François de Malherbe Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Friendship with the Stoic Guillaume Du Vair brought François Malherbe in contact with the writings of Livy and Seneca, some of which he began to translate as early as the turn of the seventeenth century. The first of these efforts was published in 1617, and most of the rest posthumously. These translations are of little if any interest to the modern reader. Of greater import are his numerous letters to many of the major literary figures of his time; some of these were anthologized as early as 1625, although most of them did not see print until 1645; of particular interest to students of the history of ideas are his letters to Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc, perhaps the most universally learned man of the era. His commentaries on contemporary poems and plays—marginalia published posthumously—are essential to an understanding of the poet’s doctrine, but they must be taken with a grain of salt: Sallies of a very temperamental man, they are always excessive, and perhaps were intended more to draw attention to the ambitious Malherbe than to detract from the work of his colleagues (although unpublished, these commentaries were widely circulated).


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

“At last, Malherbe came,” said Nicolas Boileau in 1674, giving credit to him for having brought order and reason to poetry. “Everyone followed his rules [of prosody],” continued Boileau, although some twenty years later, in a letter to François de Maucroix, he was to admit that “in truth, nature had not made [Malherbe] a great poet; but he made up for that . . . with work, for no one worked harder than he over his poems.” This composite has misled many generations of students and critics who insisted on overstating François Malherbe’s influence and teachings while belittling or disregarding his genuine achievements as a poet. Thanks to the efforts of scholars such as René Fromilhague, David Lee Rubin, and Philip A. Wadsworth, that error has been largely rectified. It should further be stated that it is precisely in that area of poetics in which Malherbe’s influence was most categorically posited—prosody—that close analysis shows it to be minimal. In matters of prosody, Malherbe had little or no effect on the poets of his century, not even on “pupils” such as François Maynard and Honorat de Racan. It would be dangerous, however, to limit one’s vision to prosodic matters, for to do so would be to allow the mechanics of the genre to obscure its essence. In his pronouncements, Malherbe concentrated on (indeed, limited himself to) the former; in his own poetry, particularly in his “grandes odes,” he most definitely strove for that...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Abraham, Claude K. Enfin Malherbe: The Influence of Malherbe on French Lyric Prosody, 1605-1674. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1971. A good discussion of Malherbe doctrine, giving insight into the importance of Malherbe and the role he played in the development of literature in France.

Campion, Edmund J. “Poetic Theory in Théophile de Viau’s ‘Élégie à une dame.’” Concerning Poetry 20 (1987): 1-9. Describes why Malherbe’s contemporary Théophile de Viau rejected Malherbe’s attempt to impose one standard on all poets. Unlike Malherbe, Théophile de Viau believed that a truly original poet must develop his or her unique style and voice.

Chesters, G. “Malherbe, Ponge, and Revolutionary Classicism.” In The Classical Tradition in French Literature. London: Grant and Cutler, 1977. Describes well the arguments in Francis Ponge’s 1965 book Pour un Malherbe in which this eminent twentieth-century French poet attempted rather successfully to rehabilitate Malherbe’s poetry but not his poetics.

Gershuny, Walter, “Seventeenth-Century Commemorative Verse.” Cahiers du dix-septième 3, no.1 (Spring, 1989): 279-289. Explains very clearly formal poems which the court poet Malherbe wrote to honor the French kings Henry IV and Louis XIII.

Gosse, Edmond. Malherbe and the Classical Reaction in the Seventeenth Century. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1920. This study deals specifically with Malherbe’s importance to the creation of French classical literature.

Rubin, David Lee. Higher, Hidden Order: Design and Meanings in the Odes of Malherbe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972. A book-length study on the rhetoric of praise and blame in the numerous odes that Malherbe wrote during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Like Abraham, Rubin argues that Malherbe was a more successful and effective poet than traditional criticism indicates.

Wadsworth, Phillip A. “Malherbe and His Influence.” In Studies in Seventeenth Century French Literature Presented to Morris Bishop. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1962. A concise evaluation of the importance of Malherbe as a critic and theorist.

Winegarter, Rene. French Lyric Poetry in the Age of Malherbe. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1954. A useful consideration of Malherbe’s work in the light of that of his contemporaries.