Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Reading the Lies of Poets: The Literal and the Allegorical in Machaut's Fonteinne Amoureuse

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Reading the Lies of Poets: The Literal and the Allegorical in Machaut's Fonteinne Amoureuse

Article excerpt

   Li poete qui jadis furent,
   Qui eulz et le siecle decurent,
   Dieu le creatour mescrioient
   Et les creatures crioient,
   Se fesoient au pueple acroire
   Tel fiction qui pas n'ert voire. (1)

(Ovide Moralise)

Much critical attention in the past quarter-century has focused on Guillaume de Machaut's expansion and redefinition of vernacular authorship, as reflected both in the thematization of poetic composition and authorial identity in his corpus of dits amoureux, and in the production of codices devoted to the orderly presentation of his collected works. (2) Machaut, in fact, was apparently the first vernacular French poet to receive the designation "poete." (3) The term is used by Eustache Deschamps in his ballade on the refrain "Queje soie vostre loyal ami" [That I might be your loyal friend], in which he offers his services to "Dame Peronne," the heroine of Machaut's Voir Dit, after the great poet's death in 1377. (4) Deschamps applies two terms to his illustrious predecessor in this ballade, identifying Machaut as "Noble poete et faiseur renomme" [noble poet and renowned versifier] (v. 3). As both Ardis Butterfield and Deborah McGrady have observed, Deschamps' use of the terms "poete" and "faiseur" allows him to distinguish complementary aspects of Machaut's literary output. (5) And in so doing, Deschamps alludes not only to different facets of Machaut's authorial identity, but also to different modes of reading that his diverse oeuvre calls for.

In the late fourteenth century, a poete is someone who, like the Latin auctores, uses mythological or allegorical fictions in a systematic way to express hidden meanings, while a faiseur is someone who creates verses that might be very beautiful and very intricate, but do not have the same hermeneutic complexity or intellectual richness. (6) Deschamps himself uses the word "poeterie" in this sense in his ballade on the refrain "Grant translateur, noble Geoffrey Chaucer" [Great translator, noble Geoffrey Chaucer], thought to have been written c. 1377-80, in which he addresses the English poet as "Ovides grans en ta poeterie" [Ovid, great in your poetry]. (7) And in yet another ballade, in which he laments the loss of a book containing his own verses, Deschamps places himself in a group including Ovid, Socrates, Seneca, Virgil, and Orpheus, applying the terms "poeterie" and "rhetorique" to their shared labors. (8) In the Art de dictier, however, he refers to the composers of forme fixe lyric as "faiseurs." (9) If Deschamps claimed "poeterie" as his own domaine, it was almost certainly because of the Miroir de mariage, a masterful orchestration of different forms of allegory and exegesis, and perhaps also because of the "poetic" content of certain ballades dealing with mythological themes. (10) As for Machaut, his many lyric compositions would qualify him as "faiseur renomme," but it can only be his use of mythological fictions and his elaborate reworkings of courtly allegory--his masterful exploitation of a literary tradition whose crowning achievements include the Ovide Moralise and the Roman de la Rose--that earned him the epithet "poete." Machaut's narrative dits--not merely verse, but "poetrie"--required the same kinds of close and careful reading that would be afforded to texts like the Rose and the Metamorphoses.

Jean Froissart, in his Prison amoureuse written four or five years before Machaut's death, portrays himself as supplying his patron with both lyric poetry and a "petit dittie amoureus" [little love poem] composed, "par figure" [in figurative language], on the model of Ovidian mythology. And whereas the lyrics are received as ornamental pieces for private or public entertainment, it is the mythological tale--specifically, "la grant poetrie qui dedens est contenue" [the great poetry contained in it]--that requires "exposition" in order to clarify the tale's didactic message, its commentary on the joys, trials, and dangers of love. …

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