11 Extraordinary Medieval Poets You Should Know

The Medieval Era, which spanned from 500 to 1500 AD, had a profound effect on European culture. One of the most notable aspects of this period is its poetry. The poets that came out of this era were so memorable and influential that they are still studied today in classrooms worldwide.

One of the most significant changes during this period was how poetry changed from oral tradition to a written one. Poets were no longer only reciting their work but also writing it down on paper, which allowed them to explore more complex themes and ideas than ever before!

 In this article, we explore some of the most memorable poets of medieval times and learn about their origin, impact and legacy they left behind.

11 Extraordinary Medieval Poets You Should Know

Table of Contents

Geoffry Chaucer
Geoffry Chaucer

Geoffry Chaucer

Geoffry Chaucer is a well-known figure in Medieval literature. He is often considered the father of English poetry and was one of the first authors to write in Middle English vernacular.

He also wrote The Canterbury Tales, which many scholars believe to be the first collection of short stories that included tragedy and comedy. In this work, he blends elements from medieval folklore with Christian themes and morality tales for his audience’s enjoyment while teaching them about their sinfulness.

This style became popular among other poets because it helped them write more captivating poetry without using complicated language or rhyme schemes.

As a young man, he fought during the Hundred Years War for England against France. Later on, he served as a diplomat to several kings before retiring to become a full-time writer, poet and philosopher.

Chaucer had an exciting life story: he was born into a wealthy family and received an excellent education but joined the military during The Hundred Years’ War against France. After being captured at war, he spent time as a prisoner before returning to England when hostilities ended.

His legacy continues today through his influence on Medieval poets – many of which are studied in school classrooms across America, including William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Marie de France
Marie de France

Marie de France

Marie de France, also known as Marie the Wise or The Lady from France, was an author of medieval literature. She wrote in the 12th century and is said to have lived to be 102 years old!

Marie was a noblewoman who travelled around Europe during her days. She most likely used her travels for inspiration because many of her stories are about different places and things she would have seen on these trips. 

She often told stories that were biblical but set in a more realistic Medieval world instead of heaven like they usually were at that time. Some people believe it could have been because she wanted women to feel included when they read her stories, which at this time were only accessible to men.

Her most famous work is a series of twelve stories called Lais, written to reflect different parts of Medieval life. One story tells the tale of Guigemar, who falls in love with an Irish princess and has to make some tough decisions when he returns home from battle!

Marie also explored the idea of what could happen if things went wrong between a woman and her husband. She was not afraid to explore different outcomes that would be considered socially unacceptable for this time, such as abandonment or divorce.

In one poem titled Lanval (a knight turned into a bird), the narrator finds out that his beloved stole his magic ring and sold it for profit. He is distraught, and the story ends with Lanval telling his lady he will never see her again- like a bird, that is!

Marie de France’s stories are often complicated, so she may not be for everyone. But if you’re interested in Medieval culture or the French language, then this might be just the thing for you!

Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri is an Italian poet and philosopher who wrote the famous poem, Divine Comedy. Dante’s work has profoundly affected Western literature for centuries, influencing medieval poetry in many ways, such as how they used rhyme schemes and imagery.

His writing focused on love and told a story about how he went through hell to find his true love. He wrote this poem because he wanted people to see how difficult it is for someone who has lost their true love and how they need help from God to move forward with their life.

The Divine Comedy is written in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso- which corresponds roughly to Hell, Purgatory (afterlife), and Heaven. Dante’s goal for this piece was to entertain readers and provide moral instruction from what he saw during his journey through these concepts respectively.

This story has been retold many times because Dante left an everlasting mark on Western literature with this work. Dante’s work is in a category of its own because Dante was the first author to speak about someone who went through Hell- and how they were able to find their way back.

Dante Alighieri had a big part in shaping Medieval poetry, which we still see today, along with more authors like Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan was born in 1364, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and his wife. Christine’s father died when she was just seven years old, and her mother remarried soon after, but not before educating her daughter in reading, writing, grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Since childhood,  Christine showed an interest in books (especially romances) which led to her writing over one hundred stories. She wrote about love between humans as well as other topics such as war and chivalry.

She also influenced the way people’s view on woman during this time- that they could be educated or skilled at something like poetry because she did so herself.

Christine also wrote a polemic against Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Roman d’Alexandre, since she felt that Christine had not been given credit for her work, which he copied from her and called his invention.

When Christine was in her thirties, the Black Death wiped out whole villages, so she retreated to an Abbey where she spent much of her time writing until her death at age 43 or 44. She is one of only three female poets born during this period whose works still exist today.

At times Christine could be outspoken about women’s rights – believing they should have equal legal status as men. She also had a strong belief in education for all people, not just the wealthy or aristocracy.

In her writing,  Christine challenged Jean’s notion that women should be silent and submissive to men by showing examples of powerful female rulers such as Semiramis from Assyria who conquered Babylon (now Iraq) and ruled with an iron fist alongside her husband, Cushan Ninar. 

She also spoke out against marriage and blamed it for many of society’s problems – including the war between nations, oppression of the lower classes and unfaithfulness amongst spouses.

Jean de Meun

Jean de Meun is a French poet best known for his contribution to the popularisation of allegorical love poetry. His work was primarily influenced by his time spent as a chancellor and secretary for Eleanor of Aquitaine. The result was that he developed an interest in understanding the forces that drive human behaviour.

He used this knowledge to create stories about characters driven primarily by their emotions and desires, which were often grounded in sexual lust or unrequited love.

He is also considered a prose writer and theorist because of his many works on the theory behind poetry or literary criticism. He wrote one of these tomes, ABC des Rimes, which was in part an allegorical account of human love’s journey from infancy to death.

His work with Eleanor led him to focus on her daughter Marie de Champagne as well. His theories were later developed by other poets who followed in their footsteps, such as Dante Alighieri, whose poem ‘The Divine Comedy’ was greatly influenced by Meun’s ideas about understanding emotional states that drive people.

Meun used this knowledge that he had gathered through observing society throughout most of his career to create stories populated with characters driven primarily by their emotions and desires.

Meun’s writing, along with the work of his successors, such as Dante Alighieri, influenced many later poems and pieces of prose that are still being read today.

The Gaiwan Poet

Gaiwan Poet is the alias of an unknown poet who was active around 849 CE. He wrote under a pseudonym to avoid punishment from his government. His work focused on common themes such as nature, love and family. Gaiwan Poet’s poetic style influenced medieval poets like Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer, both known for their use of allegory.

He wrote about Taoist philosophy and other topics of interest to the literate elite. Still, his most significant contribution to Chinese poetry is that he introduced “regulated verse” into vernacular poetry.

Gaiwan Poet’s poems are short, rhyming and filled with explicit images. He often uses vernacular language to describe ordinary things that he finds appealing. Gaiwan Poet is known for his use of alliteration as a form of musicality influential on later poets such as Dante Alighieri, who would often weave in the sound of speech into his verse.

His work also influenced Geoffrey Chaucer, a few Westerners who read it during the Medieval period. Other authors like Witter Bynner have written about him extensively and translated many of his works into English prose or poetry.

He wrote his most famous poem Snowing at Daqin Pavilion, after being banned from any more writing for violating his oaths with Zhang Hua’s wife. This poem became extremely popular among later generations until it fell into obscurity during the Song Dynasty.

The poem is about a night spent with someone he loved who was reluctant to leave him. He writes that they had eaten and enjoyed wine together as the snow came down outside, and when she finally left, it was like his world went dark – so much for light in an alliteration-heavy verse!

William Langland

William Langland was a poet from England who lived in the 14th century. He is most famous for writing Piers Plowman, which consists of over 120,000 lines and is considered one of the longest poems written in Middle English. 

There are many theories about what his real identity might be, but it’s widely accepted that he was born to humble beginnings as an uneducated labourer who rose through society by becoming an apprentice cleric at Oxford University.

Langland wrote with a strong sense of morality, using allegorical figures and powerful rhetoric to convey his message.

One thing that is certain about William Langland’s history is his role in influencing Medieval poetry as we know it today. He was one of many writers who helped shift away from the strict formality found in previous poems. This can be seen by examining how Piers Plowman has no rhyme scheme or set meter but instead uses alliteration for rhythm, which would eventually evolve into modern-day prose vernaculars such as rap music.

This medieval poet’s lasting impact on English culture should not go unnoticed when considering him historically notable enough to warrant an essay topic worth researching further.

Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine nun and polymath who lived from 1098-1179. She is one of the most well-known women in Medieval history, having influenced poetry, medicine, science, philosophy and theology. 

She wrote poems about her visions which are still read today with interest as they contain valuable insights into medieval life. Her work also includes four volumes of visionary songs called ‘Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum’ that she composed to accompany her visions.

Hildegard composed over eighty musical compositions for various liturgical purposes and wrote three books on medicine and natural history.

These works were not well-known until they were discovered by modern scholars such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Her poetry has been translated into English by people like Sylvia Raphael and is still studied today to influence medieval poetry.

Hildegard of Bingen is often referred to as the “Sibyl of the Rhineland” due to her prolific writing, prophetic visions, and medical skills. She was well-educated and travelled extensively, but she’s most famous for founding an abbey at Disibodenberg.

She was a Christian mystic, visionary, naturalist, philosopher, author of texts on medicine and spirituality who had an immense influence on the development of medieval music. Hildegard is considered to be one of the greatest German composers in history.

Juan Ruiz

Juan Ruiz is a lesser-known poet from the 13th century. A scribe, he was also an advisor to Eleanor of Leon and Castile. He wrote in Old Spanish, which is what they spoke at the time. His work has influenced Medieval poetry by adding more emotional aspects than previously seen in this writing style.

Ruiz was said to have been born in a town called Valpuesta, near Burgos. He was educated by the Dominicans and studied medicine at the University of Bologna before returning to Spain as an advisor for Eleanor of Leon and Castile, the reigning queen after her husband Ferdinand IV died.

Juan Ruiz is said to have written one book on astronomy, which he dedicated “to my dear daughter Beatrice”. Today, we know about him from what other people wrote about him or quoted him saying because he did not author any books himself.

Ruiz is best known for creating literary work that incorporated more emotional aspects than previous Medieval poetry, such as love poems with eroticism and sadness or longing when writing poems about loss like in ‘I know not, Love, what I wish to say’.

Ruiz’s work also had a greater realism in its portrayal of emotions and the natural world. The nature imagery he used is more vivid than that found in other Medieval poetry. He was one of the first poets to introduce dialogue into his poems, giving them an element of dramatic performance which makes it sound as if they are being read aloud from a script rather than recited by someone reading silently on their own.

He expanded language use with new words or phrases such as “to die” instead of just saying somebody has died and introduced personification (giving human qualities to non-human things), describing clouds like living beings who cry for all those whose lives have been lost.

Ruiz wrote several poems on Christian themes, which were later compiled into what is now called “The Spiritual Canticle,” one of his most famous works.

Francesco Petrarch
Francesco Petrarch

Francesco Petrarch

We are all familiar with the term “Renaissance man,” but did you know that an equivalent existed in the Middle Ages? Francesco Petrarch was a 14th-century Italian scholar and poet who is often credited as one of the fathers of Renaissance humanism. He is most famous for his Canzoniere, or Songbook, which he wrote to commemorate Laura’s unrequited love.

He lived during an era where many changes were happening in society, literature, and philosophy; his work reflects this. One notable difference is that he wrote poetry in vernacular instead of Latin, which had been done for centuries before him. This shift allowed share thoughts more easily with people from all over Europe rather than just scholars.

Petrarch is often said to have “invented” the sonnet form. He was also a pioneer in using popular themes, rather than just writing about traditional subjects like saints or heroes from ancient Greece and Rome. Some people believe that Petrarch’s work ushered in the Renaissance era by giving voice to secular humanistic values, which superseded religious ones at this time of significant change throughout Europe.

He had an immense impact on Medieval poetry because he used Italian words instead of Latin (which would have been understood only by scholars) and his use of everyday language for universal appeal. Other poets such as Dante Alighieri followed suit with these innovations, making Francesco Petrarca one of the most influential figures in the history of poetry.

Wace

Wace was born in Normandy, France, sometime between 1025 and 1035 AD. He is best known for his work “The Roman de Rou”, which he wrote around 1155. In this epic poem, Wace provides a detailed description of the Norman Conquest from the Normans’ perspective.

The Romans were among the most successful empires that ever existed because they could conquer other people’s land with their superior military power. Wace gives a detailed description of the Normans success and how they were able to defeat their enemies.

Wace is one of the most influential writers in Medieval France because he played such an instrumental role in documenting the Norman Conquest. His poem “The Roman de Rou” also significantly influenced other poets who lived after Wace’s time, including Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “Canterbury Tales.” These poems contain many references to Wace’s work which demonstrate his significant contribution to poetry during this era.

Another thing that makes Wace so unique is his ability to write from different perspectives about events worldwide at this period, not just Normandy or England, where he primarily wrote about.

Conclusion

In case you missed the article, here’s the historical timeline of poetry. It’s easy to see why these poets and their work are still considered so influential today. The beauty of poetry is that it can be interpreted differently, giving the reader a sense of ownership over the words on the page. 

So while we may not know for sure what was going through Chaucer’s mind when he wrote his famous Canterbury Tales or how exactly Langland felt about being exiled from London, there will always be some part of us who longs to understand them better, to try to inhabit their world just as they once inhabited ours.

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