Letting My Arrows Fly

Explore Louise Labé's "Oh, Women of Lyon," a contemplation of love's sway over integrity and talent. Unravel the dichotomy in our lesson.

Letting My Arrows Fly
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Louise Labé, the 16th-century French poet, bemoans love's impact on her creative life. "In my green youth he got a hold of me," she writes. She was otherwise virtuous—not guilty of envy, deceit, or gossip—but love was her vice. Love, she claims, distracted her from "a hundred thousand ingenious feats of skill."
It never pained my eyes to have to see better rain fall on my neighbor than on me. I have not set discord among my friends, or debased myself to further my own ends.
To lie, to trick, or to abuse another — or to speak badly of anyone — makes me shudder. So, if there’s anything imperfect in my life, blame Love. He is the cause of all my strife.
In my green youth he got a hold of me, while I was exercising both my soul and body in a hundred thousand ingenious feats of skill which, in no time at all, he rendered dull.
Wanting to paint fine scenes in my sewing frame, I had challenged myself to extinguish the great fame of her who — surely more studious than wise — set her work against what Pallas had devised
And you should have seen me in armor, riding high, gripping my lance, letting my arrows fly!
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In youth, Labé intended to outcompete Arachne, "who — surely more studious than wise — set her work against what Pallas had devised." But alas, love dulled her creative ferocity and eroded her ambitions. (Pallas refers to Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, warfare, and craftsmanship. Arachne, claiming to be a better weaver than Athena—an unwise move—was challenged by the goddess to a weaving competition, but in the end was turned into a spider to weave forever as punishment for her claims.) Labé ends on a note of nostalgia: "you should have seen me in armor, riding high, gripping my lance, letting my arrows fly!

Story From

Louise Labé Collection