High Medieval Poetry

Read two books on holiday in Spain (well actually I am still struggling through the second):
1. Strong of Body, Brave and Noble: Chivalry and Society in Medieval France
by Constance Brittain Bouchard (Paperback)

2. Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200 – Hardcover (Apr. 15, 2010) by Amy Livingstone

Both are about the High Medieval (11th-12th century) period in France. The first is great: it reads like a ripping yarn and is full of quotes from the romantic poets of the time and the author’s witty and wry take on male/female relationships at the time. She takes the view (which I agree with) that although women were probably highly repressed at the time they still managed to find ways to express themselves and cope with the world leaving their sanity in tact. Of course I am not an expert about the period but her examples seem to validate her ideas.

The second book I have more problems with. ALthough Amy Livingstone is great on details and facts (she had a tricky period to quote from because the only sources for her ideas in the 11th and 12th century were basically Charters and Chronicles) but she seems to be of the opinion that it was the end of a golden age for women and that women still had a lot of power and were men’s equals. While the evidence suggests this was true in some cases (there are examples in her book of women who were Lords and of course there are Countesses who ruled in their husbands stead while they went to the crusades)I find it hard to believe this was the experience of most women. In fact I am quite sure it was a very brutal period. The evidence I have come across points to torture and death being common. While some families no doubt were very affectionate and loving, I am quite sure that many men who reached positions of power were very brutal men and would not have been that kind to their wives. I think her view is quite naive and I will give one example: she talks of one woman who married and then was asked (by her husband?) to donate her Dowry to a Monastery. Now of course that was quite common then as the nobles conducted a gift-economy whereby they gave generously, hoping for (and probably expecting) something in return but not explicitly asking for it. Anyway she refused and apparently a few years later she repented of her sins and agreed that she had been wrong and so she then donated her dowry. While it is possible she did all this freely, it is also possible (and more likely in my opinion) that her husband put pressure on her to change her mind. The author goes with the first scenario.

Also I am starting to try and write a poem. It may be the only thing I write between now and Christmas as I am finding it quite a challenge. I have always found poetry hard – the words seem to elude me like a slippery, writhing serpent.

Anyway it is in the idiom of High Medieval Romantic poetry (Cretien de Troyes and Marie de France are examples of authors of such poetry) and is a variation on the iambic pentameter: its verse construction ( line length in sylables) is 5,4,5,4,5,4,9.

I think this is quite romantic because the last line of nine syllables is like the joining together of the 5 and 4 length lines which could represent the man and woman. I have only completed a draft of one verse so far.

Here is an example in the original old French of a poem by Marie de France:

Les Deus Amanz (The Two Lovers) by Marie de France XIIe siècle

2 thoughts on “High Medieval Poetry

  1. Are you familiar with the song, 'The Girl with April in her eyes,' by Chris De Burgh? – Its done in the style of a travelling minstrel – It's an old favourite of mine – Very sad and beautiful.


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