Poetry and Lyrics in Middle Ages


Medieval lyrics and poetry gives room for various interpretations and standpoints, thus, we cannot claim that our approach is the most objective. In this paper, we have tried to base the argument mostly on the impressions, which these works produce, because perception of art is always subjective and there should be no authority, guiding the reasoning and feelings of the reader. On the whole, courtly love and chivalry appear to be an inherent part of the then literature.

However, we may state that there are certain differences especially if we are speaking about male and female writers. In order to find these distinguishing features, we may analyze the poems by such famous authors as Dante Alighieri, Christine de Pizan, Marie de France, and Charles D’Orleans. In this essay, it is necessary for us to show how the medieval idea of love has evolved over so many centuries, and whether it is similar or different from modern views.


At the moment, we may refer to the collections of sonnets La Vita Nuova or The New Life by Dante Alighieri. It should be pointed out throughout his life Dante had always been deeply in love with a girl Beatrice, whom he met only several times but she became a symbol of virtue and perfection for him. The first thing, which immediately attracts our attention, is that Dante regards his beloved as some saintly creature, having nothing to do with mundane world.

He does not describe this person like some fair lady or princess, yet, we may say that his love to Beatrice produces an impression of worshipping and idolization. He emphasizes spiritual side of love as though comparing Beatrice to a beautiful, immaterial and immortal spirit. His sonnets make us think or even believe that this person is a heavenly being and probably, this is one of the reasons why Dantes sonnets have always been a source of inspiration for other authors. Apart from that, it can be observed he is somewhat reluctant to describe the physical appearance of Beatrice. Naturally, there can be various conjectures as to this question, but perhaps, Dante wants her to stay alive only in his memory. Besides, maybe, he wants other people to create their own ideal of beauty.

To some extent, we may draw parallels between him and Charles D’Orleans. In his ballades, the French poet also portrays his fair lady as some flower that must not be touched under any circumstances or it will perish. He also avoids describing actual appearance of the woman, whom he adores. Occasionally, it seems that for him she is some sacred treasure not to be seen by anyone else.

Nonetheless, we should take it into consideration that DOrleans concept of fair lady is somewhat different from that of Dantes. On the one hand, Italian poet is contented with only contemplation of his fair angel, while DOrleans beloved woman is not only some immaterial being. Certainly, as a knight, he is ready to commit many noble deeds in her honor, yet his verses suggest that the poet expects some reward, and this is the major difference between him and Dante.

Now, it is of the crucial importance for us to discuss the lyrics of female authors, such Marie de France and her tale Nightingale. It can be observed that her portrayal of romance is not analogous to those of male poets. Her characters enjoy not only spiritual image of the beloved person. Off course, it is impermissible for us to argue that Marie de France reduces love to mere sexuality, such statement would hardly be grounded, but her heroine committs adultery and this indicates that her idea of love comprises both spiritual and physical dimensions.

Although, Marie de France is a representative of medieval literature, the poetess is very realistic and truthful, when she describes the relations between both sexes and the problems which they have to surmount. From my viewpoint, this dedication to truth brings her works in the forefront of medieval romance literature. In her turn, Christine de Pizan compares love to some eternal passion, anguish or even torment that will never leave her heart at peace. We cannot say with certainty whether this poem is autobiographical or not but the author appears to be a martyr who has to suffer until her dying days, although her lover perished. Again, we should point out that he sets stress on spiritual but on psychical love.


It is rather difficult to compare medieval notions of love with modern ones because this matter is highly individual and we should not make generalizations. In the overwhelming majority of cases, modern ideas of love and its major components do not bear much resemblance to the views of Dante, or de Pizan, because for us only spirituality is clearly insufficient. At present, mere contemplation of the beloved person does not make us fully satisfied. Of course, there are some examples, which contradict this point, but they are very few. The image of an angel or spirit no longer dominates our consciousness.

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