Knowing Poetry

Knowing Poetry: Verse in Medieval France from the "Rose" to the "Rhétoriqueurs"

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Knowing Poetry
    Book Description:

    In the later Middle Ages, many writers claimed that prose is superior to verse as a vehicle of knowledge because it presents the truth in an unvarnished form, without the distortions of meter and rhyme. Beginning in the thirteenth century, works of verse narrative from the early Middle Ages were recast in prose, as if prose had become the literary norm. Instead of dying out, however, verse took on new vitality. In France verse texts were produced, in both French and Occitan, with the explicit intention of transmitting encyclopedic, political, philosophical, moral, historical, and other forms of knowledge.

    In Knowing Poetry, Adrian Armstrong and Sarah Kay explore why and how verse continued to be used to transmit and shape knowledge in France. They cover the period between Jean de Meun's Roman de la rose (c. 1270) and the major work of Jean Bouchet, the last of the grands rhétoriqueurs (c. 1530). The authors find that the advent of prose led to a new relationship between poetry and knowledge in which poetry serves as a medium for serious reflection and self-reflection on subjectivity, embodiment, and time. They propose that three major works-the Roman de la rose, the Ovide moralisé, and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy-form a single influential matrix linking poetry and intellectual inquiry, metaphysical insights, and eroticized knowledge. The trio of thought-world-contingency, poetically represented by Philosophy, Nature, and Fortune, grounds poetic exploration of reality, poetry, and community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6058-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    “No rhymed story is true,” “for a history can scarcely be told in rhyme without lies being added for the sake of the rhyme.”¹ From the early thirteenth century, when prose is first pioneered as a medium for writing history in the vernacular, prose writers denigrate verse in terms like these as artificial, unreliable, and falsifying.² Rather than subjecting their material to the distortions of meter and rhyme, authors of prose texts protest, they present it in an unvarnished form. The identification of prose with factual accuracy and instructional value becomes rapidly established.³ Throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages,...

  6. Part I. Situating Knowledge

    • CHAPTER ONE Persistent Presence Verse after Prose
      (pp. 27-48)

      The purpose of the following three chapters is to examine the circumstances that enabled poetry, despite the pretensions of prose, to take on this second life as a medium of knowledge in the later Middle Ages. We do not set out to map knowledge as a content of texts, nor to analyze how verse texts shape this knowledge, since these issues are addressed in the final three chapters. Instead we seek to explain how and why knowledge and verse are associated and what this means for each of them. In part we do so by paying attention to the historical...

    • CHAPTER TWO Poetry and History
      (pp. 49-70)

      The last chapter showed that the public performance of verse which characterized the early medieval period continues throughout the later Middle Ages, and that new institutions and practices are invented that highlight the value of poetic texts as shared knowledge. In this chapter we address another determining characteristic of late medieval verse: its association with history. In the twelfth century, historiography explored various verse forms, often innovatively. Seemingly decisively severed in the early thirteenth century by promoters of prose historiography, the link between poetry and history was in fact reaffirmed in a number of ways in the later Middle Ages—...

    • CHAPTER THREE Poetry and Thought
      (pp. 71-98)

      This chapter examines the sustained association between poetry and intellectual inquiry in late medieval French writing inspired by three crucial works: the Roman de la rose in the form continued by Jean de Meun; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, especially by way of the Ovide moralisé; and Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. The multiple overlaps among these three texts and their transmission make them influential conjointly as well as individually. Large swathes of Jean’s continuation of the Rose consist of adaptations of arguments used by Boethius; Jean also mines Ovid extensively while at the same time sharing his preoccupation with love and sex.¹ The...

  7. Part II. Transmitting and Shaping Knowledge

    • CHAPTER FOUR Knowing the World in Verse Encyclopedias and Encyclopedic Verse
      (pp. 101-134)

      The previous three chapters characterize late medieval French poetry as shaped by a vigorous reactivation of oral or aural culture, by an exceptional intimacy between poetry and history, and by the impetus to reflection of the conjoined influence of the Rose, the Ovide moralisé, and the Consolation of Philosophy. They show that poetry in this period both reflects and enacts the relation to the body of language and intellection, as well as human participation in temporality and the natural process. The next three chapters are structured somewhat differently. More comprehensive in their aims, each reviews the development throughout the period...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Knowledge and the Practice of Poetry
      (pp. 135-164)

      Chapter 4 examined how poetry transmits “referential knowledge” as defined in our introduction: knowledge of the domains that underpin our grasp of the cosmos, such as theology, history, and nature. Yet poetry is also an object of knowledge in ways more specific to itself, and it is on these that this chapter focuses. Our concern is to show the reflexivity of verse, its simultaneous role as both a means to knowledge and an object of knowledge. We begin by considering the properties of poems that poets claim to be praiseworthy. Our discussion then turns to intertextual allusion, which reveals the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Textual Communities: Poetry and the Social Construction of Knowledge
      (pp. 165-196)

      In our introduction we described “ideological knowledge” as embracing political, social, and religious assumptions. A deliberately broad notion, it enables us to address a wider range of poetic texts than terms such as “didactic” or “ethical” would permit. Crucially, “ideological knowledge” is not confined to explicit moralizing discourses; it also embraces what is not said, indeed what cannot be formulated. These different forms of knowledge coexist uneasily, as the Breviari d’amor tellingly illustrates. Matfre presents both explicit and implicit forms of ideological knowledge: the former concerns religious doctrine, in which sexual love assumes an unfamiliar place in a divinely ordered...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 197-208)

    This book records a collective investigation into the role of poetry in transmitting and shaping knowledge in France from about 1270 to approximately 1530. Our aim throughout has been to highlight the distinction between prose and verse, often overlooked by scholars, and to show how, contrary to expectation, verse not only continues—despite the rise of prose—to have a positive association with knowledge, but also develops—in the face of prose—new and privileged means of engaging with it.

    Our core conclusions are these. Many forms of knowledge—historical, philosophical, referential, poetic, ideological—are transmitted in works that are...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-238)
  10. Index
    (pp. 239-250)