CLASSIC FRENCH POEMS TO LEARN BY HEARTNovember 3, 2023 2023-12-06 16:55
CLASSIC FRENCH POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART
CLASSIC FRENCH POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART
In middle and high school, which poems did you study or were required to learn by heart? Maybe “Dreams” by Langston Hughes or “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost left a lasting impression on you. Some poems have stuck in your memory, whether you learned them eagerly or reluctantly. However, which poems are learned by heart at a young age by the Les Français? We’ve selected some timeless poetry that a lot of French people know off-hand. Choose a poem and make an effort to memorize it or even read it aloud to another student of French!
“DEMAIN, DÈS L’AUBE” BY VICTOR HUGO
Hugo’s most famous poem is untitled and thus known by its “incipit,” or opening words: “Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne…” (“Tomorrow at dawn, the hour that whitens the countryside…”). In this short, elegiac poem, written in 1856, Hugo mourns the death of his daughter Léopoldine. A recent poll about poems the French had to memorize at school revealed that this is the poem the French know best by heart. It’s a classic for a reason, as you’ll discover once you’ve read it.
- Read “Demain, dès l’aube” in both French and English
- Listen to French actress and member of la Comédie Française read the poem
- Buy a copy of Hugo’s poetry collection Les Contemplations
“LE DORMEUR DU VAL” BY ARTHUR RIMBAUD
Ask any French high school student what she had to memorize for her bac, and she’ll probably mention either “Demain, dès l’aube” or “Le Dormeur du Val.” Arthur Rimbaud was only sixteen in 1870, when he wrote this sonnet inspired by the Franco-Prussian War. Rimbaud describes a soldier lying near a river, and the reader assumes he’s sleeping until, in the poem’s famous turn, we discover that the soldier has “two red holes in his right side.”
- Read “Le Dormeur du Val” in both French and English
- Listen to famous French singer Yves Montand sing the poem
- Buy an illustrated version of the poem for kids
“LE CORBEAU ET LE RENARD” BY JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
2021 marks the four hundredth birthday of French poet Jean de La Fontaine, born in Château-Thierry in July 1621. “Le Corbeau et le Renard,” one of La Fontaine’s most famous fables, largely resembles Aesop’s fable about the crow and the fox. While this text is called “une fable” and not “un poème” in French, its rhyming verses make it easy to memorize and to set to music. Listen to Jacques Offenbach’s 1842 version of the fable here.
- You’ll find the text of “Le Corbeau et le Renard” in French and English .
- Buy a beautifully illustrated anniversary edition of La Fontaine’s Fables.
“UN ENFANT A DIT” BY RAYMOND QUENEAU
If you’ve never heard of Raymond Queneau, you should add him to your list of French authors to read! A novelist, poet, and co-founder of the playful French writing group Oulipo, Queneau is best remembered today as the author of Zazie dans le metro (1959), a wonderful novel later adapted into a classic film. Listen to Queneau’s poem “Un enfant a dit” set to music or buy a copy of a collection of his best poems for kids .
- You can listen to another one of Queneau school poems, “L’écolier,” read aloud on FranceInter’s “Spéciale Printemps des poètes.” The recording also includes poems by Jean de La Fontaine, Victor Hugo, and Paul Verlaine.
“CHANSON D’AUTOMNE” BY PAUL VERLAINE
Paul Verlaine’s “Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song”), which will be familiar to all students who have taken a Débutant class at Coucou and used it to practice the rules of French pronunciation, is one of the best known poems in the French language. It appears in his collection Poèmes saturniens, published in 1866. At the end of World War II, the BBC’s Radio Londres used the opening lines of the poem to signal the start of D-Day operations. The poem has thus become famous for its connection to the French Resistance and allusions to it appear in the songs of many musicians, including in “Verlaine” by Charles Trenet and “Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais” Serge Gainsbourg.
- Read the poem “Chanson d’automne” in both French and English .
- Buy an illustrated copy of Verlaine’s poetry.
- Practice your French listening skills and learn more about Verlaine and Rimbaud .