Marie de France

medieval poet

Marie de France was a medieval poet who was probably born in France and lived in England during the late 12th century, most famous as the author of the earliest surviving Breton lais. Her poems were written in Old French.

Anyone who intends to present a new story must approach the problem in a new way and speak so persuasively that the tale brings pleasure to people.


  • Si est del riche orguillus:
    Ja del povre n'avra merci
    Pur sa pleinte ne pur sun cri;
    Mes se cil s'en peüst vengier,
    Dunc le verreit l'um suzpleier.
    • It is likewise with the proud, rich man: he will never have mercy on the poor man because of his hue or his cry, but if the poor man could wreak vengeance on him, then you would see the rich man bow.
    • Fables, no. 10, "The Fox and the Eagle", line 18; cited from Mary Lou Martin (trans.) The Fables of Marie de France (Birmingham, Alabama: Summa, 1984) pp. 54-6. Translation from the same source, p. 55.

Quotations in Old French are cited from Marie de France (ed. Alfred Ewart) Lais (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1960); English quotations from Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (trans.) The Lais of Marie de France (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), to which page numbers also refer.

  • Mes ki ne mustre s'enferté
    A peine en peot aver santé:
    Amur est plaie dedenz cors,
    E si ne piert nïent defors.
    Ceo est un mal que lunges tient,
    Pur ceo que de nature vient.
    • But he who does not let his infirmity be known can scarcely expect to receive a cure. Love is an invisible wound within the body, and, since it has its source in nature, it is a long-lasting ill.
    • "Guigemar", line 481; p. 49.
  • Amur n'est pruz se n'est egals.
    • Love is not honourable, unless it is based on equality.
    • "Equitan", line 137; p. 58.
  • Ki divers cunte veut traitier,
    Diversement deit comencier
    E parler si rainablement
    K'il seit pleisibles a la gent.
    • Anyone who intends to present a new story must approach the problem in a new way and speak so persuasively that the tale brings pleasure to people.
    • "Milun", line 1; p. 97.
  • Tutes les dames de une tere
    Vendreit il meuz d'amer requere
    Quë un fol de sun pan tolir;
    Kar cil volt an eire ferir.
    • It would be less dangerous for a man to court every lady in an entire land than for a lady to remove a single besotted lover from her skirts, for he will immediately attempt to strike back.
    • "Chaitivel", line 19; p. 105.
  • D'euls deus fu il tut autresi
    Cume del chevrefoil esteit
    Ki a la codre se perneit:
    Quant il s'i est laciez e pris
    Ensemble poënt bien durer;
    Mes ki puis les volt deservrer,
    Li codres muert hastivement
    E li chevrefoil ensement.
    "Bele amie, si est de nus:
    Ne vus sanz mei, ne mei sanz vus!"
    • The two of them resembled the honeysuckle which clings to the hazel branch: when it has wound itself round and attached itself to the hazel, the two can survive together: but if anyone should then attempt to separate them, the hazel quickly dies, as does the honeysuckle. "Sweet love, so it is with us: without me you cannot survive, nor I without you."
    • "Chevrefoil", line 74; p. 110.



"Graelent" is an anonymous Breton lai, sometimes published alongside those of Marie de France. English quotations are cited from the much-quoted but highly inaccurate translation by Eugene Mason, Lays of Marie de France and Other French Legends (London: Everyman's Library, [1911] 1964), to which page-numbers also refer.

  • Tel cinc cent parolent d'amur,
    N'en sevent pas le pior tur,
    Ne que est loiax druerie.
    • Out of five hundred who speak glibly of love, not one can spell the first letter of his name.
    • "Graelent", line 77; p. 149.
  • Se l'uns des amans est loiax,
    E li autre est jalox è faus,
    Si est amors entr'ex fausée,
    Ne puet avoir lunge durée.
    Amors n'a soing de compagnun,
    Boin amors n'est se de Dex nun,
    De cors en cors, de cuer en cuer,
    Autrement n'est prex à nul fuer.
    Tulles qui parla d'amistié,
    Dist assés bien en son ditié,
    Que vent amis, ce veut l'amie
    Dunt est boine la compaignie,
    S'ele le veut è il l'otreit.
    Dunt la druerie est à dreit,
    Puisque li uns l'autre desdit,
    N'i a d'amors fors c'un despit;
    Assés puet-um amors trover,
    Mais sens estuet al' bien garder,
    Douçour è francise è mesure.
    • If one of two lovers is loyal, and the other jealous and false, how may their friendship last, for Love is slain! But sweetly and discreetly love passes from person to person, from heart to heart, or it is nothing worth. For what the lover would, that would the beloved; what she would ask of him that should he go before to grant. Without accord such as this, love is but a bond and a constraint. For above all things Love means sweetness, and truth, and measure.
    • "Graelent", line 85; pp. 149-50.
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