Louise Labe (1524 - 1566)
Louise Charlin Perrin Labé was born in the early 1520s to a prosperous rope-maker in Lyon. Bother her father and her stepmother were illiterate, but her father had her educated in languages as well as in music.
She was married in her early 20s to another rope-maker, some 30 years her senior. It was after her marriage that she began to participate in the literary circles of Lyon, which at the time challenged Paris as a cosmopolitan center and which allowed the bourgeoisie greater participation in cultural life than did the capital.
At the siege of Perpignan, she is said to have dressed in male clothing and fought on horseback in the ranks of the Dauphin, afterwards Henry II.
She formed a library and gathered round her a society which included many of the learned women of Lyons. In 1555 Euvres de Louize Labe Lionnoize was published in Lyon: it contained a prose dedicatory epistle to a local noblewoman, a prose Debat de Folie et d'Amour, 24 sonnets (the first in Italian), and three elegies.
In addition to her own writings, the volume contained twenty-four poems in her honor, authored by her male contemporaries. The book was popular enough that three other editions came out within a year (the first Revues et corrigees par la dite Dame), and it was widely-read enough to bring both praise from beyond Lyon and criticism for being immodest and "unwomanly."
The poet Olivier de Magny, in his Odes of 1559, praised Labé (along with several other women) as his beloved; and from the nineteenth century onward, literary critics speculated that Magny was in fact Labé's lover. However, the male beloved in Labé's poetry is never identified by name, and may well represent a poetic fiction rather than a historical person.
In 1564, the plague broke out in Lyon, taking the lives of some of Labé's friends. In 1565, suffering herself from bad health, she retired to the home of her friend Thomas Fortin, a banker from Florence, who witnessed her will. She died in 1566, leaving the greater part of her fortune to the poor, and was buried on her country property close to Parcieux-en-Dombes, outside Lyon.
Sonnet II - Your Cold, Appraising Eyes
Your cold, appraising eyes entice me still
And cause a hundred thousand sighs. Again,
And yet again, I wait and wait in vain.
The night is dark, the way is all uphill.
And when I dream about you, I am filled
With ceaseless turmoil and long-stifled pain.
Then, on a sudden, flashing through my brain,
I see my fate, and it’s a bitter pill.
Into the deep of night, I speak your name.
My hard-fought struggle with the gentle art
Of making verses cannot long subdue
All passion and desire. A fit of flame
Flares up, ignites, and burns within my heart.
Would that one red-hot spark might fly on you!
Sonnet VIII - I Live, I Die
I live, I die, I burn with fire, I drown.
It matters very little what I feel;
All life is now too real, now too surreal;
Joy comes and endless boredom weighs me down,
And suddenly I laugh and then I cry;
With grief and bliss I’m weeping for the past;
Good feelings go away and yet they last,
And suddenly I bleed and then I sigh.
That’s how it goes. Strange, ever changing love
Has worn me out. I wish I were removed
From such a star-crossed fate! I need a truce
With Lady Luck. Again and yet again,
Her wheel is spinning madly to produce
This wanton, wild, intense, exquisite pain.