The 25 Essential French Poets

French poetry is part of the literary program throughout a student’s schooling. The origin of French poetry comes from Antiquity. Indeed, the instruction of young poets for the most part was in Latin. Many stories were written in Latin verse.

Writing in verse would therefore predate prose. It is from the 11th century that we see the appearance of poetry in its modern form.

However, it was really in the 16th century that poetry gained in prosperity. It is not only William Shakespeare who can be cited across the Channel at this time.

Poetry is far from being an easy style to grasp for a candidate who has to prepare for a French exam. It is common to have to work in a different way, for poetry than for the romantic or theatrical genre and even to have to take second French lessons to better master this style.

With multiple codes to know, the study of a work is done in connection with the mores of the time and the political context.

Between chilled lovers and committed authors, here is a selection of 25 poets to know. There are many others like Alphonse de Lamartine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Boris Vian, Paul Valéry, Anatole France, Sully Prudhomme, Léo Ferré, Maurice Carême…

The Top 15 of the most famous French poets

Pierre de Ronsard (1524 – 1585)

Ronsard is a 16th century Renaissance poet. He oscillates between 2 styles: poetry committed during the wars of religion with his works Les Hymns and Les Discours and lyrical poetry, with the collections Les Odes and Des Amours .

He will be the official poet of the king during the reign of Charles IX.

Her love life is directly one of her sources of inspiration. His poems Les Amours de Cassandre, dating from 1552, refers to a very young girl Cassandre, whom he cannot marry, as a tonsured cleric and the latter is going to marry another man.

Which French poet to know for the baccalaureate?

Classic poetry where love is the source of inspiration.

Les Amours de Marie of 1555 evokes his affair and in particular the death of the latter. Sonnets pour Hélène from 1578 speaks of the rejection of Hélène, a young servant of Catherine de Medici who is indifferent to a Ronsard who is 20 years her senior.

His writing style

Ronsard writes in the form of ode (lyrical poetry) and hymn (ancient genre intended for celebration). His poems are mostly in the form of a sonnet, with two quatrains (4-line stanzas) and two tercets (3-line stanzas). He writes in decasyllable (verse at 10 feet).

His famous poems

Two poems by Ronsard are extremely well known Mignonne, let’s go see if the rose and When you are old . They have in common to tell the loved one that the latter will regret not having lived a love story with him, because feminine beauty is not eternal. In Mignonne, let’s see if the rose , he writes So, if you believe me, mignon, he writes While your blooming age / In its greenest newness, / Pick, pick your youth / As old age does to this flower / Will tarnish your beauty.

An author to know to have your French certificate, and above all, to do well on your French certificate and get a good grade!

Joachim Du Bellay (1522 – 1560)

Author of the 16th century, the life of Joachim Du Bellay is marked by his meeting with Ronsard, with whom he will form a group of poets to which are added 4 other members, the Pléiade.

Their goal is to write poems as rich as those written in Latin or Greek. Du Bellay will also write the manifesto of the collective, La Défense et illustration de la langue française , in 1549.

The famous Pleiade manifesto, Defense and Illustration of the French Language (Défense et Illustration de la Langue Francaise, 1549) was both a complement and a refutation of Sébillet's treatise.

While Ronsard and Jean-Antoine de Baïf were most influenced by Greek models, Du Bellay was more particularly a Latin, and perhaps his preference for a language so close to it had a hand in determining his the national and familiar note of his poetry

He will leave France for Italy, with great hope, to accompany Cardinal du Bellay, his father’s cousin. However, he will be greatly disappointed and will write Les Regrets and Les Antiquités de Rome .

His literary style and his works

Joachim Du Bellay wrote sonnets in alexandrines, which was out of step with the genre of the time, the decasyllable. His best-known poem is Happy Who, Like Ulysses, Has Made a Fine Journey . Today, you can visit a museum dedicated to him in Liré, in Anjou.

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Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

Victor Hugo is one of the best-known French authors around the world, for many reasons.

He was a politically committed personality, with the functions of mayor and deputy. He was in exile in Jersey and Guernsey, because of the reign of Napoleon III and welcomed as a hero on his return to Paris.

His popularity comes from his two works, Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables . His poetic work is known for his collections Odes and Ballades, Les Feuilles d’automne with famous poems such as O my love letters and When the child appears, Les Contemplations, Les Châtiments, La Légende des siècles.

His literary style and his works

Victor Hugo’s style is unclassifiable. His collection Les Contemplations is one of his essential works, with poems around exile, his relationship with Juliette Drouet, his mistress, the role of the poet with the text Il faut que le poet and especially Tomorrow, from dawn , in memory of his daughter Léopoldine, who died of drowning. Today, you can visit his apartment, place des Vosges in Paris and his house Hauteville House in Guernsey, to follow in the footsteps of the writer.

Victor Hugo is also one of the authors to know in Bac de literature for Bac L students and for all the others as part of the French bac test!

Charles Baudelaire (1821 -1867)

Contemporary of Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire is a French poet dedicated to aesthetics.

Study surrealism for the French baccalaureate.

The tortured poet whose texts are frequently proposed for the French baccalaureate.

Reputed to be tortured between the beauty of life and the horror it inspires in him, he is in the grip of great suffering. He will move no less than 40 times to Paris, to flee his creditors.

His major work remains Les Fleurs du mal , which was the subject of a conviction for contempt of good morals. He writes a letter of appeal to the Empress Eugénie in person, to reduce his fine, which reinforces his problematic financial situation.

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His literary style and his works

Baudelaire wrote several collections of poetry such as The Artificial Paradises or Le Spleen de Paris , published posthumously. Les Fleurs du Mal remains his most famous and studied work, for the sublimation of nature, with texts such as Une Charogne dedicated to Jeanne Duval his lover, I have more memories than if I were a thousand years old, Je t’ adores like the nocturnal vault or the Albatross .

Studying the works of Baudelaire will allow you to be ready on French Baccalaureate day!

Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)

Arthur Rimbaud entered into the legend of French poetry, as much by his precocious genius, the hallucinating and dazzling density of his work as by his eventful relationship with Paul Verlaine. Gifted in Latin, he won literature prizes.

However, Rimbaud decides to run away, especially in Paris, during the period of instability of the Commune.

Rimbaud and Verlaine meet in Paris, at the Vilains Bonshommes dinner party. At 17, he wrote Le Bateau ivre . Following a brawl during a dinner, he moves away from Paris. The relationship of the 2 men ends a year later. Verlaine shoots under the influence of alcohol, at Rimbaud in the wrist. He wrote Illuminations and Une saison en enfer . He stopped poetry at the age of 20. He embarks on travels and in particular in arms trafficking.

His literary style and his works

Rimbaud’s two best-known collections are Le Bateau Ivre and Voyelles , written in sonnet. In Illuminations , he writes prose in a linear fashion. His texts are part of the French program of the national education in the French court.

His poem Le dormeur du Val remains one of the most studied, of which here are the first 2 stanzas: It is a hole of greenery where a river sings, / Clinging madly to the grass of rags / Silver; where the sun, from the proud mountain, / Shines: it’s a little valley foaming with rays. / A young soldier, mouth open, head bare, / And the nape of his neck bathed in fresh blue watercress, / Sleeps; he is stretched out in the grass, under the cloud, / Pale in his green bed where the light is raining.

Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896)

Cursed poet par excellence, Verlaine will know a turbulent life between his marriage which ends in acts of violence and a divorce, a very conflictual relationship with his mother with several attempted murders, an adventure with Rimbaud which ends in the section of miscellaneous facts and a story with a student who forces him to flee.

His literary style and his works

His work begins Poèmes saturniens written at the age of 22. He then wrote La Bonne Chanson , a collection in which he spoke of his relationship with his wife. Romances sans mots evokes the relationship with Rimbaud. He wrote it in prison in Belgium, following his gunshot wound.

Afterwards, he regains faith and writes Wisdom . The end of his work is marked by poems on his bitterness of living or of an erotic nature. We know the poems like My familiar dream, Poetic art, Are you brunette or blonde .

Will Verlaine’s poems fall in the next French Baccalaureate subjects?

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918)

Of Polish origin, Guillaume Apollinaire is a poet who will be naturalized French and fight for France during the First World War.

He is known for his collections Alcools, Calligrammes and Poèmes à Lou , in homage to Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, with whom he will have a free relationship and an epistolary correspondence. He will be friends with Picasso and will even be accused of stealing the Mona Lisa, while although innocent, he will spend a week in the prison of La Santé.

His literary style and his works

As a lover rejected by a woman named Annie, the poet wrote the poem La Chanson du mal-aimé . His best-known poem remains Le Pont Mirabeau . Published in 1912, it evokes love in the face of the test of time which passes Vienna at night, strikes the hour / The days go away I remain.

Who is Guillaume Apollinaire?

The calligrafe: committed and colorful poetry.

He invented a new genre, the calligram, which is a poem in the form of a drawing. It is appreciated by students in French classes.

Paul Éluard (1895 – 1952)

Well known for his membership in the Communist Party, the Dada and Surrealist movements, Paul Eluard enjoyed a passionate relationship with his wife Gala, who eventually left him for Salvadore Dali.

After the war, Éluard became a cultural ambassador, traveling widely in Europe.  Nusch died in 1946, and Éluard married Dominique Laure in 1951, the same year he published his last book, Le Phénix (The Phoenix).  He died in 1952.

The last half of Éluard’s life was marked by political commitments. He was galvanized by the Spanish Civil War and renewed his commitment to Communism.

He went to the front during the First World War.

He meets his second wife Nush, who for him embodies feminine perfection. Resistant during the Second World War, he published writings of clandestine literature, hidden in a psychiatric hospital.

His literary style and his works

Premiers Poèmes was the first collection of poems by Paul Eluard. Intimately linked to his sentimental life, he wrote poems such as Le temps overflows on his pain during the death of Nush or the collection Le phoenix for his last wife Dominique.

Also discover the pearls of the Bac de français!

Louis Aragon (1897 – 1982)

Louis Aragon is a poet who marked the 20th century, between his poetic work, his political commitment to the Communist Party, his ideas on the Resistance, feminism and his relationship with the writer Elsa Triolet.

With Eluard, he will oppose Nazism. Journalist, novelist and poet, he is a figurehead of the PC for which he will hold high office.

His literary style and his works

His poetic work is largely oriented towards his wife with the collections Cantique à Elsa, Les Yeux d’Elsa, Elsa, Le Fou d’Elsa and Il m’est Paris que d’Elsa . Very famous are the poems There is no happy love, We will sleep together Whether it is Sunday or Monday / Evening or morning midnight noon / In hell or paradise / Loves resemble loves / It was yesterday that I told you / We will sleep together or Elsa’s eyes Your eyes are so deep that when I bent down to drink / I saw all the suns come there to be reflected / Throw themselves there to die all the desperate / Your eyes are so deep that I lose my memory .

How to find French courses for adults?

Jacques Prévert (1900 – 1977)

Who has never learned a poem by Jacques Prévert in French class?

This poet has a prose that will allow you to progress in French class.

An essential poet of the 20th century, he is known for his first collection in 1946, Paroles .

His career began before, with the resumption of his texts in music by Juliette Gréco or Yves Montand. Screenwriter, he will sign some successes in the cinema with The King and the Bird.

Study Dadaism for the French bac oral!

“Who loves well chatises as well”

His literary style and his works

Jacques Prévert is a lover of words who uses figures of speech such as neologisms, zeugmas or puns.

“Wash dirty laundry with the family”

To cite just one poem, Barbara is one of the most famous of the collection Lyrics on the destruction of the city of Brest following the bombings of the Second World War. It is a classic poem to study in French class.

In parallel with your preparation, it is advisable to carry out revision sheets for each of your French courses.

Alfred de Musset (1810 – 1857)

What is the list of the most famous French-speaking poets?

Musset is a French writer born in 1810 and died in 1857 in Paris. As much a poet as a playwright and novelist, he was a brilliant high school student who became interested in law and medicine before devoting himself to writing in the late 1820s. He is known to have a romantic relationship with the author George Sand .

His literary style and his works

If we mainly know Musset for On ne badine pas avec l’amour and Lorenzaccio , you should know that he is the author of a great poetic work including the poems Les Nuits . He is judged by his contemporaries as a light poet without being a great poet.

Robert Desnos (1900 – 1945)

Robert Desnos is a French poet from the first half of the 20th century. Little interested in school and at odds with his family, he joined the modernist literary movement in the 1920s before being introduced to surrealism. He died in 1945 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

His literary style and his works

He published several collections of poems from 1923 to 1943 such as Corps et Biens with poems such as La Liberté or l’Amour or Le Vin est Tiré . Famous for his activities in the French resistance, his poems deal in particular with this subject as well as surrealist themes.

André Breton (1896 – 1966)

Who are the 15 essential French poets?

André Breton is the legendary founder of the surrealist movement!

Very well known for being the main theoretician of surrealism, André Breton was born in 1896 and died in 1966. He came from a modest background and in 1919 founded the magazine Littérature with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. He joined communist ideals from 1927 to 1935 before becoming interested in libertarian thought.

His literary style and his works

André Breton is known for the publication of the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924 as well as the Manifeste Surréaliste in 1930. His poetic work is very rich and begins in particular with Les Champs Magnétiques which he wrote in 1920 with the help of Philipe Soupault.

Raymond Queneau (1903 – 1976)

Born in 1903, Raymond Queneau grew up in a modest home and quickly found a passion for reading and mathematics. He pursued higher studies in Paris in 1920 and met many authors including figures of surrealism including André Breton with whom he formed the rue du Château group in 1924.

He is also the co-founder of the literary group Oulipo.

His literary style and his works

Raymond Queneau’s literary work is marked by great works such as Zazie dans le métro or Exercices de Style , but also by publications of poems, such as the book Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes . His literary current is that of pataphysics.

Beginner French courses can help you progress in this area.

Francois de Malherbe (1555 – 1628)

Who are the most famous poets in France?

Malherbe was obsessed with the structure and form of poetry, which caused him to be considered a maniac by his detractors!

François de Malherbe is a French poet of the 16th and 17th centuries. He was born into a noble Protestant family and took an early interest in poetry. He joined the Parisian court in 1605 as poet laureate at age 50. He is considered one of the first theoreticians of classical art.

His literary style and his works

Malherbe supports a very structured classical poetry imbued with lyricism. All his poems were published posthumously in the collection Les Œuvres de François Malherbe . During his life, he worked to give poetry a clear and precise structure and was the precursor of the classical genre.

The 10 most famous French-speaking poetesses

Who are the most famous female poets?

Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430)

Christine de Pizan is a French philosopher, writer and poetess born in 1364 and died in 1430. She is considered the first woman writer to have lived from her pen. Indeed, widowed and destitute, she had to earn her living by writing.

If she is known for her prose works such as La Cité des Dames , Christine de Pizan is first and foremost a poetess: this is how she was able to get noticed by patrons. She is considered to have reached great heights in the art of the ballad. Her themes are often stories of chivalry, romance and poems from her personal life.

Marguerite Yourcenar (1903 – 1987)

Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour also called Marguerite Yourcenar is a writer, poet and literary critic who lived from 1903 to 1987. She is known for her romantic work with works such as Memoirs of Hadrian or Alexis or the Treaty of Vain Fight .

Within her colossal work, she wrote several poems as the collection Les Charités d’Alcippe proves. His literary style is to re-enchant the world through humanism in poetry and art in general.

Who are the greatest female poets in France?

Andrée Chedid (1920 – 2011)

Andrée Chedid is a French poet of Syrian-Lebanese origin, born in 1920 and deceased in 2011. Author of a considerable body of work, she showed a new look at the world and at the place of man within nature. She has written many novels but also poems such as the Ceremonial of Violence or Fraternity of the Word .

Genevieve Pastre (1924 – 2012)

Born in 1924 and died in 2012, Geneviève Pastre is a French writer, poet and activist, but also an independent researcher in history and philosophy. Very well known as a figure in the gay and lesbian world, she is the author of several poems such as L’Espace du Souffle or Instants d’Eveil .

Louise Labe (1524-1566)

Nicknamed La Belle Cordière, Louise Labé was one of the poets active around Lyon during the Renaissance. Coming from a wealthy background, she was able to have a quality education. She knew Latin, Spanish, Italian in addition to French.

Although her reputation as a courtesan earned her criticism and contempt from some, intellectuals esteemed and appreciated her. In a letter addressed to Clémence de Bourges (another poetess from Lyon at the time), she encourages women to “pass or equal men” .

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)

Few know her, yet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore is the pioneer of romantic poetry. Her spontaneous and moving pen has inspired poets much better known than her, such as Verlaine, Rimbaud or Aragon.

Honoré de Balzac himself dedicated his short story Jesus Christ in Flanders to him . At that time, it was difficult to be a recognized artist as a woman. This is what she will explain in her autobiographical novel published in 1833.

Anna de Noailles (1876-1933)

French poet of Romanian origin, Anna de Noailles comes from a large family. She is also a countess and is part of the Parisian high society of the time. Her first collection Le cœur innumbrable brings her a lot of success, placing her as a muse within her generation.

She will win numerous literary prizes and will be the first female commander of the Legion of Honor.

Renée Vivien (1877-1909)

Renée Vivien, also called Sapho, is a major icon of poetry. A literary prize even bears his name and was awarded to Marguerite Yourcenar.

However, in her time, she did not experience the success attributed to her. Homosexual, she lives against the tide of the ideas of her time, homosexuality still being considered a mental illness. It was not until 1986 that his poems were republished and appreciated.

Even today, the verses of this poet appear as modern and she deserves to be better known among the general public.

Elisa Mercoeur (1809-1835)

Abandoned at birth, Elisa Mercoeur by a hospice before being picked up by her mother when she was 21 months old. The poet will be raised by her mother alone, with limited resources despite the bourgeois origin of her family.

She was a child prodigy who had already published her first poems before the age of 16. She was then nicknamed the Armorican muse. In Paris, she rubbed shoulders with Lamartine, Musset, Hugo and even Chateaubriand, but she was not satisfied with her condition. She fell ill after the refusal of a work on the history of the King of Granada and died when she was only 25 years old.

Who is the most famous French poet?

Cecile Sauvage (1883-1927)

A French woman of letters, Cécile Sauvage was nicknamed the poetess of motherhood, no doubt because her poems evoked this theme so much. She is the mother of composer Olivier Messiaen.

She took a great interest in English poetry, especially that of Keats. Unfortunately in fragile health, she died in the arms of her husband and her sons at the Hôpital-Dieu in Paris.

As a bonus and for your literary culture

Do you want to add new poets to this list? To your comments!

  • Are you more into contemporary or classical poetry?
  • Free verse or prose? Love Césaire or Théophile Gauthier?

Jean de la Fontaine

Jean de la Fontaine (1621 – 1695), born in Château-Thiery, lived largely under the reign of Louis IV. He is best known for his fables in verse, first bound in five volumes and later a full volume entitled Contes Choisies.

La Fontaine did not invent the basic material for his Fables;  He drew it mainly from the Isopic tradition and, in the case of the second collection, from East Asia.

In 1657, he became one of the protégés of Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of finances

In some ways, like Aesop’s fables, many of his fables taught or demonstrated practical life lessons. Many of them also indirectly criticized the excesses of the nobility.

De la Fontaine had problems with censorship, and one of his last collections of fables was banned.

De la Fontaine also wrote a number of plays (which also used poetic verse). He was also elected to the French Academy in 1683.

He turned to religion in 1692 after falling ill and died three years later.

Theophile Gautier

Théophile Gautier (1811 – 1872) was an artistic and literary critic, playwright, journalist, publisher and poet.

His travels also influenced his work. He started philosophically and stylistically as a romantic, but later focused more on “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake).

While Gautier was a strong proponent of Romanticism, his work is difficult to categorize and remains a point of reference for many subsequent literary traditions such as Parnassianism, Symbolism, Decadence and Modernism.  He was highly regarded by writers as diverse as Balzac, Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert and Oscar Wilde.

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 – October 23, 1872) was a poet, playwright, novelist, journalist and literary critic.

In 1856, he became librarian to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. One of Gautier’s poems, Le Printemps, is particularly appropriate for our current spring season.

His work :

  • Poésies, published in 1830, is a collection of 42 poems that Gautier composed when he was 18 years old. However, as the publication took place during the July Revolution, no copies were sold and it was eventually withdrawn. In 1832 the collection was revived with another 20 poems under the name Albertus. Another edition in 1845 included revisions of some of the poems. The poems are written in a wide variety of verse forms and show Gautier trying to imitate other more established Romantic poets such as Sainte-Beuve, Alphonse de Lamartine and Hugo, before Gautier eventually found his own way by becoming a critic of Romantic Excess.
  • Albertus, written in 1831 and published in 1832, is a long narrative poem of 122 stanzas, each consisting of 12 lines of Alexandrian verse (12 syllables), except for the last line of each stanza which is octosyllabic. Albertus is a parody of romantic literature, especially tales of the macabre and the supernatural. The poem tells the story of an ugly witch who magically transforms at midnight into an attractive young woman. Albertus, the hero, falls deeply in love and agrees to sell his soul.
  • Les Jeunes-France, published in 1833, was a satire on Romanticism (“Les Jeunes-France: Tales Told with Tongue in Cheek”). In 1831, the newspaper Le Figaro presented a certain number of works by the young generation of romantic artists and published them in Jeunes-France.
  • The Comedy of Death, published in 1838, is a period piece like Albertus. In this work, Gautier focuses on the theme of death, which for Gautier is a terrifying, suffocating and irreversible finality. Unlike many romantics before him, Gautier’s view of death is solemn and emphatic, proclaiming death as the final escape from life’s torture. During the time he wrote the work, Gautier frequented many cemeteries, which multiplied rapidly to accommodate the many deaths from the epidemics that swept the country. Gautier translates death into a curiously mired, voluptuous, almost exhilarating experience that momentarily distracts him from gruesome reality and conveys his urgent plea for light over darkness, life over death.
  • España (1845) is generally considered the transitional volume between the two phases of Gautier’s poetic career. Inspired by the author’s 1840 summer visit to Spain, the collection’s 43 diverse poems cover topics such as the Spanish language and aspects of Spanish culture and traditions such as music and dance.
  • Émaux et Camées (1852), published during Gautier’s tour of the Middle East, is considered his supreme poetic achievement. The title reflects Gautier’s abandonment of the romantic ambition to create a sort of “total” art involving the emotional participation of the reader, in favor of a more modern approach focusing more on the form of poetic composition rather than on its content. Originally a collection of 18 poems in 1852, his later editions contained up to 37 poems.
  • Last Poems (1872) is a collection of poems that range from earlier pieces to unfinished fragments composed shortly before Gautier’s death. This collection is dominated by numerous sonnets dedicated to many of his friends.
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