Jan 19: Guigemar

In Guigemar, it is a deer, part of nature, who curses him with the words “The pain an anguish she shall have – greater than ever woman has known – shall wound you too and be your own. Many shall marvel and be aghast – lovers present, and lovers past, lovers who will love by and by. Now go: leave me to die.” [116-122] However, this curse ultimately leads to Guigemar’s openness to finding love and his eventual happiness. How does Marie de France’s portrayal of nature as the activating force in Guigemar’s romantic journey align with more contemporary works regarding nature? How is it nature portrayed differently here?

3 thoughts on “Jan 19: Guigemar

  1. Nature is a very powerful force in “Guigemar”. It is “nature” that has decided the man’s fate from the very beginning, even before he is cursed. “In one way, Nature, though did err:/ for love this young man had no care” [57-58]. Very much like fairytales written by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, nature affects the protagonist as a driving force for the plot. In “Thumbelina” by Anderson, the protagonist is born of a flower. The size of the flower then influences the size of Thumbelina, giving her a disadvantage going into the world. “Nature” cursed Guigemar with a high opinion of love, leaving him alone. This portrayal of nature, I would argue, goes along with the classic fairy tale of any era. It is an incredibly influential part of “Guigemar”, just like the flower is in Thumbelina.

  2. Nature is represented in more ways than one in Guigemar’s tale. He is cursed in life by nature through the inability to have any interest in love and he is again cursed by nature (literally) as the stag curses him with a fatal wound until he can take an interest in love to find a woman’s love to heal him. “The pain and anguish she shall have greater than ever woman has known shall wound you too and be your own (116-118).” The stag wants him to find a woman to love him and his wound will be healed. The story is quite similar to Beauty and the Beast, where the beast is cursed and must find love or he will remain a beast forever. The main difference is that Guigemar seems to be great in other categories but not love. Nature behaves as the catalyst through his life and serves as a progressive element.

  3. From the very beginning of the poem’s story, nature seems to be conspiring to correct its own error [57], that of Guigmar’s antipathy to love. The hind, while clearly a part of nature, at first appears to have little to do with the ship that serves as the engine for most of the story’s plot, but I think they are closely related. The hind, colored white and sporting a stag’s antlers [89-92], is a medieval symbol of the supernatural. And it seems fairly clear that the ship, which moves by its own will and directly toward the one woman who can free Guigmar from his agony, is a supernatural force as well. It seems unlikely to me that two supernatural forces appear in this poem purely by coincidence. While the stag is punishing Guigmar for its death, in a way it is a punishment that heals, since it leads to his ultimate happiness and wholeness, no longer an error of nature. Nature is thus infused with the supernatural nearly everywhere in the poem. It has a will of its own, and works toward the good of a man who doesn’t deserve it; Nature is merciful.

    This is quite a contrast to contemporary views of nature, which see it as purely governed by the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, and deny that there is any will or intention anywhere in nature. When we do see emotional qualities in depictions of nature today, they veer more toward the harsh and unforgiving — quite the opposite of nature as seen in Guigmar. At the same time, Marie de France’s image of nature does find modern echoes in stories like Avatar, where nature is seen as a healthy and healing force in comparison to the fruits of technology, science, and industrialism.

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