About Louise Labé
Louise Labé was born in the year 1524 in the French city Lion. As her father was a succesful ropemaker, but did not want his daughter to have anything to do with this business. She would later on go against his will and marry a ropemaker, Ennemond Perrin.
The nickname, La belle cordière is derived from her original nickname: La belle Amazone. She was not only a gifted horsewoman, she was also considered to be very beautiful.
There is not much to tell about the facts of her life. For instance, the day she was born is still a mystery. There is more to say about the family she was born into. A rich family of ropemakers, butchers and surgeons. The Labé family gained social status, when her father participated in an organisation to help the poor living in Lyon.
Labé was probably educated and learned to play instruments. She also learned to ride horses.
Together with her husband, Labé continued the rope manufracturing of her father, after he died. With the income, the couple was able to buy a townhouse in Parcieux-en-Dombes.
Labé and poetry
Louise Labé must have had an interest in poetry for a long time. When she was finally able to do this, she hosted a literary salon. Many of the talented French poets of the sixteenth century made an appearance there. It was then, that was the final motivation to start writing poetry herself. This was rather unusual at that time. Poets were men, women did not involve themselves with literature and especially not poetry. It was no other than the French king Henry II giving her permission to publish her work. He gave his blessings for a period of five years. This lead to the publication of her work in 1555. But, the work did not only contain her own work. Many others were included.
The fact that she did things that were normal for men, but not for women, raised protest. She was not behaving well and therefore she was the subjects of several publications against her. She was considered someone, who did not act or behave as a woman should.
Misery struck in 1564, when the plague broke out in the city. She did not die, but many of her friends did. A year after the plague broke out, she moved to the house of Thomas Fortin and she made a will. At that time, her health was worsening. She died the same year on April 25 1566.
Ignoring the wish or her father, riding as an amazone in men’s clothes and having literary aspirations: nowadays normal, but not in the sixteenth century. This makes Labé one of the few feminsts of the sixteenth century. However, as it comes to her poetry, she was not always taken seriously. When reading such a fine poem as I live, I die, I burn, I drown, it shows the true qualities of this poetess.
About this poem
You will probably remember the poem I live, I die, I burn, I drown from the poetess Delmira Augustini. The texts are the same. And yes, it is the same poem. Augustini translated this poem, giving it a new life. The original, however, is written by Louise Labé
I live, I die, I burn, I drown
I live, I die, I burn, I drown
I endure at once chill and cold
Life is at once too soft and too hard
I have sore troubles mingled with joys
Suddenly I laugh and at the same time cry
And in pleasure many a grief endure
My happiness wanes and yet it lasts unchanged
All at once I dry up and grow green
Thus I suffer love’s inconstancies
And when I think the pain is most intense
Without thinking, it is gone again.
Then when I feel my joys certain
And my hour of greatest delight arrived
I find my pain beginning all over once again.
— Louise Labé
The original (French) version:
Je vis, je meurs : je me brule et me noye
Je vis, je meurs : je me brule et me noye.
J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure :
La vie m’est et trop molle et trop dure.
J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye :
Tout à un coup je ris et je larmoye,
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j’endure :
Mon bien s’en va, et à jamais il dure :
Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye.
Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine :
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.
Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certeine,
Et estre au haut de mon desiré heur,
Il me remet en mon premier malheur.
— Louise Labé
A new life: translation
This poem was given a new life, after the translation by Delmira Augustini. Read more about her life in this article.