Knowing Poetry

Knowing Poetry : Verse in Medieval France from the "Rose" to the "Rhetoriqueurs"

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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 rhetoriqueurs (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 moralise, 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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 156 x 238 x 30mm | 521.63g
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 0801449731
  • 9780801449734
  • 1,845,097

Table of contents


Part I. Situating Knowledge

1. Persistent Presence: Verse after Prose

2. Poetry and History

3. Poetry and Thought

Part II. Transmitting and Shaping Knowledge

4. Knowing the World in Verse Encyclopedias and Encyclopedic Verse

5. Knowledge and the Practice of Poetry

6. Textual Communities: Poetry and the Social Construction of Knowledge



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Review quote

"In the process of exploring the various institutions and contexts in which verse is produced from the late thirteenth century onward, Knowing Poetry makes a fresh and compelling case for the study of late medieval French. In a book that can function as a literary history of French poetry in this period, Adrian Armstrong and Sarah Kay offer a rich, complex examination of the textual traditions of late medieval verse."-Marilynn Desmond, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Binghamton University, author of Ovid's Art and the Wife of Bath "Does verse convey a different kind of knowledge than prose in the later Middle Ages? Yes and no, according to the authors of this erudite and entertaining book. Verse can convey knowledge as profound as does prose, but it does so differently: verse links the quest for knowledge to orality, performance, and personifications and thus invites its readers to engage in a different kind of epistemology: 'verse's ways of knowing.'"-Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, University of Pittsburgh
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About Sarah Kay

Adrian Armstrong is Professor of Early French Culture at The University of Manchester, the author of Technique and Technology: Script, Print, and Poetics in France 1470-1550, and the editor of several late medieval texts including Vol. 1 of the xuvres completes of Jean Bouchet. Sarah Kay is Professor of French at Princeton University, the author of several monographs on medieval French literature, including Courtly Contradictions and The Place of Thought, coauthor of A Short History of French Literature and Thinking Through Chretien de Troyes, and coeditor of various volumes, most recently The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature.
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