Chevrefoil The Honeysuckle

Marie de France (late 12th century) This 118-line poem, written in octosyllabic couplets, is the shortest of Marie de France's lais, short poems or songs Marie adapted from the Breton lai tradition (see lay). The preferred manuscript of Marie's lais is Harley 978 in the British Library, which is the only manuscript to contain all 12 lais.

"Chevrefoil" concentrates on a brief moment in the larger story of the legendary lovers Tristan and Iseult. It is generally assumed that Marie's audience would be familiar with the crucial crisis in the lovers' relationship: Tristan, nephew and knight of King Mark of Cornwall, has fallen in love with Mark's wife, Queen Iseult, who reciprocates Tristan's love. Marie's poem briefly alludes to the dismal fate the two lovers will have to endure, but the primary focus is on a brief moment of joy (with its full sexual connotation) amid their trials. The shortest of Marie's lais, "Chevrefoil" is widely regarded as one of her finest.

Marie characteristically opens the lai by calling attention to the poem as a work of artistic creation.

Then, after quickly mentioning that Tristan and Iseult are destined for suffering and death, Marie provides a bit of background to bring us up to the present of the story. Tristan, having been exiled as a result of his betrayal of King Mark, has subjected himself to dangers, including death, as will happen with faithful lovers who cannot attain their desires. Unable to remain apart from Iseult, Tristan returns to Cornwall; he spends the day in the forest so as not to be seen, and finds shelter with some peasants that night. Tristan learns from the peasants that Mark's knights are supposed to return to court, as is the queen; he is happy because he will get a glimpse of her going past.

on the day when Mark's entourage goes by, Tristan carves his name into a piece of hazelwood and waits to see if the queen will spot it. When Iseult rides by, she does indeed see the message and orders her retinue to stop so that she may rest. Iseult enters the woods, finds Tristan, and they experience great joy (joie) with each other. Iseult suggests that Tristan will be reconciled with Mark, and then the lovers tearfully depart, Tristan going to Wales to await word from the king. An accomplished harp player, Tristan composes a lai to memorialize the joy he experienced with Iseult.

Some literal problems of interpretation complicate this seemingly simple lay. First, the message that Tristan carves to signal his beloved is, according to lines 53-54, his name, but lines 61-78 suggest that there may be a much longer message regarding Tristan's and Iseult's feelings for one another. These lines, whether intended to be Tristan's own words or Marie's commentary, compare the two lovers to a hazel and a honeysuckle: The honeysuckle wraps itself around the hazel, and if the two are separated, they both perish. The section concludes with a famous couplet: "my love, so is it with us: neither you without me, nor I without you [can live]" (ll. 77-78). There has been significant debate over whether the hazel stick contains Tristan's name alone, whether the couplet is also to be included, or whether the lengthier sentiment regarding the hazel and honeysuckle is to be considered part of the writing. Perhaps Tristan's name is a sign, which Iseult is able to interpret as implying the deeper message. Or the lovers may have met at a prior time and exchanged words that will allow Iseult to understand

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  • Kade
    When was THe Honeysuckle Chevrefoil written?
    2 years ago

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