Twelfth-century France has been described as the key to many of the most important developments of medieval civilization. Nowhere is this description more accurate than in the domain of poetic invention. The years 1050 to 1200 witnessed the development of a brilliant body of vernacular narrative that not only expressed the complexity of its own time but also bequeathed to posterity a wide gamut of creative possibilities.
Although much has been written about the works of this period, Karl Uitti offers the first critically orientated overview of this poetry as poetry. In the sections devoted to the Songs of Alexis and Roland he studies the narrative as it serves, in various ways, truths exterior to its own organization. These include the implications of Alexis' imitation of Christ and the way the Song of Roland is history conceived in literary and poetic terms. Although a number of devices are examined, the poems are seen in terms of their total significance.
The second part of the book, dedicate principally to the œuvre of Chrétien de Troyes, discusses a new kind of poetry, poetry whose truth depends on the reader's submitting entirely to the internal coherence of each work—in a very meaningful sense the poem itself is the thing. What it says is specifically a matter of how it says it. No higher claim for the dignity of poetic activity has ever been made.
Originally published in 1973.
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