French, popularly known as the “language of love", has a long tradition of poets creating beautiful love poems. However, delving into the poetry of a foreign language is often an intimidating prospect. This article outlines some basic ways to learn and teach love poems.
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As if poetry wasn't difficult enough in English! French, with its often slurred pronunciation (exaggerated liaison) and flexible grammatical structures, is an intriguing language to compose poetry in, and in many ways quite different from English. Special attention to the different rhythmic structures and rhyming schemes should be noted, especially with regards to feminine versus masculine nouns and adjectives, a distinction that English lacks.
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There's a world of difference between reading a Shakespeare sonnet and a piece by T.S. Eliot in the English language. French is no different: across history, stylistics, structures and treatment of the subject matter have varied widely, and it would be impossible to really understand the sheer scope of it all. If you're familiar with English literature throughout history, the periods roughly correspond in French, as well as the ideals embodied within them.
That being said, your best bet for a good romantic French poem is the Romantic period. While the Romantic period referred to a more general sort of romanticism, it also applied deeply to the sentiment felt between two lovers. Some of the star poets from this era include Victor Hugo (also famous for novels such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.) While fully of lush imagery, the language can be quite difficult for a student just starting out, especially with regards to new vocabulary! However, it will also prove easier than older poetry, which may use antiquated words and structures that no longer appear in dictionaries or in modern French in different.
A lot of pop French music written in the last century might be a good choice. While not poetry in the strictest academic sense, many of songs certainly possess a poetic quality to them. This may be an easier place for students to start, as the language is simpler and easier to understand, as well as being something that they can empathize with on a cultural level.
If you're a teacher looking for a way to teach classic French love poetry to your students, try making it a project: translate, memorize, and perform a French love poem in front of the class. This may be somewhat intensive on the part of the student, but it's a powerful learning experience, as it requires you to draw together many language skills. Have them select poems from an anthology collection, either at random or after a little research of their own. Many aspects of the poems maybe difficult to translate and interpret, so it's important to give them in-class time to work on this. Working through a translation and interpretation of the poem as a class may be a helpful guide as well.
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For More Information
Want more romantic French poetry and poets? Check out the French section of LoveToKnow.com, with summaries of a number of poets as well as some of their most famous love poems.
Older French poetry is available online for free from a variety of sites, such as Project Gutenberg and French Wikisource. French poetry is also available in any number of anthologies available for purchase, either translated or still in French.