occupied a central part in my life.” And for me also, my friendships are precious. So I have always wanted to know more about him. Reading his choices about love and loss, passion and distress opens him a bit more. His belief that each individual destiny, as well as the destiny of mankind, depends upon the accuracy of the information we have, and how we use it, is especially true today as the world is filled with what Revel called Useless Knowledge.
This anthology of French poetry is a jewel. Here my favorite poets.
A great supporter of classical liberal values such as liberty and democracy in Paris when the fashion in intellectual circles was communism, he stopped teaching in 1963 but continued to publish including this book in 1970 – a foretaste to the global revolution that America has led since then to support us all in democracy.
Only one of three women in an anthology of French poems, and over 100 years since she wrote, she was also an actress and singer, and was finely trained to express her emotions. With titles like, Winter, Before You, and Believe Me, they still can touch.
Lost to most of us, with only six poems written and only one published during her life, her effort to join her “intimations of immortality” with love ended with her early death of tuberculosis. She was a great love of Paul Valery, and it was not until her journals were published in 1987 did anyone know how complicated her love affair with Valery was. The journals of course are now considered an important part of her works.
Writing 450 years ago, Labe is considered the first French Poetess. Collections of sonnets are more rhythmic and lyrical because of their age and simply beautiful to read out loud. A controversial figure, she had an education in Latin and Italian and she was urging women to write but many poets wrote about her, odes and praise poems and one of her works is said to have inspired one of the fables of La Fontaine.
Born in France but lived also in Ferrara, Italy, where he died in Turin. Considered one of the greatest of the Renaissance poets, Marot was part of the court of Marguerite of Navarre, sister of Francis, King of France, and wrote chansons, poems,
and psalms for the court.
Considered one of the greatest courtly poets of France, Charles was held for 25 years in England where he wrote poetry that was also very much admired; melancholy works also about his captivity. And love – he married three times.
The best known French poet of the late Middle Ages and very famous for his collection of poems “The Testament”, an autobiography written at the age of thirty. He spent many years in prisons and cloisters , often imprisoned for theft , street quarrels, and burglery. His work is mostly about his own life: poverty, troubles, trials.
Called the Prince of Poets in the 16th century, was from the beginning of his career supported and adored by the royal houses of Europe and several Kings of France in turn. He is probably best known for “To His Young Mistress” and “Roses”. And of course the beautiful pink rose named to honor his poem “Ode à Cassandre”.