Pierre de Ronsard Essay - Ronsard, Pierre de (Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Ronsard, Pierre de (Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Pierre de Ronsard 1524-1585

French poet and critic.

The following entry presents recent critical discussion of Ronsard. For a survey of prior criticism, see LC, Volume 6.

The central figure of the Pléiade poets—who sought to create a national literature in France to rival that of Renaissance Italy—Ronsard is considered the finest French lyric poet of the Renaissance. Patterning his verse upon the great works of classical antiquity, Ronsard is recognized for his contributions to the poetic forms of ode, sonnet, and elegy. In the two books of his Sonnets pour Helene, among his many works, he combined complex rhyme, picturesque imagery, and classical allusions and metaphors, thereby introducing what modern critics recognize as innovative poetic expressions to French literature. A renowned court poet in the later portion of his career, Ronsard was a champion of the established church and a defender of the monarchy. Ronsard is today regarded as the epitome of French Renaissance poetics.

Biographical Information

Ronsard was born at the Château de la Possonière in the Vendômois region of France, the son of Louis de Ronsard, a minor nobleman, and Jeanne Chaudrier, a close relative of many of the aristocratic families of Touraine and Anjou. Except for a half year spent at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, Ronsard passed his early years in the Vendômois, where he was educated at home and acquired an abiding love for his native province that would later figure prominently in his poetry. At the age of twelve Ronsard was sent to court to serve as a page to members of the royal family. In 1538 he began a peripatetic career as a soldier and a diplomat. However, illness—the beginnings of a lifelong affliction with arthritis and deafness—forced him to abandon a diplomatic career. During his convalescence Ronsard determined to take up literature as a full-time occupation. Encouraged by the distinguished poet Jacques Peletier, Ronsard published his first work, “Ode de Pierre de Ronsard à Jacques Peletier,” in 1547. Ronsard's first collection of poems, Les quatre premier livres des odes, met with considerable critical success. In subsequent works Ronsard diversified his style to include philosophical and scientific poetry. In 1558 or 1559, with his reputation firmly established, he was made official court poet, the responsibilities of which included writing occasional and honorary verse. Ronsard spent his last years mainly at Saint-Cosme Priory near Tours and at Croixval Priory, where he devoted himself to religious duties and to revising his works. Ronsard died at Saint-Cosme in 1585.

Major Works

The poems of Ronsard's first major collection, Les quatre premier livres des odes, evince the themes, imagery, and style of his models from classical antiquity—principally Pindar and Horace—as they honor outstanding individuals, commemorate significant events, and celebrate the beauty of nature. The work contains Ronsard's best-known ode, “Ode à Michel de l'Hospital,” composed in recognition of the man who defended Ronsard's views on poetic reform from one of its vocal detractors, Saint-Gelais. Ronsard's Les amours, Continuation des amours, and Nouvelle continuation des amours, which were inspired by the poet's love for a Florentine banker's daughter, Cassandre de Salviati, are a departure from the style and purpose of Les quarter premiers livres. Drawing from the poetry of Petrarch, the elaborate and sensual sonnets of Les amours treat conventional themes—unrequited love, solitude in a lover's absence, and erotic longing. In contrast, Ronsard's two books of Homeric poetry, Les hymnes and Le second livre des hymnes, published at about the same time as Les amours, are majestic, laudatory addresses and panegyrics to patrons and friends on philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic subjects. The publication of Les oeuvres in 1560 initiated Ronsard's second literary period, distinguished from the first by its public nature. In a number of alexandrine discours, or addresses, most notably Discours des misères de ce temps and Remonstrance au peuple de France, Ronsard used satire and invective for religious and political effect, discussing patriotism, Catholicism, and the French king's success in religious wars. Ronsard's most celebrated work, the extensive sonnet series Sonnets pour Helene is unlike any of the poet's other late verse in that it recalls Ronsard's earlier Petrarchan material, but with a more restrained and sincere tone. In the Sonnets, Ronsard explored the theme of love sacrificed for art while employing imagery drawn from classical myth. Ronsard's ambitious late work, Les quatre premiers livres de la Franciade was never completed. Ronsard offered an epic account of French history in the Franciade, linking in verse his nation's origins to the Trojan War as the Roman poet Vergil had done in his Aeneid. Ronsard's sole work of criticism, Abrege de l'art poëtique françois, was published anonymously. The work contains Ronsard's explication of his poetic theory, which suggests the importance of mimesis, or imitation of reality, combined with the creative imagination.

Critical Reception

In his day Ronsard claimed to have equaled the poetic achievement of the classical Greek poet Pindar, and certainly he enjoyed extraordinary critical and popular success. Soon after his death, his reputation declined significantly, and Ronsard's poetry suffered a period of neglect lasting nearly two centuries. By the early nineteenth-century, however, interest in his works had renewed, and in the twentieth century his poems have become the subject of rigorous academic inquiry and criticism. Critical regard has been focused on the nature of Ronsard's poetic theory, and the extent to which his works may be said to uphold the doctrines he outlined in his Abrege de l'art poëtique françois. Critics have also explored Ronsard's use of irony to transgress the poetic boundaries set by his classical models. Another primary area of contemporary critical interest has been Ronsard's participation in the ongoing Renaissance debate concerning the preeminence of one artistic form over all others, with scholars studying his claims that poetry should occupy the position of excellence above the visual arts. Additionally, critics have examined Ronsard's more marginal texts, including his early Livret de folastries, a work that can be described as almost pornographic, and which Ronsard suppressed during his later career. Overall, most modern scholars concur that Ronsard gave to French literature something it had never before known, the concept of the creative imitation of the ancients. Thus, in regard to his poetic range and sustained innovation, Ronsard is widely viewed as the greatest French poet of his age.

Principal Works

Avantentrée du Roy trescrestien à Paris (poetry) 1549

L'hyme de France (poetry) 1549

Ode de la paix (poetry) 1550

Les quatre premiers livres des odes de Pierre de Ronsard, ensemble son bocage (poetry) 1550

Les amours de P. de Ronsard vandomois, ensemble le cinqiesme de ses odes (poetry) 1552

Le cinquieme livre des odes, augmente; ensemble la harangue que fit Monseigneur le duc de Guise aus soudars de Mez le iour qu'il pensoit avoir l'assaut (poetry) 1553

Le livret de folastries à Janot Parisien (poetry) 1553

Les odes (poetry) 1553

Le bocage (poetry) 1554

Continuation des amours (poetry) 1555

Hymne de Bacus, avec la version latine de Iean Dorat (poetry) 1555

Les hymnes de P. de Ronsard a tresillustre et reverendissime Odet, cardinal de Chastillon [Hercule Chrestien; partial translation] (poetry) 1555

Les meslanges (poetry) 1555

Nouvelle continuation des amours (poetry) 1556

Le second livre des hymnes (poetry) 1556

Exhortation au camp du Roy pour bien combatre le iour de la bataille (poetry) 1558

Exhortation pour la paix (poetry) 1558


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François Rigolot (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Ronsard's Pretext For Paratexts: The Case of the Franciade,” in SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism, No. 56, 1988, pp. 29-41.

[In the following essay, Rigolot examines Ronsard's theory of poetic mimesis as it is expressed in the prefaces to the Franciade.]

“I could find no more excellent subject than this one”

Ronsard, Preface to the `Franciade' (1572)

There has been much discussion in modern criticism (at least of late) of what is now commonly referred to as the paratext, that is, to paraphrase Gérard Genette's Palimpsestes, a number...

(The entire section is 6862 words.)

Philippe Desan (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “The Tribulations of a Young Poet: Ronsard from 1547 to 1552,” in Renaissance Rereadings: Intertext and Context, pp. 184-202. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Desan recounts Ronsard's early attempts to make a living as a poet.]

The poet has always been accorded a status well set off from that of other members of society. Poetic production and everyday necessities coexist only with difficulty, for the Muses' elect would seem to have other preoccupations than imagining themselves members of a civil and industrious society. The spirituality of poetry transcending material needs, the poet would subsist merely on rhymes and...

(The entire section is 8746 words.)

Lance K. Donaldson-Evans (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Demons, Portents, and Visions: Fantastic and Supernatural Elements in Ronsard's Poetry,” in Renaissance Rereadings: Intertext and Context, pp. 225-35. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Donaldson-Evans discusses the element of fantasy in Ronsard's poetry.]

For anyone who is familiar with much of the recent criticism devoted to le fantastique, the idea of viewing certain poetic texts of Ronsard as examples of this genre might well seem preposterous, anachronistic—indeed fantastic! First of all, Todorov, in his perceptive Introduction à la littérature fantastique, seems to preclude any such possibility when...

(The entire section is 4824 words.)

Jennifer Britnell (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: “Poetic Fury and Prophetic Fury,” in Renaissance Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, June, 1989, pp. 106-14.

[In the following essay, Britnell probes the connection between poetic and prophetic inspiration, using Ronsard as a principal example.]

In the Renaissance the poet's claim to divine inspiration was usually made in the context of Plato's four divine furies—poetry, the mysteries, prophecy, love. In this paper I shall look at certain aspects of the relationship between poetic fury and just one of the other forms of fury, prophecy. These two modes of inspiration are linked by the fact that in both cases the inspired person must express his inspiration in the form...

(The entire section is 4121 words.)

Ehsan Ahmed (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “Pierre de Ronsard's Odes and the Law of Poetic Space,” in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. XLIV, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 757-75.

[In the following essay, Ahmed argues that in the Odes Ronsard transgresses the spatial boundaries that had hitherto defined poetry.]

Et faictes que toujours j'espie
D'oeil veillant les secretz des cieulx,

(“Ode à Michel de l'Hospital”)

The Odes of 1550 and 1552 reveal Pierre de Ronsard's ambition to gain entry into the court of Henri II. In the 1550 preface to the Odes, Ronsard does not make the slightest effort to veil his literary and political objectives. He...

(The entire section is 7500 words.)

Roberto E. Campo (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: “The Arts in Conflict in Ronsard's Des peintures contenues dedans un tableau,” in Romance Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4, November, 1992, pp. 411-24.

[In the following essay, Campo asserts that Ronsard's poem “Des peintures contenues dedans un tableau” can be interpreted “as an attack on the expressive weakness of painting” when compared to poetry.]

Jean Plattard once suggested that, like all the major French poets of the midsixteenth century, Pierre de Ronsard overwhelmingly preferred the narrative-type,1 historical and mythological painting produced at the Château de Fontainebleau by artists such as Il Rosso and Primaticcio to the...

(The entire section is 6301 words.)

Jerry C. Nash (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “`Fantastiquant Mille Monstres Bossus': Poetic Incongruities, Poetic Epiphanies, and the Writerly Semiosis of Pierre de Ronsard,” in Romanic Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, March, 1993, pp. 143-62.

[In the following essay, Nash considers Ronsard's poetics of “seeing and showing” what is imagined and ineffable, as opposed to that of which is simply real.]

In his latest study on an intriguing subject that was for him both “exhilarating” and “exasperating,” Murray Krieger defines ekphrasis in these terms: “the literary representation of visual art, real or imaginary.” The kind of ekphrasis that deals with the “real” is of course the art of mimesis,...

(The entire section is 9371 words.)

Philip Ford (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Ronsard's Erotic Diptych: Le ravissement de Cephale and Le defloration de Lede,” in French Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, October, 1993, pp. 385-403.

[In the following essay, Ford studies two odes by Ronsard that present erotic, mythological stories and draws allegorical and thematic parallels between both works.]

Throughout his poetic career, Ronsard seemed fascinated by the relationship between poetry and the visual arts. While art theorists at that time borrowed their vocabulary and approach to painting from the world of rhetoric, Ronsard often modelled his own literary technique on the mannerist works of art which proliferated under the...

(The entire section is 8620 words.)

Roberto E. Campo (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Pictorial Concerns in the Ronsardian Exegi Monumentum,” in Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Fall, 1993, pp. 671-83.

[In the following essay, Campo explores Ronsard's conception of the superiority of poetry over painting, as part of an on-going Renaissance debate concerning this matter.]

Critics have paid considerable attention to the Horatian commonplaces, ut pictura poesis and exegi monumentum, in French Renaissance literature over the past forty years. Before the 1980s, however, investigators of the first idea proceeded in very different directions from examiners of the second. As a rule, scholarship on ut pictura...

(The entire section is 5613 words.)

Jean M. Fallon (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Voice and Vision in Ronsard's `Les Sonnets pour Helene.' New York: Peter Lang, 1993, 142 p.

[In the following excerpt, Fallon interprets Ronsard's Sonnets pour Helene cycle, seeing the work's final theme as one concerning love sacrificed for poetry.]

Les Sonnets pour Helene recounts a story about growth—growth that involves action and stasis, expansion and reduction, choice and chance, progress and reversal.1 The details of a lover's loss and a poet's progress emerge in the course of the two books of sonnets as the narrator struggles to record the quests of two personas in their search to realize their ultimate goals. The lover and...

(The entire section is 8308 words.)

Catharine Randall (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Poetic License, Censorship and the Unrestrained Self: Ronsard's Livret de folastries,” in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, Vol. XXIII, No. 45, 1996, pp. 449-62.

[In the following essay, Randall describes the trangressive and pornographic qualities of Ronsard's Livret de folastries.]


One of the ways in which freedom of expression can be measured is through an examination of poetic license taken. “Poetic license” implies a censoring body, one overseeing the norms of expression. When censorship is ignored, or when limits are stretched,...

(The entire section is 5282 words.)

Cathy Yandell (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: “Carpe Diem Revisited: Ronsard's Temporal Ploys,” in Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, 1997, pp. 1281-1302.

[In the following essay, Yandell investigates the carpe diem theme in Ronsard's poetry and its relation to the poet's dread of aging.]

For women are as Roses, whose faire flowre
Being once displaid, doth fall that verie howre.

Orsino to Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (2:4:36-39)

The carpe diem (“pluck the day”) motif, whose onomastic origins can be traced to Horace, permeates not only classical Greek and Latin poetry but also lyric poetry from fifteenth-century Italy...

(The entire section is 8805 words.)

Philip Ford (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Ronsard's `Hymnes': A Literary and Iconographical Study. Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997, 337 p.

[In the following excerpt, Ford observes the sources, themes, and stylistic developments of Ronsard's early hymns.]

Les Hymnes sont des Grecs invention premiere.

(Ronsard, L. XVIII. 263. 1)

From our general discussion of iconographical aspects of Ronsard's poetry, it is clear that the prevailing philosophy of Neo-Platonism in humanist and artistic circles provided a strong unifying influence between the visual arts and poetry. It had a profound effect not only on the choice of subject, use of...

(The entire section is 7421 words.)

Further Reading


Ahmed, Ehsan. “`Quel Genre de Querelle?' Pierre de Ronsard and Janne.” Romance Notes XXXVIII, No. 3 (Spring 1998): 255-61.

Interpretation of Ronsard's “A Janne Impitoiable” which explores the poem's “poetics of misogyny.”

Bizer, Marc. “The Genealogy of Poetry According to Ronsard and Julius Caesar Scaliger.” Humanistica Lovaniensia: Journal of Neo-Latin Studies XLIII (1994): 304-18.

Considers the Renaissance debate over the superiority of Homer or Vergil in regard to the critical views of Ronsard and his contemporary Scaliger.

Campo, Roberto E. Ronsard's Contentious...

(The entire section is 586 words.)