Christine de Pizan: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

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Christine de Pizan: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

In this time of pandemic and great social and economic dislocation and pain, the place for art is critical. Art can soothe us but, more importantly, it can remind us that the love of ideas and beauty and the persistence of a humane spirit still matter. In fact, they may save us.

Recently I have been reading some of the great French poets and I propose to share them with you. In this series, I will choose one poem from each of my favorite poets and translate it for you. These poems will be illustrated with some of my fine art photography. I hope they bring you peace and joy. (Click here for previous installments: Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valéry and Paul Verlaine.)

In the fifth essay, I bring you Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430). A renowned medieval feminist author and feminist, Christine de Pizan was also a prolific poet. Her poem, “Source de Plour, Riviére de Tristece,” is in the medieval French dialect called Occitan.

Source de plour, riviere de tristece,

Flun de doulour, mer d’amertume pleine

M’avironnent et noyent en grant peine

Mon pauvre cuer qui trop sent de destresce.

Si m’affondent et plungent en asprece;

Car parmi moy cuerent plus fort que Saine

Source de plour, riviere de tristece.

Et leurs grans floz cheent a grant largece,

Si com le vent de Fortune les meine,

Tous dessus moy, dont si bas suis qu’a peine

Releveray, tant durement m’oppresse

Source de plour, riviere de tristece.

Photo: Fern Nesson

My Translation:

Fountains of tears, rivers of sadness, streams of grief and bitter seas surround me. I drown in deep pain,
My poor heart suffers boundless distress.

I sink deep into despair:
more powerful than the Seine,
over me flow
fountains of tears, rivers of sadness.

The winds of Fortune heave and strain, creating great waves that hurl me below, so deep that to rise again
is impossible.

Fountains of tears, rivers of sadness.

Photo: Fern Nesson

Lead photo credit : Photo: Fern Nesson

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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fern Nesson is a fine art photographer with an MFA in photography. She visits Paris regularly where she captures interior scenes. Her work is abstract, and brings fresh perspective to lovers of Paris, while also illuminating interesting museum exhibitions and cultural events taking place in the City of Light. She recently published a book compilation of the popular Bonjour Paris series "50 Things I Miss About Paris." Purchase this beautiful, photography-filled book on Amazon or contact Fern directly by email: fernlnesson [at] She's offering a special deal for Bonjour Paris readers: purchase the book at cost, a $25 discount.


  • Carol Fraser
    2020-07-10 01:58:06
    Carol Fraser
    Hi Fern Thank you for that beautiful poem of Christine de Pizan , and for your stunning , arresting images ! I have had a love affair with Paris , France , and the French language for over a quarter of a century , but right now am marooned in London , where the Covid 19 pandemic has hit the capital hard - although viral infections and deaths have now decreased significantly since a hard lockdown was imposed over 3 months ago . Hope to be able to see an exhibition of your photographs one of these days - in the near future, when we are all able to travel more freely again ?! All best wishes , Carol