French Poem Readings

In this section, I am going to read classical French poems twice: once slowly – so you can repeat after me – and once faster, with my own interpretation of the poem. I will also sometimes tell you about the author, or explain the vocabulary or the meaning of the poem, all in easy everyday French.

In my “Easy French poems and analysis” series, I read and explain using simple words the very most famous French poems, such as “Demain, dès l’aube”, “la Cigale et la Fourmi”, “Parfum Exotique”… and talk about the author’s life (Hugo, La Fontaine, Baudelaire…). These analysis are a great way to improve your understanding and vocabulary, train your brain to stay focus for a longer discussion and learn about French culture and poetry.

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"Sonnet XXIV" de Louise Labé

Today, I’m going to read the poem Sonnet 24 by Louise Labé, the first recognized French poetess. She was born in Lyon, between 1520 and 1525. She was raised during one of the most interesting centuries in literature's history. The Middle Ages were over, and the Italian renaissance was creating a revolution in France’s artistic life. The message of the poem is simple and still so very modern: love and its torments...I will read the poem once slowly so you can repeat after me, then I’ll read it faster with a personal interpretation.

"À Une Passante" de Charles Baudelaire

Au milieu d’une rue étourdissante,  le poète croise du regard  une femme qui passe et il est  ébloui par sa beauté et sa noblesse.  Quand elle disparaît tout à coup dans la foule, il devient découragé.  Mais malgré la brièveté de l’instant, il découvre qu’il se sent profondément touché par l’expérience.  Le thème est  la rencontre, l’espoir puis l’échec de l’amour.

"Le Paresseux" de Marc Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant

This poem in middle French, from the 17th century, is an hymn to indolence. Saint-Amant was a libertin poet, who enjoyed all the pleasures of life, liked to eat, drink, smoke and rest, as depicted in this poem.

"Quand Au Mouton Bêlant" d'André Chénier

Born in 1762, André Chénier is sentenced to death by guillotine at 32 years old, as Robespierre imposes the Terror through France. Pro revolution, but also defendant of the king, Chenier is moderat at a time when moderation looks suspect to the extremists Jacobins under Robespierre's lead. Chénier wrote the poem I am about to read as he is in prison: with this poem, he delivers to his fellow men his last message of peace before being led to the guillotine. Sad irony, Chénier will die two days only before the death of his prosecutor.

"Le Rameur" de Paul Valéry

"Le Rameur" describes a man who is rowing on a beautiful river. All is calm and you can only hear the sounds of his oars. The images are gorgeous and so is the rhythm. Then the poet starts to compare his effort to row with the effort of living ; the river becomes the time that passes, he fights it but it brings him inevitably towards death.

"Délie XXIV" de Maurice de Scève

Published in 1544, Scève's "Délie, objet de plus haute vertu" is a cycle of 449 poems, an endless examination of the physical and spiritual pains of an impossible love.

le chene et le roseau la fontaine french poem audio reading

"Le Chêne et le Roseau" de Jean de la Fontaine - Audio

This fable tells a great story about a reed (which represent the people) and an all-mighty oak (representing the king). The oak thinks he is indestructible, and says the reed is very unfortunate to be what he is. The oak wishes he could help the reed, but he knows he cannot and pities him. The reed however, says he might not be strong, but he is tough. And that is the true strength. To prove him right, a huge storm arrives and takes the oak down. This was very courageous of La Fontaine to present this fable to the king, since the message is that the king is not as powerful as he thinks he is...

french poem reading analysis

"Le temps a laissé son manteau" de Charles d'Orléans

Today's poem is very simple and is studied by French middle school students as an introduction to Old French. I am going to read the poem, but also explain the text in French and speak about the author. It's about the arrival of Spring. The descriptions are charming and talk to all our senses: we can feel the coat of Winter against our skin, our ears capture the animal songs celebrating the upcoming Spring, and our eyes are blinded by the reflection of the sun over the rivers full of winter's waters.

"La Cigale et la Fourmi" de Jean de La Fontaine

Like most of La Fontaine's fables, "La Cigale et la Fourmi” is not a story that he invented. Drawing inspiration from oral traditions and the fables of Aesop and other poets of Greek and Roman antiquity La Fontaine changes the classic fable by omitting the moral. Why? Listen to the poem's analysis to find out.