Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

In addition to the two collections of short narrative poems named above (one of which, the Fables, is a translation), Marie de France translated a long poem, the Espurgatoire Saint Patriz (1208-1215; Saint Patrick’s Purgatory). The Latin original, Tractatus de purgatorio Sancti Patricii (1208; Treatise on Saint Patrick’s Purgatory), has been attributed to Henry of Saltrey. Although the particular version Marie translated is no longer extant, virtually all of its lines are to be found in surviving manuscripts. The translation is a faithful one, to which a brief prologue and epilogue (and only a few “asides” or editorial comments) have been added. Because it is a translation and not an original work, its chief interest—if it is properly attributed to Marie de France—is in the testimony it bears to the poet’s thorough knowledge of Latin and to her concern, expressed in the epilogue, that the treatise be accessible to the layperson. The narrative also bears some resemblance in form to the genre of the roman (romance), which was becoming increasingly popular in this period. St. Patrick’s “purgatory” is a cave on an island in Lough Derg, Donegal, which to this day still draws pilgrims; it was said to have been revealed to St. Patrick in answer to a prayer, and those who enter it hope to witness or experience the sufferings of the souls in purgatory. The treatise translated by Marie describes the...

(The entire section is 430 words.)