Marie De France: Poetry

By Cochis, Simonetta | Arthuriana, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Marie De France: Poetry


Cochis, Simonetta, Arthuriana


DOROTHY gilbert, ed and trans., Marie de France: Poetry. Norton Critical Editions. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2015. Pp. xv, 407. isbn: 978-0-393-93268-3. $17.50.

With her edition and translation of Marie de France's poetic works, Dorothy Gilbert takes her place amongst the poets who give new form to stories, like those who Marie mentions in the Prologue of her Lais, 'who told them, made them known, / wished, for remembrance, to record / adventures, stories, they had heard' (ll. 36-8). As Marie herself likely knew, translation is a thankless task: literal renditions fall flat, unbridled poetic élan rings false. Gilbert's verse translations, however, strike a subtle balance between faithfulness to the original and readable, performable verses that resonate with nuanced rhythm, sound, and sense.

Bringing to life the works of a twelfth-century woman writer for students and the general public requires not just relaying the author's words but also highlighting the timeless themes that engage today's readers. To achieve this, Gilbert chooses texts that align well with themes such as gender, love, loyalty, morality, the supernatural, and the afterlife. Keeping with Norton Critical Edition characteristics, Gilbert's Marie de France: Poetry offers a robust selection of Marie's works: all twelve of her Lais (two of which, Bisclavret and Yonec, include the Old French text on facing pages), a quarter of the Fables, and almost three quarters of St Patrick's Purgatory. The Lije of St Audrey, likely a fourth work by Marie de France, is still being debated and thus is not included. In addition, several other included texts provide background and context: from tales of werewolves by Ovid and Petronius, Chestre's and Chaucer's stories of fairy lovers, and Boccaccio's Griselda legend, to Ovid's and Capellanus' reflections on love, multiple sources of fables, and visions of purgatory and the afterlife by Bede and H. of Saltrey, among others. The edition's small assortment of critical works, moreover, evoke, rather than reflect, the copious scholarly commentary on Marie de France through the ages. For example, nineteenth-century philologist Joseph Bédier's uncharitable disparagement of Marie's talent serves as a counterpoint to Howard Bloch's contemporary, suggestive meditation on this quasi-anonymous woman writer's portrait emerging from her works. E.A. Francis' 1939 article on the trial in Lanval, Jill Mann's analysis of Marie's Fables, and historian Jacques LeGoff's discussion of purgatory all serve to complement the themes found in Gilbert's selection of texts and contexts. …

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