What’s even more romantic than a love poem?
That’s right: a French love poem.
Home to some of the most romantic cities in the world, France is a special place to be when you’re under Cupid’s influence.
But even if you’re not in France, learning the language can help you to express affection in a whole new way.
Given that poetry is also a fantastic language learning tool, what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year than by picking up a French rhyme or two?
You can impress your loved ones, or that special someone, and solidify your French skills at the same time.
With a history as long as it is romantic, the French language can be learned through love poetry in a variety of ways.
Spreading the Love: How to Get the Most out of French Love Poetry
Learn native terms of affection
While all cultures have their own terms of affection, the French language is packed with some of the most unique. Picking up a romantic name or two can be a great way of brushing up on your comprehension skills and flattering your nearest and dearest at the same time.
Mon amour — My love
Ma biche — My doe
Mon canard — My duck
Mon/ma chéri(e) — My dear
Mon chou — My cabbage
Mon cœur — My heart
Mon loulou — My little one
Mon/ma grand(e) — My big guy/girl
Ma puce — My flea
Mon trésor — My treasure
While many terms of affection are meant to work in the romantic sense, you might often hear them used between parents and their children, too. Mon loulou, mon grand and mon trésor are often spoken by a parent to a child to express affection.
In addition to various animal terms, you might hear French speakers referencing vegetables and foods when addressing their loved ones. While these terms have no real meaning in this context in English, they are generally accepted as “cute” names for your nearest and dearest in France. So if you hear someone you know well address you using the name of a vegetable, take it as a compliment!
Within French poetry, you can expect to find many terms of endearment and knowing them beforehand will make reading or doing translation exercises a whole lot easier.
Rather than directly naming the object of their affections, many poets will use terms like ma puce or mon cœur, and being aware of these terms can help you pinpoint the distinction between a lover and something altogether different!
To like or to love? Learn the different uses of aimer
One of the biggest confusions between the French and English languages, when it comes to the subject of love, is how and when to use the verb aimer (to like/to love).
If you’re addressing someone close to you, you will want to make sure that you’re using the correct variation in order to tell them how you really feel and avoid awkwardness.
If you follow aimer with a person, it means that you love them or you’re in love with them. J’aime ma sœur means “I love my sister” and Il aime Chloe means “He is in love with Chloe.”
If, however, you want to say that you like someone, then you can qualify aimer with an adverb in order to weaken its meaning. Adverbs like bien (good/well) make aimer less strong, so if you say Je t’aime bien, it means “I like you.” Using beaucoup (a lot) also has this effect, so saying Je t’aime beaucoup means “I really like you,” not “I really love you.”
Spotting the different uses of aimer can help you get to the heart of French love poetry and understand the type of relationship being presented. If the writer is qualifying the verb with an adverb, it could be a case of unrequited or doomed love.
On the other hand, if they are declaring their love, they will not feel the need to use any additional language around the verb: Je t’aime will say it all! Spotting these subtle differences can really help you get to the heart of the poetic matter.
Listen to love songs, too
The French culture is rich with all kinds of language about love! Using French love songs for listening exercises can be a great way to hear how terms of affection might be spoken aloud and will enable you to take your learning with you on the go.
The songs of celebrated singer Edith Piaf are packed full of great romantic vocabulary and can make useful learning tools. “Hymne à l’amour,” for example, recounts a tale of undying love, and was said to have been written by Piaf for the French boxer Marcel Cedan.
Jonny Hallyday, while renowned for his career in the rock n’ roll business, also penned one of the most enduring love songs in the French language. “Que je t’aime” lists all of the ways he loves the subject of his affection, and is a great resource for picking up a romantic phrase or two.
If you want some help deciphering the lyrics of some romantic French songs, you can get that (and more!) on FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
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You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
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French love songs obviously use many of the same elements as French love poetry, with music giving the lyrics more emotion. Listening to the words being sung and looking at the lyrics is a great way to get to grips with more modern French poetry, and understand how contemporary writers might address the subject and the object of their affections.
Buy a book of love poetry
If you really want to focus on love poetry, though, buying an entire book of it will serve you well.
The “Treasury of French Love Poems” contains the works of many of France’s most celebrated poets in both French and English. Depending on your level of French, you can read the poems in their native form, use the book as a way to check your own translations or use the English translations to help you understand the French.
If you want to look at the work of one writer in particular, “Last Love Poems of Paul Eluard” is a great book. All of the poems appear in both French and English and the book comes with an introduction detailing the linguistic and cultural context that the poems were written within.
Working through the texts of one writer in particular can be a great way of understanding style and tone, making translation much easier. Once you pick up on specific turns of phrase that a writer may use, you will be able to understand more of their work with much greater ease!
Below, we will go over six poems from six more writers as well as recommendations to further explore their work.
Using Valentine’s Day as an excuse to brush up on your language skills is a great way to advance in French and learn a thing or two about the culture at the same time.
French poetry is a rich source of the language, and using it to further your knowledge will introduce you to many new vocabulary points.
Sometimes, you just need to spread the love!
6 French Valentine Poems for Cozying Up to the Language
1. “Pour toujours !”
Entitled “Forever!,” this poem by François Coppée is a traditionally romantic poem, using themes of longing in its language. Presented mainly in the first person, the poem describes someone talking to their love, describing the enduring relationship that they will have into the future.
Love here is presented as something enduring without time, lasting well past the deaths of both parties involved. The poem is intense in its affection for the loved one, gradually uncovering how in sync with one another the pair are.
When it comes to learning romantic French vocabulary, “Pour toujours” has you particularly well covered. Although more traditional and less modern in its use of the language, it talks about the subject in a timeless, classical way.
Set out in short stanzas, this poem can be used as a speaking exercise in order to test your pronunciation. You can try slowly reading out a stanza at a time, getting a sense of the meaning behind the words as you go. Each day, add a new stanza until, by the end of your week, you can recite the entire thing. You can even try reciting it out loud to your loved ones!
If you find that you particularly like François Coppée’s work, you might consider buying a book of his poems. “Souvenirs d’un Parisien” is a great book for getting used to his writing style and will help you to get to grips with French poetic language while on the go!
2. “À deux beaux yeux”
Penned by French poet Théophile Gautier, “Two Beautiful Eyes” is an ode to…you guessed it, a lover’s pair of eyes. It runs through all of the ways that the writer finds them beautiful.
Addressing the object of affection, the poem uses a wide range of descriptive and creative language in order to express just how he finds his or her eyes to be. He even goes on to liken the eyes to the soul by saying, Ils sont si transparents, qu’ils laissent voir votre âme (“They are so transparent, that you can see your soul”), recalling the age-old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul.
Gautier moves between the third and the second person, doing so when differentiating between the person he is addressing and their eyes, which he objectifies. When he begins his passages of detailed description, he does so in reference to the eyes, and the things they say about the person they belong to.
With some of the most ornate language here, “À deux beaux yeux” is a great piece to use for learning vocabulary. While some of the words are more complex than others, knowing them will help to expand your understanding of French and will improve your ability to comprehend more French literature and writing in the future.
Focus on a stanza at a time and, using a dictionary, translate some of the adjectives in each sentence. Once you have made a list of vocabulary, you can then try writing your own short sentences or poems using the new words. The more ways in which you use them, the more likely you will be to remember them in the future.
If you’re interested in exploring Gautier’s writing further, you can check out plenty more of his poetry at poesie-francaise.fr.
Written by one of the most celebrated French writers of all time, Victor Hugo, “Lise” is a tale of first love, told from the perspective of a young boy who has now become a man. Written initially in the past tense—J’avais douze ans (I was twelve)—the poem looks back in reflection, recounting the memories the speaker has of the girl of his affections, who was older than him.
One of the most talented wordsmiths in literature, Hugo makes great use of wordplay, and spotting the different double meanings planted in the poem is a great exercise to improve your French.
While the title of the poem, “Lise,” seems to refer to the object of his affections, or another girl—Je l’appelais mademoiselle Lise (I called her miss Lise)—it can also refer to the act of reading, as in Il faut parfois qu’on lise (Sometimes you have to read).
There are a few other interesting turns of phrase in the poem that can be discovered in reading and writing exercises. Try reading the text through, writing down words with double meanings and constructing two new sentences that use each word in both ways. For example, you could use Lise/lise within a short French poem of your own.
If you’re interested in discovering more of Hugo’s work, there’s a lot out there! The book “Poèmes de Victor Hugo” contains a number of his works, all in French.
4. “Nous dormirons ensemble”
A love poem by Louis Aragon, “We’ll Sleep Together” is another great one for getting into romantic French vocabulary. Structured in three stanzas, the poem talks of the strong bond formed between a couple. Mentioning the potential obstacles that could come between them, it focuses on the strength in their relationship, declaring that, despite whatever else might go on in the world, nous dormirons ensemble (we’ll sleep together).
As their love is compared to what is going on in the world around them, the poem makes good use of opposites, stressing the strength of the couple’s connection.
The opening stanza in particular is a good example of this, as it uses pairings like dans l’enfer ou le paradis (in hell or heaven) and soir ou matin minuit midi (evening or morning midnight midday).
You may want to take the opportunity to compile a list of words that you can use in your own writing. Each day, try thinking of three new descriptive opposites, and at the end of the week, choose your three favorite pairings. You can then include the words in your own poem, using the pairings to express your own emotions on any topic you choose.
If you’re interested in more of Aragon’s romantic poetry, then his book “Le Crève-cœur” is a great read for seeing more of his style. Written during WWII, the poems are both nationalistic and romantic, and speak about love in many different ways.
Written by celebrated French writer Arthur Rimbaud, “Sensation” takes a different angle on the topic of love, looking at it from the perspective of love for nature rather a romantic relationship.
The majority of the poem is taken up with descriptions of the natural environment, as the speaker takes an evening stroll through corn fields. Despite the lack of a human object of affection, the poem is still very romantic in tone, using ornate and descriptive language to pay homage to Mother Nature.
While he does go on to say that mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme (but infinite love will rise in my soul), this isn’t necessarily in a romantic sense—and given the setting of the poem, it seems to be talking about something entirely different.
The clue is in the ending as, in the closing line, Rimbaud finally reveals the object of his affections. While love in the poem is associated with the body and with feeling, it is done so in a very different way than the other poems here.
This poem is a great resource for exploring how the subject of love can be associated with all sorts of relationships and how, as a result, the vocabulary that you use can take on a whole range of different meanings, all depending on the context.
Think of your favorite hobby or activity. Try coming up with a few ways to describe it in a similar way to how Rimbaud describes nature in this poem. Approaching love in a more general sense is a great way of expanding your French vocabulary and adding another dimension to your expression skills.
To get a better understanding of Rimbaud’s writing style, you may want to see more of his poetry. “Poésies Complètes” brings together all of his published poems in one collection, enabling you to get lots of insight into his written tone and favorite themes.
While not all of the poems are related to love and romance, they are all written in the same kind of style, which will make translation and doing more exercises with them simpler.
6. “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose”
“Sweetheart, Let’s See if the Rose” is a poem written by Pierre de Ronsard that uses nature as a way of talking about romantic love. Unlike Rimbaud’s poem, however, this one describes elements of a rose and draws comparisons between it and the beauty of the speaker’s object of affections.
Looking at the flower’s petals, de Ronsard talks about the fragility of its beauty—une telle fleur ne dure que du matin jusques au soir (such a flower only lasts from morning until night)—which he later likens to his love’s own looks.
Unlike other poems that may talk about love as infinitely lasting, de Ronsard looks at the fleeting nature of beauty, and how you must seize it when you still have it.
“Mignonne, allons voir si la rose” uses an interesting rhyming pattern, following an AABCCB structure. Since this is slightly different from a more straightforward AABBCC pattern, de Ronsard’s rhymes can make for a great learning challenge that helps you really think about how the structure contributes to the overall aesthetic of the poem.
Try to copy the rhyming device of the poem, following de Ronsard’s AABCCB pattern in your verse. Using the same number of syllables per line as the poem’s, you can try writing your own, brainstorming rhyming words around the same theme. The more confident you become, the more verses you can write!
If you’re on the hunt for inspiration, try using a French rhyming dictionary to expand your vocabulary. This one will pair up any word you enter with a rhyming equivalent, even enabling you to select the number of letters within the word that you want to rhyme!
You can also try learning some more from collections of Ronsard’s other poems. This may be better for more adventurous and advanced learners, as Ronsard’s 16th-century writing makes use of French before it became standardized, resulting in different spellings and turns of phrase.
If you are interested in exploring more, “Ronsard : Poèmes” contains a number of love poems, among others, written in French. This book comes with a collection of English notes.
French love poetry is thought of as some of the most romantic in the world, and it also contains a whole range of different topics and language points that you can use for learning.
From reading exercises to vocabulary lessons and speaking practice, French love poetry can help you brush up on any area of your language skills, while impressing your loved ones at the same time.
Time to take some tips from the language of romance!
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