Superficially, unjustly criticized by Du Bellay as being nothing but rhymed prose, the poetry of Clément Marot, by its conscious innovations clearly anticipated and facilitated the work of the Pleiade poets in the renewal of French poetry. By reason of its naturalness and freedom, the best part of Marot’s work has indeed aged less than the poetry of his illustrious successor, Pierre de Ronsard. Marot’s witty, elliptical manner, imitated in epigrams and narrative poetry, appears in the work of no less figures than La Fontaine in the seventeenth century, Voltaire in the eighteenth, while through his sense of fantasy, Marot has been linked with the modern French “chansonniers.”
A page to Francois I’s secretary of finance in 1515, Marot, under the tutelage of his poet father, daily practiced the techniques of the largely formalistic Rhetoriqueur poetry. His verses between 1515 and 1526 show the influence of this school of the expiring Middle Ages. Yet there are exceptions.
The “Temple de Cupido” by its subject and by its allegorical form is related to the part-lyrical, part-didactic poetry of the Middle Ages. Marot follows the Rhetoriqueurs here, yet he manages to avoid their excesses, as had Jean Lemaire de Belges, whom he sought to emulate. At the other end of this period is the satirical poem “L’Enfer.” Having been imprisoned on the heretical charge of eating “lard en careme” (meat during Lent), Marot here attacks the magistrates and their “justice.” In this, his first major poem, Marot begins to free himself from Rhetoriqueur traditions. Allegory is presented through the simple procedure of comparing the Chatelet prison to Hades, its officials to a Rhadamanthus, a Cerberus and so on; introducing his victims and satirizing them without benefit of the familiar medieval dream sequence, Marot makes a weapon of allegory in which fantasy and reality mixed produce comic and satiric effects.
Youthful works composed mainly between these two longer poems include the Rondeaux, Ballades, Chants royaux, Chansons (a variety of genres set to music). Marot succeeded in giving literary respectability to these latter poems without losing their simple, popular character. The Ballades, personal, political, satirical, show characteristics of Marot’s mature manner: the expressive refrain, delicate development of an emotion; wit, caustic gibes, as in the “Chant de Mai,” “Ballade a la Duchesse d’Alencon,” and “De Frere Lubin.” Longfellow translated the last as “Friar Lubin”:
To gallop off to town post-haste,So oft, the times I cannot tell;To do vile deed, nor feel disgraced,—Friar Lubin will do it well.But a sober life to lead,To honor virtue, and pursue it,That’s a pious, Christian deed,—Friar Lubin cannot do it.To mingle, with a knowing smile,The goods of others with his own,And leave you without cross or pile,Friar Lubin stands alone.To say ’tis yours is all in vain,If once he lays his finger to it;For as to giving back again,Friar Lubin cannot do it.With flattering words and gentle tone,To woo and win some guileless maid,Cunning pander need you none,—Friar Lubin knows the trade.Loud preacheth he sobriety,But as for water, doth eschew it;Your dog may drink it,—but not he;Friar Lubin cannot do...
(The entire section is 1654 words.)