Louise Labé (c. 1522–1566) was a member of the sixteenth-century Lyon school of humanist poets dominated by Maurice Scève. Her wit, charm, and accomplishments, and the freedom she enjoyed provoked unverifiable legends, such as those claiming she rode to war, took to dressing like a man, and was a cultured courtesan known as La Belle Cordière (the Beautiful Rope Maker). In addition to love sonnets and elegies, Labé’s works include a dedicatory letter advocating women’s education and writing, and a philosophical prose dialogue, Débat de Folie et d’Amour (The Debate Between Folly and Love).
Now hailed as the French Renaissance answer to Sappho, Labé was little known until Rilke’s celebrated translations of her poems in 1918. “Light-years ahead of her time, Louise Labé jumped the gender divide, charted her own amorous destiny, wrote dazzling poetry, and became ‘one of the most celebrated women of her time.’”—Betsy Proileau