Famous French Poets

French literature has an equally rich history, just like many other languages in the world. One of the earliest forms of French literature was poetry, a form which mushroomed during the medieval ages. Historical accounts suggest that poets such as Adam de la Halle had introduced the people of France to this literary form as early as 12th century A.D. Later on, poets like Paul Verlaine penned poetic masterpieces such as ‘Poèmes Saturniens’, which marked the pinnacle of French literature. A few other individuals who played a pivotal role in popularizing this literary form in this European nation were Catherine d'Amboise, Antonin Artaud, and Guillaume Apollinaire. These people went on to inspire many others to turn towards literature and the result was evident in the later part of the 19th and 20th centuries. This era witnessed great pieces of poetry, and the rise of names such as Louis Aragon and Natalie Clifford Barney, Who took the legacy of their predecessors forward. Here we bring you a collection of biographies of some of the most famous French poets. Read on and find out all about their life stories, timelines and also few interesting facts & trivia related to their lives.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo
9
Famous As: Novelist & Poet
Birthdate: February 26, 1802
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Besançon, France
Died: May 22, 1885

Victor Hugo was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist of the Romantic movement. Regarded as one of the best-known and greatest French writers of all time, Victor Hugo wrote abundantly during his career that spanned over six decades. Thanks to his works, such as Hernani and Cromwell, Victor Hugo was one of the leading figures of the Romantic literary movement.

 2 Jules Verne

Jules Verne
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 8, 1828
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Nantes, France
Died: March 24, 1905
French author Jules Verne, also known as the “Father of Science Fiction,” is best remembered for his legendary adventure novels Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He also became the world’s second most-translated writer since 1979.

 3 Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire
6
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 9, 1821
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 31, 1867
French prose poet, essayist, and critic Charles Baudelaire was one of the first translators of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Best known for his book of poems Les Fleurs du mal, he is believed to have coined the word modernity and was associated with the symbolist and decadent movements.
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 4 Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
4
Famous As: Novelist, Aviator & Journalist
Birthdate: June 29, 1900
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lyon, France
Died: July 31, 1944

French writer, poet, aristocrat, and journalist, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is best remembered for his novella, The Little Prince. He was a pioneering aviator as a young man. A successful commercial pilot before World War II, he joined the French Air Force at the start of the war. Equally successful as a writer, he won several of France's highest literary awards.

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 5 Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud
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Famous As: French poet known for his transgressive and surreal themes and for his influence on modern literature and arts.
Birthdate: October 20, 1854
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Charleville-Mézières, France
Died: November 10, 1891

French poet Arthur Rimbaud is remembered for his influence on Dadaism, surrealism, and symbolism. Known for works such as Le Soleil Etait Encore Chaud and Voyelles, he later got involved in a relationship with poet Paul Verlaine. He also traveled as a merchant and explorer, before dying of cancer.

 6 Moliere

Moliere
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Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: January 15, 1622
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Rue Saint Honoré, Paris, France
Died: February 17, 1673

Moliere was a French poet, playwright, and actor. Considered one of the greatest French-language writers of all time, Moliere's plays are often performed at the Comédie-Française and have been translated into several languages. Moliere had a huge impact on the French language and is widely regarded as the creator of modern French comedy.

 7 Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau
4
Famous As: Poet, Playwright, filmmaker
Birthdate: July 5, 1889
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Maisons-Laffitte, France
Died: October 11, 1963
While Jean Cocteau preferred calling himself a poet, his multidimensional works consisted of novels such as Les Enfants Terribles and films directed by him such as La Belle et la Bête. Cocteau relied on motifs such as eyes, blood, and mirrors, and mingled mythology and modernism.
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 8 Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 4, 1896
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Marseille, France
Died: March 4, 1948

Antonin Artaud was a French writer, poet, dramatist, and theater director. Known for his raw, surreal, and transgressive themes, he was a major figure in 20th-century theater. He outlined his theories in the Theatre of Cruelty movement, expressed in the form of essays and plays. He died of cancer at the age of 51.  

 9 Andre Breton

Andre Breton
4
Famous As: Writer, Co-Founder of Surrealism
Birthdate: February 18, 1896
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tinchebray, Tinchebray-Bocage, France
Died: September 28, 1966

Born into a family of shopkeepers, French poet André Breton initially studied medicine and psychiatry. He then joined Dadaism and eventually branched out and became one of the pioneers of the surrealist movement. Known for his Surrealist Manifestos, Breton was also a collector of manuscripts, sculptures, and paintings.

 10 Paul Verlaine

Paul Verlaine
5
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 30, 1844
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Metz, France
Died: January 8, 1896

Paul Verlaine was a French poet best remembered for his association with the Decadent movement and the Symbolist movement. He is regarded as one of the most important representatives of the fin de siècle in French and international poetry. His poetry served as an inspiration for composers like Gabriel Fauré, who composed several mélodies based on Verlaine's poems.

 11 François Rabelais

François Rabelais
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Chinon, France
Died: 1553 AD

François Rabelais was a French writer, Renaissance humanist, physician, monk, and Greek scholar. Regarded as one of the great writers by Western literary critics, Rabelais is also considered one of the creators of modern European writing. He is remembered for Gargantua and Pantagruel, a pentalogy of novels that are regarded as one of the earliest forms of the modern novel.

 12 Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 26, 1880
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Died: November 9, 1918

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was a significant figure of the avant-garde movement. It is believed he had coined the terms Cubism, Surrealism, and Orphism. Known for his iconic poem Chanson du mal-aimé, written after being rejected by a lover, he also developed the typography-based concrete poetry in the collection Calligrammes.

 13 Eugene Ionesco

Eugene Ionesco
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Famous As: Playwright and dramatist
Birthdate: November 26, 1909
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Slatina, Romania Slatina, Romania
Died: March 28, 1994

 14 Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: 1079 AD
Birthplace: Le Pallet, France
Died: April 21, 1142

Medieval French philosopher, theologian, and poet Peter Abelard was born to a knight but gave up his inheritance to study philosophy and logic. He fell in love with his pupil, Héloïse, but her uncle got Abelard castrated, following which Abelard became a monk and made Héloïse a nun.

 15 Jean Racine

Jean Racine
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Famous As: Dramatist
Birthdate: December 22, 1639
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: La Ferté-Milon, Kingdom of France
Died: April 21, 1699

 16 Anatole France

Anatole France
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 16, 1844
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: October 12, 1924

Anatole France was a French poet, novelist, and journalist. Renowned for writing many best-sellers, Anatole France was one of the most respected French writers of his generation. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921 for his brilliant literary achievements.

 17 Jean de La Fontaine

Jean de La Fontaine
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Famous As: Fabulist
Birthdate: July 8, 1621
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Château-Thierry, Champagne, France
Died: April 13, 1695

Seventeenth-century French author Jean de La Fontaine is best remembered for his Fables. Initially a forest inspector, he later attended the salons of aristocratic patrons, where he met scholars, authors, and philosophers. Though he faced royal opposition, he was eventually made a part of the French Academy.

 18 Aime Cesaire

Aime Cesaire
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: June 26, 1913
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Basse-Pointe, Martinique, France
Died: April 17, 2008

 19 Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: February 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint Pierre, Réunion

Michel Houellebecq is a French author known for his novels, essays, and poems. He also occasionally makes films. As controversial as he is popular, he has been accused of obscenity, misogyny, racism, and Islamophobia. His works generally receive positive responses and some critics consider him one of the greatest living authors today. He is a recipient of the Prix Goncourt. 

 20 Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara
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Famous As: Romanian and French Avant-Garde Poet, essayist and performance artist
Birthdate: April 28, 1896
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Moinești, Romania
Died: December 25, 1963

Tristan Tzara was a Romanian-born French avant-garde performance artist, poet, and essayist. A multi-talented personality, Tzara was also active as a playwright, journalist, art and literary critic, film director, and composer. Tristan Tzara is best remembered for co-founding the anti-establishment Dada movement, which he helped popularize. He is also credited with co-founding the Romanian literary and art magazine Simbolul.   

 21 Jean Genet

Jean Genet
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 19, 1910
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 14, 1986

Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist, essayist, poet, and political activist. Genet is best remembered for his transformation into a writer and playwright after spending his early life as a petty criminal and vagabond. His best-known works include novels, such as Our Lady of the Flowers and The Thief's Journal.

 22 Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé
3
Famous As: Poet, Critic
Birthdate: March 18, 1842
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 9, 1898

Stéphane Mallarmé was a French poet whose work inspired many artistic schools of the 20th century like Surrealism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Cubism. Over the years, his poetry has also served as an inspiration for many musical pieces, including Claude Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Mallarmé's work also influenced Man Ray's film, Les Mystères du Château de Dé.

 23 Emmanuelle Riva

Emmanuelle Riva
4
Famous As: Former Actress best known for her roles in the films Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Amour (2012)
Birthdate: February 24, 1927
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cheniménil, France
Died: January 27, 2017

Emmanuelle Riva was a French actress best remembered for her portrayal of Anne Laurent in the 2012 romantic drama film Amour for which she won the prestigious César Award as well as a BAFTA Award. Riva achieved national recognition when she played the lead role in the 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour for which she earned a BAFTA Award nomination.

 24 Bertrand Cantat

Bertrand Cantat
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Famous As: Singer, Guitarist, Lyricist, Singer-songwriter, Poet
Birthdate: March 5, 1964
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pau

Former frontman of the French rock band Noir Désir, Bertrand Cantat made headlines when he beat his girlfriend actor Marie Trintignant to death in a Lithuanian hotel. His sentence of 8 years was later commuted to 4. His ex-wife Krisztina Rády later committed suicide in his presence at her home.

 25 Paul Éluard

Paul Éluard
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: December 14, 1895
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Saint-Denis, France
Died: November 18, 1952

 26 Paul Valery

Paul Valery
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: October 30, 1871
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Sète, France
Died: July 20, 1945

Paul Valery was a French poet, philosopher, and essayist. Thanks to his immense contribution to literature, Valery received several nominations for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. The title of the 2013 Japanese animated historical drama film The Wind Rises was inspired by one of Paul Valery's verses. Also, his poem Palme inspired James Merrill's celebrated poem, Lost in Translation.

 27 Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service
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Famous As: Poet & Writer
Birthdate: January 16, 1874
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Preston, Lancashire, England
Died: September 11, 1958

Robert W. Service was a British-Canadian poet and writer. Popularly called "the Bard of the Yukon," he wrote some of the most commercially successful poetry of his era. A bank clerk by profession, he often wrote while traveling for work. Besides poetry, he also wrote fiction and non-fiction. He was often compared to English writer and novelist Rudyard Kipling. 

 28 Jean Arp

Jean Arp
3
Famous As: Sculptor
Birthdate: September 16, 1886
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Strasbourg, France
Died: June 7, 1966

Jean Arp was born in Strasbourg, to a German father and a French mother. After studying art in Paris and Switzerland, he co-created The Modern Alliance and participated in the Dada and Abstraction-Création movements. An avant-garde painter and sculptor, he also experimented with media such as embroidery.

 29 Charles Maurras

Charles Maurras
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: April 20, 1868
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Martigues, France
Died: November 16, 1952

 30 Georges Brassens

Georges Brassens
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: October 22, 1921
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sète, France
Died: October 29, 1981

 31 Théophile Gautier

Théophile Gautier
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 30, 1811
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tarbes, France
Died: October 23, 1872

 32 Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut
4
Famous As: Composer, Poet
Birthdate: 1300 AD
Birthplace: Reims, France
Died: April 13, 1377

 33 Eliphas Levi

Eliphas Levi
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 8, 1810
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 31, 1875
Alphonse Louis Constant, better known by his pseudonym, Eliphas Levi, had abandoned his wish to become a Catholic priest to become a famed magician, occultist, and author of the 19th century. He is best remembered for his iconic work Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual and his theory of magic. 

 34 Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken
3
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: June 15, 1835
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bordeaux, France
Died: August 10, 1868

 35 Chris Marker

Chris Marker
3
Famous As: Film producer, Film critic, Film director, Photographer, Artist, Screenwriter, Film editor, Television producer, Multimedia artist, Journalist, Cinematographer, Teacher, Poet
Birthdate: July 29, 1921
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine
Died: July 29, 2012

Chris Marker was a French photographer, writer, multimedia artist, film director, and film essayist. He is considered an exponent of the Left Bank subgroup of the French New Wave that came into existence in the 1950s and 1960s. After starting his career by working with members of the Left Bank Film Movement, Marker went on to help popularize the genre.

 36 Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 8, 1903
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
Died: December 17, 1987

Belgian-born French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, who later settled in the US, is best remembered for her award-winning works such as Mémoires d'Hadrien. She was also the first female member to be elected to the Académie Française. She used an anagram of her original last name, Crayencour, as her surname.

 37 Alfred de Musset

Alfred de Musset
3
Famous As: Dramatist, Poet, Novelist
Birthdate: December 11, 1810
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 2, 1857

French playwright and author Alfred de Musset is best remembered for his autobiographical The Confession of a Child of the Century. Though he was supposedly part of the Romantic movement, many of his works satirized the movement. He stopped allowing his plays to be staged after The Venetian Night flopped.

 38 Chrétien de Troyes

Chrétien de Troyes
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Famous As: Former poet and trouvère known for his writing on Arthurian subjects, and for first writing of Lancelot, Percival and the Holy Grail
Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Troyes, France

 39 Charles of Valois

Charles of Valois
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: March 12, 1270
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vincennes
Died: December 16, 1325

 40 Nicholas I of Montenegro

Nicholas I of Montenegro
3
Famous As: ruler of Montenegro from 1860 to 1918
Birthdate: October 7, 1841
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Njeguši, Montenegro
Died: March 1, 1921

 41 Jean Metzinger

Jean Metzinger
3
Famous As: Painter
Birthdate: June 24, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nantes, France
Died: November 3, 1956

 42 Marie De France

Marie De France
3
Famous As: French poet
Birthdate: 1160 AD
Birthplace: France
Died: 1215 AD

 43 Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia
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Famous As: Painter
Birthdate: January 22, 1879
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 30, 1953

 44 Louis Aragon

Louis Aragon
3
Famous As: Former surrealist writer, co-founded with André Breton and Philippe Soupault the surrealist review Littérature
Birthdate: October 3, 1897
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: December 24, 1982

 45 Charles, Duke of Orléans

Charles, Duke of Orléans
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: November 24, 1394
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 5, 1465

 46 Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 27, 1884
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bar-sur-Aube, France
Died: October 16, 1962

 47 Adam de la Halle

Adam de la Halle
3
Famous As: Former trouvère, poet and musician
Birthdate: 1237 AD
Birthplace: Arras, France
Died: 1288 AD

 48 Alfred Jarry

Alfred Jarry
3
Famous As: Playwright, Writer, Poet, Novelist
Birthdate: September 8, 1873
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Laval
Died: November 1, 1907

 49 Savitri Devi

Savitri Devi
4
Famous As: Writer, Poet
Birthdate: September 30, 1905
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Lyon, France
Died: October 22, 1982

Born in Lyon, Frenchwoman Maximiani Julia Portas later changed her name to Savitri Devi and adopted Nazism. The ardent cat lover earned a PhD in philosophy and later acquired Greek nationality and served as an Axis spy. She claimed Adolf Hitler was an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.

 50 Edmond Rostand

Edmond Rostand
3
Famous As: Former poet and dramatist associated with neo-romanticism, became best-known for his 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac
Birthdate: April 1, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Marseille, France
Died: December 2, 1918