Medieval Love Poetry was greatly influenced by the Troubadours

Guillaume de Machaut (around 1300 – 1377), wrote great medieval love poetry. He was a French poet and composer of the late Medieval era. Widely regarded as the most renowned composer of the 14th century due to his wide range of style, form, as well as enormous output; Machaut was especially influential in the development of motets and secular song (particularly the formes fixes, the lai, virelai and ballade), and he also wrote the earliest complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass which can be attributed to a single composer.

Machaut was probably born and educated in the region around Rheims (his surname most likely derives from his birthplace, the town of Machault, 30 km to the east of Rheims in the Ardennes region). He was employed as secretary to John, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, from 1323 to 1346; in addition he became a priest sometime during this period. Most likely he accompanied King John on his various trips, many of them military expeditions, around Europe (including Prague).

He was named as the canon of Verdun in 1330, Arras in 1332 and Rheims in 1333. By 1340 Machaut was living in Rheims, having relinquished his other canonic posts at the request of Pope Benedict XII. In 1346, King John was killed fighting at the Battle of Crécy, and Machaut, who was famous and much in demand, entered the service of various other aristocrats and rulers including King John's daughter Bonne, Charles II of Navarre, Jean de Berry, and Charles, Duke of Normandy, who would become King Charles V in 1364.

Machaut survived the Black Death which devastated Europe, and spent his later years living in Rheims composing and recopying his manuscripts. His poem Le Voir Dit (probably 1361-1365) is said by some to recount an autobiographical late love affair with a 19-year-old girl, Péronne d'Armentières, although this is contested. When he died in 1377, other composers such as François Andrieu wrote elegies lamenting his death.

Guillaume de Machaut's lyric output and medieval love poetry comprises around 400 poems, including 235 ballades, 76 rondeaux, 39 virelais, 24 lais, 10 complaintes, and 7 chansons royales, and Machaut did much to perfect and codify these fixed forms. Much of his lyric output is inserted in his narrative poems or "dits", such as:

Le Remède de Fortune (The Cure of ill Fortune) and Le Voir Dit (A True Story).

Many of Machaut's medieval love poetry are without music, and for him, writing the poem always preceded (and had greater importance than) composing the music. Other than his Latin motets of a religious nature and some poems invoking the horrors of war and captivity, the vast majority of Machaut's lyric poems partake of the conventions of courtly love and involve statements of service to a lady and the poet's pleasure and pains. In technical terms, Machaut was a master of elaborate rhyme schemes, and this concern makes him a precursor to the Grands Rhétoriqueurs of the 15th century.

Machaut's medieval love poetry had a direct effect on the works of Eustache Deschamps, Jean Froissart, Christine de Pisan, René I of Naples and Geoffrey Chaucer, among many others.

Here is a brief summary of some of his principal works that made him a famous exponent of the courtly love style in medieval love poetry:

1. Le Remède de Fortune (The Cure of ill Fortune) (c.1341) - The narrator of this medieval love poetry is asked by his lady if the poem she has found is by him; the narrator flees from her and comes to a garden where "Hope" consoles him and teaches him how to be a good lover; he returns to his lady.

2. Jugement du roy de Behainge (Judgement of the King of Bohemia) (before 1342) - In this medieval love poetry, the narrator hears a debate between a lady (whose lover is dead) and a knight (betrayed by his lady); in order to proclaim one or the other the most unhappy, the narrator seeks out the advice of the King of Bohemia who consults allegories, and the unhapy knight is declared the winner.

3. Dit du Lyon (Story of the Lion) (1342) - The narrator in this medieval love poetry comes to a magical island and a lion guides him to a beautiful lady; an old knight comes to the narrator and reveals the meaning of what he sees and gives him advice for being a better lover.

4. Dit de l'Alérion aka Dit des Quatre Oiseaux (Story of the 4 Birds) (before 1349) - This medieval love poetry is a symbolic tale of love: the narrator raises four different birds, but each one flees him; one day the first (and preferred) bird comes back to him.

5. Dit de la Fontaine amoureuse aka Livre de Morpheus (Story of the Amorous Fountain) (1361) - In this medieval love poetry tale, the narrator meets a hopeless lover who must separate from his lady; the two men come to a magical fountain and fall asleep, and in a dream the lady consoles her lover.

6. Le Voir Dit (A True Story) (1364) - Machaut's masterpiece of medieval love poetry. This poem (sometimes seen as autobiographical) tells of the sadness and separation of the lover from his lady and of the false rumors that are spread about him. The narrative is stuffed with prose letters and lyric poems exchanged by the unhappy lovers.

7. Prologue - written at the end of his life (and intended as a preface to his collected works), this allegory describes Machaut's principles of medieval love poetry, music and rhetoric.

de Machaut 2

Dante 1

Petrarch 1

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