Famous French Poets

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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.

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 1 
Victor Hugo
(French Writer of the Romantic Movement Best Known for His Novel 'Les Misérables' and Play 'Ruy Blas')
Victor Hugo
11
Birthdate: February 26, 1802
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Besançon, Doubs, 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
(French Author Who Was One of the Pioneers of the Modern Science Fiction Genre)
Jules Verne
6
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
(French Poet Known for His Handling of Rhyme & Rhythm and His Book 'Les Fleurs du mal')
Charles Baudelaire
8
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
(French Poet, Author, and Aviator Best Known for His Novella ‘The Little Prince’)
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
4
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
(French Poet Known for His Works: ‘The Drunken Boat’, ‘A Season in Hell’ and ‘Illuminations’)
Arthur Rimbaud
7
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 
Jean Cocteau
(French Author and Artist Who Was One of the Foremost Creatives of the 'Surrealist', 'Avant-Garde', and 'Dadaist' Movements.)
Jean Cocteau
4
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.
 7 
Antonin Artaud
(French Writer, Theatre Director and One of the Major Figures of the European Avant-Garde)
Antonin Artaud
4
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.  

 8 
Andre Breton
(French Writer, Poet and Co-Founder of ‘Surrealism’)
Andre Breton
4
Birthdate: February 19, 1896
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tinchebray, 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.

 9 
Paul Verlaine
(One of the Greatest French Poets of the 19th Century)
Paul Verlaine
5
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.

 10 
François Rabelais
(French Renaissance Writer and Physician Known for His Work ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’)
François Rabelais
4
Birthdate: 1494 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.

 11 
Guillaume Apollinaire
(Known for His Poems Without Punctuation)
Guillaume Apollinaire
4
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.

 12 
Eugène Ionesco
(Romanian-French Playwright and Leading Figure of the 'French Avant-Garde Theatre')
Eugène Ionesco
4
Birthdate: November 26, 1909
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Slatina, Romania Slatina, Romania
Died: March 28, 1994

Eugene Ionesco was a Romanian-French playwright and one of the 20th century's leading figures of the French avant-garde theatre. He is best remembered for his play, The Bald Soprano, which played an important role in the development of the Theatre of the Absurd. Eugène Ionesco was the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

 13 
Peter Abelard
(French Scholastic Philosopher, Logician and Theologian Known for Developing the Concept of 'Limbo')
Peter Abelard
4
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.

 14 
Jean de La Fontaine
(French Fabulist and One of the Most Widely Read French Poets of the 17th Century)
Jean de La Fontaine
4
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.

 15 
Anatole France
(One of the Best-Selling French Poet and Novelist)
Anatole France
4
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.

 16 
Jean Racine
(Dramatist)
Jean Racine
4
Birthdate: December 22, 1639
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: La Ferté-Milon, Kingdom of France
Died: April 21, 1699
 17 
Aime Cesaire
4
Birthdate: June 26, 1913
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Basse-Pointe, Martinique, France
Died: April 17, 2008
 18 
Michel Houellebecq
(Author Best Known for His Works 'Atomised' and 'The Map and the Territory')
Michel Houellebecq
9
Birthdate: February 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint-Pierre, Réunion, France

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. 

 19 
Stéphane Mallarmé
(French Symbolist Poet)
Stéphane Mallarmé
3
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.

 20 
Tristan Tzara
(French Writer Known for Being One of the Founders and Central Figures of the Anti-Establishment 'Dada Movement')
Tristan Tzara
4
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 
Paul Éluard
3
Birthdate: December 14, 1895
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Saint-Denis, France
Died: November 18, 1952
 22 
Paul Valery
(French Poet, Essayist and Philosopher)
Paul Valery
3
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.

 23 
Robert W. Service
(Poet & Writer)
Robert W. Service
10
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. 

 24 
Eliphas Levi
(French Ceremonial Magician, Occultist and Author of 19th Century Book 'Transcendental Magic')
Eliphas Levi
3
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. 
 25 
Théophile Gautier
3
Birthdate: August 30, 1811
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tarbes, France
Died: October 23, 1872
 26 
Charles Maurras
3
Birthdate: April 20, 1868
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Martigues, France
Died: November 16, 1952
 27 
Jean Genet
(Writer Known for His Novels 'The Thief's Journal' & 'Our Lady of The Flowers')
Jean Genet
10
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.

 28 
Boris Vian
(Writer)
Boris Vian
3
Birthdate: March 10, 1920
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Ville-d'Avray, Hauts-de-Seine, France
Died: June 23, 1959
Charles, Duke of Orléans
3
Birthdate: November 24, 1394
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 5, 1465
 30 
Chris Marker
(Film producer, Film critic, Film director, Photographer, Artist, Screenwriter, Film editor, Television producer, Multimedia artist, Journalist, Cinematographer, Teacher, Poet)
Chris Marker
3
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.

 31 
Marguerite Yourcenar
(French Novelist, Essayist and First Woman Elected to the 'Académie Française')
Marguerite Yourcenar
3
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.

 32 
Georges Brassens
3
Birthdate: October 22, 1921
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sète, France
Died: October 29, 1981
 33 
Alfred de Musset
(French Writer Best Known for His Autobiographical Novel ‘The Confession of a Child of the Century’)
Alfred de Musset
3
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.

 34 
Chrétien de Troyes
(Former poet and trouvère known for his writing on Arthurian subjects, and for first writing of Lancelot, Percival and the Holy Grail)
Chrétien de Troyes
3
Birthplace: Troyes, France
 35 
Adah Isaacs Menken
3
Birthdate: June 15, 1835
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bordeaux, France
Died: August 10, 1868
 36 
Charles of Valois
4
Birthdate: March 12, 1270
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vincennes
Died: December 16, 1325
 37 
Marie De France
(French poet)
Marie De France
3
Birthdate: 1160 AD
Birthplace: France
Died: 1215 AD
 38 
Jean Metzinger
3
Birthdate: June 24, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nantes, France
Died: November 3, 1956
 39 
Louis Aragon
(Former surrealist writer, co-founded with André Breton and Philippe Soupault the surrealist review Littérature)
Louis Aragon
3
Birthdate: October 3, 1897
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: December 24, 1982
 40 
Gaston Bachelard
(Philosopher)
Gaston Bachelard
3
Birthdate: June 27, 1884
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bar-sur-Aube, France
Died: October 16, 1962
 41 
Adam de la Halle
(Former trouvère, poet and musician)
Adam de la Halle
3
Birthdate: 1237 AD
Birthplace: Arras, France
Died: 1288 AD
 42 
Bertrand Cantat
(Singer, Guitarist, Lyricist, Singer-songwriter, Poet)
Bertrand Cantat
5
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.

 43 
Max Jacob
(Poet)
Max Jacob
3
Birthdate: July 12, 1876
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Quimper, France
Died: March 5, 1944
Comte de Lautréamont
3
Birthdate: April 4, 1846
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Montevideo, Uruguay
Died: November 24, 1870
 45 
Paul Claudel
(Playwright, Poet, Diplomat, Writer, Diarist, Poet lawyer, Translator)
Paul Claudel
3
Birthdate: August 6, 1868
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Villeneuve-sur-Fère
Died: February 23, 1955

Born into a family of farmers, Paul Claudel grew up to join the foreign service of France, thus serving in places such as the US, China, and South America. While he traveled the world as a French ambassador to French ambassador, he also enriched French literature with his poems, essays, and plays.

 46 
François Fénelon
(Catholic Archbishop and the Author of 'The Adventures of Telemachus')
François Fénelon
3
Birthdate: August 6, 1651
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Sainte-Mondane, France
Died: January 7, 1715

François Fénelon was a French writer, poet, theologian, and Catholic archbishop. He is best remembered for his book The Adventures of Telemachus, which was published in 1699. François Fénelon also served as a tutor of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, guiding the character formation of Louis, Grand Dauphin's eldest son.

 47 
Guillaume de Machaut
(Composer, Poet)
Guillaume de Machaut
4
Birthdate: 1300 AD
Birthplace: Reims, France
Died: April 13, 1377
 48 
François Mauriac
3
Birthdate: October 11, 1885
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bordeaux, France
Died: September 1, 1970
 49 
Robert Desnos
3
Birthdate: July 4, 1900
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 8, 1945
 50 
Nicholas I of Montenegro
(ruler of Montenegro from 1860 to 1918)
Nicholas I of Montenegro
3
Birthdate: October 7, 1841
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Njeguši, Montenegro
Died: March 1, 1921