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.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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