Joachim du Bellay

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Robert Griffin (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: Griffin, Robert. “From Poetic Theory to Practice,” and “Les Antiquitez de Rome.” In Coronation Of The Poet: Joachim Du Bellay's Debt To The Trivium pp. 67-111; 115-137. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969.

[In the first essay below, Griffin illustrates Du Bellay's contributions to the structure of French poetry. In the second, he conducts a detailed exploration of Du Bellay's Les Antiquitez De Rome.]



It has often been observed that the contribution of the Deffence et Illustration can be measured as much by the enthusiastic attitude of its author as by the substance of its poetic doctrine. We have seen that this doctrine can be reduced largely to the main points of classical Latin rhetoric and poetic in both theory and practice. Under the guise of Corybantic madness that supposedly besets the poet and through the impulse of the desire for immortality, traditional precepts of rhetoric and poetic were accorded the status of a surpassing art. From the outset Du Bellay realized that, despite the handsome trappings of the theories of poetic inspiration, his art or artifice implied hard work and mastery of technique. In the Illustration he clearly outlined the required ascesis in an often quoted passage which he borrowed from Speroni and Horace: “Qui veut voler par les mains & bouches des hommes, doit longuement demeurer en sa chambre: & qui desire vivre en la memoire de la posterité, doit comme mort en soymesmes suer & trembler maintesfois, & autant que notz poëtes courtizans boyvent, mangent & dorment à leur oyse, endurer de faim, de soif & de longues vigiles. Ce sont les esles dont les ecriz des hommes volent au ciel” (pp. 105-106). To the “poete courtisan” he gives the ironic counsel of avoiding studious exercise when composing frivolous verse (VI, 131). But the Pléiade—and the Renaissance as a whole—held, at best, an ambivalent attitude toward art and technical skill in isolation. At times art appears to enjoy privileges unrelated to any referents in the natural world, as when Du Bellay blithely passes over the question of L'Olive’s biographical validity, “Et mon Olive (soit ce nom / D'Olive veritable ou non) / Se peult vanter d'avoir premiere / Salué la doulce lumiere” (V, 63). Chamard and John Lapp have speculated on sources drawn from visual arts that may have contributed to the plastic images of his “Prosphonematique” and “Musagnoeomachie,”1 thus elevating art to the status of a self-contained world. And certainly the Pléiade's numerous references to Rosy-Fingered Dawn are less an allusion to a natural phenomenon than to a stylized and prestigious epic prototype. At other times Du Bellay cautiously avoids “trop hault louer l'artifice ou j'ay employé une portion de mon industrie” (VI, 247).

The crux of Renaissance discussions of art lies in its relationship to nature, not so much to the naturalism of the visible world as to the recognition of the intelligible in the physical and to the natural movement and functioning of the mind. This is as true of the self-conscious proclamations in Rabelais' prologues and Montaigne's legion statements as it is of the Pléiade's random and systematic reflections. Ramus' belief that art always presupposes nature, just as exercise assumes art, exemplifies the primacy of nature both in chronology and in value. Despite Du Bellay's allegations that human “artifice & industrie” determine linguistic improvement (p. 13) and the high esteem in which he held Vergil, at times he falls in step with the notion that the Golden Age of Homeric inspiration gave way to the iron...

(This entire section contains 29657 words.)

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age of Vergilian polish:

Montrant que la seule nature
Sans art, sans travail & sans cure
Fait naistre le poëte avant
Qu'il ayt songé d'estre sçavant …
Aussi les vers du temps d'Orphee,
D'Homere, Hesiode & Musee,
Ne venoient d'art, mais seulement
D'un franc naturel mouvement …
Depuis geinant tel exercice
Soubs un miserable artifice,
Ce qu'avoient de bon les premiers
Fut corrompu par les derniers.
De la vindrent ces Eneïdes, …

(V, 117-120)

He repeats the same terminology and attitude in a poem to Saint-Gelais where he censures the laborious muse of “l'artifice miserable” (III, 96).

This paradoxical status of art, now venerated, now despised, arose from the related beliefs that, when characterized by an exclusive attention to technique or vapid rhetoric, art could deform nature. And when encumbered by an arcane doctrine it hides the primary substance of nature in an unintelligible obscurity. The most frequent image used to describe art's deformation of nature, farde, suggests at once the familiar Renaissance topos of the mask of appearance hiding reality and the Pléiade's criticism of appliquéd figures and colors. Thus the pernicious effects of artifice are viewed in both moral and aesthetic terms, in keeping with the poet's priestly role. The description of the Petrarchistic “style fardant” (IV, 211) coincides with the “artifice menteur” underlying mythological tales which “ne farde point mes paroles” (V, 388). Ronsard's blunt conclusion on the advantages of wandering contours over stylized craftsmanship, “D'artifice soigneux, toute peinte de fart; / Car toujours la Nature est meilleure que l'art,”2 is essentially the same as that arrived at by the degenerate “courtisanne repentie”:

Adieu donc, fards, dont mon visage est peingt,
Boetes, ou sont les couleurs de mon teinct …
Et ne veulx plus, pour me faire plus belle,
Changer par art ma forme naturelle,

(V, 139)

The correlative objection advanced against art that excessive learning hinders “le style doux-coulant” found adherents in both Ronsard, “Je ne veux que ce vers d'ornement indigent / Entre dans une escole,”3 and Du Bellay who disclaimed a lyric “plein de doctrine & antique erudition” in his introduction to the Divers jeux rustiques. But the contradiction surrounding the praise and blame of art is more apparent than real. We must heed the qualifications imposed on the terms art and artifice, since unalloyed art is criticized in various degrees for the corresponding imbalance it creates between carefully considered meaning and the spontaneous overflow of feeling. Du Bellay disdains a work “plein de doctrine,” but not doctrine itself; he shuns a cultivated obscurity at the expense of the populace, since such showy pirouettes contravene the Horatian imperative to “mesler en sa doctrine / Le plaisir à l'utilité” (V, 359). The poet's rejection not of art but of constrained art, “qui produict naïvement en moy / Ce que par art contraint les autres y font naistre” (II, 195), finds its counterpart in the acerbic common sense of Aneau who objects to L'Olive's “huyle obscur” and “choses & parolles” on the rhetorical grounds of battology (pointless repetition) and indecorum (III, vi). In short, Du Bellay, like Cicero and Quintilian, conceives nature's superiority over art as proportional and not absolute, “le naturel faire plus sans la doctrine que la doctrine sans le naturel” (p. 103).4 Art is both man's revenge on nature and his acceptance of its primacy.

In defining this dynamic relationship he employed the traditional complex of Latinate terminology surrounding the trichotomy of natural gifts of the mind (ingenium), art (ars, disciplina, scientia, doctrina) and exercise (usus, experientia). Taken together, they imply the learned mastery of methods inherent in successful examples which a gifted mind can judiciously use as guides in creating.5 Since the terms are universal and go back at least as far as Plato (Phaedrus, 269d) it is no surprise that Renaissance writers make them the bases of discussions on dialectic, rhetoric and poetry without any necessary communication or reciprocal influence among those writers. In his coronation address, amid Horatian and Ciceronian adages and reminders to discipline the imagination, Petrarch elaborates the interrelations of natura, ars, doctrina, ingenium and their efficient cause.6 The second chapter of Peletier's Art poétique I, in which he argues the interdependence of art and nature, is entitled “De la Nature et de l'Exercice.” And the wording of Ramus' treatise on dialectic is strongly reminiscent of Du Bellay's treatise on poetry, “l'exercise monstroit le fruict de l'art, ainsi nous fault icy penser que non par l'art seullet mais beaucoup plus l'exercice d'icelluy et la practique faict l'artisant … ce n'est pas assez de scavoir que c'est de vertu, mais il fault mettre peine de l'acquérir et d'en user … Et vauldroit beaucoup mieux avoir l'usage sans art que l'art sans usage.”

Indeed, Renaissance writers from various callings feel compelled to anchor their discussions of art, nature, experience and reason in unassailable logic. Writes Leonardo da Vinci: “La sperienza, interprete infra l'artifitiosa natura e la umana spetie, ne insegnia ciò che essa natura infra mortali adopera, da neciessità costretta non altrimenti operarsi possa · che la ragion, suo timone, operare le assegni … La sperienza non falla mai, ma solo fallano i vostri giuditi, promettendosi di quella efetti · tali che ne' uostri esperimenti causati non sono.”7 The Quinte Essence addresses Pantagruel and Panurge in the same way: “Ce que fait les humains pansemens esgarer par les abismes d'admiration n'est la souveraineté des effects, lesquels apertement ils esprouvent naistre des causes naturelles, moyennenent l'industrie des sages artisans; c'est la nouveauté de l'experience entrant en leurs sens, non prevoyans la facilité de l'oeuvre, quand jugement serain associe estude diligent.” Quintilian had used these categories interchangeably in postulating that “things” and “words” blend successfully by means of art, nature and exercise (II, x, 1; III, iv, 1), and that the similarity of logic, rhetoric and art lies in the ordered methods, practice and useful perceptions they share in common (II, xvii, 41-42). This perception is viewed either as certain judgment of evident facts or as purposeful wisdom (consilium) considering hidden facts where several arguments are compared (VI, v, 3); later he frames the opposition as iudicium against ingenium (X, i, 130). DuBellay appears to follow a similar line of thought in an octave from “Les Amours,” if his grounding in Latin allows us to invest the French words with their original Latin meanings:

Bien qu'imparfaict, j'ay toutefois des yeux,
          Non pour juger de vous parfaictement,
          Mais comme peult l'humain entendement
          Juger à l'oeil de la beauté des Cieux.
Bien qu'ignorant, je n'aye receu des Dieux
          L'art & sçavoir d'escrire doctement,
          Si donnez vous suffisant argument
          De vous louër aux moins ingenieux.

(II, 239)

The Renaissance implicitly made wisdom and virtue characteristics of reason, and thus saw the moral order of the universe as equally rational and virtuous. The Horatian requirement of mixing the useful with the sweet imposed a moral calling to which Du Bellay was always sensitive. For Quintilian the end of eloquence, knowledge and experience was goodness, and in an image with which the Pléiade as a whole was familiar he held that eloquence used for evil ends would make a stepmother of Nature (XII, i, 1; iv-v). Even Caesar in the Gallic War infused a moral tone in his formulaic usus atque ratio (II, xx; III, viii; IV, i). Although Du Bellay employs the same formula, it will be more instructive for our purposes to consider for a moment a transformation rather than a precise analogy. In his edition of Ronsard, Laumonier gives Horace's Espistola, I, ii, 19-22 as one of the sources for the “Ode au pais de vandomois” and contends that Du Bellay had Ronsard's poem before his mind's eye when he composed his famous “Heureux qui, comme Ulysse.”8 If that is so, then we witness the significant evolution of “virtus et sapientia” in Horace through “conseil” and “sçavoir” in Ronsard to “plein d'usage & raison” in Du Bellay, which not only points to a community of values but also places in a broader literary perspective the feelings of virtuous isolation and world weariness that underlie the intimate revelations of the Regrets.

Art, nature, exercise and their correlative values are therefore important to an understanding of Du Bellay's method and viewpoint in the Regrets and other collections. In the early sonnets where he proclaims his honesty, he presents the following sequence of poems as “estans de mon coeur les plus seurs secretaires”—the same expression he and Ronsard use in their communication with sympathetic nature: “Bois tristes & solitaires, / De ma peine secretaires” (V, 52), “Saincte Gastine, heureuse secretaire / De mes ennuis,”9 but while he seems to say he will not work hard on his poetry, he really indicates that he will not work hard to become a poet. His sonnets are not going to be contrivances from a rattled brain and chewed fingers. Although the simplicity of his style will be like prose, he warns that this studied casualness is not easy. Near the end of the collection, in a group of sonnets replete with figures of sentence on art and virtue, Du Bellay follows the Longinian and Horatian tradition by claiming that perfect art imitates nature and nature is most effective when emended by art: “L'artifice caché, c'est le vray artifice” (II, 167). The significance of this and similar statements derives from the way in which art can mould nature to meet the shifting exactions of the poet's vision:

Autant comme lon peult en un autre langage
          Une langue exprimer, autant que la nature
          Par l'art se peult monstrer, & que par la peinture
          On peult tirer au vif un naturel visage:

(II, 171)

This affinity between poetry and painting was, of course, one of the basic assumptions of Renaissance aesthetic. Horace's famous “ut pictura poesis” became the catchword to express the conception, but its sententious simplicity and lack of elaboration in the Ars poetica led it to be so misconstrued that it often plays a doubtful and inconsistent role in the actual application of poetic theory. Aneau, himself the author of an emblem book entitled Picta poesis (1552), travesties Horace in his criticism of Du Bellay's recommended sad elegies, since the Quintil feels that painting should only delight (p. 117), and Du Bellay adds to the caricature by asserting that poetry and painting are alike in their mutual subjection to vulgar opinion (p. 182). The key words au vif cited in the verses above indicate rather a theory developed at length by the Pléiade's great manifesto, drawn from a non-Horatian source.

In the midst of numerous figures and ornaments that Du Bellay recommends to the would-be poet he includes the term energies (p. 35). Chamard and critics after him have charged Du Bellay with confusing Aristotle's energia, referring to the forcefulness derived from a vividly animated style, with Dionysius of Halicarnassus' enargia which refers to the high visual relief of character, idea or scene, caused by a figured style. Yet the poet's reference to Aristotle in “Le Poete courtisan” bespeaks a limited knowledge (VI, 129-130), and his “Prosphonematique” suggests only a casual acquaintance with Dionysius. Moreover, while a writer like Sebillet uses enargie to describe the uses of imposing vocabulary for drawing out a poet's conception (Art poétique, I, iv) and Peletier uses the related term hypotypose as “l'expression vive des choses par les moz” (Art poétique, I, ix), energia (or energie) has always tended to include all of these related meanings, as it does for Du Bellay. A close reading of Aristotle's Rhetoric, III, xi, finds energia linked to figured and ordered movement (schema), emotion and the reader's vicarious participation through visual immediacy; a medieval rhetorician like Isidore will use it in a similar way.10 The conception became central to a later Renaissance poet like Sidney through readings of Aristotle, Quintilian and Scaliger.11 But, if precise sources can be ascribed at all, it seems likely that Du Bellay's source was primarily Quintilian, since the figures and ornaments associated with energies are all found in the Institutio (VIII, vi) and Quintilian's discussion of energia, enargia and hypotyposis is the fullest Du Bellay could have known. In Book VIII and elsewhere a premium value is placed on vivid representation that would be true to nature, word pictures formed by the imagination for the mind's eye. The clear conceptions and powerful effects of these illustrations, engendered by a copiousness of thought and figurative language, are designed to persuade our minds and inspire emotions.12

This type of imaging is fundamental to the close cooperation Du Bellay seeks between art and a superior nature: “j'estimeroy' l'Art pouvoir exprimer la vive energie de la Nature” (p. 80). Since the painting nomenclature is partially metaphoric, the colors invoked refer more to varied verbal figures, the “couleurs de rhétorique,” than to chromatic pigment. Ronsard, leafing through his books to sort out and choose “le plus beau,” says “en cent couleurs je peints en un tableau, / Tantost en l'autre: & maistre en ma peinture, / Sans me forcer j'imite la Nature.”13 Du Bellay's dedicatory sonnet of the Antiquitez similarly purports to place before the king's and the public's eye “ce petit tableau / Peint, le mieux que j'ay peu, de couleurs poëtiques.” His many allusions to painting and light effects are coupled with energie and the use of figures which body forth the poetic intention and express the general through particulars: “la nature / Au plus gay de sa peinture / Me figuroit les beautez” (V, 50), “magnificence de motz, gravité de sentences, audace & varieté de figures, & mil' autres lumieres de poësie: bref ceste energie … comme un peintre peut representer l'ame avecques le cors de celuy qu'il entreprent tyrer apres le naturel (pp. 40-41) … l'ornement & lumiere (p. 60) … l'ornement & illustration” (p. 74).

Nor should we take Ronsard's claim of facile imitation literally or as representative of a relaxed attitude toward the use of poetic diction. Like Quintilian, des Autelz closely associates copious figures, emotion and vivid representation with decorum,14 implying a controlled use of abundant figures, and Du Bellay likens his word picture “richement ornée” more to sustained work than to loose fancy: “pour le vif la couleur, / N'employant nostre esprit qu'au labeur poëtique” (II, 215). Independently pleasurable sensuality and accurate naturalism are not sought through vivid and energetic representation as much as the accurate expression of the poem's argument or cause; teaching, moving and pleasing, then, work together. An examination of classical myth in the Renaissance shows that its vitality lies partly in the poet's creative reaction to a story that crystallizes and universalizes his experience and vision, and partly in the extension of mythic tale to an ethical exemplum or explicit allegorization. Imagery, whether abundant or spare, florid or bleak, is responsible to the poem's intent and to the reader's reaction. The intention of lively portraiture in prose and poetry alike is a theme that is subject to countless variations. But however varied the rephrasing in theory, in expository writing, in lyric verse or in evaluative criticism, it is rarely disassociated from persuasion to a covert or overt moral point of view. Montaigne's statement in the “Au lecteur” of the Essais that “… je peins. Mes defauts s'y liront au vif,” Du Bellay's self-proclaimed ability “au vif exprimer” Jean Du Bellay's “scavoir, vertu & conduyte” (p. 7), his advice to the poetic picture maker “Qui veult au vif imaginer la face / Du gentil Piéne, alors que sa vertu …” (II, 294) and Edoard's reference to the “Vieille Courtisanne”'s “vive representation de la devote creature introduicte en ses moeurs, actes, conditions, & evenemens respondans aux merites” (V, 181), despite different shades of emphasis, all stress the same relationship. Energia, then, is connected with the allegorizing nature of poetry; in the “Discours au Roy sur la trefve de l'an MDLV,” following a series of sententiae on virtue, the causes and effects of Fortune and the triumph of La Paix over La Discorde, Du Bellay concludes:

Si j'avois tant amis les cieulx & la nature,
Qu'en mes tableaux je peusse au vif representer
Quelque chose qui peust vostre esprit contenter.

(VI, 15)15

Correspondingly, the failure of poetic figures to direct the reader's attention to a generally apprehensible truth, or of art to accord with nature led to the censure of “vaine peinture.” Usually the tag was reserved for any body of poetry with pronounced and unrelieved substantive or structural pretentions. Ronsard charged the rhétoriqueurs with “forcing Apollo's light” for their too obvious versifying techniques: “Sans plus il gastent l'encre, & broyant la couleur, / Barbouillent un portrait d'inutile valeur.”16 And Du Bellay's confusing mea culpa in the liminal sonnet of “L'Honneste Amour” seems to single out L'Olive for its “vaine peincture” and “feincte couverture” because it dwelled on “La non encor' bien comprise nature” instead of “imaginant le vif”; the attack is waged in “Contre les petrarquistes” with greater clarity and indignation:

Mais cest Enfer de vaines passions,
Ce Paradis de belles fictions,
Deguizemens de nos affections,
          Ce sont peinctures vaines:

(V, 71)

The maxim attributed by Plutarch to Simonides that painting is silent poetry while poetry is a speaking picture was common currency in Renaissance poetic discussions17 and insists on the cooperation between senses and mind, imagery and meaning. Pontus de Tyard discusses the conception he wishes to communicate to others, “qu'avec quelque labeur i'ay depeint dans le tableau de mon esprit,” and Pierre Motin bemoans the effort his thought requires, “Si tost que dans ma teste il a peint une image.”18 The close juncture of eye and mind and the near-identity of expression that involves them shows that poetry speaks with a meaning, a meaning that reflects the poet's point of view and to which he wishes to persuade his listener:

Tout cela que l'oeil apperçoit,
Tout cela que l'esprit conçoit,
Est du poëte, & l'escritture
N'est qu'une parlante peinture.

(V, 68)

This persuasion to the poet's literal point of view appears in verses like “icy je vous supply mettre devant voz yeulx” (VI, 29), followed by a series of “Je voy,” and in

De quelle riche couleur
Peindray-je ma poësie
Pour descrire la valeur
Que j'ay sur toutes choisie?

(V, 41)

after which follow six consecutive “je voy” stanzas and then images based on tactile, aural and oral sensations.

Renaissance theorists of rhetoric and poetic ponderously label this scheme pragmatographia when “lively and ficticious” action is brought before the eyes, such as a battle scene, and ask that the figures and tropes be carefully controlled; in the process, the poet's general truth is praised over the historian's particular truth.19 In the “Discours au Roy sur la poésie” Du Bellay opposes historian and poet, and lauds the broader truth derived from the artistic imitation of nature:

Cestuy-là sans user d'aucune fiction
Represente le vray de chascune action,
Comme un, qui sans oser s'esgayer davantage,
Rapporte apres le vif un naturel visage:
Cestuy-cy plus hardy, d'un art non limité
Sous mille fictions cache la verité,
Comme un peinctre qui fait d'une brave entreprise
La figure d'un camp, ou d'une ville prise,
Un orage, une guerre, ou mesme il fait les Dieux
En façon de mortelz se monstrer à noz yeux.

(VI, 164)

In accordance with the desire to accompany enargia with auricular, “sensible,” and sententious figures20—a kind of synesthesia leading to moral elevation—the vividly imaginative description of Ronsard's “Exhortation pour bien combattre” transcends the historian's role by deploying a multisensory scheme composed of tropes and figures that reinforce and complement one another: anaphora, compar, neologism and Sannazaro's antithetical traductio vainqueurs-vaincus:

Je voy desja, ce semble, en ordre nos gendarmes,
J'oy le bruit des chevaux, j'oy le choquer des armes,
Je voy de toutes pars le fer etinceller
Et jusques dans le ciel la poudre se mesler,
Je voy comme foretz se herisser les piques,
J'oy l'effroy des cannons, oeuvres diaboliques,
J'oy faucer les harnoys, enfonser les escus,
J'oy le bruit des vainqueurs, j'oy le cry des vaincus.(21)


On the surface Du Bellay's recommendation of pragmatographia runs counter to his sarcastic advice to the “poete courtisan”:

Arguments à propoz il te fault espier:
Comme quelque victoire, ou quelque ville prise,
Quelque nopce ou festin, ou bien quelque entreprise
De masque ou de tournoy: avoir force desseigns,
Desquelz à ceste fin tes coffres seront pleins.”

(VI, 133)

But we must remember that a former Petrarchist is here addressing the excesses of Petrarchanism and that the poetic vices he decries are merely exaggerations of procedures he and many others continued to practice. The allusion to the thesaurus of themes refers to the abundance or copie prescribed by humanists, dialecticians, rhetoricians and poets. Through careful reading and study are acquired a wealth of material used in finding dialectical places, a stock of rhetorical commonplaces, turns of phrase, whole expressions, ideas and proverbial sententiae that could be mechanically applied as do the Petrarchists or skilfully reproduced through assimilation into one's cultural consciousness. Montaigne chides contemporary education where, instead of correcting judgment through applied sententiae, “chascun les couche en sa memoire” (I, 23, p. 114). Although the term embraced all forms of discourse, in a sonnet to Jodelle, Du Bellay lauds his grave tragedy, his doulce comedy and the copieuse veine of his lyric poetry (II, 285). Ronsard praises the artifice by which “meintes choses sont diversement portraittes,” and Peletier's admiration of the “copieuse excellence … es auteurs anciens” is heard throughout the Deffence et Illustration.22 The two ancient writers from whom Du Bellay's treatise draws the most, Cicero and especially Quintilian, provide an index for our understanding of his ideas, and show us again that varied imagery, expressed idea and intended effect are not separated. In De oratore, III, xxxiii, 136, Cicero assumes a necessary coexistence of effective style and copiousness of thought, while Quintilian, like Du Bellay in his respect for the ancients' store of knowledge and experience, recommends a copious flow and careful control of words, figures and sententiae.23 So the requirement of copie applies equally to invention and style, res and verba, as the catchphrase “copia rerum atque verborum” would indicate.24

The two basic principles of the Deffence, imitation of the classics through the process that Faguet labeled “innutrition” and enrichment of the French lexicon, follow from this requirement. In successive chapters Du Bellay advises “copie et richesse d'invention” (p. 33) and “magnificence de motz, gravité de sentences, audace et varieté de figures” (p. 40). Ronsard's chapters on invention and style in the Abrégé are equally specific in their insistence that abundance of ideas and words be rationally guided toward a coherent meaning.25 George Gascoigne, Du Bellay's English contemporary, asks “What figure might I find within my head?” in order to “expound the case” (“Gascoigne's Woodsmanship,” vv. 131, 135). The poem's argument both orders and includes its accretive details. In addition to the “illumination” and greater intelligibility afforded by copie, it is sought so that art may imitate the “copieuse diversité” of nature, as Ronsard has it, and may create the impression of the unified diversity that inheres in nature, according to Pontus.26 We have seen the requirement of copiousness implied in other related contexts as the desire for expanded invention and as the use of varied figures and lively portraiture in imitation of nature. The remainder of this section will address copiousness on a level of rhetorical and dialectical praxis to show how Du Bellay applied abundant themes and imitated nature through model authors.


After castigating the “poete courtisan” for his stockpile of poetic procedures, Du Bellay assails him further: “Il fault avoir tousjours le petit mot pour rire, / Il fault des lieux communs, qu'à tous propoz on tire, / Passer ce qu'on ne sçait, & se montrer sçavant / En ce que lon ha leu deux ou trois soirs devant” (VI, 135). Once again, he is not attacking a basic poetic premise as much as its misapplication. His remarks are foreshadowed in the Illustration where he opposes those who “sont contens n'avoir rien dict qui vaille aux ix. premiers vers, pourveu qu'au dixiesme il y ait le petit mot pour rire” (p. 110). Unlike Verlaine's categorical injunction, “Fuis de plus loin la Pointe assassine,” he is not arguing against the pithiness of the tenth verse nor against its position, but rather against the total subordination of the preceding nine verses. This is evinced by the imperative in the next clause, “mesle le profitable avecques le doulz,” as Martial did, and by the subsequent stress on decorous verse that is formed of varied and sententious figures.

These recommended sententiae, along with exempla, proverbs, apophthegms and maxims, formed part of a corpus of commonplaces and folk wisdom that were traditional since antiquity. In the Rhetoric Aristotle distinguished the specific from the commonplace, since the latter could be applied to many situations, or in Du Bellay's words, “à tous propos on tire.” Montaigne justified his culling of maxims on the broad basis of experientia and usus: “En l'experience et usage de cette sentence, qui est très-veritable, consiste tout le fruict que je tire des livres.”27 Commonplaces could be drawn from the plethora of commonplace books that circulated widely in the Renaissance, often in the form of Poetrias. Aristotle's Topics and Rhetoric, Cicero's De oratore and Topica, Quintilian's Institutio oratoria and the Ad Herennium were all adapted to this end, but the most popular were Erasmus' De copia for amplification and for themes his Adagia and the Progymnasmata of Aphthonius, whom Du Bellay read for the “Metamorphose d'une rose” (V, 182). Commonplaces were either stored for future use in the artificial memory, according to the recommendation of Ad Herennium, III, xvi, 28-29, and so violently opposed by Montaigne, as a treasury “de rare et antique erudition” according to Du Bellay; or else they were located in textbooks and instructional manuals, such as the manuals for the prince. Renaissance emblem books were used to teach rhetoric and educate princes by instilling in the memory a commonplace which was illustrated by a physical image of a virtuous subject.28 In the “Ample discours au Roy” he tells François II that “les livres sont pleins, tant sacrez que gentils, / D'exemples infinis des Princes, qui jadis / Leurs sceptres ont perdus par paresse & par vice, / Et sur tout pour n'avoir honnoré la justice” (VI, 212-213).

Commonplaces invariably counseled traditional wisdom and rewarded virtue with praise and punished vice with dispraise. Since antiquity, praise of virtue and dispraise of vice presupposed a virtuous life on the part of the speaker or narrator. This reward and punishment were intimately bound up with the Renaissance world-view and brought to mind the theme of sublunary mutability embodied in the Wheel of Fortune. On the level of historical change, the Renaissance retained the medieval theme of the triumph of Vice over Virtue occasioned by the passing of the Golden Age. But in the Renaissance judgment and praise of virtue as an abstract quality open to allegorization became increasingly demonstrated in the concrete examples of human conduct and the vivid portrayals of moral types. In an elegy to the Cardinal de Chatillon, Ronsard describes Fortune dispensing and withdrawing Virtue according to her whimsy29 and Du Bellay places even Diane de Poitier's immovable virtue above the realm of the moon and Fortune's province (V, 379). Occasionally he modifies the close connection between virtue and fortune, as in the “Ample discours au Roy” where he says that his own fortune, identified with nature, has forbidden him from being a soldier and so he will sing the king's virtue by conjoining ingenium, ars and disciplina: “J'emploieray mon esprit, ma plume & mon labeur” (VI, 234). But ordinarily he holds to the tradition of paraphrasing in an extended sequence the same basic commonplace, frequently drawn from Martial or the Greek Anthology, as an exercise in copia; praise for the man who can follow the difficult path of virtue when he is enjoying good fortune is immediately followed by a succession of sententiae bearing on the same theme:

Fascheuse de nature est toute adversité,
Mais trop plus dangereuse est la felicité.
Le cheval furieux, aiant le mords pour guide,
Tousjours en sa fureur ne desdaigne la bride:
Le navire agité des vents impetueux
Ne succumbe tousjours aux flots tempestueux:
Et le cours du torrent tombant de la montaigne
S'allente quelquefois au plain de la campaigne.

(VI, 9)

The commonplace of fortune and virtue lent itself naturally to a multitude of variations during the Renaissance, since it subsumed the whole question of man's individual freedom. At times, Nature, Fortune, Destiny and Providence coalesce and subject man to their larger will.30 But in as many cases submissive medieval moral virtue is supplanted by the Renaissance notion of personal accomplishment and ingeniousness where, as Alberti put it, ability directs fortune.31 According to Montaigne, “La fortune ne nous fait ny bien ny mal” because the mind is the “seule cause et maistresse de sa condition heureuse ou malheureuse” (I, 14, p. 67). Insofar as fortune is identified with nature, the notion can equally imply the triumph of art and human endeavor over the forces of nature. The most graphic example of this change is found in the “Hymne au Roy sur la prinse de Callais.” After the temporary triumph of the allegorical persona Malheur over Fortune, Vertu decides to fight alongside Henri II. Soon, however, Du Bellay begins speaking of personal “vertu valeureuse” and of how the king's actions can overtake Fortune, “devancé par l'effect” (VI, 22).

The intent of the commonplace was to amplify a poetic discourse, to teach, please and move concurrently, since truth, beauty and goodness were ideally inseparable. In its dialectical function it could have the dual status of an intrinsic and an extrinsic argument. When considered as an inherent theme apart from the body of a poem the commonplace could be viewed as an intrinsic or artificial argument. Melanchthon's discussion on the nature of virtue and its adjuncts centers on their causes and effects, but when he attempts to persuade men to accept the beneficence of virtue, he resorts to rhetorical figures.32 Similarly, Du Bellay's denial that Fortune has determined Henri II's virtue, following his analysis of

Ceste dame Fortune, à qui pour sa puissance,
Dont les divers effects nous donnent cognoissance,
Sans en sçavoir la cause, on a d'antiquité
Donné jusqu'aujourdhuy tiltre de deité.

(VI, 10)

is a way of preparing an amplification of the king's personal qualities that follow in the poem. We have seen that in their function as rhetorical figures of thought, the grammatical structure of proverbs, aphorisms and other sententious matter is more amorphous than that of figures of diction. But with respect to their use within a whole poem, they are ordinarily reserved for the peroration of a poetic discourse, the sestet of a sonnet, the end of a stanza or any other meaning unit. And since they are identical to inartificial arguments, Quintilian considers them in relation to the enthymeme as ways of relating the particular to the general (VIII, v, 3-8). The sententious “La hauteur (du sapin) n'est si ferme & asseurée / Que l'arbrisseau, qui croist par les campagnes” (IV, 120), derived from Horace's Carmina, II, x, not only sums up the particular action of the preceding verses, but also provides the moral focus for the whole “monomachie.” The use of figures of thought to put the foregoing verses in broad perspective is certainly based on the poetic requirement of mixing the pleasant with the profitable and probably inspired Du Bellay's insistence that the epigrammatic tenth verse and the preceding nine be interdependent. This requirement has little if anything to do with the tone of the poem, for in an erotic “Chanson” of the Jeux rustiques he closes a stanza with the proverb “Qui ayme plus grand que soy, / Luy mesme se donne loy” and continues his argument with “Cela vous doit estre preuve” (V, 86), while in his “Lyre chrestienne” he ends a stanza with the ecclesiastical “Mais toutes choses ont leur temps” (IV, 137) and goes on to a discussion of mixing “le doulx à l'utile.” Since in a dozen separate contexts Du Bellay stresses the mixture of components, the useful does not follow the pleasant in an inviolate order. For instance, a poem in the Vers lyriques that prefigures the Antiquitez, where “En ruines grosses / Le tens precipite … Maint palais de Romme … Regnes et empires … Maint peuple puissant” (III, 18-19), contains maxims on the ravages of time scattered at random, like the ruins themselves, from beginning to end; but this arrangement coincides with the poem's intent of persuading the reader to accept the eternal decline and regeneration of unstable life and of restating variations on a sententious theme.

Since belletrists often worked out of the same copy books, or at least with the same commonplaces, and used the same authors as models, the resulting similarity of expression is not surprising. The themes of the Antiquitez recur three more times in the Vers lyriques (pp. 38-39, 41, 51) and on numerous occasions in the Poemata, indicating the extent of the poet's preoccupation, and traditional topoi such as the Dying Rose, ubi sunt and memento mori appear in close juncture (IV, 28). A scholar of Chamard's scope can trace the commonplace that closes the first part of a long poem back through Rabelais and Erasmus (VI, 4) and even “O combien est heureuse,” so severely censured in the Illustration (p. 114), is reworked in the Vers lyriques (III, 90). Du Bellay's astute editors have not failed to notice that too often his treatment of common themes and places is suggestive of “sententiae pueriles” and that his actual imitation of authors and refracting of themes are not always as naturally digested and reproduced as the Deffence et Illustration recommends.33 Such serious charges deserve serious consideration. The next two sections, then, will examine the successes and failures of Du Bellay's imitations of literary models. Since translation is the most limited and most direct form of imitation, his translations of the Aeneid provide the most extensive demonstration of how he modified and applied his earlier ideas on imitation. L'Olive attests to the vast range of imitative possibilities open to the poet as he borrows and adopts imagery and thematic developments and as a result creates an impression of variety within a cohesive collection of sonnets. Both of these poetic endeavors show that in actual practice Du Bellay's translation, imitation and creation are cooperative activities differentiated by subtle gradations, and not mutually exclusive and clearly distinct categories.


The random and polemic proscriptions in the Deffence et Illustration against translation are so colored by invective against the school of Marot and its defenders that we cannot take them as unqualified and absolute literary principles. Chamard clearly showed that Du Bellay's vituperation derived largely from the need to defend the hegemony of the French language against the cicéroniens and virgiliens. It was especially inspired by the publication of Sebillet's Art poétique which stole the Brigade's thunder and which defended adaptation and translation as the equals of poetic creativity.34 After the battle had been joined and the enmity toward his adversaries somewhat relieved, Du Bellay could casually allow in the preface to his 1552 Aeneid translation that “Je n'ay pas oublié ce qu'autrefois j'ay dict des translations poëtiques: mais je ne suis si jalouzement amoureux de mes premieres apprehensions, que j'aye honte de les changer quelquefois à l'exemple de tant d'excellens aucteurs, dont l'auctorité nous doit oster ceste opiniastre opinion de vouloir tousjours persister en ses advis, principalement en matiere de lettres. Quand à moy, je ne suis pas Stoïque jusques là” (VI, 251). Neither his heated rejection of 1549 nor his mollified allowance of 1552 do justice to the subtle distinctions he raised in the Deffence et Illustration among imitation and the varieties of translation, or the problems these distinctions pose—problems and distinctions which he attempted in varying measure and with varying success to resolve and incorporate in his translations of Books IV and VI of the Aeneid.

In a spectrum ranging from blame to praise, Du Bellay's manifesto alluded to the activities of the traducteur who translates verbatim, the translateur who reproduces ideas closely, the paraphraste who reproduces ideas freely and the imitateur who so assimilates a literary model through innutrition that it becomes part of his instinctive cultural reference (pp. 32-39, 42, 46, 60). These varied activities correspond to the literary education proposed by Quintilian (X, XI) and coincide with part of the rhetorical-poetic rationale that underlies Du Bellay's treatise. We have seen how Chapter V of the Deffence, “Que les Traductions ne sont suffisantes pour donner perfection à la Langue Francoyse,” introduces the system of Ciceronian rhetoric that will be Du Bellay's reference point for poetic terminology, and how the subsequent reduction of his remarks to invention and especially elocution aligns them with the dichotomy of res and verba. It is on the basis of this dichotomy that he criticizes translators and poor imitators who “s'amusant à la beauté des motz, perdent la force des choses” (pp. 34, 46). Imitation should benefit invention insofar as the transformation of a great author into one's intellectual background and literary memory provides a greater wealth of thematic and technical referents for the poet when he goes about “discovering” his subject. As such, imitation could not but enrich and copiously “illustrate” French letters in the new generation. But with the great stress placed on style by the ascending Pléiade—the creative formation of their uniquely personal expression—it was natural for one of their spokesmen to condemn word-for-word translation as a slavery that would vitiate their central purpose.

Du Bellay's conception of the worthy adapter alternates between the translateur and the paraphraste, and he came to see a successful rendition as a foreign author's natural inspiration revealed by a judiciously applied technique. To des Masures on his translation of Vergil's epic he wrote: “Autant comme lon peult en un autre langage / Une langue exprimer, autant que la nature / Par l'art se peult monstrer” (II, 171). He describes the necessary latitude he allowed himself in his version of the “Discours au Roy” of Michel de l'Hospital in order to remain close to the poem's theme and inspiration: “J'ay trahy ou traduit beaucoup plus de la moitié de nostre besogne, mays en vers alexandrins, car les aultres ne me satisfont en si grave matière, et m'eust fallu user d'une infinité de periphrases, dont je me feusse beaucoup eslongné de la nayfveté de mon autheur, que je m'esforce de représenter le plus au naturel qu'il m'est possible.”35 Even more liberally, in the preface to his translation of Aeneid IV he outlines at length his potentially dangerous theory of compensation which takes realistic account of transposing the metrical line of a synthetic language into the syllabic line of an analytic language: “il seroit mal aysé d'exprimer tant seulement l'ombre de son aucteur, principalement en ung oeuvre poëtique, qui vouldroit par tout rendre perïode pour perïode, epithete pour epithete, nom propre pour nom propre, & finablement dire ny plus ny moins, & non autrement, que celuy qui a escrit de son propre style, non forcé de demeurer entre les bornes de l'invention d'autruy. Il me semble, veu la contraincte de la ryme, & la difference de la proprieté & structure d'une langue à l'autre, que le translateur n'a point malfaict son devoir, qui sans corrompre le sens de son aucteur, ce qu'il n'a peu rendre d'assez bonne grace en ung endroict s'efforce de le recompenser en l'autre” (VI, 249-250).

Yet, his views on translation, although differently framed, are not basically original and do not represent the totality of the Pléiade's generation. In the tradition of the Ars poetica (v. 133), and perhaps following Vita, Etienne Dolet's La Manière de bien traduire d'une langue en aultre (1540) held that, through a requisite command of the foreign idiom, the translator should assimilate his author's tone and meaning and avoid word-for-word adaptation. Sebillet himself, whom Du Bellay praised in 1552 for his “docte artifice” in translation (IV, 181), stipulates the same command of idiom and avoidance of literal versions at the expense of meaning and harmonious style. On the other hand, the translations of the Georgics by Guillaume Michel in 1519 and by Richard Le Blanc in 1554 are completely verbatim, and Peletier, while acknowledging the superiority of original creation over translation, encouraged literal translation.

Divergent theories of translation and their execution were normal in an age when a considerable part of the standard collegial education consisted of translation exercises as well as poetic and rhetorical composition based on an assigned subject and argument. Although he had been away from Coqueret for several years when Loys Le Roy published Plusieurs passages des meilleurs poëtes Grecs et Latins, citez aux Commentaires du Sympose de Platon in 1558, the fragments translated by Du Bellay, heavily weighted with passages from Books IV and VI of the Aeneid, bear the characteristics of this type of compositional exercise.36 Their various themes represent a compendium of Renaissance cosmography and poetic attitudes, such as the controlling force of the stars, the microcosm theme (“le monde est en nous,” VI, 441), sublunary mutability, elemental composition, and the glory assured by poetry. Le Roy lauded Du Bellay's efforts for being “translaté,” implying that he reproduced ideas closely, but in fact he frequently reproduces ideas freely and tailors them to the point of view of the Pléiade and its literary doctrines. For instance, in his translation of Pontano's Meteora, the line “Qui sont vulgairement nommez les douze Signes” is justified only within the Pléiade's reproachful attitude toward the “vulgaire odieux,” not within the bland “duodena astra” of the text. And his advocacy of the trope antonomasia in the Illustration (p. 161), led him to expand the verse “Quum premit auratos Nephelaei velleris artus / Phoebus” into “C'est lors que le Soleil entre dans la maison / Du Mouton Phryxëan à la blonde toyson” (VI, 428).

Le Roy also admired the way in which Du Bellay preserved the rhetorical sententiae and “figures, couleurs & ornemens poëtiques” of the original texts. Although the compactness of the Latin “pervidimus omnem” in his translation of Manilius' Astronomicon IV (VI, 441) becomes the clumsy “Toute, en tout, & par tout nous l'avons recherchée,” he was usually able to compensate for linguistic differences. By appealing to the tonic French rhyme, the complexities of Latin rhetorical figures and poetic rhythm are turned into tours de force of translation. The figure traductio, with its progressive variation developed from the same linguistic root, and the alliteration in Cornelius Gallus' “Pande, puella, collum candidum, / Productum bene candidis humeris” are deftly translated by Du Bellay's successive rhymes undoiantes-blondoiantes-blanchissant (VI, 422). Similarly, the internal alliteration in Juvenal's “Dii, majorum umbris tenuem & sine pondere terram” is accurately matched by Du Bellay's “Dieux, permettez qu'une legere terre / A tout jamais noz grandz peres enserre” (VI, 431).

Modern critics have not hesitated to admire his opuscules of Greek and Latin translation. Isidore Silver has shown in detail that Du Bellay's imitations of Pindar are independent of Ronsard's and that, despite his imperfect knowledge of Greek, his competent translation of Homer did not rely on extant versions.37 His masterful command of Latin and his translation of Vergil's Moretum (V, 7), “moins traduit que transposé,” according to Chamard's note, have elicited uniform praise from his commentators for having captured “le naif” of its author.38 But his Aeneid translation, easily his most ambitious undertaking, has been censured by most of those same commentators for its conspicuous failure to approximate Vergil's genius, for the inevitably greater length of the French version, and yet it has received almost no detailed critical analysis.

His attraction to Vergil's genius reflected a major Renaissance predilection, for in that century the Augustan poet became progressively the exemplar of moral and patriotic conduct, a source book of themes, poeticized history and mythology, and the model of elevated style in poetry and rhetoric; for Du Bellay he was especially a source book and model.39 A catchphrase used to describe Vergil's preeminence, derived from Quintilian (X, i, 86 and 106) and the Ars poetica (v. 323), compared his artistic mastery with Homer's natural inspiration as Demosthenes was compared with Cicero. Du Bellay frequently employs the formula in the Deffence (pp. 24, 28, 37) and elsewhere (II, 179, 274).40 Vergil himself borrowed language, phrases, whole lines and entire episodes from Homer, but imitated creatively by reshaping and unifying so as to express the collective conscience of Augustan Rome. Du Bellay imitates Vergil in a similar way by using the mythological and historical past as seen in Aeneid VI to explain the present and add perspective to his vision in sonnets “6,” “12” and “15” of the Antiquitez. He reproduces ideas freely in the “Hymne de Santé au seigneur Robert de la Haye” (V, 264-277) where in allegorical fashion he praises health and the eternal glory given by poetry; the transition between these disparate ideas is established by reference to the Vergilian underworld of Aeneid VI, derived from the Odyssey, where one goes after death and where poor shades wander about. Free transposition of the underworld episode was not uncommon, witness François Habert's Visions fantastiques (1541) based on Book VI. But at times it is difficult to distinguish between imitation, close and free reproduction of ideas, as in the poem “Se perpetuo Faustinae memorem futurum” from the Poemata. The incipit, “Quod scelus admisi infoelix? quae numina laesi,” and the fourth verse, “Iratos omnes huic decet esse Deos,” recreate some of the language and basic ideas of the famous fourth and eighth verses of Aeneid I, “vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram … Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,” but Du Bellay applies their epic distance to his radically poignant love for Faustine. Vergil's broad human sympathy and melancholy appear to have held a highly personal appeal for Du Bellay.

Therefore, his willingness to forsake an earlier posture and translate two of the finest books of Vergil's epic bespeaks a commitment to a poet he imitated and freely adapted that transcends his earlier polemical mood. But the question remains: how can the translator conjoin res and verba, how can he capture the meanings of tonal change and shades of mood, “partie certes la plus difficile,” in his author's idiom? The answer requires a close examination into the way Du Bellay addressed the problems of reconciling the Pléiade's poetic canons with his translations, of reproducing the sound, rhythm and syntax of Latin epic style, of his theory of compensation and of faithfulness to divergent cultural peculiarities. Since his translation of Book IV was the only one he saw through to publication, it must receive major consideration.

One of the basic tenets of the Pléiade, adumbrated in the Deffence et Illustration, is the alliance of poetry and music which implies close attention to rhythm and regularized rhyme. It is, then, surprising to find Du Bellay on one occasion egregiously abandon the considered rhyme recommendations of the Illustration, chs. VII-VIII; in the most poorly translated single passage of the two books he allows the narrative of Jupiter's agony to spill colorlessly into dialogue through the successive facile rhymes of similar roots and verb endings: entendit-estendit, vivoient-avoient, mande-commande, esselles-aïles, Dardanien-Sydonien (VI, 273). But usually the richness of the rhymes sustains careful distinctions and poetic value. In the passage of Book IV where the ghost of Anchises brings Aeneas back to the reality of his mission, the alternation between feminine and masculine endings reinforces the chiaroscuro of the description:

Toutes les fois que la nuict froide & sombre
Ce bas sejour couvre d'une obscure ombre
Toutes les fois que les astres brulans
Jettent sur nous leurs yeux etincelans:

(VI, 281)

Du Bellay preserves the order and lambent cadence of Vergil's hexameter when the hero goes to meet his father in Aeneid VI, “spargens rore levi et ramo felicis olivae” (v. 230), and the author of L'Olive uses the rhyme to place in relief the Golden Bough which held a special meaning for him, “De la fertile & bienheureuse Olive” (VI, 355).41

The name that had the most special fascination for Du Bellay was, of course, Rome itself. Through the Antiquitez it resounds like the boom of a great drum, conjuring up cruel and noble visions of marching legions and victorious generals. “Sonnet 6,” developed from Aeneid VI, 781-787, articulates that imperial power, “Rome seule pouvoit Rome faire trembler.” It appears that translation has here been the intermediary between imitation and creation, because Du Bellay anticipated the sonnet's martial rhythm in his translation, “Romme la grand', Romme, qui sa puissance” (VI, 388), which is barely implicit in Vergil's text, “auspiciis illa inculta Roma / imperium terris” (v. 781). Later, he again exceeds the Latin meter, “Nimium vobis Romana propago” (v. 870) to beat the same cadence, “Le sang Romain, le sang Romain, ô Dieux” (VI, 394). But in between these passages he successfully applies his theory of compensation when, after failing to meet Vergil's balance and concision, “vincet amor patriae laudumque immensa cupido” (v. 823) in his “Mais tout sera vaincu par la memoire / De la patrie, & l'ardeur de la gloire” (VI, 391), he more resoundingly adapts the unimposing “gener adversis instructus Eoïs” (v. 831) with the balanced “Contre Occident les peuples de l'Aurore” (VI, 391). Implied in Roman grandeur and the “memoire de la patrie” is the concept of pietas, easily the most difficult single word in Vergil to translate precisely since it connotes the maintenance of proper relations with the cosmos, Gods, Rome and family, and a sense of justice and responsibility toward all humanity. Du Bellay's compensation adapts well to this difficulty throughout his translation by rendering pius Aeneas now succinctly as “le bon Roy” (VI, 355), now resonantly as “Le pitoyable & magnanime Enee” (VI, 365), so that in the aggregate he hints at the word's collective meaning.

When Vergil's characterizations get in the way of Du Bellay's peculiar preoccupations, he has trouble harmonizing rhythm and meaning. His strange desire to vindicate Dido's honor (VI, 249-252) led him to suppress the incriminating “Praebuerim sceleri brachia nostra tuo” in his translation of Ovid's Heroides VII (VI, 321) and to betray Vergil's evenness and epic repetition in “Speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem” (Aen. IV, 124, 165); at first he juxtaposes Dido and Aeneas as Vergil did, “Avec' Didon le Troien capitaine” (VI, 266), but then, while masterfully approximating the dactylic rhythm, he accentuates Dido at Aeneas' expense by substituting la belle for dux in “Didon la belle & le Troien ensemble” (VI, 268). In most cases, however, Du Bellay manages to reproduce closely the Augustan poet's characterization by matching his rhythm in dialogue and the point of view expressed by that rhythm. Many of Aeneas' actions are controlled by an awareness of his divine origin, “nate dea,” and mission, but Dido throws his divine and noble lineage back in his face. Vergil suggests her anger through a striking enjambement and a grating succession of sounds, “generis nec Dardanus auctor, / perfide … cautibus horrens / Caucasus” (vv. 365-367), while Du Bellay achieves the same contrast through the rhymes autheur-menteur and similar sound values (VI, 282). Later, the insistence that calibrates Dido's lament, “Quin morere, ut merita es, ferroque averte dolorem” (v. 547) becomes “Meurs plus tost, meurs, digne de ce malheur” (VI, 295). And when Vergil deploys an expansive movement to imply Anna's growing realization, “Hoc rogus iste mihi, hoc ignes araeque parabant” (v. 676), Du Bellay's verse is progressively expansive: “Ce feu, ce boys, ces beaux autelz secrez” (VI, 304). Dido's assonant prophecy of Hannibal, “Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor” (v. 625), is only slightly altered by Du Bellay's “Sor de noz oz, toy, quiquonques dois estre / Nostre vangeur” (VI, 301), but it is usually in alliterative effects that Du Bellay recreates the most faithfully. Even though he could not reproduce the metrical emphasis of Dido's fury in Ovid's “relinquas” (Heroides VII, 133) nor the enclitic structure in Vergil's “Mene fugis?” (Aen. IV, 314), the verbal precision of his “tu me fuys” (VI, 322) and “Me fuis-tu donq'” (VI, 279) equals the Latin models respectively when they are broken down into syllabic count. The Queen's suggestive description of the Massylian priestess' powers, “vertere sidera retro; / nocturnosque movet Manis” (v. 488) returns as “Tu luy verras par ses vers murmurez / Tirer de nuict les espris conjurez” (VI, 291), while the meaning, sound, rhythm and syntax of “nigrantem commixta grandine nimbum” (v. 120) are preserved in “Grosse de pluye & de gresle menue” (VI, 266) and “gravidam imperiis belloque frementem” (v. 229) in “Grosse d' empire & superbe à la guerre” (VI, 273).42

The synclitic nature of Latin, as seen in the last example, authorizes some of the linguistic innovations the Pléiade sponsored for the enrichment of the language. The verbal substantives, neologisms and provignement recommended by the Illustration, ch. VI, recur in Du Bellay's translation as songers (VI, 258), anuytoit (VI, 289) and gallées (VI, 298, 335), but it is principally his mots composés that reveal the verbal texture of the Aeneid. This type of compression allows him not only to condense in his decasyllable, “Bache, Apollon, & Cere porte-lois” (VI, 261), all that is included in the more supple hexameter, “legiferae Cereri Phoeboque patrique Lyaeo” (Aen. IV, 58), but also to stress the role of Ceres the Lawgiver as Vergil did. Du Bellay's “Hecaté troy'-foy'-jumelle” (VI, 293) is no more and no less imposing than “tergeminamque Hecaten” (Aen. IV, 511), but the translation of Monaco (Aen. VI, 830) as Port-hercule (VI, 391) has almost no justification.

This procedure is nearly identical to the tropes antonomasia and periphrasis which imprint Du Bellay's personality on his translation. His Dieu messager (VI, 274) is an adaptation of Vergil's bland Ille (Aen. IV, 238), and his translation of saltem placidis (Aen. VI, 371) as plus doux element (VI, 363) evinces a Renaissance stylistic proclivity. Chamard's flat statement, however, that “Le latin ne dit rien de tel” about Du Bellay's version, “Source du Pau vers l'Aurore courant” (VI, 381), of “unde superne / plurimus Eridani par silvam volvitur amnis” (Aen. VI, 658-659) certainly maligns the translator's license to reproduce ideas closely, since the Eridanus and the Po are names for the same river and l'Aurore is suitable for “the world above.” Du Bellay extends this license to rhetorical structure in Aeneid IV, 525-526, where he invents a chiasmus to suggest the interpenetration of nature implied in Vergil's text:

Quand sur la terre, en l'air & sur les eaux,
Bestes des champs & poissons & oizeaux

(VI, 294)

Yet while this license betrays stylistic and structural preoccupations of the translator, it also coincides with Vergil's intent. The polysyndeton that Du Bellay employed in all types of poetry and that enjoyed popularity among the Pléiade,

Ores le somme & ores le reveil,
Ores les clost d'ung eternel sommeil:

(VI, 274)

accurately reproduces in several verses the rhythm of a single hexameter, “dat somnos adimitque, et lumina morte resignat” (Aen. IV, 244). To charge Du Bellay with redundance and systematic formulae is to charge the Roman poet with the same vices.43 Vergil's avoidance of the fragmentizing effects of asyndeton corresponds to his pervading search for stylistic coherence and logical order. So when Du Bellay transcribes Dido's curse by means of polysyndeton, he is simply responding to a figure that Vergil employed several times in the same passage:

Voicy les sorts, voicy Phebus l'augure,
Voicy apres l'ambassadeur Mercure,

(VI, 283)

Num fletu ingemuit nostro? Num lumina flexit?
Num lacrimas victus dedit, aut misesratus amantem est?
                                                                      … Nunc augur Apollo,
nunc Lyciae sortes, nunc et Iove missus ab ipso

(vv. 369-370, 376-377)44

Du Bellay's rejection of the alexandrine in favor of the decasyllable in his translations, thereby forcing many enjambements, and Saulnier's feeling that his poetry “ne se distingue pas dans l'art du rejet et de l'enjambement,”45 require extended comment on this syntactical phenomenon. He rarely allows a pointless enjambement in his adaptations of the Aeneid, using it to establish emotional opposition, dramatic emphasis and descriptive action; the point of inquiry, then, should be to what extent this reflects Vergil's style and thought. The sense and syntax of the translation remain faithful to Vergil's skillful manipulation of enjambement for heightened emotional opposition, as in Dido's wavering indecision before her expected fall where Du Bellay maintains the Latin prolepsis, in the implied contrast between the invocation to Rome (“dum conderet urbem,” Aen. I, 5) and the founding of Carthage, and in the description of Dido's actual decline and fall:

Ce seul ici mon ame ballencée
A esbranlé:

(VI, 259)

Qui de nouveau une vile a fondée
A petit prix:

(VI, 272)

Pour toy je suis aux Libyques provinces
Faite haineuse, & aux Nomades princes:
Pour toy aussi le Tyrien m'honnore
Moins que devant:

(VI, 279)

… animumque labantem

(vv. 22-23)

… in finibus urbem
exiguam pretio posuit,

(vv. 211-212)

Te propter Libycae gentes Nomadumque
odere, infesi Tyrii; te propter eundem
extinctus pudor,

(vv. 320-322)

Even when Vergil's syntax does not authorize it, his meaning justifies the enjambement which Du Bellay uses in both books to establish the opposition of an affirmation to a negation: “Quand tu soumis ta royale grandeur / A ce meschant” (VI, 299; cf. Aen. IV, 597) and “Mais ilz voudroient quelquefois en ces terres / N'estre venuz” (VI, 346; cf. Aen. VI, 86). Concerning dramatic emphasis, Vergil's structure is often followed, as in the message sent to earth from Jove himself (ab ipso), “celeris mandata per auras / detulit” (“M'en a par l'air apporté la nouvelle / Jusques icy,” Aen. IV, 357-358 and VI, 282). More often, however, Du Bellay either justifiably modifies the enjambement, “Exstinxti te meque, soror, populumque patresque / Sidonios urbemque tuam” (“Ta mort, ô soeur! en ruyne delaisse / Moy, ta cité, ton peuple & ta noblesse,” Aen. IV, 682-683 and VI, 305), or else, retaining the sense, fabricates his own: “Osera-il aborder la Princesse / En sa fureur?” (VI, 277). But it is in the descriptions of action that Du Bellay's enjambement abandons the Latin structure in order to capture fully the meaning. His double adverbs emphasize Aeneas' prolonged stay in Carthage, “Es-tu icy au dormir arresté / Si longuement?” (VI, 296), while the Trojan captain's separation from Italy, “Finablement nous touchons l'Italie / Fuyant de nous” (VI, 345) and Palinurus' presumptuous wish to cross the Stygian marsh, “Entreprens-tu, sans congé, de passer / A l'autre bord?” (VI, 364) are similarly expressed.

Despite the adverse criticism heaped on his translations of Vergil's epic and the critical praise bestowed on his minor translations, the brief Aeneid passages he revised for Le Roy's anthology are in most cases inferior to the longer descriptive passages of Books IV and VI from which they are drawn. Two passages of cosmic proportion will show the importance of attention to detail in approximating Vergil's thought. In Aeneid IV, 509-516, Dido invokes “ter centum deos,” which Du Bellay translated as exactly “Trois cens Dieux” for the Le Roy collection (VI, 418). His 1552 version of “Bien troy'-cent Dieux” (VI, 293) is more accurate, however, since “ter centum” and “sex centum” were often used in Latin as vague exaggerations and here add to the mystery and magnitude of the scene. Among the deities invoked is Hecate in her role as three-faced goddess. His earlier translation is more faithful than his 1558 version, since “L'herbe nouvelle à la lune cuillir” is not only closer to Vergil's “ad lunam” than “L'herbe nouvelle on fauche au cler serain,” but the implied reference to the goddess Luna is closer to Vergil's command of the language of Roman ritual. This ritual is repeated in the lower world when Anchises explains the nature of the soul. Du Bellay's translation of Aeneid VI, 724, mirrors Vergil's ordering of heaven, earth and sea, but in the Le Roy anthology he substitutes fire for heaven. The substitution is probably influenced by his translation of Manilius which immediately precedes in the collection and which orders the elements from fire through water. Du Bellay's new ordering creates a serious and confusing redundancy when Anchises proceeds to speak of the fiery life-spirit that issues from those elements. The confusion of the anthology translation is compounded six verses later when Du Bellay omits Vergil's verse “mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet.” The ellipsis causes a mistranslation of Vergil's following verse and a misreference of the word Inde in “De cest esprit hommes, bestes, oyseaux,” which is far more accurately reproduced in his translation of Book VI as “Par cest accord, hommes, bestes, oyseaux” (VI, 385).

His translation of Vergil's two books is, naturally, imperfect in more than a few places. It lacks the even faithfulness of des Masures' version, perhaps the best Renaissance translation of the Aeneid. But Du Bellay's work is far better than most of his critics have allowed, who may have paid too close attention to his earlier condemnation and not enough to the actual text of his translations. If he was a traditore to his energetic attack on translations, he was generally faithful in his own role as traduttore. In any case, it seems clear that most of his weaknesses stem from an excessive adherence to the poetic theories he outlined in 1549—yet the translator has an obligation to the idiom of his own generation—and not from a failure to appreciate the style or understand the inspiration of Vergil's great epic. Equally important, we see that after more mature reflection Du Bellay saw no absolute distinctions in theory or in practice between imitation, translation and poetic creativity.


The cooperation among the varieties of imitation and translation in poetic creativity are seen as early as L'Olive. In the 1550 preface Du Bellay outlines the way in which art assists nature through imitation of “docte et ingenieuse” Latin and Italian poetry. His untempered answer to Sebillet, “je me vante d'avoir inventé ce que j'ay mot à mot traduit des aultres,” is quickly qualified and explained by his contention that in his poetry there is “beaucoup plus de naturelle invention que d'artificielle ou supersticieuse immitation.” What he means by “natural invention” is clearly, if blithely, articulated as a restatement of the natural memory—ingrained in the intellect and consubstantial with the normal flow of thought—described in Ad Herennium III, xvi, 28-29: “Si, par la lecture des bons livres, je me suis imprimé quelques traictz en la fantaisie, qui apres, venant à exposer mes petites conceptions selon les occasions qui m'en sont données, me coulent beaucoup plus facilement en la plume qu'ilz ne me reviennent en la memoire, doibt on pour ceste raison les appeller pieces rapportées?” Since in the Deffence et Illustration he advised the future poet to school himself in the precepts of antiquity, to study nature as it is faithfully imitated by classical writers and to assimilate these eternal literary archetypes on which he himself would develop variations, Du Bellay was not in the least disturbed by the results of natural invention: “Si deux peintres s'efforcent de representer au naturel quelque vyf protraict, il est impossible qu'ilz ne se rencontrent en mesmes traictz & lineamens, ayans mesme exemplaire devant eulx. Combien voit on entre les Latins immitateurs des Grecz, & entre les modernes Italiens immitateurs des Latins, de commencemens & de fins de vers, de couleurs & figures poëtiques quasi semblables?” Once again attacking the “rimasseurs” for having neglected the language's “nayfve proprieté si copieuse & belle,” he especially stresses the need to “enrichir nostre vulgaire de figures & locutions estrangeres.” But he makes the important qualification that he will strive to resemble only himself despite his borrowing of traditional figures. According to Du Bellay, then, the foremost question of L'Olive is how his borrowings, ranging from outright but limited translations to complete modifications of themes, images and structures, reflect his own natural inclinations; how assimilation and reproduction of archetypes, more than servile copying of appearances, allow him to remold tradition and establish a place for himself.

Du Bellay's commentators have generally applauded his innovations in the sonnet, have on a few occasions congratulated his choice of a poetic form that lends itself well to rhetorical configurations and discursive argument, yet most praise has been reserved for his later expansion of the sonnet sequence to include both elegy and satire.46 Although L'Olive is the first of many French sonnet sequences in the Petrarchan tradition, the poet's early experiments with the form itself have often been relegated to the status of juvenilia and his critical comments on it are considered inadequate. Following Sainte-Beuve, Chamard pointed out that Du Bellay is more concerned in the Deffence et Illustration with abstracted forms of art than with its contents, and that his comments on the sonnet form are incomplete.47 To be sure, his observation that the sonnet's adherence to certain rules and limits differs from the ode's considerable freedom (p. 121) and his later exaggerated opposition of the laborious Italian sonnet to the versatile ode (IV, 47) want further comment. But the search for freedom within accepted limitations essentially defines Du Bellay's attitude toward the sonnet, even in the early collections. Despite the unchallenged assumption that Ronsard regularized the French sonnet in the Amours, published in October, 1552,48 we should credit Du Bellay's “XIII Sonnetz de l'honneste amour,” published on February 1, 1552, with this accomplishment. There the four tercet rhyme schemes are created by alternating masculine and feminine rhymes in the CCDEED and CCDEDE dispositions. Since Ronsard refashioned several of these poems in his Cassandre sonnets and since Du Bellay's sequence is highly unified and Ronsard's is not, it would be absurd to suppose that Du Bellay imitated Ronsard's still unpublished manuscript. His initiative in the early sonnets is greater than is often conceded, and his awareness of the importance of rhyme and of the possibilities of innovation in the tercets is clearly seen in L'Olive.

Such a realization is, of course, essential when adapting Italian verse—where repeated tonic stress within a given verse diminishes the importance of rhyme—to French where rhyme is one of the primary determinants of meaning in a poem. On occasion, the poor quality of the rhymes deffence-offence (“Sonnet 63”), in disregard of the Illustration’s sound precepts for rhyming, may condemn a quatrain to a facile Petrarchan antithesis that prejudices the remainder of the sonnet. And while the end of the first tercet of “Sonnet 32” “Non la vertu, l'esprit & la raison” opposes not only the ephemeral pleasures of nature described in the preceding verses but also opposes the ten feminine rhymes that fade like those sensual attractions, it fails to correspond in meaning to the other line of masculine rhyme at the end of the sonnet, “Ny la rigueur de la froide saison.” But Du Bellay's rhyming achievements lie in his more frequent awareness of the ability of semantically oppositional or complementary rhymes to forward the argument of a sonnet, and in this awareness we can appreciate how imitation can become creation.

As a possible source for Du Bellay's “Sonnet 13,” Chamard proposes Giovanni Mozzarello's “O bella man che'l fren del carro tieni” which contains such uninspiring rhymes as tieni-mantieni. If this sonnet is indeed Du Bellay's source, then his major modification consists of lightening the grammatical punctuation so as to expand his poem into one fluid sentence where the B rhymes punctuate the flow of thought leading up to the main action in the first tercet, “a gravé le protraict”:

La belle main, dont la forte foiblesse
          D'un joug captif domte les plus puissans,
          La main, qui rend les plus sains languissans,
          Debendant l'arc meurtrier qui les coeurs blesse,
La belle main, qui gouverne & radresse
          Les freinz dorez des oiseaux blanchissans,
          Quand sur les champs de pourpre rougissans
          Guydent en l'air le char de leur maistresse, …

The octave itself is composed of two balanced tableaux vivants in which the descent of puissans into languissans illustrates the debilitating force of “La belle main” and the background “pourpre rougissans” places the “oiseaux blanchissans” into broad relief. Again, the action in the sestet of sonnet 88 adheres to the CCDEED rhyme disposition:

La forest prent sa verde robe neufve,
          La terre aussi, qui naguere etoit veufve,
          Promet de fruictz une accroissance pleine.
Or cesse donq' l'hiver de mes douleurs,
          Et vous plaisirs, naissez avec' les fleurs
          Au beau Soleil, qui mon printemps rameine.

as neufve-veufve and douleurs-fleurs juxtapose affirmative and negative statement, while pleine-rameine abandon Petrarch's Christian pietate-onestate in order to reinforce the idea of natural rebirth as the analogue of the poet's feeling.49

This careful attention to the rhyme as the normal terminus and focal point of each verse and his ability to establish the individual contribution of each of the sonnet's five basic rhymes to the collective statement augment the impact of enjambement as a means of amplifying various stages of the poetic argument. Sannazaro's pleasurable vision of Arcadia, “vedendo per li soli boschi gli affettuosi colombi con soave mormorio baciarsi,” is filtered through Du Bellay's memory in “Sonnet 84” and condensed as the languid “Resvant au bien qui me faict doloreux, / Les longs baisers des collombs amoureux.” As an index to the contrast between the scene he witnesses and the pain he feels, the second quatrain begins with “Heureux oiseaux, que vostre vie est pleine / De grand' doulceur!” where the overflow of plenitude into the following verse becomes the spatial coefficient of the poet's thought. Sonnet 103 formulizes its Petrarchan model by beginning the quatrains with “Mais quel hiver” and “Mais quele main.” This rigidity gives way in the first tercet to “As-tu [Nature] done faict une chose si belle / Pour la deffaire” which graphically reproduces the affirmation and denial of Petrarch's simple “far cose e disfar.” That Du Bellay tries to distinguish his poem from his models by means of rhyme alterations is obvious in numerous sonnets. His “Sonnet 5,” which changes Petrarch's Easter Morning to Christmas Eve, also modifies the character of the line endings. Whereas Petrarch's sonnet 3 alternates parataxis in the first quatrain with hypotaxis in the second, Du Bellay completely reverses the procedure in his quatrains; and while the last sestet of the French sonnet is hypotactic, his model for the last six verses, Ariosto's sonnet 2, is entirely paratactic. A convenient example of Du Bellay's transformation of one or perhaps two models simultaneously is the first quatrain of “Sonnet 3”:

Loyre fameux, qui ta petite source
          Enfles de maintz gros fleuves & ruysseaux,
          Et qui de loing coules tes cleres eaux
          En l'Ocean d'une assez vive course:

Caldarini proposes A. G. Corso's

Fiume, che in Adria in più spacievol giri
          Ricco di mille fonti altier discendi,

in addition to Giovanni Guidiccioni's

Arno, puoi ben portar tra gli altri fiumi
          Superbo il corno; & le tue Nimphe belle
          Riverenti venir a farle honore.

as sources from which the French sonnet is derived.50 In both cases the description is primarily adjectival in order to stress the aura of the river's magnificence. Du Bellay's version stresses the river's movement for a different effect as, through verbal action and enjambement, the stream swells into the river and the river flows into the ocean.

If his enjambement focuses on rhyme precisely by disregarding the momentary stasis it assumes, his calculated use of assonance and especially internal rhyme accentuates the role of similar sounds and their thematic and semantic values, yet without ever contesting the importance of end rhyme through rimes équivoquées. The rhyming variations in lines like

Mere d'Amour & fille de la mer
          Du cercle tiers lumiere souverene,

(“Sonnet 52”)

may seem contrived at first glance, and an examination of his source, “Figlia di Giove & madre alma d'Amore” shows that Du Bellay strove for the rhyme by inverting Lelio Capilupi's components. But the word arrangement integrates the personae into the mythological family that inhabits L'Olive and links it to “Sonnet 48” which begins “Pere Ocean, commencement des choses.” Similarly, verses like “L'heureux malheur de l'espoir qui m'attire, / Si le plaisir, suject de mon martire” (“Sonnet 46”) with their similar sounds sustain the oxymoron that blends the theme of pleasure and pain. Du Bellay apparently delights in expanding a brief allusion to sound effects into the main attraction of his verse or in reducing disparate segments of his model into one commanding image. “Sonnet 87” draws upon Girolamo Volpe's “dolce suono mormorate” and “Questo vaso d'amono & croco pieno” and, through a full range of linguistic resources including onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme, develops it into

Vent doulx souflant, vent des vens souverain,
          Qui voletant d'aeles bien empanées
          Fais respirer de souëves halenées
          Ta doulce Flore au visage serain,
Pren de mes mains ce vase, qui est plein …

Four sonnets later he welds Bernardino Tomitano's “rendete al Sole … l'oro” into “Rendez à l'or cete couleur, qui dore.” The internal rhymes, both perfect and imperfect, of the last two examples recur in L'Olive, frequently in a conventional 4 + 6 verse that avoids confusing one decasyllable with two five syllable verses and that repeats the same sounds in subtly altered sequences for an incantational effect. Brief examples drawn both from quatrains and tercets illustrate the pervasiveness of this internal rhyming through the full range of the sonnet.51 The quatrains of “Sonnet 58” end with closely balanced lines that encompass similar but more randomly organized sounds:

          De tes yeulx sort le feu qui me devore.
Donques le prix de celuy qui t'honnore,
          Est-ce la mort & le marbre endurcy?
          O pleurs ingratz! ingratz soupirs aussi,
          Mon feu, ma mort, & ta rigueur encore.

“Sonnet 96” is patterned on Petrarch's expeditio, but while the Tuscan poet limits his negative enumeration to the octave, Du Bellay extends it throughout the sonnet in a procedure he will make famous in the Regrets. His first tercet introduces a series of internal rhymes which he doubles in order to vary the otherwise monotonous rhythm and amplify the richness of the subject he describes,

Ny les piliers des sainctz temples dorez,
          Ny les palais de marbre elabourez,
          Ny l'or encor', ny la perle tant clere

although the second tercet contains the unfortunate alliteration, “Ny le plaisir pouroit plaire à mes yeulx,” initiated in the preceding verses.

Du Bellay's desire to expand his source, as with Bernardo Accolti's “Che l'cor mi tra' del corpo e'n cielo il porta,” occasionally creates a halting rhythm unjustified by the sonnet's context and exceeding even Scève's most copious series of abstractions (cf. Délie 56): “Coeur, corps, esprit, sens, ame & vouloir emblent” (“Sonnet 4”). But his progressively expansive invocations, such as “Sacrée, saincte & celeste figure” (“Sonnet 38”) condensed from Francesco Maria Molza's cluttered “Santa, sacra, celeste & sola imago,” and conclusions like “Saincte, pudique & chaste Cyprienne” (“Sonnet 104”), rival those of the best sonneteers from Ronsard to Mallarmé. His powers of elaborative condensation are seen in “Sonnet 77” where his last tercet abandons his model, Petrarch's “Lieti fiori,” to bring together all of the natural forces invoked and developed in the body of the poem: “je seroy' fleuve & rive, / Roc, source, fleur, & ruisselet encore”. Ronsard, focusing partially on the same model and perhaps imitating Du Bellay, closes his sonnet in like manner, yet without ever indicating the particular value of each enumerated component “Tailliz, forestz, rivages & fontaines, / Antres, prez, fleurs, dictes le luy pour moy.”52

Like the bee moving from one flower to another, to use the Pléiade's favorite description of their multiple inspiration, Du Bellay frequently condenses two or three sources into the development of a sonnet in a multitude of ways. His amalgamation may include imagery combined from Petrarch and Vergil followed by a revised passage (“Sonnet 31”) from the Orlando Furioso; or it may comprise disparate segments from the same poet, as in “Sonnet 70” which brings together and alters a quatrain and tercet from the beginning of Petrarch's Rime sparse with those from another sonnet that is located near the middle of that collection; or, in “Sonnet 62,” it can remold the theme of one sonnet from the Rime to the development of the following sonnet in Petrarch's sequence. But however ingeniously varied these borrowings may be, they rarely harmonize the individual charm and greatness of divergent poetic visions. Representative of that deficient coordination is “Sonnet 33” with its twin sources of Petrarch and Ariosto, and Du Bellay's extrapolation of those sources:

O prison doulce, ou captif je demeure
          Non par dedaing, force ou inimitié,
          Mais par les yeulx de ma doulce moitié,
          Qui m'y tiendra jusq'à tant que je meure.
O l'an heureux, le mois, le jour & l'heure,
          Que mon coeur fut avecq' elle allié!
          O l'heureux noeu, par qui j'y fu' lié,
          Bien que souvent je plain', souspire & pleure!
Tous prisonniers, vous etes en soucy,
          Craignant la loy & le juge severe:
          Moy plus heureux, je ne suis pas ainsi.
Mile doulx motz, doulcement exprimez,
          Mil' doulx baisers, doulcement imprimez,
          Sont les tormens ou ma foy persevere.

In the first half of the poem Du Bellay's awareness of rhyme value permits him to sustain tensions that correspond to the poem's argument: the coexistence of pleasure and pain. The paradoxically matched rhymes demeure and meure, the counterpoint of the two verses between them, and the grammatical similarities of verses 5 and 7, 6 and 8 that offset the introverted rhymes ending those lines, all contribute to the mood of paradox and especially to a synthesis of sources, since verses 5 and 6 are basically Petrarchan while verses 7 and 8 come primarily from Ariosto. Petrarch's roughly sequential expansion and contraction of time, “Benedetto sia 'l giorno e 'l mese e l'anno / e la stagione e 'l tempo e l'ora,” is reduced and unified by Du Bellay, and the Petrarchan beatitude is applied to Ariosto's knot that binds. But despite his plaintive assonance in that quatrain and his alliteratively descriptive use of m's that seal the lips in the last tercet, the facile rhyming of exprimez with imprimez and the considerable distance between the D rhymes detract from that success. Even more serious, the apparent insertion of the Petrarchan passage separates “j'y fu' lié” (v. 7) from its supposed referent “prison doulce” and leaves that whole hemistich grammatically and logically vague. This vagueness is compounded by the substitution of “Bien que” for the blessing Petrarch gives his torment, since Du Bellay thus transforms the tension of paradox into a contradiction that he fails to develop. Moreover, the sudden and absolute address to the prisoners in Du Bellay's allegorization of Ariosto (v. 9) forces an uncomfortable contrast with the necessarily indecisive mood of the first quatrain. So it seems that Du Bellay was either unaware of the subtle distinction between the paradox he found in his two sources and simple contradiction, or else his imitation was unable to give rise to recreation in this sonnet.

Aneau was quick to realize these shortcomings and repeatedly brought them to the poet's attention. He corrected Du Bellay's grammatical referents in a sonnet overladen with logical connectives (“20”), and in his grammatical lesson on “Sonnet 10” he jocosely, although perhaps accidentally, stressed Ramus' important conceptual term liens in attacking the poetic logic: “Tout ce sonnet est de connexion mal jointe, & mal liez y sont les liens avec le feu & le trait. Car traitz liez ne font nul mal, & le feu pourroit bien brusler les liens.” The significance of this criticism derives from the way in which the combined Trivium furnishes Aneau his aesthetic criteria, for he concludes his objection with the rhetorical terminology: “Appren donq à bien figurer.” Du Bellay apparently learned his lesson well by “Sonnet 93” where we see him borrowing Petrarch's “effetto” and “cagion” as he moves from effect to the cause of his alternation between pleasure and pain. From there he proceeds to the logically introduced first tercet, “Madame donc,” and incorporates Ariosto's Wheel of Fortune as the causal and pictorial analogue of the effect he undergoes.

The extent to which he learned his rhetoric properly remains a contentious point. Guido Saba occasionally admires it while Chamard invariably laments it.53 But whether he was its master or its victim, normative rhetoric assumes a dominant position in L'Olive and therefore deserves more than the allusive treatment it has so far received. Du Bellay's condensation of Ariosto's “chiara eloquenzia che deriva da un fonte di saper” into “en esprit, en faconde” (“Sonnet 18”) evinces a concern for the normal passage from invention to elocution in poetic composition. Salmon Macrin's 1550 dedication to L'Olive associates “Facunde Bellaï” with Horace and Quintilian (I, 4-5), and Du Bellay's own “l'ecolle de faconde” (“Sonnet 8”) is a revealing paraphrase of Ariosto's “alti stili” and “scole insegnaro” that implies the persuasive power of a forceful style. Even when his eloquence succumbs to the ineffable beauty of his love, he is merely following a rhetorical topos that Curtius has traced from the beginning of poetry.54

The 1550 preface to L'Olive underlines the need to enrich French poetry with poetic figures, “elire pour decorer.” But rather than compiling a list of the figures he uses, it is often more instructive to see how he modifies his borrowings to obtain those figures and to see how his borrowing accordingly alters the poetic vision. For instance, his modification of Navagero's loosely organized

Quanto ringrazio il ciel et la mia stella,
Ch'in sorte dato m'han si dolce ardore,
Quanto amor, che t'aperse al cor la via.

to obtain the common polysyndeton we discussed in the last chapter,

Combien le ciel favorable je clame,
          Combien Amour, combien ma destinée,

(“Sonnet 22”)

stresses the essential relatedness of the forces that pleasantly conspire against him. The modification may add only prolixity, witness the expansion of Petrarch's “destra” and “manco” into “main la plus forte” and “le flanc qui est le plus debile” (“Sonnet 69”). Or it may restructure and refine the entire imitation, as the following example indicates. The octave of “Sonnet 24” flows more freely than Battista della Torre's sonnet which specifies Echo in the opening verse, paratactically arranges the poet's address and presents the nymph's response by means of the balanced line called compar or isocolon

Tu radoppi i miei tristi ultimi accenti:
          Tu col mio spesso il tuo dolor confondi:
          S'io grido Furnia, & tu Furnia rispondi;

(vv. 5-7)

Du Bellay's reference to Echo is not made specific until his seventh verse where he eschews controlled balance in favor of the figure epizeuxis for heightened emotion: “Olive Olive: & Olive est ta voix.” The progressively diminished voice created by this imbalance returns in “France, France, respons à ma triste querelle. / Mais nul, sinon Echo, ne respond à ma voix” (II, 59), where Echo enters as an indifferent witness to the poet's torment. In L'Olive Echo commiserates with him and Narcissus becomes the mythic analogue of the unfeeling Olive. Elsewhere Du Bellay makes similar verses physically intimate the idea of reflection between tercets and between physical and ideal beauty:

Ceste beauté, seul miroir de mes yeux:
Ceste beauté, dont la saincte merveille,

(II, 249)

Similar configuration in “Sonnet 24”

Pareille amour nous avons eprouvée,
          Pareille peine aussi nous souffrons ores.
          Mais plus grande est la beaulté qui me tue.

intimates the reciprocity of pleasure and pain. Moreover, it frames the beauty of Narcissus which is the source of those feelings in Echo and ultimately the source of his own demise, and prepares the even greater beauty that plagues the narrator who finally individualizes his predicament in the last verse. The slight modification that Du Bellay effected in eschewing the third egual in

Eguale arde ambidue fiamma amorosa:
          Eguale è'l nostro amor, pari le pene;
          Et ambidue già vinse egual bellezza.

preserves the desired duality of his second tercet. The restatement of the Echo-Narcissus myth to connect reflected beauty with death returns in “Sonnet 79”:

Le ciel courbé se mire dans ses yeulx:
          Echo respond à sa divine voix,
          Qui faict mourir les hommes & les Dieux.

The concern for the reflection in and through art of beauty and the emotion it causes responds to the 1550 preface's idea of “representer au naturel quelque vyf protraict.” But although in that context Du Bellay is speaking of the inevitability of reproducing imagery similar to the poetry he imitates, his concern for vivid portraiture is greater than any of his models. “Sonnet 74” attends to Olive's beauty, “Ce que le Ciel, les Dieux & la Nature / Ont peint en vous, plus vivante peinture,” moving Platonically from her physical charms, “la vive et immortelle image,” to her spiritual attraction, “au vif l'esprit te fera voir,” and in the following sonnet he asks nature's help in painting his reaction to that beauty. These two sonnets are apparently Du Bellay's independent creations, and when in “Sonnet 29” he does borrow a passage from the Orlando Furioso he superimposes his own terminology and alleges this time that nature's forces “De ceste forme en moy si bien emprainte / N'effaceront la vive protraiture.” His insistence on painting a convincing picture of her beauty and of his feelings relates to his rhetorical wish to convince the reader that she is worthy of his efforts and to persuade her that he deserves her consideration. He tells her in “Sonnet 50” that if he could express his true feelings “au vif,” this “preuve certaine” would allow him to bend her will to his point of view and “mouvoir tout l'univers.”

Aside from antithesis, which is so universal a thought pattern as to obviate any necessary association with rhetoric, the most recurrent figure in L'Olive is anaphora. Du Bellay works it into his self-inspired verse, superimposes it on his imitations and elaborates it when his models themselves use it. Leo Spitzer has shown how the four verses beginning with La in the famous “Idea Sonnet” (“113”) extensively direct the poet's and the reader's point of view.55 The poem is written in a cyclic pattern from the fallen state of the speaker who begins with the universal occurrence of human transience, “sans espoir de retour.” He then relates that occurrence to his personal experience which results from the universal condition. The La anaphora, borrowed from Bernardino Daniello and modified, gives the impression of rising through three modes of time, earthly, edenic and the poet's participation in both:

La, est le bien que tout esprit desire,
          La, le repos ou tout le monde aspire,
          La, est l'amour, la, le plaisir encore.
La, ô mon ame au plus hault ciel guidée!
          Tu y pouras recongnoistre l'Idée
          De la beauté, qu'en ce monde j'adore.

“Sonnet 81” is based on a similar but less successful deployment of the same anaphora which is absent from Du Bellay's apparent source, Ludovico Dolce. Beginning with the earthly “mon desir” in the first verse, the full La anaphora of the second quatrain directs the eye to the eternal values Olive incarnates, while in the second tercet it redirects the point of view back to earth and brings the poetic vision full circle:

La n'est ma soif aux ondes perissante,
          La mon espoir & se fuit & se suit,
          La meurt sans fin ma peine renaissante.

Thematically, cyclic time and space can be seen as the correlatives of man's emotional experiences. They help to associate the poet's mental world with nature and the transformations of the sun, the moon and the elements, with the narrative lines of myth and the mutations of history. Since Fortune's Wheel bespeaks the instability of human existence, the cycle may suggest either desired rebirth or unwanted recurrence.

Cyclical development is one of the basic structural principles of many sonnets in L'Olive and of the sequence as a whole; it will become the major organizing principle of his later sequences. The linking of consecutive poems, through either the use of the same vocabulary and rhymes or similar thematic development, helps to make L'Olive a traditional sonnet sequence. Frequently the closing direction of a sonnet will be countered or complemented by the opening direction of the following sonnet (e.g., “13-14,” “16-19,” “86-87”). The descent of “Sonnet 106,” “Ainsi d'Amour le feu puisse descendre,” is met by the rise of the following poem, taken from Saint Paul, “Sus, sus, mon ame,” which introduces the group of religious sonnets at the end of L'Olive and the triumph of the Psalms' purgatorial flame over Eros' infernal fire: “D'un nouveau feu brusle moy jusq' à l'ame, / Tant que l'ardeur de ta celeste flamme. …” The end of the “Idea Sonnet” returns the speaker to earth whereas the following sonnet ends with elevation, “Courez par l'air d'une aele inusitée” and introduces the Icarus theme at the end of the collection. Even when they are not consecutive, many sonnets are placed in close proximity by the common source they share, as in the case of sonnets “29,” “35” and “39” each of which reshapes two different stanzas from Bradamante's plea in Orlando Furioso XLIV, 61-66. Overall conjoining of sonnets is increased by the end of the first sonnet, “Egal un jour au Laurier immortel,” and the end of the last sonnet, “Jusq' à l'egal des Lauriers tousjours verds,” which announce the opening and the closing of the sequence, and by the liturgical rhythm that encompasses them between the “Christmas Eve Sonnet” (“5”), following the traditional explanatory invocations of sonnets “1-4,” and the numerous rebirth sonnets at the end of the collection.

Du Bellay's peregrine muse led him to syncretize the Christian cycle with classical myth in an effort fully to join the activities of man with the workings of the cosmos. In L'Olive we encounter the standard conceits of her depersonalized attributes meeting the anthropomorphized forces of nature and of myth (“Sonnet 86”) or the equation of her perfection with the harmonized elements. Yet this correspondence between the microcosm of man and the macrocosm of nature is usually associated with a rebirth motif or a cyclical movement: the setting sun of a quatrain that pacifies the elements rises again in the tercets where Olive “Semble renaitre avec la belle Aurore” (“Sonnet 27”), the rising and falling wheel that controls the poet's fortune conjures up the movement of elements (“Sonnet 35”), the progressively concrete descent from heaven which becomes “amoureux de la terre” and the resulting advent of spring contrasts with the poet's interior world of the last verse, “Un triste hiver sen' en moy renaissant” (“Sonnet 45”) and the elements extend their sympathy as the poet's precious tear in the “jardin de son ame” brings forth “mile amoureuses fleurs” (“Sonnet 73”).

This movement unfolds within both spatial and temporal dimensions. In “Sonnet 95” the reader's eye descends with the poet's tear as it blends with the water and rises as his mind is projected into the past:

Dieu qui reçois en ton giron humide
          Les deux ruisseaux de mes yeulx larmoyans,
          Qui en tes eaux sans cesse tournoyans
          Enflent le cours de ta course liquide,
Quand fut-ce, ô Dieu! qu'en la carriere vide
          De ton beau ciel, ces cheveux ondoyans,
          Comme tes flotz au vent s'ebanoyans,
          Deça dela voguoient à pleine bride?

In answer to his question, we are thrust further into an arcadian past when the Gods and time conspired to make “Renaistre l'ore de l'antique saison.” The reference to the passing of the Golden Age recurs in “Sonnet 101” where the descent of vices to earth in the first tercet is counter-balanced by the ascent of virtues to heaven in the second. Similarly, in “Sonnet 11” we descend through the imperfect and pluperfect tenses from a threatening sky to a tumultuous sea, and, as Du Bellay modifies Ariosto's temporal scheme, rise suddenly to a clearing sky in the present tense and in the presence of Olive rescued from the sea.56 The same poem of Ariosto is imitated and altered in “Sonnet 59” where Du Bellay's song charms the rocks and trees below him as Orpheus had done before the gates of Erebus; after snatching his prize from the “bord oblivieux” he returns in the last tercet to the upper world and the source of light.

A more extensive look at descent and return as expressed by myth will show some of the possibilities inherent in the procedure and Du Bellay's exploitation of them:

Qui a peu voir celle que Déle adore
          Se devaler de son cercle congneu,
          Vers le pasteur d'un long sommeil tenu
          Dessus le mont qui la Carie honore:
Et qui a veu sortir la belle Aurore
          Du jaulne lict de son espoux chenu,
          Lors que le ciel encor' tout pur & nu
          De mainte rose indique se colore:
Celuy a veu encores (ce me semble)
          Non point les lyz & les roses ensemble,
          Non ce que peult le printemps concevoir:
Mais il a veu la beauté nompareille
          De ma Déese, ou reluyre on peult voir
          La clere Lune & l'Aurore vermeille.

(“Sonnet 16”)

Following her mythological role, Diana descends from the moon in the first quatrain toward Endymion to whom Jupiter granted perpetual youth. The Endymion myth coincides well with the various themes of L'Olive, since it has usually suggested the vain search for lasting satisfaction, aspiring love and poetic dreams. The Moon Goddess is met by her sister Aurora as she rises in the second quatrain and who was traditionally accompanied by the Pleiads. Aurora—Olive's other surrogate—occasionally loved mortals, such as her “espoux chenu,” the feeble-voiced Tithonus; she carried him away from the earth to assure his immortality, unlike Diana, but forgot to have Jupiter grant him perpetual youth. The tensive differences between the two myths is somewhat resolved in the sestet and the distanced point of view of the first verse is sharpened by Du Bellay's parenthetical “ce me semble” which interprets the significance of redness and whiteness and brings these colors together again in the last verse. The function of the two myths in the poem and the numerous equivalences between them and the poet's situation create concision and depth in Du Bellay's sonnet and suggest the Pléiade's theory of myth as a reflexion of supra-literal truth.

Depth is also created by the blend of scriptural and para-Christian themes, which he accomplishes in a single poem or by contrasting several poems. In “Sonnet 112,” for instance, the Platonic “occultes Idées” that introduces the octave syncretizes rather obviously with the apocalyptic “Le Juste seul ses eleuz justifie” of the first tercet. More skillfully, the third verse of “Sonnet 76” (Isaiah XI, 6) and the remainder of the poem (Revelation VI, 12-14):

Quand la fureur, qui bat les grandz coupeaux,
          Hors de mon coeur l'Olive arachera,
          Avec le chien le loup se couchera,
          Fidele garde aux timides troupeaux.
Le ciel, qui void avec tant de flambeaux,
          Le violent de son cours cessera,
          Le feu sans chault & sans clerté sera,
          Obscur le ront des deux astres plus beaux.
Tous animaulx changeront de sejour
          L'un avec' l'autre, & au plus cler du jour
          Ressemblera la nuit humide & sombre,
Des prez seront semblables les couleurs,
          La mer sans eau, & les forestz sans ombre,
          Et sans odeur les roses & les fleurs.

give the poet's love a backdrop that ranges from the Old to the New Testament. The first Scriptural passage, dealing with the everlasting Branch of Jesse, prophesies an eventual reconciliation in the world of nature after innumerable afflictions, and the second passage prophesies the opening of the sixth Seal to unleash cosmic woes, announcing that martyrs will be avenged for their sufferings. Du Bellay thrusts us into a distant, mysterious future that adumbrates his deliverance from torment and blends the spirituality and vast dimensions of his sources with the olive branch, symbol of his enduring love.

Equally subtle is the way in which sententiae and exempla at the conclusion of numerous sonnets teach lessons that defy specific definition as either Platonic or Christian until the latter part of the collection: “Vivant par mort d'une eternelle vie” (“Sonnet 22”), “Tu sers d'exemple, à qui ose aspirer / Trop hardiment à chose non mortelle” (“Sonnet 51”), “Que l'homme en vain contre Dieu s'evertue” (“Sonnet 63”), “Qui sans mourir, & sans voler aux cieulx, / Peult contempler le paradis en terre!” (“Sonnet 80”), “Et morte soit tousjours pour moy la mort” (“Sonnet 110”), and “Qui en mourant triomphe de la mort” (“Sonnet 111”). Judging from the first tercet of “Sonnet 68”

Ainsi courant de sommez en sommez
          Avec' Amour, je ne pense jamais,
          Fol desir mien, à te haulser la bride.

which is recast in the Christian tercets of sonnet 6 of “L'Honneste amour,”

Ainsi l'esprit dedaignant nostre jour
          Court, fuyt, & vole en son propre sejour
          Jusques à tant que sa divine dextre
Haulse la bride au folastre dezir

it appears that Du Bellay continued to drape mythological deities in Christian robes and to practice this contaminatio of the Platonic dualism of Idea and matter with the Pauline war of Spirit and flesh, perhaps through the use of natural memory, over several years.

In L'Olive Du Bellay introduced the French sonnet sequence and leavened it with equal amounts of translation, imitation and original creation. Some of his sonnets, such as “83” and “113,” are lasting anthology pieces, but many are merely technical successes and elicit our respect only on that level. The cyclical movement to which man and nature are subject returns in the Antiquitez, but the poet's point of view is considerably altered by the sights of Rome and their meaning. “Sonnet 83” of L'Olive, for instance, presents a prelapsarian scene in which the universe is abstractly painted, steeped in perfection and lacks specificity of place. In the Antiquitez this Parnassian detachment and its final crescendo give way to a pilgrim's involvement with the world of fallen man and a concern for the causes that led to Rome's historical decline. The added dimension of Du Bellay's actual experience before the ruins of Rome, coupled with the scenes of his mind's eye, supplant the “double cyme” with its special and therefore limiting point of view that often dominates the sonnets of L'Olive.



Rome: its very name, fated to rule the world according to Tibullus, invokes proud visions of legions marching triumphantly through a vast empire whose perimeter was coextensive with the frontiers of civilization, of marble temples whose blood-splashed altars offered sacrifice to benevolent gods, of Roma Aeterna whose seemingly superhuman accomplishments overshadowed its merely human mold. Its greatness was both created and reflected by Vergil, Horace and Ovid, while the poignancy of its dissolution summoned the attention of Renaissance humanists like Petrarch, Castiglione and Buchanan, all of whom Du Bellay knew and assimilated into his own testimony to the ruins of Rome. Even the impressions of a Poggio Bracciolini, which predate the Antiquitez by more than a century and which Du Bellay may not have known, demonstrate the same concern for the former greatness of the magna parens, mistress of the world, whose buildings were once believed to lie beyond fortune's reach but now lie prostrate like a giant corpse, concern for the lesson of fortune's inconstancy that Rome's fall teaches us, and yet also for the former dignity the ruins cannot fully hide.57

Of the numerous ideological and philosophical complications that defied full resolution in the Renaissance, the conflict of Classical and Christian visions of the world was preeminent. Christianity divided Renaissance humanists from the time of Rome, and “it certainly did not allow them in practice to mold their behavior in accordance with either the Greek or the Roman example. The ancient trust in the world's being more permanent than individual man and in political structures as a guarantee of earthly survival after death did not return, so that the ancient opposition of a mortal life to a more or less immortal world failed them. Now both life and world had become perishable, mortal and futile.”58 The basic disquietude of sixteenth-century man may be easily seen by contrasting Renaissance attitudes toward the secularized society. While men like Rabelais believed that despite their mortality they could become the authors of their own destiny and achieve an individual permanence, still, with Calvin, they were realizing that by its own fault and free will fallen nature had succeeded divine nature and in the process had divorced itself from its divine origin and from God, the source of its immortality.59

Du Bellay's vision of the ruins of Rome falls between these two polarities. He looked on the classical rubble and experienced conflicting responses that the medieval observer—if he looked at all—would not comprehend. Erwin Panofsky has explained that “the Roman ruins inspired the medieval mind with a mingled feeling of admiration for the lofty magnificence of the original buildings, demoniacal fear because these structures were the work of unbelievers, and pious triumph because their decay betokened the defeat of paganism.”60 Renaissance eyes came to see the ruins in a fresh way and sought to balance a calm archaeological interest in them with a nearly romantic sentiment. In literature as well as painting of the Renaissance, the theme of far-off Arcadian innocence and tombstone wreckage—both associated with Du Bellay's appreciation of the Antiquitez—appealed “not so much as a Utopia of bliss and beauty distant in space as a Utopia of bliss and beauty distant in time.”61 This generalization of an important fact correctly implies that such a spatial and temporal breach would not have held true during the Middle Ages. The full force of any latent nostalgia Du Bellay felt for the brilliance that was Rome revealed itself only when he got to Rome, where he was no longer removed in space from the ruins but only in time. Nostalgia, melancholy, sadness, regret—all these feelings obviously do mark his Antiquitez, but an awareness of the two separate reactions of the poet and their historical dimensions is a necessary part of our attempts to understand the poetry.

Chamard's Histoire de la Pléiade included a comprehensive study of the Antiquitez; but while his survey avoided a vague response to the poems, nevertheless it overlooked questions of thematic unity and relevant contexts. Of special interest to Chamard were the “plusieurs idées” treated in the sequence, but his discussion is basically a list of four themes: (1) “la grandeur colossale de la Rome d'autrefois,” (2) Rome the “victime de la Némésis vengeresse,” (3) Rome “tombée par les guerres civiles” and (4) Rome “le monceau de ruines”—a fact which induces men either to marvel at the sight or to meditate on various profound matters.62 These four themes are, of course, present in the sonnets, but by sharpening Chamard's categories we will discover a slightly different grouping of topics, one which can provide us with a more revealing thematic map to the poems and at the same time help deepen our appreciation of the melancholy and nostalgia that pervade Du Bellay's collection.

With varying success, most of the sonnets seem to develop one of these four themes: (1) the fact of the present ruins (sonnets “3,” “16,” “20,” “26,” “29”), (2) the symbolic value of the ruins (“4,” “7,” “9-15,” “17,” “21-24”), (3) the fact of the dead civilization (“2,” “18,” “25”) and (4) the living idea and spirit of Roman civilization (“5,” “8,” “19,” “27”). The development in no one sonnet will encompass all four ideas, but one sonnet may treat one or two together. Moreover, unlike the sonnets of the Songe which insistently press only the first or second theme, the thirty-two sonnets of the Antiquitez (with the exception of sonnets “16-19”) reveal no attempt to take up the four themes in consecutive order. But certain affinities of logic are evident among the four ideas: the meditative process may involve a movement from the inspiration of (1) and (3) to the broader reflections of (2) and (4) respectively. Similarly, a loose unity of association can relate sonnets (1) and (3) with (2) and (4). A brief examination of some representative sonnets can show how Du Bellay manipulates these four large themes.


The fact of the present ruins is for Du Bellay a strong visual reminder of the transitory quality of the world. As a man-made artifact, Rome becomes in its ruined state an exemplum of the inevitable decay that claims all things. Rome is “proye au temps, qui tout consomme,” as the chiasmus in the poet's sententious paradox indicates:

Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps destruit,
Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait resistance.

(“Sonnet 3”)

The same cosmic sadness, achieved through a masterful use of alliteration, imbues his awareness that

Rome vivant fut l'ornement du monde,
Et morte elle est du monde le tumbeau.

(“Sonnet 29”)


Immediate implications of these ruins evolve, in other sonnets, into broader contemplations of the futility besetting any ambitious worldly enterprise. In a sense, a collapsed process of meditation is at work: the physical rubble reminds man of his earthly mortality and this fact becomes symbolic of the mortality inherent in everything terrestrial. Sonnets of this second type reflect on the lessons of ambition, pride and decadent self-destruction. Rome's earthly aspirations were thwarted by Jove and Mars (“4,” “11,” “12”) when, like the Giants, the children of Chaos, the sons of Romulus threatened the hegemony and balance of the world. It is impossible ever to be like gods since they are always there, watching. But not only did the gods crush Rome, for human ambition itself, leading first to conquest, then to leisure and softness, finally brought on civil war (“10,” “21,” “23,” “31”). A combined allusion to the macrocosm of pagan destiny and perhaps the microcosmic sin of Genesis suggests that both fatality and human frailty invested Roman ventures from their inception:

Estoit-ce point (Romains) vostre cruel destin,
          Ou quelque vieil peché qui d'un discord mutin

(“Sonnet 24”)

As the civilization corrupted at home, the neighboring barbarians—long ago conquered by Rome—come back to erase their own defeat (“Sonnet 23”). Barbarians, Romans, Giants—they all took part in the typical human cycle of aspiration and loss. And Rome is now an accumulation of stones. Du Bellay meditates on the ravages of time and discerns in the fall of empires his own expiration (“Sonnet 7”). Suddenly glimpsing the omnipotence of time and realizing that all beneath the moon—man, his works, the powers of nature—will disappear one day, the poet boldly prophesies to the reader:

          Je ne dy plus la sentence commune,
          Que toute chose au dessous de la Lune
          Est corrompable & sugette à mourir:
Mais bien je dy (& n'en veuille desplaire
          A qui s'esfforce enseigner le contraire)
          Que ce grand Tout doit quelquefois perir.

(“Sonnet 9”)


While these first two groups of sonnets are thematically connected in their melancholic contemplation of worldly decay, two other themes permeating the sequence explore a more optimistic idea. At times, Du Bellay drops the saddening perspective that envisions a futile end to human accomplishments and he exudes an altogether human delight for mortal creations. The other side of the fundamental dilemma that faced earlier poets like Villon and Chaucer—the flowers are fair though they pass; though passing, the flowers are fair—asserts itself. Du Bellay can see that on an earthly scale there is a value and resilience in Roman achievement. In “Sonnet 18,” by finding in Peter's successor the return to a pre-Roman pastoral world, Du Bellay intimates, albeit ironically, a rebirth of effort that characterizes human existence. The wish of “Sonnet 25” to be able to restore Caesar's genius and Vergil's art conveys an excited admiration for the matchless Roman splendor.


Recognizing that the visible ruins can recall human grandeur as well as earthly mortality, the poet dwells on the particulars of that Roman heritage. The spirit of Rome has survived along with the ruins, though “le temps destruit les republiques.” The downfall of Rome “did not mean the annihilation, but the transfiguration of Roman grandeur,” writes Alfred Adler, and “The sight of ruins did not always move to sadness, but to serene resignation.”63 “Sonnet 8” affirms a belief in such endurance:

Le temps ne mist si bas la Romaine hauteur,
          Que le chef deterré aux fondemens antiques,
          Qui prindrent nom de luy, fust découvert menteur.

What the Empire means for the Renaissance observer is not eternally buried in the dross of sublunary earth (sonnets “5” and “9”). Human endurance has refused to let the ruins halt the progress of Rome; conscious of its remote glory and of its recent new fame, the present city “fouillant son antique sejour, / Se rabatist de tant d'oeuvres divines”(“Sonnet 27”).

In the Antiquitez, then, Du Bellay adopts no one rigid stance as he surveys the civilization's ruins. The sonnets in all four categories demonstrate the poet's many-sided mood. For different reasons, he had, in John C. Lapp's words, a “frequent poetic interest in the kinetic potential of objects,”64 and he can perceive rebirth as well as decay. It is clear that Literary and Christian traditions, contemporary religious dissension and the Renaissance reverence for classical antiquity, exerted a combined influence on his view of the transitoriness and endurance of human achievement. On the one hand, Rome, like the world, was ephemeral and the Christian should condemn the city of man, knowing that the City of God awaited him. On the other hand, Rome's history was a proud, admirable one and it elicited the new Renaissance culture's approbation.

The various points of view in the Antiquitez and the means of establishing them assume considerable importance, because the meaning of the experience before the ruins depends largely on the vantage point and attitudes of the person undergoing or witnessing the event, and on the person or object he addresses. This meaning is identified with and is conditioned by the poet's conception of his “cause.” The initial sonnets of the Regrets relate to the reader the emotional “adventure” and psychological circumstances that occasion Du Bellay's point of view in the rest of that collection. As Ramus put it, “la vérité des choses comprises ès ars est ainsi naturellement proposée à l'esprit comme est la couleur à la veüe, et ce que nous appellons enseigner n'est pas bailler la sapience ains seulement tourner et diriger l'esprit à contempler ce que de soymesme il eut peu apercevoir s'il se fut là tourné et dirigé.”65 In turn, his cause determines what and how many details are selected and how they are seen. Saulnier has commented elegantly on the immense choice of material that must have faced Du Bellay in his attempt to conjure the image of Rome's greatness and Chamard slighted the poet's one-sided “peinture partielle” of modern Rome that fails in its presentation of “la vérité pure.”66 Du Bellay did not attempt a photographic account of Rome, but rather selected and arranged individual moments from the total spectacle that confronted him, excluding others, for the particular response they would elicit.

For any poetry that has at least one foot in rhetorical tradition, point of view is of utmost concern since rhetoric brings into being a specific or hypothetical audience and attempts covertly or overtly to gain its assent. Satterthwaite insists that Du Bellay “indulges in no personal statements of opinion at all, no reflections loaded with moral lessons. He is content to pass from description to description, from image to image, and to leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.”67 But this is true only in the sense that, as distinct from post-Romantic poetry, interest shifts from the private feelings of the poet to his expression as an artist, away from the personality of the arguer to the force of his argument. In a liminal sonnet of the Regrets—essentially, a poem about poetry—he claims that “la Muse demande / Le theatre du peuple & la faveur des Roys” (II, 58); and in the “Sonnets divers” he instructs the dramatized reader as to the proper attitude he should assume with respect to the poetic experience—not unlike the Ancient Mariner and the accosted wedding guest—before explaining the myth-laden octave and relating it in the last tercet to his Roman experience: “Cesse, passant, de t'en donner merveille” (II, 265). The same desire to teach and move through pleasure is central to the Antiquitez. The more openly allegorical Songe and the lesson of Ecclesiastes which opens and closes that sequence, “tout n'est rien que vanité,” is brought forth in the Antiquitez through the use of naturalistic imagery or sketched historical development. After the simile of vapor condensation and rain, Du Bellay ends “Sonnet 20” with the ironic rhyme soustenir-devenir and the sententious proof “Monstrant que tout en rien doit un jour devenir.” Even though the selection of events or analogies is inevitably limited, the conclusion creates at least the impression of moral omniscience. Instead of simply telling, the poet pleasurably but compellingly shows the involved reader what his reaction must be, and the imagined reader occasionally experiences the action through the eyes of the unobtrusive narrator:

Ces grands monceaux pierreux, ces vieux murs que tu vois,
          Furent premierement le cloz d'un lieu champestre:
          Et ces braves palais, dont le temps s'est fait maistre,
          Cassines de pasteurs ont esté quelquefois.
Lors prindrent les bergers les ornemens des Roys,
          Et le dur laboureur de fer arma sa dextre:
          Puis l'annuel pouvoir le plus grand se vid estre,
          Et fut encor plus grand le pouvoir de six mois:
Qui, fait perpetuel, creut en telle puissance,
          Que l'aigle Imperial de luy print sa naissance:
          Mais le Ciel s'opposant à tel accroissement,
Mist ce pouvoir es mains du successeur de Pierre,
          Qui sous nom de pasteur, fatal à ceste terre,
          Monstre que tout retourne à son commencement.

(“Sonnet 18”)

We witness the calm, pastoral origin of Rome in the first quatrain, accelerate through history in the second to the zenith and transformation of Imperial power in the tercets and, along with the poet, didactically complete the cycle. The last four verses can be read as a quatrain built on introverted rhymes and thus heighten the shock of Rome's collapse by countering the sonnet's traditional divisions.

Familiar second person address is varied by altering the speed of verses and thus making the reader experience Rome's life from a shifting perspective, but the didactic function of that address is the same. In the expansive verses that begin “Sonnet 27” Du Bellay establishes complicity with the implied reader (or viewer) by giving him his cue, “emerveillé,” and justifies that wonder in the second half of the quatrain by radically accelerating the rhythm as he passes in review the glories of Rome:

Toy qui de Rome emerveillé contemples
          L'antique orgueil, qui menassoit les cieux,
          Ces vieux palais, ces monts audacieux,
          Ces murs, ces arcz, ces thermes & ces temples,

The beginning of the next two stanzas controls the reader's vision by the imperatives “Juge” and “Regarde apres,” while the last tercet controls his conclusion as well, “Tu jugeras,” that the spirit of Rome attempts to revive its lost grandeur.

Perspective (but not the conclusion it leads to) is modified not only by changing grammatical person, but also by shifting pronouns within the same person for an altered viewpoint. The reader may perceive the action from a distance through the limiting “Qui a veu quelquefois” (“Sonnet 28”) or he may be more involved through the more general “Non autrement qu'on void” (“Sonnet 20”). Quintilian had discussed person change, classifying it somewhere between trope and figure of thought, in terms of the effect it intends (IX, iii, 22-23), and Renaissance critics treated narrative style where the poet speaks in his own person, dramatic or imitative style where he assumes the reaction of another person, as in prosopopoeia, and combinations of the two.68 Du Bellay evinces a similar concern in all types of poetry; his desire in the “Prosphonematique” to paint the king's glory “au vif” leads to a continually displaced point of view and altered address (III, 61), in an amorous piece the narrator apostrophizes mythological deities and reports their dialogue (III, 138), and his satire especially relies on multiple perspective, such as his derisive collation of sequential portraits and implied conversations of Pierre de Paschal that obliquely suggest the narrator's opinion (VI, 113). Not only is form of address inflected in the Antiquitez, but also referents are transferred within the same pronoun. Such transfer creates a desirable vagueness at the beginning of “Sonnet 31” where Du Bellay enumerates forces that had nothing to do with Rome's fall:

De ce qu'on ne void plus qu'une vague campaigne,
          Ou tout l'orgueil du monde on a veu quelquefois,
          Tu n'en es pas coulpable, ô quiconques tu sois
          Que le Tygre & le Nil, Gange & Euphrate baigne:

The pronoun on refers to different points of view in the past and present, while Lucan's concrete “Non tu, Pyrrhe ferox” becomes the purposefully indecisive “quiconques tu sois.” The referent of tu is altered and specified in the first tercet as the poet apostrophizes Rome, “Tu en es seule cause, ô civile fureur,” and in the last verse he returns to subordinate clauses and the third person, “La Romaine grandeur, trop longuement prospere, / Se vist ruer à bas d'un plus horrible sault,” which is vague enough in meaning to include both Rome and the barbarians as witnesses to the turn of Fortune's Wheel. The crucial witness, of course, is the alternately objective or subjective narrator. A near translation of a sonnet by Castiglione (“Superbi colli, e voi sacre ruine”) allows him to bring the ruins which he apostrophizes into close focus and describe their significance in the second person as a means of relating his own reaction to a more general occurrence in the last tercet:

Tristes desirs, vivez donques contents:
          Car si le temps finist chose si dure,
          Il finira la peine que j'endure.

(“Sonnet 7”)

The image of Rome that inspires his feelings becomes his own creation to the extent that he modifies and yet preserves the driving alliteration of his model: “Qui le seul nom de Rome retenez” (“Che 'l nome sol di Roma anchor tenete”); “Las, peu à peu cendre vous devenez, / Fable du peuple & publiques rapines!” (“E fatte al vulgo vil favola al fine”).

The Regrets tell of the literary fortune Du Bellay had hoped to make in the Eternal City, of the Golden Fleece he would like to have brought back to France,69 and from the beginning of the Antiquitez to the end he presents himself as the intercessor who can recreate, or at least adumbrate for us, the glory that once was Rome. In his dedication to Henri II he claims to have painted “en ce petit tableau … de couleurs poëtiques” so that it “Se pourra bien vanter d'avoir hors du tumbeau / Tiré des vieux Romains les poudreuses reliques.” The antithetical beginning of “Sonnet 1,” “Divins Esprits, dont la poudreuse cendre,” introduces the theme of the surviving animus of lifeless stones, the weighty archaisms “Gist,” “loz” and “abas,” and the triple invocation that surrounds Du Bellay's stance as the earthly priest who can recall the spirits from the Elysian Fields. If he lacks the skill of Orpheus, Amphion or Vergil (“Sonnet 25”), he at least can claim to be the first French poet to have sung Rome's name (“Sonnet 32”). The significance of his conscious use of art, whether demonic or poetic, to summon Roman achievement before our eyes derives from his conception that surpassing art has made Rome endure beyond the grasp of nature and fortune:

Qui voudra voir tout ce qu'ont peu nature,
          L'Art & le ciel (Rome) te vienne voir:
          J'entens s'il peult ta grandeur concevoir
          Par ce qui n'est que ta morte peinture.
Rome n'est plus: & si l'architecture
          Quelque umbre encor de Rome fait revoir,
          C'est comme un corps par magique scavoir
          Tiré de nuict hors de sa sepulture.
Le corps de Rome en cendre est devallé,
          Et son esprit rejoindre s'est allé
          Au grand esprit de ceste masse ronde.
Mais ses escripts, qui son loz le plus beau
          Malgré le temps arrachent du tumbeau,
          Font son idole errer parmy le monde.

(“Sonnet 5”)

The insistent conjoining of art with nature and the powers of heaven, which Du Bellay added to his models in L'Olive “23,” “74” and Songe “12,” is seen again here in his modification of Petrarch's “Chi vuol veder quantunque po natura / E'l ciel tra noi, venga a mirar costei.” The ruins, the “morte peinture,” do not permit the viewer to understand their full and hidden meaning; only art, as the alliterative final verse tells us, assures the survival of its idole (from εἴδωλον) with its appropriate meanings of vision, phantom, portrait, image or idea.

Alliteration, rhythm and rhyme themselves are effective means of recreating the various faces of Rome and of directing the narrative “point of view” as well. Before Ronsard's recommendation of “lettres heroïques,” m and doubled r on Vergil's example, and probably before Peletier's stress on “l'expression vive des choses par les moz: savoer ét, les soudeines e hatives, par moz briéz e legers: et les pesantes ou de travalh, par moz lons e tardiz,”70 Du Bellay separates alliterative and rhythmic statement from flat didacticism and impels it toward a significant formality and even ritualism:

Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome
          Et rien de Rome en Rome n'apperçois,
          Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcz que tu vois,
          Et ces vieux murs, c'est ce que Rome on nomme.
Voy quel orgueil, quelle ruine: et comme
          Celle qui mist le monde sous ses loix,
          Pour donter tout, se donta quelquefois,
          Et devint proye au temps, qui tout consomme.
Rome de Rome est le seul monument,
          Et Rome Rome a vaincu seulement.
          Le Tybre seul, qui vers la mer s'enfuit,
Reste de Rome. O mondaine inconstance!
          Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps destruit,
          Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait resistance.

(“Sonnet 3”)

The narrative sequence of sounds caught by the unnamed reader's ear reinforces emotional effects, but he is unceasingly reminded that he is not experiencing the real object of mimesis as much as the object transmuted into symbolic form and meaning. The theme “Rome n'est plus Rome” (Regrets, 131)71 with its martial cadence is insistently hammered throughout the sonnet by the two close repetitions of the city's name in the first quatrain (vv. 1, 2) and by the similar repetitions in the first tercet (vv. 9, 10) which condense respectively the meanings of the two quatrains. In order to insure the swift recurrence of the name in three of the four instances, Du Bellay resorts to the rhetorical device of hyperbation, the inversion of customary word order for special emphasis. This emphasis ironically undercuts the implied Imperial might because it opposes Rome's glorious past to its faded present, an affirmation to a negation. The “nouveau venu” 's field of vision narrows in its triple descent from the large “palais” to the “arcz” to the anonymous “murs” as he progressively discovers that the only vestige of Rome's past is the hollow echo of its name: the imperative “Voy” of the second quatrain is really an invitation to hear the descriptive alliteration. Equally descriptive are Du Bellay's rhetorical figures: the zeugma, following the antithesis involving the abstract orgueil and the concrete ruine, fractures verbal and logical continuity in a rhythmically unbalanced line; and the traductio seul monument-seulement creates a shortened refrain that underlines Rome's diminished stature.72 The only new thought added to the synoptic first tercet is verse 11 which visually escapes its stanza and comes to rest in the last tercet—the logical accommodation of statement to form. Du Bellay repeated precisely the pattern involving enjambement of these two verses in L'Olive “103” for the same effect, and will do so again to conjoin the tercets in Antiquitez “29,” Songe “11” and “Amours” “15.” While successful sonnets do not always inhabit a world of logic, their forms do. And just as the world of dialectic is composed of unchanging propositions, the stichic or strophic components of poetry which belong to that world assume the permanence of art, despite the lesson of inconstancy they teach.

Much of Du Bellay's craftsmanship in the Antiquitez lies in his knowing when the sonnet's stringent conditions should be overlooked and when they can be turned to advantage by adhering to them. Often he intentionally disregards the theoretical divisions of strophic forms and just as often exploits the force of rhymed words as means of directing poetic statement. In the first quatrain of “Sonnet 8,” for instance,

Par armes & vaisseaux Rome donta le monde,
          Et pouvoit on juger qu'une seule cité
          Avoit de sa grandeur le terme limité
          Par la mesme rondeur de la terre & de l'onde.

the A rhymes connote a global dominion and enclose rhyme words whose suggested limits only reinforce Roman hegemony. This assertion is made more specific in the second quatrain by a veiled allusion to Octavian Augustus, grandnephew of Julius Caesar, and by a reference to the papacy's eventual power, “Mesura le hault ciel à la terre profonde”; the power of empire is thus simply transformed into spiritual strength. “Sonnet 11” brings together the similarly rhymed verses “Ce peuple adonc, nouveau fils de la Terre,” and “Puis se perdit dans le sein de sa mere”; Rome rose from and disappeared into Cybele the Great Earth Mother who, along with her mate Saturn, was among the oldest and most important Roman deities and whom Du Bellay glossed in the famous “Sonnet 6.” The antagonism between divine will “juste jugement,” and human actions, “ferme fondement,” is again amplified through alliteration and rhyme in the final tercet of “Sonnet 24.”

The poet's concern—we could say obsession—over these human actions is not limited to the classical line of Roman literature which guarantees its survival, but extends as well to the former majesty of the crumbled ruins he sees before him. Whether it be a triumphal arch or the Temple of Vesta with its eternal flame, Rome's buildings reflect its culture and aspirations. Its massive construction and even its serene remains show that Rome built for eternity. Roma Aeterna surely became a literal and unalterable reality for whoever looked upon the formal splendor of Augustan architecture. Roman geography and architecture assume an important role in most of the Antiquitez as Du Bellay seeks the reasons for Rome's physical demise and attempts to recreate the compass of its strength in the construction of his sonnets. Some of his attempts suffer from the excessive rigidity that characterizes some Roman architecture. “Sonnet 19” builds an extensive anaphora of six verses beginning with Tout, and relieves it only by the imposing synonym Rome which begins the seventh verse. In “Sonnet 4,” on the other hand, it is the rhyme words and octave-sestet opposition that make the implicit but rather obvious commentary.

Celle qui de son chef les estoilles passoit,
          Et d'un pied sur Thetis, l'autre dessous l'Aurore,
          D'une main sur le Scythe, & l'autre sur le More,
          De la terre & du ciel la roundeur compassoit:
Juppiter ayant peur, si plus elle croissoit,
          Que l'orgueil des Geans se relevast encore,
          L'accabla sous ces monts, ces sept monts qui sont ore
          Tumbeaux de la grandeur qui le ciel menassoit.
Il luy mist sur le chef la croppe Saturnale,
          Puis dessus l'estomac assist la Quirinale,
          Sur le ventre il planta l'antique Palatin,
Mist sur la dextre main la hauteur Celienne,
          Sur la senestre assist l'eschine Exquilienne,
          Viminal sur un pied, sur l'autre l'Aventin.

The imperfect tense of all A rhymes and the B rhymes composed of nouns in the first quatrain and adverbs in the second, all preserve the relative animation of the octave which describes Rome's assault on heaven and its defeat; the unrelieved rhyme words in the sestet, however, are the names of six of Rome's seven hills which pin down the captured victim like dead weights and also display the poet's disregard for precise Roman geography. Sonnets “2” and “26” are more accomplished in their attempt to represent physically the dominion of Rome through the disposition of the sonnet and the figures it contains. In the first instance the self-conscious narrator details the seven wonders of the ancient world in a colorless list marked by unevenness of verse and stanza. This unevenness is sustained until the end of the poem when he states his proposed undertaking:

          … quant à moy, pour tous je veulx chanter
Les sept costaux Romains, sept miracles du monde.

Repetition of the mystical sept and juxtaposition of the physical fact of Rome with the spiritual in the balanced hemistichs—figures of words a rhetorician would identify respectively as reduplicatio and compar—amplify Rome's catholicity and calm assurance.

The clearest example of Du Bellay's verbal imitation of Rome's physical and temporal dominion is “Sonnet 26”:

Qui voudroit figurer la Romaine grandeur
          En ses dimensions, il ne luy faudroit querre
          A la ligne & au plomb, au compas, à l'equerre,
          Sa longueur & largeur, hautesse & profondeur:
Il luy faudroit cerner d'une egale rondeur
          Tout ce que l'Ocean de ses longs bras enserre,
          Soit ou l'Astre annuel eschauffe plus ta terre,
          Soit ou soufle Aquilon sa plus grande froideur.
Rome fut tout le monde, & tout le monde est Rome.
          Et si par mesmes noms mesmes choses on nomme,
Comme du nom de Rome on se pourroit passer,
La nommant par le nom de la terre & de l'onde:
          Ainsi le monde on peult sur Rome compasser,
Puis que le plan de Rome est la carte du monde.

His invitation to figurer Rome's greatness is an invitation to create its physical image for the mind's contemplation,73 and that is precisely what he does in the first tercet by using three rhetorical figures that function together. The epanalepsis Rome-Rome in the first tercet illustrates the “egale rondeur” which introduces the serialized four elements in the second quatrain, literally encompasses the ancient and modern world and graphically outlines the idea of the last tercet that Rome can be measured only in global terms. The combination in the same line of enallage or the change of verb tense for dramatic effect (fut-est) with compar follows Quintilian's recommendation74 and supports Du Bellay's argument that Roman civilization is simply transformed. Rome once defined the frontiers of the Western World and now that world is shaped by the Roman patrimony. Chamard's note indicates only Horace and Ovid as the sources for Du Bellay's idea in the tercets and we find Rome's world dominion similarly framed in his “Patriae desiderium” as “Roma orbis patria est, quique altae moenia Romae” (v. 11). But this theme and the inseparable theme of cultural transformation take on greater significance because the classical sources of the sestet are complemented by Biblical sources (Zechariah II; Revelation XVI, XXI) that can be seen in the octave.

The rise and decline of Imperial might and the transformation of the temporal strength of the Palatine into the spiritual strength of the Vatican find their natural expression in the cyclical rhythm of these sonnets. This rhythm generally operates on the related levels of the microcosm and the macrocosm which conspire against Rome's permanence, and for their realization Du Bellay dramatizes traditional motifs. “Sonnet 31” associates the impersonal wheel of fortune with the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, while the mirrored action of the Giants and Romans in the octave and sestet of sonnet 12 and the forceful opposition of these poetic divisions in Songe “7” repeat the tragic rhythm of areté hubris-nemesis. The microcosm relates the internal human causes of Rome's decline, such as the civil war which is seen “Comme l'humeur en un corps vicieux” (“Sonnet 23”), and adheres to the Renaissance theory that good health relied on the correct proportion and distribution of the four bodily humors. Since the composition of human anatomy corresponded with the four elements that compose the natural universe, “Sonnet 22” presents Rome's physical disappearance in terms of a discordant relationship of the natural elements. Again, “Sonnet 13” invokes Fortune's Wheel, descends in cosmic value through the elements from “la fureur de la flamme enragee” which corresponded to hot and dry choler to the moist and cold phlegmatic element “Qui tant de fois t'a couvert de son onde,” and ends with the fitting antithesis, “la grandeur du rien.” Correspondence of the natural, human and supra-human that pervades these sonnets along with Renaissance cosmology as a whole, warrant a more extensive look at four different cyclical poems and the ways in which Du Bellay's rhetoric serves his poetic cause.

“Sonnet 16,” which lacks the self-intrusion of the poet with its impersonal on, claims an ambivalent and ironic understanding.

Comme lon void de loing sur la mer courroucee
          Une montaigne d'eau d'un grand branle ondoyant,
          Puis trainant mille flotz, d'un gros choc abboyant
          Se crever contre un roc, ou le vent l'a poussee:
Comme on void la fureur par l'Aquilon chassee
          D'un sifflement aigu l'orage tournoyant,
          Puis d'une aile plus large en l'air s'esbanoyant
          Arrester tout à coup sa carriere lassee:
Et comme on void la flamme ondoyant en cent lieux
          Se rassemblant en un, s'aguiser vers les cieux,
          Puis tumbler languissante: ainsi parmy le monde
Erra la Monarchie: & croissant tout ainsi
          Qu'un flot, qu'un vent, qu'un feu, sa course vagabonde
          Par un arrest fatal s'est venuë perdre icy.

Since it shares certain prosodic and thematic similarities with other sonnets in the collection it seems, through its multiple and perhaps paradoxical logic, to argue the usual contemptus mundi lesson; but in fact it urges us to mourn ephemeral glory. This ironic outcome depends chiefly on the poem's structure and its metaphorical development. Just as Du Bellay discarded conventional topics of the Petrarchan sonnet in composing the Antiquitez, he here disregarded the standard sonnet separation of quatrains and tercets. In comparing the rise and fall of Rome to similar processes in nature, he chose to divide the poem at verse 11, and in the middle of that verse. The one long sentence that comprises the sonnet moves resolutely through the analogies of waves, wind and fire to the central fact of Rome. The uniform punctuation and grammatical dependency of all three comme clauses serve to blend the similes together. In addition, words in one unit occasionally recur in another: ondoyant (vv. 2 and 9), flotz (vv. 3 and 13), aigu and s'aguiser (vv. 6 and 10), arrester (vv. 8 and 14) and of course the formulaic comme and ainsi. Moreover, Du Bellay so fashioned his three similes that features of one element overlap another; the waters, for instance, are a montaigne d'eau, le vent causes the wave's gros choc, and la flamme shines in the sky, the dominion of l'aquilon.

By juxtaposing words and running the clauses together, Du Bellay merges the three illustrations of growth and decline drawn from the world of nature. In like manner, although he seems to present a sequence of immediately significant rhymes—for example, the first eight rhymes are all appropriately verbals, suggestive of the energies of nature—he actually, in various ways, undermines the apparent meaning. First of all, the firm rhyme of ondoyant and abboyant has a basis in sense, but a comma halts ondoyant, and abboyant must grammatically proceed to the next verse where its meaning is subverted by se crever. In the same way a trick of syntax upsets the pairing of tournoyant and s'esbanoyant. Secondly, Du Bellay toys with his rhymes to produce unexpected oppositions: although lieux rhymes with cieux and both plural forms connote expansiveness, lieux goes syntactically into the singular un (v. 10) and cieux descends into tumber. And while monde and vagabonde make for a perfect coupling in meaning, vagabonde is incomplete without the contradictory arrest (v. 14).

Such typographical and grammatical techniques not only tightly integrate the three similes with one another and with the last three verses but they underscore as well a pattern of incongruities—unexpected alterations of our initial impressions. Exactly why this pattern exists becomes clear when we analyze the implications of the three elements: water, air and fire. The relentless logic of the poetic argument (Come … Comme … Comme … Ainsi) suggests that just as huge waves split, furious winds dissipate and shimmering fires wane, so the Roman Empire, a creation of human civilization, must also decline and decay. This triple metaphor from nature that subsumes the destiny of a man-made thing is derived from the hierarchy that separated the four elements, placing earth (the lowest and heaviest) at the dregs of the cosmos and fire (the highest and lightest) at the edge of the lunary realm. Clearly the imaginative function of the elements was to associate human actions with the workings of the universe.

Du Bellay employs this metaphoric frame of reference in a complicated manner. There are actually five planes of matter in the poem: (1) the inferior earth—dry land, the de loing of the speaker's vantage point; (2) the higher stratum, water; (3) even higher, the winds and air; (4) the highest plane, fire; (5) and, once again, the lowly region of la Monarchie, le monde. Significantly, the only spatial movement begins and ends with earth, the dull sublunary zone of eternally futile human efforts; the poem journeys out and back, but the important borders are fixed by the key words that open and close the sonnet: de loing and icy.

The course of Rome, as it expanded and contracted, is like the swelling and collapsing of natural forces, and inasmuch as it was a thoroughly earthly (and indeed un-Christian) venture it was doomed to fall. The three similes function to place Rome under the rule of “physical” laws and not to imply “moral” or Christian judgments. Like Roman ambition, each element achieves a form only to return to formlessness. Waves aspire—to crash, winds blow—to die, flames sharpen—to wither; and it is their terminations that receive the greater emphasis, at the beginning of verses 4, 8 and 11. Entropy constantly threatens the natural world: mountainous waves with mille flotz, the expanding winds d'une aile plus large, the solitary flame once en cent lieux, now en un—they all run down, their noise and fury ending in silence. Despite their great or manifold powers, they each encounter the inescapable arrest fatal; the place may be un roc, the time tout à coup, the personified attitude languissante. Cosmologically, diminishment follows expansion. It is important, then, that nature's eternal flux be described in present participles, verb forms which dramatize the tension of active forces. These forces do have a temporary cessation, expressed by infinitives (se crever, arrester, tumber), but Rome, once croissant, met an irrevocable fate, one underlined by the finality of the present perfect s'est venuë.

Therefore, in this sonnet the structure, syntax and metaphoric comparisons work in unison to integrate and sharpen the conclusion drawn in the last tercet. The poem starts and finishes at the earthly locus of the poet, amid evidence of vanity and immortality, after ranging beyond human confines. Ainsi parmy le monde cannot be noticeably divorced from the previous examples because the inevitability of history closely parallels the inevitability of nature; the enjambement of verses 11-12 stresses the point and prevents the example of Rome from receiving too much separate attention. Versification, along with the unvaried punctuation and repetitive clausal structure, support the logic of the argument. But is the poem simply a subtle but didactic pronouncement, a traditional contempt of the world lesson? It would seem not. For one thing, the described activity of the three elements occurs in a continuous or eternal present (-ant), and the observations we make with Du Bellay (on void) are impersonal and timeless. Opposed to these seemingly illustrative images is the fate of imperial Rome which, while compared with the elements, is fatally different. Nature is eternally cyclic, the wind and fire are phoenix-like. Although Rome—like the elements, like the water breaking on the rocks—is historically transformed in a circular pattern (“Sonnet 18”), the magnificence of its Golden Age died once as it lived but once.75

That the three similes chosen to exemplify the principle of rise and fall are not truly similar enough produces, at the end, a note at once sad and ironic. Anonymous waters, winds and fires cannot die the particular and lasting death of Caesar's Rome; there is, it turns out, an abyss between the lessons of nature and the human condition. In his attempt to see the Roman ruins from a detached perspective, the poet fails. Nostalgia and sadness—arising from an ambivalent sense of being proudly human yet uniquely mortal—become, finally, the sentiments that overshadow Du Bellay's apparent interest in contemptus mundi or ubi sunt themes. So it is that in the last line Du Bellay masks his sense of loss by using an explicit spatial metaphor, as the empire erra parmy le monde until sa course vagabonde reached an end, when the decayed monuments before him tell a story whose dimensions are temporal. Les Antiquitez de Rome is a poetic unit, and this sonnet must be read in logical relation to the poems that precede and follow it. Like some of the others, its subjects is the scattered ruins, the futility of human endeavor; unlike the others, it does not make a pointed moral preachment. It is an eternal note of sadness, a mood and not a moral, that closes the poem.

The basic simile of “Sonnet 30” again suggests an imprecise resemblance between the natural cycle and the evolution of Rome:

Comme le champ semé en verdure foisonne,
          De verdure se haulse en tuyau verdissant,
          Du tuyau se herisse en epic florissant,
          D'epic jaunit en grain, que le chaud assaisonne:
Et comme en la saison le rustique moissonne
          Les ondoyans cheveux du sillon blondissant,
          Les met d'ordre en javelle, & du blé jaunissant
          Sur le champ despouillé mille gerbes façonne:
Ainsi de peu à peu creut l'empire Romain,
          Tant qu'il fut despouillé par la Barbare main,
          Qui ne laissa de luy que ces marques antiques,
Que chacun va pillant: comme on void le gleneur
          Cheminant pas à pas recueillir les reliques
          De ce qui va tumbant apres le moissonneur.

Despite the assertions of Chamard that the sonnet was inspired by the Georgics I, 314-317 and of Vianey that it came from an epigram of Martial,76 a close examination of the theme and its development shows the more likely and more fitting source to be Mark IV, 26-29, since Christianity represented the present state of Rome's evolution from Du Bellay's historical vantage point. To emphasize the perpetually changing present, Du Bellay skilfully resorts to the figure gradatio. Far from mechanically establishing the chain sequence between the end of one verse and the beginning of the next verse as the rhétoriqueurs did, he sets the connecting words (verdure-tuyau-epic-saison) inside the verse and instead uses the verbal A rhymes to describe the continuity of action and the adjectival B rhymes to indicate the effect of that action. The importance of continuity established by the figure between the quatrains is that man is involved in a legitimate relationship with nature and partakes of its plenitude. But in the sestet where we are suddenly thrust into the past (vv. 9-12) and where the excess of relative pronouns impedes the flow of thought, cooperative harvest turns into plunder. The smooth transition of the quatrains (assaisonne-saison) becomes antithetical enjambement in the tercets, “ces marques antiques, / Que chacun va pillant,” which comments unfavorably on the anonymous and undistinguished situation of the humanist in sixteenth-century Rome. And when we return to the present and to the original comparison at the end of the poem, the resemblance of the humble gleaner slowly moving “pas à pas” to the increase of Rome's power “peu à peu” creates a subtle but devastating irony. Due to the poet's careful insertion of Rome's example within the larger simile drawn from nature, the sonnet moves from present to past and back to present. But the cycle is incomplete since the ironic awareness at the end precludes a return to the optimism of the outset.

Yet Rome survives because of its artistic and intellectual contribution to its humble survivors. Sonnet 6, perhaps the best known of the collection, substantiates this survival by using Aeneid VI, 781-787 as its basis and point of departure:

Telle que dans son char la Berecynthienne
          Couronnee de tours, & joyeuse d'avoir
          Enfanté tant de Dieux, telle se faisoit voir
          En ses jours plus heureux ceste ville ancienne:
Ceste ville, qui fut plus que la Phrygienne
          Foisonnante en enfans, & de qui le pouvoir
          Fut le pouvoir du monde, & ne se peult revoir
          Pareille à sa grandeur, grandeur sinon la sienne.
Rome seule pouvoit à Rome ressembler,
          Rome seule pouvoit Rome faire trembler:
          Aussi n'avoit permis l'ordonnance fatale
Qu'autre pouvoir humain, tant fust audacieux,
          Se vantast d'égaler celle qui fit égale
          Sa puissance à la terre & son courage aux cieux.

We are here at the important moment where Anchises takes his son Aeneas by the arm and prophesies Rome's future greatness through the myth of the Berecynthian goddess Cybele, and the Aeneid itself roughly marks the transformation of Roman folklore into mythology. Looking back into an imaginary past just as Vergil did, Du Bellay insists on the gradual transformation of mythos in the first quatrain into the logos of historical reality. His sonnet preserves the Vergilian concern for establishing parentage between Troy and Rome, and to this end the two quatrains are drawn together by repetitions (plus-plus, ceste ville-Ceste ville) and by parallel structure (vv. 1-2 and 5-6). Radical distinctions are blurred and antitheses are mitigated by a mute e at the caesura (vv. 7, 14). But the one long sentence that comprises the octave is formed of balanced repetitions of sounds and words, Telle que dans son char-telle se faisoit voir, which in fact oppose legendary Troy to superior Rome and Rome's glorious past to the inglorious present, jours plus heureux, plus que la Phrygienne. Foisonnante en enfans, despite its mortal reference, is grammatically less limiting than Enfanté tant de Dieux of the first quatrain. The return of “Sonnet 5”'s insistent quatrain rhymes voir-revoir appears reinforced by the iterative prefix re—which bore the full idea of repetition in the sixteenth century; but these rhymes and the compar of verse 8 with the confrontation of “grandeur, grandeur” at the caesura actually deny the possibility of repeating Rome's greatness.77 Completed actions (fut-Fut) and passivity (se faisoit voir-se peult revoir) characterize most of the slow, elegiac octave. But toward the end le pouvoir (v. 6), the only B rhyme that is not an infinitive, is placed in relief and introduces a series of explosive alliterations.

In the couplet formed by verses 9 and 10 Du Bellay exchanges the paraphrase and hypotaxis of the octave for parataxis and martial resonance in which he alters narrative perspective by naming ceste ville and dramatically asserting its power. Rhetorically, the use of Rome forms a polyptoton, a figure of diction that repeats various forms of one word in a single thought, while the juxtaposition of the two verses is of course anaphoric. Quintilian recommends the figure for either contrast or reaffirmation (IX, iii, 36-37); here, and elsewhere (I, 78; VI, 13), Du Bellay uses its rhythm and structure to enforce and reinforce the idea—the two verses affirm one another and the ideas of resemblance and military strength.78

The last four lines form a quatrain and resume the elegiac tone and hypotactic structure. This third stage in the sonnet's development relegates Rome's momentary power to the past and completes the movement from Rome's mythic origin to its realization to its ultimate destiny. Finally, the analogies of “Oeuvres et noms finablement atterre” in “Sonnet 7” and the cyclic return of Rome to Cybele the Earth Mother in “Sonnet 11” argue an ambivalent reading of the last verse which implies at once Rome's dominion and its demise, “fit égale / Sa puissance à la terre.”

Du Bellay's integration of Vergil and other Latin poets into his sonnets is a way of bearing witness to the various meanings of Rome and of revealing the reality of its greatness. In the opening sonnets of the collection Du Bellay presents himself as the mystic poet who can invoke and restore the “poudreuses reliques.” Again, “Sonnet 15” pieces together fragments from Aeneas' descent to the nether world and his own witness to the torment of the condemned shades (Aeneid VI, 325-439):

Palles Esprits, & vous Umbres poudreuses,
          Qui jouissant de la clarté du jour
          Fistes sortir cest orgueilleux sejour
          Dont nous voyons les reliques cendreuses:
Dictes, Esprits (ainsi les tenebreuses
          Rives de Styx non passable au retour,
          Vous enlaçant d'un trois fois triple tour,
          N'enferment point voz images umbreuses)
Dictes moy done (car quelqu'une de vous
          Possible encor se cache icy dessous)
          Ne sentez vous augmenter vostre peine,
Quand quelquefois de ces costaux Romains
          Vous contemplez l'ouvrage de voz mains
          N'estre plus rien qu'une poudreuse plaine?

The Latinate hortatory subjunctive following a hopeless wish (ainsi, v. 5: sic) and the infinitive construction (v. 14) are both found in Vergil's passage. An imbalance between the brief clarity of creation and the dominance of shadowy destruction is supported by the melancholy A rhymes that deal only with ashes, dust and shadows. Umbres refers to the ancient belief that unless a person received proper burial, his soul would be forced to wander as a shade and never attain peace in death. The disheveled ruins of Rome evidently do not constitute proper burial. While the first quatrain presses the rapidity of Roman creation, the long parentheses of the following verses accentuate the difficulty of the spirits' return. The spirits which pass over the encircling Styx are not capable of answering an invocation. Only the cyclic return of poudreuse, of dust to dust, is assured. But the scattered ruins of Rome and the spiritual presence they belie survive in Vergilian accounts of their greatness and as well in Du Bellay's testimony to their full history.

This sequence tells the story of Rome's—and, one step beyond, of man's—transience and endurance. As the intermediary which translates the complex lessons of Roman history for the reader, Les Antiquitez de Rome brings nature and art into coincidence by resolving even the dead ruins into the sounds and sights of a palpable reality. Du Bellay's shifting moods control our awareness of and reaction to the way's Fortune's cycle transforms civilization, and this cycle structures his vision and conditions its expression. Seen through a veil of reminiscent nostalgia, his intermittently impersonal longing for the peace and glory of an ideal past gave way to a bitter and more personal accusation against Rome's too real present in the Regrets.


  1. Joachim du Bellay (1900), p. 221; “Mythological Imagery in Du Bellay,” Studies in Philology, LXI (1964), 122.

  2. Ed. Laumonier, XIII, 77. Cf. Robert J. Clements, Critical Theory and Practice of the Pléiade (1942), p. 213; Donald Stone, Ronsard's Sonnet Cycles (1966), p. 219; Jacques Peletier du Mans, Art poétique (1555), I, ii, 12; Montaigne, I, 20, p. 85; d'Aubigné Les Tragiques, II, 773-784; and Jamyn's “Les hommes, le plus souvent, adjoustent créance plus volontiers à la vérité quand elle est embellie de couleurs et de douceur de paroles: toutesfois, pourceque la vérité simple et nue se trouve parmy les vertueux plus luisante sans aucun artifice qu'autrement, à raison qu'elle est assez ornée de soy mesme et qu'estant fardée de paremens extérieurs, elle se corrompt. Le mensonge, au contraire, ne plaist sinon par l'apparence extérieure d'un embellissement emprunté s'evanouyssant et s'escoultant, si elle n'est polie de fards qui l'embellissent,” quoted by Edouard Fremy, L'Académie des derniers Valois (1887), p. 361.

  3. Ed. Laumonier, VII, 325, variant.

  4. This same phrase recurs in widely divergent Renaissance texts. Cf. “ad laudem atque virtutem naturam sine doctrina, quam doctrina sine natura valuisse,” Henrici Cornelii Agrippae ab Nettesheym … Opera in duos tomos concinne digesta, et nunc denuò, sublatis omnibus mendis, in ϕιλομούsων gratiam accurantissimè recusa … (Leyden, n. d.), II, 4.

  5. Cf. Montaigne: “Feu mon pere, homme pour n'estre aydé que de l'experience et du naturel, d'un jugement bien net,” I, 35, p. 220, and “L'art n'est autre chose que le contrerolle et le registre des productions,” III, 3, p. 802. See also III, 10, p. 980. Discussions of this relationship inevitably entail related comment on principles that are basic to rhetoric; cf. Conteurs français du XVIe siècle (1965), p. 709.

  6. Scritti inediti (1874), pp. 312 and 316.

  7. Ramus, La Dialectique, pp. 153-155; Scritti letterari (1883), II, 288. Cf. Cicero's Pro Archia, VIII, 15, and Quintilian, II, xix, 2.

  8. II, 95-96. Cf. Montaigne's “exercice de sagesse et de vertu,” I, 11, p. 45, and Baïf's “C'est estre fol que d'estre sage / Selon raison contre l'usage,” Euvres en rime de Ian Antoine de Baïf (1881-1890), V, 9.

  9. Ed. Laumonier, IV, 128. Cf. XVII, 163.

  10. “Energia est rerum gestarum aut quasi gestarum sub oculos inductio,” Isidori Hispalensis episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum libri XX (1911), II, xxi, 33.

  11. Donald Lemen Clark, Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance (1963), p. 85.

  12. This summary incorporates all of the basic terms (illustratio, evidentia, oculis mentis, imago rerum, etc.) of Institutio, IV, ii, 123; VI, ii, 32-34; VIII, iii, 61-63, 70, 88-89; IX, ii, 40-41. For a detailed account of the picture-making faculty of the imagination, see Grahame Castor, Pléiade Poetics, ch. 17. Cf. Montaigne, II, 37, p. 1613; III, 5, p. 826; and III, 11, p. 1012.

  13. Ed. Laumonier, XV, 252.

  14. See my ch. II, note 41; Scaliger's chapter on “Efficacia” for the controlled use of figures of diction for persuasion to certain emotions, Poetices libri septem (1617), pp. 270-272; d'Aubigné, Les Tragiques, VII, 7-8; and W. F. Patterson, Three Centuries of French Poetic Theory (1966), p. 622. Jacques Tahureau expresses the same idea as Du Bellay in identical language: see Odes, sonnets et autres poésies (1869), pp. 66-67. Later Renaissance discussions of chiarezza are certainly close to Quintilian's requirement of clear illustration and conception and to the Pléiade's desired clarity of meaning. Cf. Clements, Critical Theory, ch. III; Antonio Minturno, De poeta (1559), p. 118 and L'Arte poetica (1725), p. 24; Tasso, “Discorsi del poema eroico,” Opere (1824), III, 186. “Le jugement des yeux” unaccompanied by a judgment of the mind is unacceptable to Pontus in Le Premier Curieux (The Universe of Pontus de Tyard, A Critical Edition of “L'Univers” [1950], p. 122).

  15. Cf. Deffence, p. 43; II, 270; V, 26; VI, 195. It is perhaps not accidental that the verbs used by the Pléiade (feindre) and other Renaissance writers like Alberti (fingiere) in Della pittura to convey the meaning represented graphically by allegories and derived etymologically from fingere, find their semantic equivalent in the verb sχημăτιζω meaning figurative and imagined movement. Bruno lumps together philosophers, painters and poets, and concludes that “a man who does not know how to paint and feign is no philosopher,” Opera latine, II, ii, 134. The Pléiade did, of course, legislate against any willful obscurantism implied by feigning. See Clements (The Peregrine Muse [1959], pp. 8-9): and Jean Seznec (The Survival of the Pagan Gods [1961], p. 112) for remarks on feigning, painting and allegory. In Aneau's Picta poesis poetry and emblems illuminate one another by holding eye and mind on such polarities as ingenium and labor (p. 17), sapientia and eloquentia (p. 20) and natura and ars (p. 54).

  16. Ed. Laumonier, XIV, 196.

  17. See Clements, Picta poesis, Literary and Humanistic Theory in Renaissance Emblem Books (1960), p. 174; Rosemond Tuve on Sidney in “Imagery and Logic: Ramus and the Metaphysical Poets,” Journal of the History of Ideas, III (1942), 392; Le Caron's dialogue on poetry, “laquelle nous appellons la vive ou parlante peinture,” quoted by Castor, p. 73; the accord between concept and internal visual design, Robert Klein, “The Figurative Thought of the Renaissance,” Diogenes, XXXII (1960), 114; E. H. Gombrich, “Icones Symbolicae,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtaud Institutes, XI (1948), 168-176.

  18. Pontus de Tyard, Discours philosophiques (1587), p. 2vo; Pierre Motin, Oeuvres inédites (1882), p. 66.

  19. Cf. George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1936), pp. 62, 238-239.

  20. Ibid., pp. 158-161.

  21. Ed. Laumonier, IX, 7-8.

  22. Ibid., XIII, 85; Peletier quoted in Chamard's Du Bellay, p. 33; Deffence et Illustration, pp. 48, 84, 139. Du Bellay's equation of elegance and copiousness is anticipated by Pierre Saliat; see J. Chocheyras, “En marge de la Défense et illustration, Pierre Saliat: une préface critique de 1537,” BHRen, XXVIII (1966), 677.

  23. V, x, 51; VIII, pr. 1; V, i, 15 and 108; XII, iv, 1: XII, v, 1. Following a description of a freshly picked bouquet of flowers, Ronsard concludes with the usual moral lesson, “cela vous soit un exemple certain” (ed. Laumonier, VII, 152) and commenting on Ronsard's Amours I, Muret holds that imagery must not contravene the poem's intention and must be meaningful in order to maintain logical relations: Les Oeuvres, p. 14.

  24. Cf. Erasmus' De duplici copia verborum ac rerum.

  25. Ed. Laumonier, XIV, 13, 15. Cf. the Claude Deroziers translation of Dion Cassius' Des faitz et gestes insignes des romains (1542): “coppie de parolles, a icelle fin qu'elle (la loy) soit plus manifeste à tout homme,” bk. XXXVIII, ch. 7, and Donald Stone, Ronsard's Sonnet Cycles, p. 180.

  26. Ed. Laumonier, I, 47; Pontus de Tyard, The Universe, ed. Lapp, p. 122. For a good illustration of the interrelation among copia of words, figures and commonplaces, energia, enargia, illumination, invention and style, see Montaigne, III, 5, p. 851.

  27. III, 3, p. 805. “A faute de memoire naturelle,” he goes on to say, “j'en forge de papier,” III, 13, p. 1071. Scaliger, for instance, associates exempla with inductive proof, III, 71.

  28. Cf. Robert Garnier's Bradamante (1949), vv. 237-238.

  29. Ed. Laumonier, X, 333-334.

  30. Cf. ibid., I, 89; VIII, 105-114; X, 335; XIII, 212; and Du Bellay, V, 288.

  31. In the Proemio to “Della famiglia,” Opere volgari (1844), II. Cf. Ronsard, ed. Laumonier, XVII, 195; Du Bellay, V, 393; Howard R. Patch, The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature (1927), p. 25; and Descartes, Discours de la méthode, p. 64. The modern attitude probably dates from the conversation of Franciscus and Augustinus in the Secretum. See Francesco Petrarca, prose (1955), pp. 32-34, and for rhetoric and the individual as the cause of fortune, see pp. 70-76, Epistolae familiares (ed. Rossi and Bosco [1933-1942], XXII, 13, and Epistolae seniles (Opera omnia [1581]) VIII, 3.

  32. Elementorum rhetorices libri duo (n. p., 1572 [1st. ed.: 1519]), pp. 13-14. Cf. Richard Sherry's Treatise on Schemes and Tropes (1550), pp. 70-72. Ramus uses examples very similar to Du Bellay's to describe the effects of fortune and virtue (La Dialectique, pp. 69, 72). Montaigne dismisses the “imagination mesme de la vertu” as “jargon de colliege” (I, 37, p. 225), and further illustrates his condemnation by referring to “les deffinitions, les divisions et particions de la vertu” (II, 17, p. 644). His discussion of virtue and fortune in “De l'art de conferer” is a general denial of a stringent cause-effect syndrome (III, 8, pp 911-913), but elsewhere he speaks of “la cause generale,” “l'effect d'une vertu” (III, 1, pp. 780-781) and “un effaict du sort plus que de la raison” (II, 21, p. 659).

  33. Cf. the introduction of Eugénie Droz to Les Antiquitez de Rome et les Regrets (1945), p. xi; of Pierre Grimal to Les Regrets suivis des Antiquitez (1948), p. 32; of Verdun Saulnier to Divers jeux rustiques, pp. xxix and xxxiii; Deffence, p. 79; and Montaigne, I, 26, p. 171.

  34. Chamard, Histoire de la Pléiade (1961-1963), I, 183, 188. See also Joseph Vianey, Les Regrets de Joachim du Bellay (1946), p. 19, and Stephen G. Nichols, Jr., “Marot, Villon and the Roman de la Rose,” Studies in Philology, LXIII (1966), 135. The numerous publications of Saint-Gelais' Aeneid translation (1509, 1514, 1529, 1532, 1540) may also have goaded Du Bellay.

  35. Lettres de Joachim du Bellay, pp. 29-30.

  36. Without pursuing the point any further, Marcel Raymond observed that Du Bellay's Latin translations resemble a “devoir d'école,” L'Influence de Ronsard sur la poésie française (1927), I, 106.

  37. “Pindaric Parellelism in Du Bellay,” French Review, XIV (1941), 461-472; “Du Bellay and Hellenic Poetry: A Cursory View,” PMLA, LX (1945), 66-80.

  38. See Henri Weber, La Création poétique au XVIesiècle (1956), p. 415; Alice Hulubei's excellent “Virgile en France au XVIe siècle,” Revue du seizième siècle, XVIII (1931), p. 57; Vianey, Les Regrets, p. 148; Chamard, Histoire, II, 213-214 and for l'abbé Goujet's judgment, p. 341.

  39. Vergil was also, but not primarily, the exemplar of patriotism for Du Bellay. For the debt of the Illustration, ch. xii, to Georgics II, see Alexander Haggerty Krappe, “Une Source virgilienne de la Défense et Illustration de la langue française,Revue du seizième siècle, XV (1928), 342-343.

  40. Ramus, who used numerous excerpts of Du Bellay's translation of Aeneid IV to demonstrate dialectical method, says in the preface to Scholae in liberales artes (1569) that “cette méthode se trouve dans Virgile et dans Cicéron, dans Homère et dans Démosthène.” Quoted in La Dialectique, p. 25.

  41. Salmon Macrin's 1550 ode to Du Bellay refers to his “Felix Olivae” (I, 5). Although his antipathy toward the rhétoriqueurs forbade him from approaching the richness of Vergil's internal rhymes, as in “duras immittere curas” (Aen. IV, 488), he often compensated by fashioning the same rhythm: “deslïer les captives pensées” (VI, 291).

  42. Cf. VI, 226, with Aen. IV, 131-132, where by preserving Vergil's initial consonants and zeugma Du Bellay recreates the military cadence and single purpose of the hunt; VI, 274, with Aen. IV, 247-248; VI, 302, with Aen. IV, 651; VI, 393, with Aen. VI, 857.

  43. And indeed one of Vergil's major critics, Richard Heinze, makes this charge in Dido's plea to Aeneas. Virgils epische Technik (1915), pp. 425-426.

  44. The repetition of Du Bellay's “Desja desja” and of his anaphora “Je l'ay receu … Je l'ay logé … J'ay garanty” suggests Dido's frenzied “Iam iam” (v. 371) and “Eiectum litore, egentem / excepi” (vv. 373-374). Cf. VI, 303 with Aen. IV, 660. Elsewhere Du Bellay's fault lies in being actually less repetitive and rhetorical than his model (VI, 94-95).

  45. Du Bellay, p. 148. In another context Saulnier implicitly approves of the decasyllable, pointing out that the dactylic hexameter is longer than one alexandrine but shorter than two: “Joachim du Bellay et son Regret latin de la patrie,” Fin du moyen âge et renaissance (1961), p. 272.

  46. See Grimal, p. 31; Max Jasinski, Histoire du sonnet en France (1903), pp. 56, 58; Alfred Satterthwaite, Spenser, Ronsard and Du Bellay: A Renaissance Comparison (1960), p. 64; Weber, p. 419; Chamard, Du Bellay, pp. 378, 522.

  47. C. A. Sainte-Beuve, Tableau historique et critique de la poésie française au XVIesiècle (1843), p. 344; Chamard, Histoire, I, 195-196.

  48. See Vianey, “Origines du sonnet régulier,” Revue de la Renaissance, IV (1903), 88-90; Ronsard, ed. Laumonier, IV, xvi; Chamard, Histoire, IV, 97; cf. Saulnier, Du Bellay, p. 72.

  49. References to Petrarch are from Rime, Trionfi e poesie latine (1951). The sonnet of Sansovino that Ernesta Caldarini suggests as a possible source affords thematic but not rhyme similarities to Du Bellay's tercet: “Nuove fonti italiane dell'Olive,BHRen, XXVII (1965), 433. Sonnet 75's octave rhymes present the opposite arrangement, with the complementary blanchissans-rougissans, verdissans-florissans followed by the oppositional decloses-encloses. In sonnet 2 he transforms Sansovino's coloration and theme of Christian spirituality into a progression from physical to pagan spirituality, largely through the rhymes: “Son chef de l'or, ses deux levres des rozes”—“Mist en l'esprit ses semences encloses” (vv. 10, 13).

  50. P. 420.

  51. Cf. “Ores qu'en l'air le grand Dieu du tonnerre” (sonnet 45) and “Chasse noz jours sans espoir de retour” (sonnet 113).

  52. Ed. Laumonier, IV, 60.

  53. Saba, La Poesia di Joachim du Bellay (1962), p. 80; Chamard, Joachim du Bellay, p. 186 and Histoire, I, 239-240.

  54. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1963), pp. 159-162. In his commentary on “Ny de son chef le tresor crespelu” of Amours I, Muret surmises that Ronsard “n'a point esté asservi par les beautez corporelles de sa dame, ains sculement par le bon esprit, & par l'eloquence qui est en elle”: Oeuvres, p. 25.

  55. “The Poetic Treatment of a Platonic-Christian Theme (Du Bellay's Sonnet of the Idea),” Comparative Literature, VI (1954), 193-217. Cf. the similar function of the Ici-Là anaphora of ch. II, p. 61.

  56. The imbalance created by the seven-syllable line and the perpetually altered time sequence in the “Complainte du désespéré” is a reflection of the poet's inner turmoil and his unmeasurable, dreamlike feelings that incorporate autobiography and myth.

  57. See Poggio Bracciolini, “De varietate fortunae,” in Latin Writings of the Italian Humanists, ed. F. A. Gragg (1927), pp. 112-116. Cf. Etienne Gilson, La Philosophie au moyen âge (1962), p. 341.

  58. Hannah Arendt, “The Concept of History: Ancient and Modern” in Between Past and Future (1961), p. 74.

  59. Pantagruel, ch. 8 and Institution de la religion chrestienne, I, iv, 1; see also Douglas Bush, “The Isolation of the Renaissance Hero” in Prefaces to Renaissance Literature (1965), pp. 91-106.

  60. “Et in Arcadia Ego: On the Conception of Transience in Poussin and Watteau” in Philosophy and History: Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer (1963), p. 245. For comment on the Italian view of Roman ruins, see Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1961), pp. 149-155.

  61. Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego …” in Meaning in the Visual Arts (1955), p. 303. This essay is a revised version of the one that appeared in the Cassirer collection originally published in 1936.

  62. II, 41-44. For the vague response, see Sidney Lee, The French Renaissance in England (1910), pp. 200, 215, and Walter Pater, “Joachim Du Bellay” in The Renaissance (1902), p. 182.

  63. “Du Bellay's Antiquitez XXXI: Structure and Ideology,” BHRen, XIII (1951), 194.

  64. “Mythological Imagery in Du Bellay,” Studies in Philology, LXI (1964), p. 127. Because of this I cannot accept Alfred W. Satterthwaite's opinion that “Du Bellay's melancholy is unequivocally black” [“Moral Vision in Spenser, Du Bellay and Ronsard,” Comparative Literature, IX (1957), 141] nor Frank M. Chamber's single-source theory that “the whole conception of the Antiquitez is due to Lucan” [Lucan and the Antiquitez de Rome,” PMLA, LX (1945), 946].

  65. La Dialectique, p. 61.

  66. Saulnier, Du Bellay, p. 76; Chamard, Histoire, II, 253.

  67. “Moral Vision …,” p. 142. Cf. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1966), p. 319, and Henri Weber's astute observation that Du Bellay's impersonal address to the reader is a means of diverting attention from him to the argument he is expounding: La Creation poétique au XVIesiècle (1956), pp. 116, 418, 425.

  68. See Bernard Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance (1961), I, 61.

  69. “Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage, / Ou comme cestuy là qui conquit la toison” (Regrets, 31). The apparent dissemblance between the stories of Ulysses and Jason, and the ill-fitting allusion to Jason in this sonnet may be justified on the grounds that the Jason myth estabilshes continuity between the two collections, since it is also found in Antiquitez 10, and that it may be an allusion to the Order of the Golden Fleece which was awarded to Catholics of noble lineage for distinguished accomplishment. The allusion, and many similar ones in volume II, could have been inspired by the momentous abdication of Charles V, the first act of which was his resignation as Grand Master of the Order on October 22, 1555, during Du Bellay's stay in Rome. The captured Fleece symbolizes virtue rewarded (II, 184), and the poet refers to Charles as the Master of the Fleece (II, 271).

  70. Ronsard, XVI, 347; Peletier, Art pöetique, I, 9.

  71. Cf. Scève's Délie 20, “A Romme alla, a Romme desolée,” and Andre Six, “Explication française: Du Bellay, Antiquités de Rome-Sonnet III,” Romance Notes, VIII (1967), 281-284.

  72. Zeugma bespeaks an inarticulate dialectic based either on cause and effect or on proper and opposite cause, as in Ronsard's “Regrettant mon amour, & vostre fier desdain,” ed. Laumonier, XVII, 266. Saulnier points out the Latin meaning of monument as “a reminder of a past event” in “Commentaires des Antiquitez de Rome,BHRen, XII (1950), 139. Traductio is found in Du Bellay's anonymous model, Roman-Roma-Romae, in addition to extensive alliteration: “viden' velut ipsa cadavera,” “Vicit ut haec mundum, visa est se vincere: vicit.”

  73. As is also evident from the similar imagery in IV, 220:

    On peult feindre par le cizeau
    Ou par l'ouvraige du pinceau
                        Toute visible chose,
    Mais d'Amour le seul poingnant traict
    Vous peult figurer le protraict
              De ma tristesse enclose.
    On peult diffinir au compas
    De tout ce qu'on void ici bas
                        La forme en rond unie,
    Mais on ne scauroit mesurer
    Le mal que me fait endurer
                        Mon amour infinie.

    The nexus of seeing and understanding is at the heart of Muret's comment on Ronsard's first Cassandre sonnet, “Qui voudra voir”: “Le poëte tasche à rendre les lecteurs attentifs: disant, que qui voudra bien entendre la nature d'Amour, vienne voir les effects qu'Amour produit en luy,” Les Oeuvres, p. 1. For Johannes Scotus Erigena, every attempt at definition outlines the shape of a universal, and the dialectical category of topos implies the area in which ideas are traced.

  74. IX, iii, 80 and VIII, iii, 66-70. The figures of words here create the figure of thought called commutatio by rhetoricians; see Quintilian, IX, iii, 85; [Cicero], Rhetorica ad Herennium, IV, xxviii, 39; Horace's Epistles, II, i, 257. Although poetry that is oriented toward rhetoric tends to repeat similar combinations of figures and formulaic phrases, the function and tone of such repetitions often differ considerably, witness the styling of

    C'est ores, mon Vineus, mon cher Vineus, c'est ore,
    Que de tous les chetifs le plus chetif je suis

    (Regrets, 42)

    which closely resembles the configuration of verses 9-10 of the sonnet under discussion, but not at all the mood and intent. Quintilian's additional recommendation in IX, iii, 80, of compar combined with traductio appears in Du Bellay's adaptation of Sannazaro, “Et osent les vaincuz les vainqueurs desdaigner” (sonnet 14), which intimates Rome's steady confidence even in defeat, while Ronsard uses it to imprint France's victory in the heat of battle: “J'oy le bruit des vainqueurs, j'oy le cry des vaincus” (ed. Laumonier, IX, 8). Cf. Laumonier IX, 103: “Meintenant le veinqueur, meintenant le veincu.”

  75. Cf. Ronsard's “La matiere demeure, et la forme se perd,” quoted by Laumonier in Ronsard et sa province (1924), p. 213, and “Mourir, quand la forme en une autre s'en va,” ed. Laumonier, VIII, 178.

  76. Chamard, II, 27; Vianey, Le Pétrarquisme en France au XVIe siècle (1909), p. 325.

  77. The facile rhymes voir-revoir, in disregard for the precepts of the Illustration, ch. 7, and the unequal syllabic count of verses 12 and 14 are perhaps justified by the ironic distance they create between form and meaning. Cf. Ferdinand Brunot, Histoire de la langue française (1927), II, 267.

  78. His use of polyptoton is similar to Aeneid IV, 83, and VI, 247, which he translated around the time he was composing the Antiquitez. Regrets 136 uses a similar structure (vv. 12-13), latinism (“liberté contrainte”) and paraphrases Aeneid VI, 425, as well. Cf. Aeneid V, 447-448; XII, 640; Cicero, Pro Deiotaro, IV, 12.


Editions of Du Bellay’s Works

Les Antiquitez de Rome et les Regrets, ed. Eugénie Droz (Paris, 1945).

Le Deffence et Illustration de la lanque françoyse, ed. Henri Chamard (Paris, 1961)

Divers jeux rustiques, ed. Verdun Saulnier (Paris and Geneva, 1965).

Lettres de Joachim du Bellay, ed. Pierre de Nolhac (Paris, 1883).

Joachim du Bellay, Oeuvres poétiques, ed. Henrí Chamard (Paris, 1908-1961). Quotations in the text are from vols. I and II (1961), vol. III (1912), vol. IV (1934), vol. V (1923) and both parts of vol. VI (1931).

Les Regrets suivis des Antiquitez, ed. Pierre Grimal (Paris, 1948).

Other Works Cited

Adler, Alfred. “Du Bellay’s Antiquitez XXXI, Structure and Ideology,” BHRen, XIII (1951), 191-195.

Alberti, Leone Battista. Opere volgari, ed. Anicio Bonucci (Florence, 1844), vol. II.

Aneau, Barthélemy. Picta Poesis (Lyon, 1552).

Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future (New York, 1961).

Aubigné, Agrippa d’. Les Tragiques, eds. J. Plattard and A. Garnier (Paris, 1932), 4 vols.

Baïf, Jean-Antoine de. Euvres en Rime, ed. Charles Marty-Laveaux (Paris, 1881-1890), vols. I and V.

Bracciolini, Poggio. “De varietate fortunae.” Latin Writings of the Italian Humanists, ed. F. A. Gragg (New York, 1927), pp. 112-116.

Bruno, Giordano. Opera Latine, eds. F. Fiorentino, F. Tocco, H. Vitelli, V. Imbriani and C. M. Tallarigo (Naples, 1879-1891), vol. II part 3.

Brunot, Ferdinand. Histoire de la langue française (Paris, 1927), vol. II.

Bush, Douglas. “The Isolation of the Renaissance Hero,” Prefaces to Renaissance Literature (New York, 1965).

Caldarini, Ernesta. “Nuove fonti dell’Olive,BHRen, XXVII (1965), 395-434.

Cassius, Dion. Des faitz et gestes insignes des romains, tr. Claude Deroziers (Paris, 1542).

Castor, Grahame. Pléiade Poetics (Cambridge, 1964).

Chamard, Henri. Histoire de la Pléiade (Paris, 1961-1963), 4 vols.

———. Joachim du Bellay (Lille, 1900).

Chambers, Frank McMinn. “Lucan and the Antiquitez de Rome,PMLA, LX (Dec., 1945), 937-948.

Chocheyras, J. “En marge de la Défense et Illustration, Pierre Salint: une préface critique de 1537,” BHRen, XXXVIII (1966), 675-679.

Cicero. De inventione, De optimo genere oratorum, Topica, ed. H. M. Hubbell (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1949).

———. Orationes, ed. Albert Curtis Clark (Oxford, 1951-1952), vols. I, II, and VI.

———. Rhetorica, ed. A. S. Wilkins (Oxford, 1950-1951), 2 vols.

[Cicero]. Rhetorica ad Herennium (London and Combridge, Mass., 1954).

Clark, Donald Lemen. Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance: A Study of Rhetorical Terms in English Renaissance Literary Criticism (New York, 1963).

Clements, Robert J. Critical Theory and Practice of the Pléiade, (Cambridge, Mass., 1942).

———. The Peregrine Muse (Chapel hill, 1959).

———. Picta Poesis, Literary and Humanistic Theory in Renaissance Emblem Books (Rome, 1960).

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (New York and Evanston, 1963).

Descartes, René. Discours de la méthode, ed. Etienne Gilson (Paris, 1962).

Erasmus, Desiderius. De duplici copia verborum ac rerum (London, 1573).

Fremy, Edouard. L'Académie des derniers Valois (Paris, 1887).

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism (New York, 1966).

Garnier, Robert. Bradamante, ed. Raymond Lebègue (Paris, 1949).

Gilsen, Etienne. La Philosophie au moyen âye (Paris, 1962).

Gombrich, E. H. “Icones Symbolicae,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XI (1948), 168-176.

Heinze, Richard. Vergil's Epische Technik (Leipzig, 1915).

Horace. Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, ed. H. Rushton Fairclough (Cambridge, Mass., 1947).

Hulubei, Alice. “Virgile en France au XVIe siècle,” Revue du seizième siècle, 18 (1931), 1-77.

Isidorus. Isidori Hispalensis episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum libri XX ed. W. M. Lindsay (Oxford, 1911), 2 vols.

Jasinski, Max. Histoire du sonnet en France (Paris, 1903).

Klein, Robert. “The Figurative Thought of the Renaissance," Diogenes, XX (1960), 107-123.

Krappe, Alexander Haggerty. “Une Source virgilienne de la Défense et Illustration de la langue française." Revue du seíziéme siècle, XV (1928), 342-343.

Lapp, John C. “Mythological Imagery in Du Bellay,” Studies in Philology, 61 (April, 1964), 109-127.

Laumonier, Paul. Ronsard et sa province (Paris, 1924).

Lee, Sidney. The French Renaissance in England (Oxford, 1910).

Melanchthon, Philipp. Elementorum rhetoricus libri duo (1572).

Minturno, Antonio. De Poeta (Venice, 1559).

———. L'Arte poetica (Naples, 1725).

Montaigne, Michel de. Oeuvres completes, eds. Albert Thibaudet and Maurice Rat (Paris, 1962).

Motin, Pierre. Oeuvres inédites, ed. Paul d' Estrée (Paris, 1882).

Nichols, Stephen G., Jr. “Marot, Villon and the Roman de la Rose, A Study in the Language of Creation and Re-Creation,” Studies in Philology, LXIII (April, 1966) 135-143.

Panofsky, Erwin. “Et in Arcadia Ego: On the Conception of Transience in Poussin Watteau,” Philosophy and History: Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer (New York, 1963), pp. 223-254.

———. Meaning in the Visual Arts (New York, 1955).

Patch, Howard R. The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1927).

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance (Portland, Maine, 1902).

Patterson, W. F. Three Centuries of French Poetic Theory (1328-1630) (New York, 1966), 3 vols.

Pelletier du Mans, Jacques. Art pöetique (1555), ed. André Boulanger (Paris, 1930).

Petrarca, Francesco. Francesco Petrarca, prose, eds. G. Martellotti, G. Ricci, E. Carrara, E. Bianchi (Milan and Naples, 1953).

———. Rime, Trionfi e poesie latine, eds. F. Neri, G. Martellotti, E. Bianchi and N. Sapegno (Milan and MNaples, 1951).

———. Scritti inediti al Francesco Petrarca, ed. Attilio Hortis (Trieste, 1874).

Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie, eds. Gladys Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1936).

Quintilian. Institutio oratorio, ed. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1953), 4 vols.

Rabelais, François. Oeuvres, ed. Abel Lefranc (Paris, 1913-1955), 6 vols.

Ramus, Peter. La Dialectique (1555), ed. michel Dassonville (Geneva, 1964).

Raymond, Marcel. L'influence de Ronsard sur la poésie française (1550-1585) (Paris, 1927), 2 vols.

Ronsard, Pierre de. Oeuvres Complètes. ed. Paul Laumonier (Paris, 1914-1960), 17 vols.

———. Les Ouvres de P. de Ronsard, ed. Marc-Antoine Muret (Paris, 1584).

———. Les Ouvres de Pierre de Ronsard, texte de 1587, ed. Isidore Silver (Chicago, 1966), vol. II.

———. Poésies choisies, ed. Pierre de Nolhac (Paris, 1959).

Saba, Guido. La Poesia di Joachim du Bellay (Messina and Florence, 1962).

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———. “Pindaric Parallelism in Du Bellay: A Proof of his Independent Imitation of Pindar,” French Review, XIV (May, 1941), 461-472.

Six, André. “Explication française: Du Bellay, Antiquitéz de Rome-Sonnet III,” Romance Notes, VIII (Spring, 1967), 281-284.

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Vianey, Joseph. “Origines du sonnet régulier,” Revue de la renaissance, IV (1903), 74-93.

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———. Les Regrets de Joachim du Bellay (Paris, 1946).

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Joachim Du Bellay c. 1522-1560

French poet and critic.

Du Bellay's contributions to French poetry and literature are both numerous and significant. His Le Deffence et Illustration de le Langue Françoyse, (1549) set the groundwork for French as a language of literature and poetry in a time when there was very little of either in the vernacular. His poems were among the first of their kind in the written language of French, and though his works were largely overshadowed by those of his more widely-acclaimed contemporary, Pierre de Ronsard, Du Bellay holds a significant place in French verse.

Biographical Information

Joachim Du Bellay was born in the Anjou province of France, in the Château of La Turmeliėre, the third son of Jean Du Bellay, a farmer of moderate repute. Little is known of Du Bellay's childhood, though in his works he expressed nostalgia for his days spent in the French countryside. His parents are said to have died when he was nine years old, leaving him under the guardianship of his older brother, René. As a youth, he was not prepared for a career in the same manner as his cousins, and it was clear that his education was neglected by his family. It is speculated that one of the local priests schooled him sufficiently in Latin to allow for his further education. He enrolled at the University of Poitiers circa 1542, where he studied law. Around 1543, he traveled to Paris, where he met Pierre De Ronsard, who would later become his good friend and fellow poet. Around 1544, he enrolled at the Collėge du Coqueret, where he studied under Jean Dorat, one of the eminent scholars of classical Greek and Roman studies in his day, and under whose tutelage he developed a love and ability for poetry. It was at the Collėge that Du Bellay, Ronsard, and several other scholars and would-be poets formed Le Plėiade, a collective based on the principles of Humanism of the day, using Du Bellay's Deffence et Illustration as their manifesto arguing for the composition of poetry in French.

From 1553 to 1558, Du Bellay served as a secretary to his cousin, Cardinal Jean Du Bellay, who worked for the Vatican in Rome. He was at first excited to travel to what was then arguably the most modern city in all of Europe, but became disillusioned when confronted with both the decadence of then-modern Roman life and the intrigues of those under Papal employ. In 1558, Du Bellay returned to Paris, where he published both Les Regrets, and Les Antiquitez de Rome in 1558. Du Bellay died in 1560 at his home in Paris.

Principal Works

One of the most influential works from Du Bellay's repertoire was written on the argument that the written language of French had no true documented poetry of its own. Le Deffence et Illustration de le Langue Françoyse, a response to a pamphlet entitled Art Poetique Françoys, written by Thomas Sebillet one year earlier, argued that French was not a barbarous language, and that it was only less rich than Latin or Greek because scholars of the day paid so little attention to it, and that it could someday be equally rich. He also argued for a complete overhauling of the genres of poetry as they were then known, calling for a return to the use of more classical forms, as opposed to those more popular at the time. In his work, he called on French poets to experiment with the language, to create new words, and to resurrect words fallen from fashion.

1549 also saw Du Bellay's publication of L'Olive, the first collection of love sonnets ever written in the French language. Many of these poems were borrowed from classical writers such as Horace or Virgil, while others were entirely of his own design. The poems speak of the dual nature of love as expressed by the classical poet Petrarch. This particular volume of Du Bellay's works is believed to be in honor of a certain lady, whom he describes as a lovely golden-haired woman. However, the historical identity of this object of his sonnets is entirely open to speculation, and many scholars believe her to be an invention of Du Bellay's. In 1550, Du Bellay appended the book, adding thirteen new odes, with such themes as the fickle nature of fortune and pastoral scenes of springtime.

In 1558, after his return from five years of employment as a secretary to his cousin in Rome, Du Bellay published two books based on his experiences and impressions of the city, the Vatican, and Roman life. Les Regrets is partly a work of satire based on his reaction to the corruption of Rome and the Vatican, and partly an expression of the duality between his homesickness for France and dissatisfaction with Rome, and his fascination with a city which was then the seat of culture and modern thought in Europe. Du Bellay seems to have appropriated the title of this book from Tristia by Ovid, in which the poet speaks of regret in being exiled from Rome. The borrowing of the title was a deliberate one, as Du Bellay saw a parallel between Ovid's exile from the city and his own exile to the same. Many of the poems of Les Regrets focus on the political events of Rome in general and the Vatican in particular, providing the reader with coverage of such occurrences as the changing of Popes. Du Bellay apparently intended for this book to be humorous in nature, though throughout much of it, he expresses his unhappiness with the role into which he was forced under the Cardinal's employ, which he viewed as that of a glorified house servant. Du Bellay's second book published in 1558 was Les Antiquitez De Rome. While Les Regrets focused largely on a modern Rome, Les Antiquitez mainly concerned itself with the image of the classical city. In the book, he expresses both his marvel and his dismay at the duality between the grandeur of ancient Rome and the tawdriness and decadence of that of his day.

Critical reception

Though Du Bellay's works have been seen as pedantic and often even plagiaristic by many, concessions are often made due to a near-void of any other works approaching those of his caliber in his land and age: among his works were the first sonnets to ever be written in his own native tongue, as well as some of the first odes. Le Deffence has been widely regarded by critics as a rough, often reckless attack on those poets of Du Bellay's day who insisted on the use of the then-favored Italian language, poetic stylings and structure. Barthélme Aneau, the first of many critics of this work, saw the book largely in a negative light, citing a hasty writing style and accusing Du Bellay of name-calling and overstatement. Largely, Aneau attacked what he believed to be a logical flaw in the book: Du Bellay's notion that the potential of the French language put it on par with Italian. Other critics, however, concede this supposed jump of logic with the fact that the Le Deffence won Du Bellay much favor and respect among his fellow poets, and it is also hailed as a timely work, appealing to many French patriots.

Likewise, Du Bellay's L'Olive has been seen on several occasions as being plagiaristic, and indeed, many of the sonnets therein appear to be word for word translations of works of obscure Italian poets, as evidenced by the studies of researchers. Critics also attack the many discrepancies between his theory—Du Bellay prefaced the anthology with a paragraph which was seemingly intended to clear his name as a thief of the words of his fellow poets—and the practice inherent in the poems contained therein. The work, however, is also praised by many critics for Du Bellay's seemingly effortless use of rhyme and meter, as well as the quality of his translations from Italian and Latin into French, and as a successful test of the beliefs and ideals to which he espoused based on Le Deffence, when applied to several of his own original works which also appear in the book. His appendage to L'Olive, was criticized by Jehan Proust as being full of recurring references to obscure bits of mythology and obtuse metaphors. Pierre De Ronsard, Du Bellay's own friend and fellow poet, commented that Du Bellay's works were excessively dependent on a knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Arguably the most well known and diversely studied among Du Bellay's works were the two books published upon his return to France after living in Rome with his cousin for five years. These are Les Regrets and Les Antiquitez De Rome.Les Regrets was written at a point in Du Bellay's life when he was critically acclaimed as a master of the sonnet, and it was this form which he chose for the book. Many critics have spoken on the relative lack of mythological references which seemed ubiquitous in his earlier works. Still others have praised what appeared to be a newly-found sense of confidence inherent in the book; no longer the acerbic upstart of Le Deffence nor the indignant plagiarist of L'Olive, but a more mature Du Bellay, with a clear idea of his words and his intentions for them in terms of self-expression. The lofty feel of the works in this book, coupled with a true sense of irony, satire and humor, has been remarked upon by several critics, as well as the merits of the work as a piece of social criticism. Les Antiquitez De Rome, the second work spawned by Du Bellay's time in Rome, was published just six weeks after the appearance of Les Regrets, and is lauded by critics on a nearly equal level to the former title, but for contrasting reasons: while Les Regrets speaks of the personal distaste of Du Bellay for the decadence of modern Roman life and his nostalgia for his homeland, the primary theme of Les Antiquitez seems to see a return to his penchant for mythology and the city in its classical days, as well as a return to the borrowing and citing of other poets. The work is viewed unfavorably by some critics for its often melodramatic tone, while others study it extensively to find the sources for Du Bellay's many historical references.

L. Clark Keating (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: Keating, L Clark. “To Defend and make Illustrious …,” “The Return to Paris: Les Regrets,” and “Les Antiquitez de Rome.” In Joachim Du Bellay pp. 9-18; 70-97, New York: Twayne 1971.

[In the first of the following three essays, Keating explores the events surrounding Du Bellay's composition of Le Deffence Et Illustration De La Langue Françoyse, as well as its impact upon the writing of French poetry. In the second and third, he offers background and influences regarding two collections of poetry by Du Bellay, based upon his impressions of Rome.]


It is a pity that we have no record of the day-by-day conversations of Dorat with his students. Yet we have in their lives and works evidence that he fired them with enthusiasm for the ancient poets, Greek and Roman. We know too that they read much Italian poetry and, with varying degrees of pleasure or dismay, such French verse as they could find to peruse. We know that there was a growing conviction among them that they were destined to lead the way to a reform in poetry. They were bent upon success for themselves and upon distinction for the literature of their country. And with the daily inspiration provided them by Dorat's analysis of texts, and from his intelligent commentary on forms and techniques, they began to feel that in a short time they would be ready to show their countrymen the way by publishing compositions of their own. But whether at this point they considered it necessary to make a declaration of principles we do not know. That they did so was seemingly the result of an event beyond their control.


All of Dorat's students were acquainted with the Traduction de l'art poetique d'Horace which had been published in 1545 by Jacques Peletier. The latter was not a student under Dorat. In fact, he had already become a schoolmaster himself. But he was acquainted with nearly everyone in humanistic circles, and the men at Coqueret were in full accord not only with the principles laid down by Horace but by those additions furnished by Peletier in his introduction. They must have noticed especially his advocacy of the use of French as a literary language. Yet despite the intellectual ferment in which they lived, and their natural eagerness to make their position known, they might very well not have rushed into print with a statement of their own had it not been for the publication in 1548 by Thomas Sebillet of a pamphlet entitled Art poetique françoys. It is quite possible that before this work appeared in print most of the members of the Coqueret group had never heard of this talented but obscure Parisian lawyer with literary leanings. What, they asked themselves, were his principles? We can imagine and all but re-create without straining credulity the scene that occurred at Coqueret when someone purchased in a bookstall and brought home a copy of the new pamphlet. Undoubtedly before the group had a chance to read Sebillet's remarks in detail their reaction on reading the title alone must have been one of dismay. Had this Sebillet stolen all their thunder? they asked themselves. Had he spoken out ahead of them to tell the world what they had come to believe it was their prerogative to tell? Was he as aware as they were that the national literature was headed in the wrong direction?

As they read the Art poetique aloud to each other, they must have begun to feel relieved. From a feeling of fear lest Sebillet had plowed new ground, they turned to a feeling of scorn. Sebillet, once read, did not look like a very formidable rival. Essentially, he had but summarized the status quo. What he had done was to give advice to young poets, fairly good advice as we see it now. He praised the long-deceased poet Jean Lemaire de Belges (d. 1525) and the recently deceased Clément Marot (d. 1544), calling them the remakers of French poetry. He admired natural poets. He even liked the medieval genres and saw nothing wrong with them which could not be corrected by a strong dose of talent. In other words, after analyzing the poetic tendencies of the day he accepted them and contented himself with urging young poets to apply themselves diligently to composition in order to succeed within the existing tradition. And although he made passing mention of classic poetry, such as that of Horace and Pindar, he was obviously more at home with the unpretentious work of the reigning favorite, Mellin de Saint-Gelais. Although a humanist, he was obviously no revolutionary, and he seemed quite unaware of the ferment in the schools. He was simply an educated but unsophisticated observer who ventured to publish his opinions as an amateur of letters and a would-be poet. When this became plain to Ronsard, Du Bellay, and the rest, their irritation was mingled with joy. Plainly, Sebillet had not cut the ground out from under them to the extent that they had feared. If anything, he had done the opposite. He had given them an idol to smash, and if he had ventured into print before they were quite ready to do so themselves, all the more reason to answer him quickly and forcefully lest the public accept his conservative opinions as gospel.


Joachim du Bellay seems to have been designated as the spokesman to answer Sebillet and put him in his place. It might have been expected that Ronsard would have demanded and been accorded this role, or at least that he might have had it attributed to him by right of scholastic seniority. After all, he had been an advanced student when Du Bellay was a mere beginner. But time was of the essence. On that all agreed. And Ronsard had the habit of slow and careful workmanship, not to say procrastination. If the task had been assigned to him, he would have wished to write and rewrite at his leisure, and all agreed that the issuance of a reply should not be postponed. Du Bellay had no such scruples about rapid composition, and his willingness to fashion a quick rejoinder may have been the deciding factor. Doubtless we shall never know all the ins and outs of the discussions which took place, but very soon Du Bellay found himself turning out copy quickly and enthusiastically. It has been conjectured that, as he wrote, Ronsard and the others looked over his shoulder and made suggestions, and even that he sometimes wrote a paragraph or two at their dictation. Of this we have no evidence, but certainly the succeeding chapters must have been read aloud as soon as they were written to be applauded or criticized by all those present. Most scholars now regard the Deffence as Du Bellay's own work, but it would have been unbelievable for him to have been unwilling to listen to and to accept the suggestions of his comrades. The full title of the pamphlet which he wrote to state the principles of humanistic literature, and at the same time chastise Thomas Sebillet, was La Deffence et Illustration de la langue Françoyse.

The date of publication was April, 1549, which indicates clearly that Du Bellay rushed into print just a few months after the appearance of Sebillet's work. The basic ideas in the Deffence are not new. Jacques Peletier had already defended the use of French, not only in his translation of Horace's Art poetique, but in a poem of 1547 entitled “A un Poete Latin.” Even Du Bellay's title was far from original. In his pamphlet Sebillet had spoken of the necessity for “l'illustration et augmentation de la langue françoyse.” Du Bellay's statement, which has been regarded ever since its appearance as the official manifesto of the new school of poetry, shows evident signs of haste. Not only is the composition loose to the point of careless writing, but the work is ill-organized, repetitive, and exceedingly truculent. Had Sebillet and the poets he innocently defended been some sort of mortal enemies of the band at Coqueret, Du Bellay could not have handled them any more rudely or with less generosity. Sebillet himself was ridiculed for his opinions, his friends, his tastes, and his ignorance. Judging by his tone, Du Bellay's main purpose in reading the Art poetique seems to have been to find out what it had to say in order to declare himself against it, or to advocate a conrtary point of view. It is not to be wondered at that Sebillet was aghast at the violence of his opposition, equally not to be wondered at that in his next publication, an introduction to his translation of Iphigénie, he replied to the Deffence in kind.

Still, to this day, the Deffence is, notwithstanding its obvious faults, an interesting, even an exciting document. Its line of argument is still more or less acceptable. After a flowery dedication to his father's cousin, Cardinal Jean du Bellay, from whom Joachim hoped one day to obtain some sort of preferment, he plunges into his argument. He begins boldly, basing his ideas, no doubt, both on his reading and on the teachings of Dorat, with the statement that all languages have their origin in the imagination of men and are therefore equal. He continues to the effect that French, even in its present uncultivated state, is not a barbarous tongue, since it is capable of improvement. If it is less rich than Latin and Greek this is because Frenchmen of previous generations have expended too little effort on the enrichment of their language. The ancients, by way of contrast, labored long and hard on their mother tongues, exercising themselves in prose and poetry in order to render their written language a suitable instrument for the great works of literature that were to be composed in them. French, nontheless, is greater than most persons suppose. If Italian surpasses it at the moment of writing, the advantage is temporary and due to the fact that so many Italian humanists have taken the trouble to compose in their vernacular. French, if similarly used, will show itself quite capable of rendering the meaning of the sciences when it translates them from the ancient languages.

Yet the reader should not take this to mean that translation alone will suffice to improve the French language. Translation, after all, can be applied but clumsily to poetry. In fact, it fails altogether to carry with it the genius and flavor of any original poetic composition. At this point Du Bellay might have added, though he refrained from doing so, “Besides, Marot and his group have done translation to death.” What, then, is to be the procedure for improving the language? The best method is to be found in the substantive imitation of foreign works. The imitation of French works will not serve. One must remember that the Romans imitated the Greeks. Therefore the French will do well to imitate the writers of both languages. French should not be regarded as an inferior tongue simply because it does not have a complicated system of noun declensions and other grammatical subtleties. French, though a tardy plant, is bound to flower. Even as it stands, the language is capable of expressing all the intricacies of philosophy. If Frenchmen would but apply to other studies all the time they devote to the learning of the classical languages, France would be more likely to produce great poets and philosophers. After all, Frenchmen cannot hope to excel or even to equal the ancients in their own languages. For this reason it is far better to be preeminent in French than to write Latin and Greek with difficulty. Confidence in the possibilities of French on the part of native writers will do a great deal to improve the standing of France and her language at home and abroad. Here ends the first part of Du Bellay's argument.


The second part of the Deffence is, from the standpoint of composition, no less repetitive and disorganized than the first. It is also equally spirited. Du Bellay continues to discuss on a more practical plane what he had generalized about in the first part. There are passing references to the Roman de la rose, to the late Marot, and to the Lyonese poet Antoine Héroet, and it seems as if our author is about to write a brief summary of the history of French poetry. Instead of doing so, he thrashes about somewhat vaguely concerning the faults to be found in contemporary poets and includes in his chapter a further admonition to study the ancients.

His next major subject is an analysis of the natural versus the learned poet, and of course he yields the palm to the latter. He is not all vague about this. His chapter is entitled “Que le naturel n'est suffisant à celuy qui en Poèsie veult faire œuvre digne de l'immortalité” (“That natural gifts are not sufficient for him who wishes to create poetic work worthy of immortality”). Even if poets are born, not made, he says, the aspiring poet had better spend long hours in study. Then, if he will but choose a model within the limits of his skill, he will by creative imitation finally write something worthwhile.

Our theorizer next discusses the poetic genres, which he believes need a thorough overhauling. He has, for instance, a positive dislike for poetic contests and for the conventional poetic genres submitted there. Get rid, he says, of all the easy victories to be won at the Puy of Rouen or the Floral Games of Toulouse. If this means scrapping the rondeau, the ballade, the chant royal, the virelai and the chanson, so much the worse. In their place the poet should attempt the epigram, in the style of Martial, the elegy in the manner of Ovid, Tibullus and Propertius, and the ode, which is still unknown in France. He also advises the cultivation of satire, after the manner of the ancients, of course. And with an exuberant semipun, he says: “Sonne moy ces beaux sonnetz, non moins docte que plaisante invention Italienne” (“Sound for me fine sonnets, a no less learned than pleasant Italian invention”), for at this point the Italians are praised in the same breath with the ancients. Evidently, Du Bellay was already reading Petrarch and Sannazzaro, as well as Horace and Virgil, for as we shall see when we come to consider his own poetry, he was already practicing the creative imitation which he advocates for the French poet in general. Almost nonchalantly, considering its undeveloped state, Du Bellay drops a passing admonition to the poet to contribute to the French theater. But what really rivets his attention in the cultural desert of his country is the lack of a French epic poem. This for a classicist was a crying need, and so he devotes a whole chapter to the possibilities for a French epic. Homer and Virgil are obviously the models to be imitated. Lancelot or Tristan, he thinks, would readily furnish good subject matter. As to how to write such a poem he says little. Curiously, or so Frenchmen regard it, he failed to mention what was to become the dramatic meter par excellence, that is, the twelve-syllable Alexandrine.

From this discussion of genres Du Bellay proceeds to more general matters. He urges his learned poet to invent words, basing them on classical models, and to resurrect French words that have fallen into disuse. He would like him to experiment with language, using infinitives as nouns. He must not hesitate to compose anagrams and acrostics, advice which, while it may sound odd to us, had solid classical models to build on. When the poet speaks he should be careful of his pronunciation. He must not imitate the writers of the collections of verse facetiously called “Printemps,” “Ruisseaux,” and the like. He should—an undoubted reference to Charles Fontaine—let his “fontaine” (fountain) run dry. He must write in French and learn withal how to excite a reader's emotions. He should emulate Guillaume Budé and Lazare de Baif who, though brilliant classicists, both of them yet enjoyed French literature and French intellectual pleasures. He must courageously celebrate French heroes and French cities. He should not hesitate to pillage the ancient masterpieces for examples of metaphors and other figures of speech. There was more, of course, but this was the gist.

As it happened, most of this advice was good, but the manner in which it was offered was in many ways unfortunate. By his militancy, his rudeness, and his calling by name of the poets toward whose practices he was hostile, Du Bellay went out of his way, and quite unnecessarily, to win the temporary hostility of many of his contemporaries. Perhaps these faults can be excused on the usual grounds of youth and inexperience, but less excusable was the hasty composition and disorganized thinking displayed in a manifesto that purported to teach others how to become men of letters. Still less excusable was the way he stretched some of his ideas in order to make them refute directly the advice given and the opinions expressed by Sebillet in his mild and even useful Art poetique françoys.


All the flaws in the Deffence that have been mentioned, and more too, were noted by the author of an anonymous pamphlet entitled Le Quintil horatian, which employed considerable wit and no less sarcasm to refute Du Bellay's point of view. Professor Chamard had the excellent notion to reprint the pertinent passages of this counterattack as footnotes to his scholarly edition of the Deffence. From these excerpts, as plainly as from the work as a whole, we perceive that at least one of Du Bellay's contemporaries was as aware of his shortcomings as any modern reader who studies him for the first time. Since the counterattack was published anonymously, there was much speculation as to who its author could be. For a long time it was assumed, despite his protests to the contrary, that Charles Fontaine was the author. He had a motive, as we have seen, in the snub that Du Bellay had thrown in passing at his poetry. Yet we know now that he was innocent of the charge. In our day it has been conclusively demonstrated that Barthélemy Aneau, the principal of the Collège de la Trinité in Lyons, was author of the Quintil. The Deffence was to suffer other blows.

In 1904 Professor Pierre Villey made what was thought to be the shocking discovery that whole portions of the Deffence had been translated with but minor changes from the Dialogo delle lingue of the Italian Sperone Speroni.1 His pamphlet had appeared in Italy but a scant seven years before the Deffence, in 1542, and it has been noted that it was altogether possible for Du Bellay to have known the Italian writer personally. Reaction in our day to the discovery of Du Bellay's plagiarism has been strong, particularly in view of his firm stand against translation in his own pamphlet. Severe critics stated in effect that whatever he said in the Deffence that was new was not good, and that whatever was good was not new. This has been countered by the suggestion that, original or not, Du Bellay's pamphlet has exercised a strong, beneficent, and useful influence on French letters during a critical period in their history. Admiration for the Deffence should, according to this view, replace carping criticism.

It seems to me, however, that both the positive and negative attitudes of modern times may be quite beside the point. We have perhaps made too much of Professor Villey's discovery. No one seems to have paid much attention to the fact that Sperone Speroni's Dialogo was translated into French and published in 1551 by Claude Goujet and that in his introduction to the French edition he says that an excellent French author has already made good use of the dialogue. To whom besides Du Bellay could this remark have applied? In other words, the possibility exists that Du Bellay's translation and adaptation of Speroni may have been an open secret in his own century, and one that evoked little or no comment or disapproval. A public that had read and reacted to Du Bellay's manifesto in vehement fashion could hardly have ignored the implications of downright plagiarism if plagiarism there was. Barthélemy Aneau had not spared Du Bellay's ego in his strictures on his minor faults, and so it is hardly to be imagined that he would have passed over in silence the discovery that many of the objectionable views expressed were not even original. Several centuries later, Emile Zola, with no intention of deceiving anyone, adapted Claude Bernard's pamphlet on experimental medicine to his own uses, and it seems logical to postulate that Du Bellay may have been engaging in the same sort of adaptation. We know that Du Bellay was acquainted with the writings of Bembo and Castiglione as well as with the dialogues of Gelli.2 The Roman writer Quintilian was in the public domain. If Du Bellay did not copy any of these writers slavishly he was at least inspired by them. The copying of whole pages of Speroni is another matter, but the remark of Goujet, plus the failure of his more vociferous opponents to protest, would suggest to me that his conduct in the matter of copying was well known.

Applying similar logic to the whole subject of creative imitation, the German scholar Hedwig Aebly writes that in her opinion Du Bellay's adapted versions and apparently literal translations of both Italian and Latin poetry frequently mask a talent for original phrasing and a gift for exquisite expression which are far removed from the sometimes pedestrian models that he followed. It is her contention that in dealing with Speroni's Dialogo Du Bellay made for himself a pamphlet whose importance transcends that of its model. She believes that the concept of creative imitation itself, while it existed in the Italian writers, is developed by Du Bellay in a fashion far superior to any expression of it that he found in his originals.3 With this judgment, I concur.

In this same connection it has been wondered why, if Du Bellay admired the Greeks as well as the Romans and Italians, he made relatively little use of Greek in his own work, whether original or derivative. Indeed it was long assumed that the poet's late start in studying Greek precluded his use of it even as a tool. Professor Isidore Silver has dealt this myth a severe blow. His careful studies of Du Bellay's work provide convincing evidence that he was a competent Greek scholar.4 It must be remembered, however, that even during the Hellenic revival of Du Bellay's day, Greek studies never achieved the prominence of Latin.

Ever since its publication the Deffence has been subject to critical evaluation. Probably no document so hastily written and so hastily conceived has been given so rigorous an examination. Barthélemy Aneau was but the first of a long line of critical readers. As we know, his evaluation was principally negative. He found fault with Du Bellay's sins of overstatement, name calling, irony, and hasty composition. He also ridiculed his penchant for self-congratulation and his attitude of omniscience. All these faults are present, but of them all hasty composition is probably the most obvious. Our author has the annoying habit of starting a discussion and then, somewhat in the manner of Homer's lengthy metaphors, he permits totally extraneous material to take up several pages before he returns to his argument to conclude it. Even then, he will probably take up and amplify the same topic later on in the book. Unfortunately, his logic is as faulty as his composition. As Aneau rightly observes, it is a decidedly weak argument to claim that French has parity with Italian simply on the basis of its possibilities. To do so is to admit a present inferiority. Any reader can multiply for himself examples of Du Bellay's haste and superficiality and yet it is all but universally agreed that to do so is to miss the point. Listing faults will not deprive Du Bellay of the place which his exuberant treatise won for him among his contemporaries. Over and against the commentary of Aneau, we must place the tremendous enthusiasm with which many others greeted his pamphlet when it appeared. Much of its freshness remains to this day, and casual readers as well as serious scholars find in its pages an excitement that all the strictures of the Quintil horatian cannot quite dim. The charge of plagiarism, even if proved, now scarcely offends us. It was Du Bellay, not his models, who made history by his humanistic approach to literature.

In summary, the Deffence was a timely document. Its praise of the French language and its confidence that France would someday produce a great literature appealed to the patriot. Italy had long been the inspiration for a rebirth of learning and literature, but even the humanists were beginning to ask themselves when Frenchmen would undertake to do something on their own. Du Bellay's call to arms was the answer, an appeal to hard work and young talent. Latin compositions, which were being produced on all sides, were a poor substitute for French, and there was even fear in some quarters that French literature might abdicate in favor of Latin. This danger was overcome at least in part as a consequence of Du Bellay's patriotic plea.

The opposition to all his hopes and plans for a national literature was in the hands of unimaginative men. Sebillet in his Art poetique revealed himself as a supporter of the status quo. His counterblast in the introduction to Iphigeniedeveloped no new arguments. Soon afterward he sought an accommodation with Du Bellay, and the two men became friends. As one critic has written ironically, Du Bellay readily forgave [himself] for the harm he had done.”5 Du Bellay, to make the record plain, praised Iphigenie on two occasions.6 Charles Fontaine, as we know, tried to make sure that he was not blamed for the Quintil,7 but nothing from Du Bellay's pen indicates that a friendly relationship ever developed between them. Maurice Scève, whom the Deffence had handled a little roughly for the obscurity of his verses, is to turn up shortly as the poet's host and guide during his stay in Lyon. Strangest of all, Aneau was also appeased, and in 1556, in his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, he refers to the pamphleteer whom he had pilloried as among “les bons poètes du présent.”8 The truth is that with the exception of Scève, who was a poet of stature in his own right, it was their association with Du Bellay that made his detractors famous.

To have been the acknowledged spokesman of the band at Coqueret was a signal honor. To have stated in memorable fashion what he and his associates intended to do was an achievement, but if Du Bellay had stopped there he would hardly have made a lasting reputation. It was the fact that in the same year that he issued the Deffence he also published a book of poetry, embodying some of the principles which he had advocated, that made humanists and men of letters take him seriously. From the modern point of view, it is Du Bellay's theory of creative imagination which is his most vulnerable point, but as Pierre de Nolhac has wryly observed, “Everyone thought it was easy to follow these models because it was easy to follow them.”9



We are not informed as to the circumstances surrounding Du Bellay's departure from Rome. It has been assumed by several commentators that he and his cousin the cardinal had a bitter quarrel and that the poet was dismissed. This theory does not square with the facts. No sooner did Joachim arrive in Paris than he undertook to oversee for his employer several important aspects of his episcopal concerns in Paris. For this he must have had explicit instructions with all that the fact implies. It is hardly likely that a dismissed employee would have been entrusted to handle weighty personal and professional matters. Therefore, the idea of his dismissal must be abandoned. The cardinal himself left for France a little more than a year later, but under the trying circumstances of diplomacy in Italy at the time, it is unlikely that he could have foreseen his own recall. He must, therefore, have wished to rely on the poet, thinking that after four years of absence from his archbishopric it would be useful to have a trusted agent in Paris to report to him directly on the progress of his affairs.

Nothing that has been said regarding Joachim's very real desire to return home, nor the suggestion that he and the cardinal had more than one unhappy confrontation over the business affairs of the palace, need imply that there was a decisive quarrel between them. Indeed, as we shall see, more than one sonnet that the poet devotes to his experiences in Rome speaks of the cardinal in terms that resemble much more those of an admiring observer than those of a dismissed or even an angry subordinate.

It was in October, 1557, that Joachim du Bellay reached Paris. He had been gone a little more than four years. Inevitably there were changes to face. Some of his friends had left the city. Marguerite de France, on whom he counted for advancement, was about to leave France permanently to take up residence in Savoy with her husband. We do not know exactly how Du Bellay was greeted by his friends, for strangely enough poetic tributes to his return were all but lacking. Dorat came forth with an enthusiastic poetic greeting, but Ronsard and younger friends were silent. Most probably there were jollifications in his honor, but no record of them was couched in verse to help us re-create the occasion.

For the first time in his life the poet was in fairly easy circumstances. Thanks to his continued employment by the cardinal, he was henceforth relieved of financial worries. Several minor benefices had also been conferred on him, including his nomination to be a canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This churchly bounty was most welcome, for if Du Bellay continued to bombard the wealthy and powerful with ill-disguised appeals for material support, he was, at least, not dependent on a favorable reply for his daily bread.

In the business affairs of the archbishopric of Paris he began an immediate and almost feverish activity. This activity and interest were not at all welcome. A distant cousin, Eustache du Bellay, was the titular bishop, although in actuality he was little more than a stand-in for the cardinal. For a considerable time he had been managing his see without interference. He considered himself, furthermore, an honorable and capable servant of the cardinal, and he did not take kindly to interference. Joachim saw things differently. As one who had most recently talked to their common employer, he thought he understood better than Eustache how affairs should be managed. Besides, his experience in Rome may have given him a good opinion of himself. He had become an activist, and he began at once to offer unasked advice in the management of affairs. His interference, for so Eustache regarded it, was bitterly resented. In the latter's view, there was no reason not to continue as he had been doing. Suddenly he found himself with a supervisor, and he did not like it. He thought his kinsman overbearing, incompetent, and, particularly because of his deafness, impossible to deal with. He said so in angry letters to the cardinal. He complained that Joachim was interfering in decisions as to appointments within the diocese. He accused him of meddling in the allocation of funds. He told the cardinal that he was of so prickly a disposition that he was impossible to get along with. He was not only irascible, but the handicap of deafness made all communication between the two men impossible. Joachim defended himself stubbornly in letters and tried to throw the blame for their quarrel on Eustache. He held that he was but doing his assigned duty, that his alleged interference was but necessary participation, and that in point of fact it was Eustache who was the difficult and stubborn one. These mutual recriminations might have gone on for some time. From the cardinal's point of view, they may even have served their purpose, for he must have thought himself unlikely to be cheated if two quarrelsome men were observing each other closely. But suddenly a complication arose. In January, 1558, a collection of poetry by Joachim du Bellay was published in Paris. It was all about Rome, and its title was Les Regrets. It was followed in March by Les Antiquitez de Rome. With the publication of these two books, Joachim received a peremptory message from the cardinal.


When Du Bellay was finally led to express in verse something of his disenchantment with Rome, and with his place in Roman society, he found for the first time among his talents a vein of poetic irony and a gift for satire that may have been as unsuspected by himself as by his friends. In his frequently ironical Deffence he had called for the development of literary satire in French, but it is most unlikely that he saw himself cast in the role of satirist. It is also equally unlikely that when he wrote the first poems of the new collections he had any thought of modifying his practice of the poet's role as he had previously described it. In the Deffence he had spoken of the poet as a seer and a divinely inspired madman who was to lead humanity. As his work on both collections progressed, this role was abandoned for that of the cynical, sometimes angry, but usually smiling observer of a decadent society. Perhaps in the beginning he had intended to write mainly of himself and his place in that society, but as time went on he looked increasingly at social institutions themselves and included in his purview the sacrosanct body of the church temporal. Naturally, this was not the first time that the church in Rome had been satirized by a practicing Catholic, but it must have been the first time in many years when the confidential representative of a foreign cardinal had handled it so roughly.

One would think that it could not have come as a surprise to Joachim that his book would displease Cardinal du Bellay. He acts surprised that it did so, and his own view of the book is such as to suggest that he never quite realized what he had accomplished. He says, for instance, in his Discours preliminaire, that what he set out to do was to arouse laughter and that his work was to be taken not as serious but as comic relief. This remark, as one of Du Bellay's English editors has observed, is calculated to disorient readers of our century.10 Undoubtedly, our idea of humor differs from that of the poet's era. Rabelais is still funny in places even after a lapse of four hundred years. But how much, even of his humor, leaves us cold? Du Bellay's case is even more striking. We see nothing to laugh at in the entire volume of the Regrets. At most, we may smile with wry satisfaction at the irony or sarcasm of some of the poems, but we are unlikely to do even that. There is a quiet humor in much of what Du Bellay says, but such humor as it contains is of a highly intellectual sort. If Les Regrets is not, therefore, as its author describes it, a humorous book, just what sort of book is it?

The collection of sonnets which we know as Les Regrets was dedicated to the French ambassador to Rome, M. d'Avanson. Its title was borrowed from Ovid's Tristia, for undoubtedly Du Bellay saw a parallel between the fact of his being exiled in Rome while the Roman poet suffered from being exiled from Rome. The poetic form that Du Bellay chose was the sonnet, of which by this time he was an acknowledged master. There are one hundred and ninety-one sonnets in this volume. The meter he chose is the dodecasyllabic or Alexandrine. Du Bellay had not mentioned this meter in the Deffence, but he said of it subsequently, in a letter to Jean de Morel, that he chose it in preference to all others in translating Michel de l'Hospital's Latin Discours au Roy “because no other satisfies me in so grave a matter.”11 All literate Frenchmen, who greatly admire the Alexandrine as a quasi-national meter, have applauded his decision ever since.

In an interesting article Professor René Jasinski has attempted a step-by-step analysis of Du Bellay's thought processes in composing his sonnet sequence.12 According to this study, the first four sonnets are introductory, and the next five set forth the poet's purpose. The body of the sequence then proceeds to consider a number of disparate topics. Five of the sonnets toward the end, usually referred to as the “sonnets suisses,” describe his passage through Switzerland on his way home. It seems, parenthetically, that he did not follow the usual route to Paris. Because of sporadic fighting north of Rome he took a ship for a short way and then worked his way up the peninsula. Switzerland once again made an unfortunate impression upon him, and his sonnets are satirical commentaries describing the crude manners of the Swiss and making fun of them.13 Incidentally, the humor here comes closest to the comic vein that we are promised in the preface.

It was for a long time assumed that Les Regrets was the simple outgrowth of Du Bellay's custom of confiding to his pen in hit-or-miss fashion some of his nostalgia for France and some of the frustrations of his daily life in Rome. He implies that such will be the case when he says in sonnet IV:

Je me contenteray de simplement escrire
Ce que la passion seulement me fait dire,
Sans rechercher ailleurs plus graves argumens. …(14)

I shall content myself with simply writing down what my emotions alone make me say, without looking elsewhere for more solemn arguments.

To a very limited extent, this statement may have coincided with reality, though it accords but ill with the poet's habits. Unlike Mellin de Saint-Gelais and some of his contemporaries, after writing a few poems Du Bellay generally began to think in terms of the total work that he intended to write. He then planned it, sketched out a rough outline, and proceeded to compose poems to fit his plan. It seems probable that he worked thus to complete the Regrets. A few of the sonnets in the sequence may have been written early in his sojourn in Rome, but by internal evidence the majority of them seem to have been composed toward the end of his stay. Some of the sonnets have nothing to do with his sojourn as such and are simply a return to Platonic and Petrarchian verse in honor of a woman of the sort that he had often written before. As usual, from time to time he included sentiments in praise of Marguerite de France and other members of the royal family. There is even a little tourism concerning Rome and the towns that he passed through on the way home.

What the poet has omitted by and large are the mythological references which up to this time had always been an integral part of his imagery. In no more than thirty sonnets out of the one hundred and ninety-one is there any reference at all to the classic myths or to mythological personages, and on the rare occasions when they do appear they are handled so as to imply a certain disdain for them on the part of the poet. All these factors taken together give us a new Du Bellay, and a more original one, even in the modern acceptance of the word. Many of these verses also have a lilt that is missing from his earlier work, and they are far less subservient to the influence of previous poets. Even the most indefatigable of source detectives have found few outright translations of whole sonnets in Les Regrets.15 Still, the modern reader must use all his faculties and perhaps have recourse to an authoritative commentary if he would enjoy the full flavor of Du Bellay's work. Our poet, even when he is not actively imitating an Italian or classical source, generally has at the back of his mind some half-remembered fragment of a poem that he has read, or some unconscious reminiscence of a literary metaphor, which does not readily present itself to the modern mind. In fact, so wide has the gulf become between his frame of reference and ours that sometimes in our reading we lose that thrill of pleasure that only the spontaneous recognition of shared experience can give. This said, we come occasionally upon a poem whose simple message strikes us with the force of a projectile. Thus, in the midst of a group of poems of no outstanding merit we come upon the most famous sonnet in the collection, a sonnet that represents the full flowering of Du Bellay's inspiration. True, this of all poems is an adaptation, but from his own compositions in the Latin collection of Poematia in the section entitled “Patriæ desiderium.” Every literate speaker of the French language knows it well:

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son aage!
Quand revoiray-je, helas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Revoiray-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup d'avantage?
Plus me plaist le sejour qu'ont basty mes ayeux,
Que des palais Romains le front audacieux:
Plus que le marbre dur me plaist l'ardoise fine,
Plus mon Loyre Gaulois que le Tybre Latin,
Plus mon petit Lyré que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la doulceur Angevine.(16)

Happy the man who like Ulysses has made a fine journey, or like the hero who conquered the Golden Fleece, has come home at last, full of experience and wisdom, to live out the remainder of his life in the bosom of his family. When, alas, shall I see the chimney smoke of my village, or in what season look upon the walled enclosure of my poor house, which is to me a province and much more? I am more fond of the place my ancestors built than of the proud façades of Roman palaces, and better than marble I like our good slate, better than the Roman Tiber my French Loire, better my little stream Lyré than the Mount Palatine and better than the sea air the sweetness of Anjou.

This is lyricism of a lofty sort, of the sort, indeed, which won immortality for this collection of poems. In this instance, and in others like it, the sonnet has become the vehicle for a personal sentiment exquisitely expressed, and the result is a masterpiece. We may speculate as to whether Du Bellay fully realized what he had done, or whether like many another artist before and since, he merely returned to his work table in an hour's time to compose an excellent but not remarkable poem, whose mediocre quality he quite failed to distinguish from that of the great poem that had preceded it. Ulysses, by the way, was one of Du Bellay's favorite heroes. In him he saw a not unflattering parallel between his own situation as an unwilling expatriate and the Greek hero's prolonged efforts to return to his homeland. In this connection, it is interesting to note that M. Chamard, while he admires the poem as a whole, as all Frenchmen do, begrudges Du Bellay the mention of Ulysses. We can be a little more charitable, I believe. Even for the reader without much classical background, the reference to Ulysses remains both clear and pleasing. In any event, our best stance is a total acceptance of the poem. Few other sonnets among the collection of nearly two hundred achieved so much. No poet could have been expected to make them do so. Yet the standard maintained in the Regrets is high. This time Du Bellay had something to say, and the personal note, which he had once warned poets to avoid at all costs, stood him in good stead. Contrary to his own teaching, and probably contrary as well to his innermost convictions, he set out in Les Regrets to tell us about himself. In the very first sonnet he declares to his readers that this book is not one in which he will speak of philosophy, nature, or any other lofty subject. It will be instead a repository for the poet's innermost thoughts. He says:

Je me plains a mes vers, si j'ay quelque regret:
Je me ris avec eulx, je leur dy mon secret,
Comme estans de mon coeur les plus seurs secretaires.(17)

I complain to my verses when I am sad. With them I laugh; to them I tell my secrets, for they are the most trustworthy secretaries of my heart.

In the second sonnet he says to his friend Paschal that his apparently aimless versifying on a variety of subjects will undoubtedly appear easy to some persons, although in fact it is not. This collection, he continues, will not be the product of prolonged study or preparation. He has no intention of working it over and polishing it as he had urged the conscientious poet to do. In the third sonnet he continues his statement of purpose, saying that he has no expectation of winning a name for himself by writing this sort of verse. In other words, he is putting his precepts aside, but he wants to make certain that his public knows that he does so intentionally and that he tends to think of this collection as an exceptional one, quite outside the usual framework of humanistic composition. It was to be a pastime, more difficult than it appeared, but not to be judged by the criteria employed in looking at a scholarly and therefore truly noble work.

Underlying the whole was a sincere love of country, astonishing in its intensity, admirable in its spontaneity. And inseparable from it was the regret that he would not be able to pay homage in person to Madame Marguerite when she left for Piedmont. Truly, king and country appear to have been all but indistinguishable for our poet, and this says much to excuse the frequently exaggerated and trivial words that he addresses to the royal family.


Upon concluding his introductory sonnets, Du Bellay plunges into a recital of his thoughts and occupations. He describes his work in the cardinal's household, and we learn that he was essentially a manager or majordomo. We follow his growing disgust with Italy and all things Italian as his references to local persons and customs grow more and more harsh. Even the climate of the foreign city, that perennial scapegoat of the homesick and unhappy, comes in for its share of contempt. He wonders not once but several times why he was ever persuaded to leave home. He complains that even his intellectual pursuits have to be neglected. Rome, instead of warming his spirit, has simply chilled his bones. Here is one of his complaints:

Ne t'esbahis (Ronsard) la moitie de mon ame,
Si de ton Du Bellay France ne lit plus rien,
Et si aveques l'air du ciel Italien
Il n'a hume l'ardeur que l'Italie enflamme.
Le sainct rayon qui part des beaux yeux de ta dame
Et la saincte faveur de ton Prince et du mien,
Cela (Ronsard) cela, cela merite bien
De t'echauffer le coeur d'une si vive flamme.
Mais moy, qui suis absent des raiz de mon Soleil,
Comment puis-je sentir echauffement pareil
A celuy qui est pres de sa flamme divine?
Les costaux soleillez de pampre sont couvers,
Mais des Hyperborez les eternels hyvers
Ne portent que le froid, la neige et la bruine.(18)

Be not dismayed (Ronsard), companion of my soul, if France reads nothing more by thy Du Bellay, or if with the air of the Italian sky he does not breathe in the ardor that kindles Italy. The blessed ray of light which shines from thy lovely lady's eyes, and the blessed favor of thy Prince and mine, that, Ronsard, that well deserves to warm thy heart with its bright flame. But I, who am away from the rays of my sun, how can I be as warm as one still close to his divine flame? The sunny slopes are covered with vine leaves, but the eternal winters of the North bring only cold, snow and drizzling rain.

In ensuing poems he turns to a cynical yet humorous consideration of his involvement with household financial problems and of his day-to-day struggles with the cardinal's creditors and servants. Many of these descriptions of his misery he addresses to friends and associates in Paris as a subtle reminder to them of an exile's existence. We do not know whether the sonnets addressed to particular persons were sent to them at once or whether they had to wait upon the publication of the collection. But it seems most unlikely, if the dedications were to have meaning and usefulness, that Du Bellay would have failed to put them into his friends' hands. It seems, therefore, reasonable to assume that he arranged for the delivery of many of his sonnets, which thus fulfilled the function of letters. This was a sensible and efficient way of keeping his memory green among a busy and possibly fickle circle of intimates.

Interwoven with these mundane complaints is Du Bellay's everlasting theme: if I could only leave Rome! But in the midst of his complaints he exclaims in a practical vein: but if I were to do so I would forfeit my back pay! The picture of the poet that thereby emerges is of a very human individual whose problems sometimes come close to driving him to distraction. In the meantime, if we are to believe his own account of his performance, he is that rare, efficient, and most frustrated of men, the unappreciated confidential servant. He is harassed by menial concerns. He was to waste his good French talent on a bunch of ungrateful foreigners. By his very occupation he is cheated out of his rightful place in society. All that he dares to hope for is that when his servitude is over he will be able to return to a peaceful and quiet old age in his beloved Anjou country. Naturally, there is an element of conventional sentiment here. Anjou and the Loire Valley had become a sort of trademark for Du Bellay. They symbolized home and happiness, a place often talked about yet seldom visited. Thus, it is hardly surprising that when the poet finally returned to France he omitted entirely the much-advertised visit to Anjou. Except for brief and infrequent business trips there, he was quite content to remain in Paris. Still, the talk of home was quasisincere, and it made effective copy.

Occasionally in the midst of a discussion of his own problems, Du Bellay turns his thoughts to others. On one occasion he writes a sonnet for the death of a friend. On another he writes of his sympathy for his cousin the cardinal, whom he depicts as a faithful servant of the French crown, badgered by problems impossible of solution. He pictures him as a man who has been for more than forty years in the service of his king, who has always been inadequately rewarded and for the most part unappreciated. Parenthetically, let it be said that this view of the cardinal is close to reality. Cardinal du Bellay was in and out of favor with Francis I and Henry II, employed and discharged at their whim, yet the record shows that he was a man of unfailing and unswerving loyalty to his country. Nor is it possible to question Joachim's motives in writing this sonnet in his cousin's behalf. Nothing in the record, despite occasional differences between them, points to a lessened affection on the part of the poet for his distinguished relative and patron. He appears to have realized that his own unhappy position resulted more from circumstances than from any ill will on the part of his employer.

There is much commentary in the Regrets on the political events of the day. For instance, the change in popes is commented on, and the idiosyncrasies of each pope are mentioned. The machinations and misdeeds of the Spanish adversary are also dwelt upon. In short, Les Regrets furnishes the reader with a rare sort of news coverage, which is rendered all the more attractive for being so often sardonic and iconoclastic. The precise meaning of many of Du Bellay's references are in our day quite obscure, and so their identification with persons and events by a minute examination of the text of each sonnet has become, like the identification of the poet's sources, a kind of pastime for scholars.

Still, in large measure Du Bellay's thoughts seem to have been intended above all for his own satisfaction and as a kind of escape from reality. For instance, after considering the world and his place in it for the space of fifteen sonnets, there suddenly appears in sonnet LII this passionate outburst:

Si les larmes servoient de remede au malheur,
Et le pleurer pouvoit la tristesse arrester,
On devroit (Seigneur mien) les larmes acheter,
Et ne se trouveroit rien si cher que le pleur.
Mais les pleurs en effect sont de nulle valeur;
Car soit qu'on ne se veuille en pleurant tormenter,
Ou soit que nuict et jour on veuille lamenter,
On ne peult divertir le cours de la douleur. …(19)

If tears could remedy misfortune and weeping put an end to sorrow, we should (My Lord) [Cardinal du Bellay] buy tears, and nothing would be dearer than to cry. But tears in fact are useless, for whether one refuses to torment himself with weeping, or whether one wishes to lament by night and day, one cannot turn aside the course of grief.

This expression of sadness appears to be a turning point, for the sonnets that follow thrust melancholy firmly aside to advise a philosophical acceptance of one's fate. They even go so far as to uphold the epicurean view that the best course of action is to eat, drink, and be merry. After this, in sonnet LVI Du Bellay says that he is determined to make a virtue out of necessity, and with that he turns to satire.


If we may judge by the sudden turn in the direction of the sonnets, Du Bellay seems to have perceived all at once the absurd, perhaps even comical, side of the situations and persons in whose midst he found himself. He begins to make fun of the pretentious, the cowardly, and the pedantic, of the captious critics and aged lovers, to name but a few of the stereotypes which Rome served up for his amusement and as models for his caricatures.

There is also a rising crescendo of contempt for Italy and for Italian ways of doing things. Toward all peninsular phenomena, his irony turns harsh and bitter. For the time being, he seems to have cast aside the tone of gentle melancholy which reached its height in “Heureux qui, comme Ulysse …” and has replaced it with a world-weariness and a kind of dry cynicism which, he assures us, is intended to make us laugh. By means of his irony he indulges in much forthright social criticism, culminating in the famous sonnet in which he describes the round of his daily encounters:

Marcher d'un grave pas et d'un grave sourci,
Et d'un grave soubriz à chascun faire feste,
Balancer tous ses mots, respondre de la teste,
Avec un Messer non, ou bien un Messer si:
Entremesler souvent un petit Et così,
Et d'un son servitor contrefaire l'honneste,
Et, comme si lon eust sa part en la conqueste,
Discourir sur Florence, et sur Naples aussi:
Seigneuriser chascun d'un baisement de main,
Et suivant la facon du ourtisan Romain,
Cacher sa pauvreté d'une brave apparence:
Voila de ceste Court la grande vertu,
Dont souvent mal monté, mal sain, et mal vestu,
Sans barbe et sans argent on s'en retourne en France.(20)

To walk solemnly and with a frowning look, and greet everyone with a sober smile, to weigh all words and answer with a nod, with a “no, signor,” or a “si signor”: to put in often a little “just so,” and mimic the honest man with a “your servant, sir,” and, as if one had had something to do with the conquest, to talk of Florence and of Naples too; to show deference to every man by kissing his hand, and, following the custom of the Roman courtier, to hide one's poverty under a brave appearance; there you have the great virtue of this court, from which, frequently, ill mounted, in ill health, ill clad, beardless and penniless one returns to France.

This is Du Bellay at his sardonic best. Then, deliberately forgetting for the nonce that he was the employee of the cardinal, with whose problems he had on occasion sympathized, he begins to mingle with his satire on things Roman and Italian an equally outspoken criticism of the church. He attacks its personnel, both high and low, and its notorious corruption. Considering his position, one wonders whether mere naïveté led Du Bellay to this dangerous indulgence in frankness or whether some sort of fatuous self-conceit led him to imagine that, because of his quasi-amateur status in diplomatic circles, he could say these things with impunity. But whatever the rationale, he continued to write in this sardonic vein for some time, becoming so personal in one sonnet as to attack the pope's eating habits and to make fun of his fondness for onions. But serious as this was, it seems but a trifle compared to some of his other comments. In one sonnet he actually attacked the pope for making a cardinal of one of his male paramours. That the pope had done so could not be denied, for in Rome nothing that went on in the Vatican escaped public notice, but to accord to the hints and whispers of backstairs gossip the immortality of a sonnet was going rather far. It is possible to argue, of course, although to do so is not flattering to Du Bellay, that he perhaps knew that he was coming to the end of his stay in Rome and that he therefore cynically calculated that when the storm broke he would be safely in Paris and out of reach. If so, he underestimated his cousin the cardinal. As he was to find out, the long arm of retribution was able to reach him even in France.

Buried, as it were, in the body of Les Regrets are several groups of sonnets of a peculiar sort. For example, sonnets XCVII and XCVIII give the reader a vivid description of an attempted exorcism performed on a woman supposedly possessed of a demon. Du Bellay had observed this weird performance at the Orphans Asylum in Rome in 1555, and although he reveals no skepticism regarding the belief in demons implied by the action taken, he is sardonic about the lecherous gestures employed by the monk who pretended to effect a cure.

The forms of passion and their social implications are a recurring theme throughout Les Regrets. Du Bellay castigates the Romans for their open companionship with courtesans. He speaks of the danger of venereal disease and rejoices that he himself has escaped from the temptations of vice. On another occasion, he cynically describes an unknown woman's charms. His attitudes, in other words, are ambivalent. As a somewhat reserved Frenchman, he found the Italian parade of vice fairly irritating. As a normal man, however, he sometimes thought its more obvious aspects exciting. There is, therefore, no consistent attitude toward women or love to be found in the sonnets. He seems rather to have treated the subject as the spirit moved him, with no attempt at an over-all consistency.

Toward the end of the sequence, among the fifty-odd sonnets that were composed after the poet returned to Paris, is one in which he reflects once again on his own poverty and wretchedness. He tortures himself by contrasting his low fortunes with the exaggerated hopes and aspirations with which he had approached his Roman assignment. Then he closes the Roman commentary with a sonnet of remarkable calm. What we might have expected at this point was an outpouring of joy at the prospect of a return to France. Instead, Du Bellay writes simply and matter-of-factly of his departure, reflecting in part his more famous poem. He says:

Et je pensois aussi ce que pensoit Ulysse,
Qu'il n'estoit rien plus doulx que voir encor' un jour
Fumer sa cheminee, et apres long sejour,
Se retrouver au sein de sa terre nourrice.
Je me rejouissois d'estre eschappé au vice,
Aux Circes d'Italie, aux Sirenes d'amour,
Et d'avoir rapporté en France à mon retour
L'honneur que l'on acquiert d'un fidele service.(21)

I congratulated myself on having escaped from vice, from the Circes of Italy and the Sirens of love, and for having brought back to France upon my return the honor that one acquires for faithful service. And I thought too what Ulysses thought, that nothing could be sweeter than to see again one day, the smoke of my chimney, and after a long stay to find myself again in the bosom of the land that nurtured me.

In these latter sonnets he comments like an interested tourist on the Italian cities that he passes through, giving special attention to the duchy of Urbino, which he found attractive. Switzerland was, as we have seen, the occasion for satirical comments, and the Protestant religion practiced there came in for pointed ridicule. It was quite appropriate for a cardinal's secretary to deal harshly with the reformed faith, but Du Bellay felt moved to display more than conventional opposition to it. As a Catholic, he had assumed the right to criticize the church's shortcomings and to attack the misconduct of her priesthood, but he had never attacked her doctrine. In attacking Protestantism he singled out what he regarded as the reformers' chief weakness, that of hypocrisy. For him, the stern moral code demanded by Protestant leaders should have been lived by everyone and not simply expounded from the pulpit. Therefore, he attacks the immorality of the city of Geneva where, he says, the austerity of a citizen's language is not matched by austerity of his conduct. Altogether, his remarks are in strong contrast with the more tolerant attitude of Montaigne when he visited the city a couple of decades later.

Inevitably, Du Bellay's unfriendly comments about the reformed religion drew forth a sharp reply. For reasons difficult to fathom, his opponent hid behind the pseudonym Quidam, which modern scholarship has not succeeded in penetrating. Du Bellay prepared a reply in the form of five sonnets, but he seems to have felt no urgency about getting them published, and so they did not appear until nearly a decade after his death, in 1568. Far from taking back what he had said originally, he returned to the attack. He did not trouble to be logical or fair, for such was not the mood of the times. Feelings, not facts, were uppermost. Du Bellay, though he might criticize the Catholic Church as one of her own, was simply out of tune with reform and reformers. The corruption of Rome he might despise, papal power and intrigue he might hate, but the reform of the church by persons who had left its fold had no appeal for him.

The visit to Lyons on the way home was a repetition of the pleasant social visit that he had enjoyed when he had passed through on his way to Italy. He was at home again, and he knew that from Lyons the way to Paris was not far.


It may be said without fear of contradiction that Du Bellay felt that his return to Paris was in every sense a triumphal one. In retrospect, he was inclined to magnify his Italian role. And before him lay the pleasant task of showing his Parisian friends that he had never ceased to be a poet. His first care, therefore, was to see to the publication of the overstuffed portfolios that he had tucked away in his baggage. He counted on making an impression on the other members of the Pléiade, and as he reassumed his place among them socially he wanted at the same time to reassert his claim to the post of second in command after Ronsard. He began with Les Regrets whose privilège is dated January 17, 1558. A reaction from His Eminence the cardinal was not long in arriving. It seems that even before the publication of the entire sonnet sequence in Paris, the cardinal had heard rumors of its existence. He had read, or caused to be read to him, a few choice excerpts. Italians who resented the poet's attitude toward their country probably saw to that. Former French colleagues who had disliked the proud man who was also the master's kinsman are certain to have helped the cause of the poet's unpopularity. The cardinal was displeased, and he said so. At least, this is the way the story is usually told, so for the moment let us repeat it that way. We know that Cardinal du Bellay wrote a purportedly angry letter to Joachim. That letter is no longer in existence, but from Joachim's reply we can easily infer its contents. The cardinal certainly sounded angry. He asked what Joachim meant by publishing such a scurrilous work. Had he neither tact nor common sense? Was he not aware of the damage that might be done to France's cardinal and through him to France itself? He demanded an explanation forthwith. Now the foregoing is a mere reconstruction of what the cardinal may have said. But as we examine the actual reply by Joachim it will become apparent that the reconstruction cannot be far from the truth.

Joachim du Bellay's answer appears most ingenuous. But was it really? Could a man of his intelligence, who had spent his time in Rome learning the ins and outs of diplomacy, including its least savory aspects, have remained as innocent as the writer of the following letter appears to be? It seems most unlikely. Here is what Joachim wrote:

… while I was in your service in Rome I sometimes spent my time writing French and Latin poetry, not so much for the pleasure that I took in it as for the relaxation of my mind, occupied as I was by such affairs as you well know, and sometimes aroused according to events. This one may easily judge by reading my compositions. I had no intention then of publishing them, but contented myself with showing them to those who were my closest friends in your household; but a writer named Breton, who was with me at the time, made secret copies which, (as I discovered later) he sold to French gentlemen who were then in Rome. M. de Saint Ferme was the first to let me know about this. Now when I had returned to France, I was dismayed to discover a quantity of copies printed both in Lyons and in Paris. Wherefore I sued several printers, as I can prove by the decrees and judgments rendered against them. Seeing, therefore, that there was no remedy, and that it was impossible to suppress so many copies printed everywhere, and add to that the fact that the late king (whom God absolve) had read most of them and had told me himself to have them correctly printed, I handed them over to a printer without further ado, not thinking that there might be in the midst of them anything to offend anyone. …22

This letter was followed by a second, which is also extant, and which repeats essentially the same arguments as the first. The gist of both letters is plain: the poet is innocent of intentional wrongdoing; he had no wish to offend; he was only saying what everyone knew; he had had no expectation of publishing his verse but had merely shown them to friends in the household; to his astonishment his trust had been betrayed; publication was his only protection against literary piracy; besides, King Henry II (now conveniently deceased) had urged him to publish his poetry.

Such is Du Bellay's letter, if we take it at its face value. The arguments against doing so appear to me to be very great. The lack of sophistication that such remarks would imply, as already noted, defy credulity. Further, could the poet actually have expected Breton to keep his secret? Had he himself not referred to the utter untrustworthiness of his associates? Such, in fact, was one of his principal themes.

The cardinal's real thoughts on the matter also lend themselves to speculation. He must have come to know Joachim fairly well in more than four years of association with him. He knew above all that he was a poet, and he must have had sense enough to realize that poets demand a certain amount of free speech. And as a skeptical humanist himself, the attitudes of his cousin must have been fairly predictable. He was not especially fond of the Italians, nor of the political institutions of the papacy with which he had to deal. In fact, the more one thinks of it, the more difficult it is to imagine that the cardinal was anything but vastly amused at seeing his adversaries, clerical and otherwise, put in the pillory. Of course, it is true that Joachim's published views regarding the function of poetry had nothing to say about its satirical and political uses in sonnet form, and least of all had the Deffence envisioned the use of poetry as catharsis. From this point of view, the completed sequence called Les Regrets must have astonished Joachim almost as much as it astonished the cardinal. Why, then, the angry letter from the latter to the author of Les Regrets? And equally important, why the apparently naïve, not to say hypocritical, reply?

Though he could hardly have expected that the cardinal's wrath would be lessened thereby, Joachim may very well have thought that because his verse in criticism of Rome was of an unlearned, unhumanistic sort it did not really count as part of his serious poetic output. But the weakness of this argument lies, first, in the haste with which he saw to its publication and, second, in the fact that his mockery of the popes and of the Italian capital was in no way lessened by not being “important” from their inventor's point of view. But even if this line of inquiry is abandoned, there are several reasons for believing that the cardinal could not have been as angry as he pretended. First was the fact that shortly before Joachim's departure he himself had been reduced in rank by the king. And this, coming on top of several years of hard work, could not but have made him angry. Why, then, would he have objected to seeing the Vatican roughly handled? With any sense of humor at all he must have realized that his cousin wrote not only wisely but too well of Roman society. But the clinching argument for believing that the cardinal's anger was mostly feigned, or pro forma, was the all-important fact that he made no move to relieve Joachim of the important post of collaborator with Eustache du Bellay in overseeing the affairs of the archbishopric of Paris. In fact, there are those who claim, without being altogether convincing, that at the time of his death Joachim was about to be nominated by the cardinal for the post of bishop of Bordeaux.23

Without more evidence we cannot close the question. The assumption that both Joachim and his cousin said more than they meant may in part be true. Still, there is the fact of a Latin elegy to Jean de Morel in which the poet seems to show a need for self-justification and a sense of honest indignation that the attitudes reflected in the Regrets were misunderstood. We know, too, that his participation in the affairs of the diocese were a cause of real frustration to him. In fact, if any shadow stood between him and the affection and trust of Cardinal du Bellay, its presence was in all likelihood due to the quarreling and bickering that he had to endure as he tried to fulfill his ecclesiastical tasks. Ever since he had returned to Paris, this task had been a source of irritation. After naming Eustache du Bellay his deputy in Paris, the cardinal had left for Italy and apparently had not been overly generous with him. The perquisites of the archbishopric went to the cardinal; to his substitute went the headaches. And now after four years of faithful service Eustache found himself saddled with an overseer, and he did not like it. He was touchy as to his authority and was not averse to trying to make trouble between Joachim and the absent cardinal. This, it would seem, far more than any momentary irritation at the appearance of a book of satirical poems, tended to weaken somewhat the ties of mutual esteem between Joachim and his cousin. Yet, insofar as the evidence goes, they remained on terms of respect, if not friendship, until the poet's untimely death. And this event was followed in turn by the death of Cardinal du Bellay a little more than a month later.



Shortly after the appearance of the Regrets, with a privilège dated six weeks later (March 3), Du Bellay's second volume of poetry written in Rome was printed by Fédéric Morel. Once again, the Roman sojourn itself provided the inspiration. The title in this instance was Les Antiquitez de Rome. The book is altogether different from its predecessor, but if the first was calculated to irritate the poet's former associates, French and Italian, the second was no less so. There is a difference, however. This time, the frustrations of the poet turned majordomo are thrust into the background. Once again the poet of Coqueret comes to the forefront, and Du Bellay takes on again the role of humanist, which in the Deffence he had called indispensable. Here speaks, despite disillusionment and cynicism, the classical scholar who, four years previously, had ridden into Rome all but overcome by a sentiment of awe. By the time the sonnets of Les Antiquitez de Rome were being composed, that awe was either gone or badly tarnished. A solid respect for the city that had known more than two thousand years of civilization still subsisted, but the poet now viewed the capital in two ways. He no longer saw it solely as a great historic whole whose modern aspects included and encompassed the ancient ones. The city's continuity of existence no longer blinded the poet to the changes that had taken place. Rome he would continue to glorify and to exalt, but the city was sharply divided. The modern city no longer blended in his mind with the ancient one. The old city appeared to him in the form of grandeur and decadence. The modern city was something apart, a dwelling place to be tolerated rather than loved. It was a place of intrigue and of exile, and Du Bellay cared little for either. Thus it is really ancient Rome that Les Antiquitez is about. We return in this book to classical allusions, to classical backgrounds, and to a host of reminiscences from the poet's reading and classical schooling. But there is a difference. In contrast to the Regrets, the poet is far more preoccupied with historical than with mythological references. Jupiter, Thetis, and Apollo make their appearance occasionally, but more prominent by far are ancient Greek heroes, men not gods, and their Roman successors and contemporaries. Les Antiquitez is a short collection of thirty-two sonnets, of which no less than eleven are closely imitated from the poet Lucan.24 But whether largely original in development, or arrived at by creative imitation, it is generally conceded that Les Antiquitez de Rome no less than Les Regrets is a masterpiece.


The over-all theme of this second sonnet sequence of Roman inspiration is, as its title implies, an exaltation of the great city of the past. With it, he contrasts the ruins that surround him at every turn, and betimes, the teeming, grubby city that stands on its site. As he looks about him, his mind is full of the lore, literary and historical, of classical Rome. He still worships at the shrine of her grandeur. He meditates on the wisdom of her great thinkers and writers. At the same time, his eyes take in at every glance sights that contrast sharply with the idealized and conventional picture that he has drawn from books. He is depressed as well as inspired by the ever-present ruins, the bits and pieces of the still visible Rome that was once republic and empire. And as he reflects, a trifle romantically, perhaps, on the nobility of the ancient and the tawdriness of the modern, he reflects both realistically and sentimentally on the fate of Rome and on her fall. The result is Les Antiquitez de Rome, a divergent theme drawn from the same inner sources that produced Les Regrets.

The first sonnet was carefully composed to set the serious, semitragic tone of the sequences that it introduced:

Divins Esprits, dont la poudreuse cendre
Gist sous le faix de tant de murs couvers,
Non vostre loz, qui vif par voz beaux vers
Ne se verra sous la terre descendre,
Si des humains la voix se peult estendre
Depuis icy jusqu'au fond des enfers,
Soient à mon cry les abysmes ouvers,
Tant que d'abas vous me puissiez entendre.
Trois fois cernant sous le voile des cieux
De voz tumbeaux le tour devotieux,
A haulte voix trois fois je vous appelle:
J'invoque icy vostre antique fureur,
En ce pendant que d'une saincte horreur
Je vays chantant vostre gloire plus belle.(25)

Divine spirits, whose powdery ashes lie beneath the burden of so many hidden walls, your praise, which lives in your beautiful verses will not be seen descending beneath the earth. If human voices can be heard from here to the depths of hell, let the abyss be open to my cry, so that you may hear me from below. Circling three times beneath the veil of heaven, making a pious circuit of your tombs, I call upon you loudly. Here do I invoke your ancient fury, while with a holy dread I sing your finest glory.

As may be perceived from these lines, the peculiarly personal mood of nostalgia that permeated Les Regrets has disappeared. There are to be but few references to the poet's personal situation, and, if we make an exception of a single sonnet which concludes in Petrarchian terms by referring to a case of unrequited love, we may say that the love element is just about missing. It is further interesting to note that in the midst of a collection that is original rather than derivative in inspiration, this single love sonnet represents a substantial borrowing from Baldassare Castiglione and, from its beginning to its end, is more his than Du Bellay's. Also lacking in this sequence are the numerous dedications of individual sonnets to friends and the incidental mention of their names in the body of the sonnets. There was a reason for this. This sonnet sequence is meant to serve a quite different purpose from Les Regrets, and in keeping with its solemnity Du Bellay has returned to the stately measures of his earlier days in Paris. He has also assumed a more philosophical attitude toward the shortcomings of modern Rome, and his desire to attack the city with irony and ridicule is kept well in hand.

The high reputation of these thirty-one sonnets is richly deserved, but even so there are among them some that fall short of excellence. As a sample of one of the most pedestrian we may cite sonnet VIII:

Par armes et vaisseaux Rome donta le monde,
Et pouvoit on juger qu'une seule cité
Avoit de sa grandeur le terme limité
Par la mesme rondeur de la terre et de l'onde.
Et tant fut la vertu de ce peuple feconde
En vertueux nepveux, que sa posterité
Surmontant ses ayeux en brave auctorité
Mesura le hault ciel à la terre profonde:
Afin qu'ayant rangé tout pouvoir sous sa main,
Rien ne peust estre borne à l'empire Romain:
Et que, si bien la temps destruit les Republiques,
Le temps ne mist si bas la Romaine hauteur,
Que le chef deterré aux fondemens antiques,
Qui prindrent nom de luy, fust découvert menteur.(26)

With arms and ships Rome conquered the world, and one might suppose that this single city was limited in grandeur only by the very globe of earth and sea. So great was the virtue of this people, fruitful in offspring, that its posterity, surpassing their ancestors in bold authority, measured the lofty sky to the depths below. So that, having brought all power to its hand, nothing could limit the Roman Empire. And that, if time destroys republics, time could not bring tall Rome so low that the head, disinterred from the ancient foundations, from which they took their name, might be called a cheat.

This sonnet repeats without any special éclat or verve what the poet has often said before, that is, that ancient Rome was a great city, that she ruled the world, and that withal she carried within her the seeds of her own destruction. But for most readers the poem seems prosaic. If it were written out as prose its poetic form would hardly be missed. But even though the poem is poor it is nonetheless characteristic, for it contains one of those enigmas so often used by Du Bellay and the Pléiade. Upon reading the last two verses of this poem, every thoughtful reader must have asked himself what is meant by the disinterred head referred to in the next-to-last line. In fact, we not only ask what is the meaning of the passage but why it was inserted in the poem. Few of the poet's associates could have been able to understand it. Surely, it was a private pedantry known only to those at Coqueret, after it was explained in a lecture by Dorat. Recently, M. Saulnier has come up with a reasonable explanation. He thinks that the head in question was one discovered during excavations for the foundations of the original Rome, that it lent its name to the etymology of the word capital, and that it was regarded by the founders of Rome as an augury of the city's future greatness. Rome, therefore, could never be less than head or chief of the world.27 This was just the sort of mystery that Du Bellay enjoyed, for learning and pedantry were not always carefully distinguished from each other in Dorat's school.

From the master Du Bellay had learned to respect accurate scholarship, and therefore his learning and that of Ronsard is generally sound, but because Du Bellay often allowed himself to rely on recollection to create his effects he was sometimes inaccurate as well as pedantic. For this reason, modern scholars who have put Du Bellay's verse under a microscope have sometimes caught him in errors.

Of far more interest and greater poetic value is sonnet XV, which is by all criteria one of the best in the sequence. Its nostalgic view of Rome, which has at once withstood and succumbed to the ravages of time, is quite charming:

Palles Esprits, et vous Umbres poudreuses,
Qui jouissant de la clarté du jour
Fistes sortir cest orgueilleux sejour,
Dont nous voyons les reliques cendreuses:
Dictes, Esprits (ainsi les tenebreuses
Rives de Styx non passable au retour,
Vous enlacant d'un trois fois triple tour,
N'enferment point voz images unbreuses)
Dictes moy donc (car quelqu'une de vous
Possible encor se cache icy dessous)
Ne sentez vous augmenter vostre peine,
Quand quelquefois de ces costaux Romains
Vous contemplez l'ouvrage de voz mains
N'estre plus rien qu'une poudreuse plaine?(28)

Pale spirits, and you, o dusty shades, who when you enjoyed the light of day, created this proud sojourning place, whose fragmented remains we see, Say, o spirits (for thus the gloomy shores of Styx, which cannot twice be crossed, hold you three times in thrall, yet cannot hold back your shadowy images), Say, then (for some one of you perhaps is hidden here below), do you not feel increase of sorrow, when sometimes from these Roman slopes you contemplate your handiwork, and see that it is now a dusty plain and nothing more?

In this sonnet, as the reader can see for himself, Du Bellay appeals to the shades of the ancient Romans and calls upon them to witness the destruction of their city. His own attitude in this instance is withheld. His own homesickness is unmentioned, and yet his feeling of the tragedy of Rome's fall is abundantly clear. The reference to the river Styx is banal enough; the use of parentheses is an annoying interruption. And yet the whole is charming.

At the same time that we pause to note the subtle qualities that Du Bellay provides in his poetry, we note other and less praiseworthy traits also. In all the sonnets that deal with the city of Rome, we come up against a consistent tendency toward vagueness of description. In these sonnets we are being told by an eyewitness about sixteenth-century Rome as well as about the ancient city. We are asked to focus our attention upon its physical appearance while at the same time we reflect upon its role as the seat of the Roman Empire and upon its role as the capital of Christianity. Yet in this sonnet and others like it, the poet is content to refer to “ashen relics,” “the remains of Rome,” “Rome in ashes,” “holy ruins,” “these brave walls,” or “these dusty tombs.” Never does this man who walked the streets of Rome for more than four years describe his environment in colorful detail. He visited all quarters. The ruins of the ancient city were all about him. But when he came to describe in detail what he had seen he melted everything into general impressions of the sort that can be obtained from a book. We are far in thought and in time from the dictum of Flaubert that a single tree should be so carefully and accurately described that a visitor to a grove should be able to pick it out merely from having read a description of it. To expect so much of Du Bellay would be manifestly unfair, but, for all that, we know that our poet was capable of such precision when he wanted to be. His psychological analyses of the foibles of the Italians in Les Regrets are frequently outstanding for their quality of accurate and skillful observation. But evidently, what he was able to do when he wrote of the people around him it did not occur to him to do with the descriptions of Rome. This was true not only of the city but also of the places in which he lived. We know from contemporary accounts that the palaces which Cardinal du Bellay occupied were the last word in luxury, and we would have liked to have Joachim describe them to us, but of their appearance there is no hint in his verse.

Another noteworthy aspect of Du Bellay's style, and one which was also practiced by his friends, was the custom of beginning each verse of a given poem with an identical word, frequently a negative. “Neither this Nor that,” he says, or, more specifically: “Ny la fureur de la flamme enragee, / Ny le tranchant du fer victorieux, …”29 (Neither the fury of the angry flame, nor the sharpness of the victorious steel, etc.) and so on, verse after verse. The result, if the practice is not too often repeated, is not necessarily unpleasing. The essential pattern for this sort of thing was borrowed from a fourteenth-century Italian genre called the noie in which the poet begins each line by mentioning some quality or object that he dislikes. The result is a list of undesirables and can be serious or humorous depending on the poet's handling of it. The noie approach was used in only one sonnet in Les Antiquitez, but in one form or another it found its way into much of his poetry. In Les Regrets he had used it often, notably in sonnets I, IV, LXVIII, and LXXIX.

Those of Du Bellay's readers and critics who distinctly prefer Les Antiquitez to Les Regrets stress the fact of the former's elevated, almost solemn, style, its elegance of language, and its absence of personal pleading. For these qualities they are willing to overlook an occasional woodenness of expression, the infrequent but very real intrusion of a melodramatic tone, and the knowledge, inseparable from any modern interpretation of his work, that a number of his sentiments and even of his felicities of expression are due as much to the hand of Lucan and others as to his own skill. Scholars have indeed been indefatigable, here as elsewhere, in seeking Du Bellay's sources. Professor Fucilla, for instance, has enlightened us by demonstrating that sonnet XXVII was fabricated from materials taken from both Castiglione and Bonamici,30 but this said one must admit that the sonnet is still as fresh and attractive today as on the day when it was written some four hundred years ago:

Toy qui de Rome emerveillé contemples
L'antique orgueil, qui menassoit les cieux,
Ces vieux palais, ces monts audacieux,
Ces murs, ces arcz, ces thermes et ces temples,
Juge, en voyant ces ruines si amples,
Ce qu'a rongé le temps injurieux,
Puis qu'aux ouvriers les plus industrieux
Ces vieux fragmens encor servent d'exemples.
Regarde apres, comme de jour en jour
Rome fouillant son antique sejour,
Se rebatist de tant d'oeuvres divines:
Tu jugeras que le daemon Romain
S'efforce encor d'une fatale main
Ressusciter ces poudreuses ruines.(31)

Thou who lookest in wonder upon Rome's ancient pride, which threatened heaven, these old palaces, these bold mountains, these walls, these arches, baths and temples, judge, while looking upon these ample ruins, what injurious time has gnawed away, since to the most industrious of workman these old fragments still serve as examples. Look, then, and see how from day to day Rome, ransacking her ancient resting place, reshapes herself employing parts of works divine; thou wilt then think that the Roman spirit is trying once again with fateful hand to bring to life these dusty ruins.

Critics have wondered whether these sentiments and others like them were put to paper before or after the sonnets of Les Regrets. It had long been supposed that Les Antiquitez, if begun first, was put aside for the writing of the more personal Regrets. Professor Saulnier has demonstrated more or less conclusively that the two volumes were complementary and that they could hardly have been written except simultaneously.32 He also adds, in some irritation, that the effort of source seeking has gone too far and that scholars have even been capable at times of mistaking random and altogether spontaneous recollections for outright borrowing.33

To choose between Du Bellay's two most famous collections is all but impossible, for each has its own particular charm. Perhaps no choice can be made. Les Antiquitez offers us, as it were, the keys to the city; Les Regrets, the key to the poet's heart.


In the same volume in which Les Antiquitez de Rome appeared, Du Bellay included a series of fifteen sonnets which resembled nothing that he had ever done before. Deserting even the poetic realism of mythology, he plunged straight into a world of fantasy, a world of unbridled imagination and total unreality. In one of the final sonnets in this strange series there is a reference to the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The reference is timely, and one asks oneself whether Du Bellay, no serious Bible scholar, had by chance been reading the Scriptures and whether he was led thereby to try his hand at the writing of an apocalyptic vision in sonnet form. Significantly, he called his work Songe, and the title is wonderfully descriptive. Commentators have had a happy time trying to make sense of this wildly imagined vision, for although there are here and there some flashes of meaning, by and large the Songe is a hermetically sealed mystery.

Having taken leave, in this sequence, of the actual city of Rome, the poet lets his fancy wander at will. He imagines palaces and other grandiose structures built of marble and encrusted with precious stones. The result, if dazzling, tends also to be unreal. The hidden meaning, if any, appears to be that Rome, after rising to unparalleled heights, after building palaces and baths and other public structures of great beauty, was torn asunder by the barbarian invasions—or at least such is a possible interpretation of his reference to “winds from the north” which destroy the city. Further, the white and shining marble edifices seem to signify the Rome of the early days, when the city was new and the greatest of noble and patriotic Romans walked the city's streets. The tumbling of the palaces in its turn signifies Rome's fall. So much is easy to imagine, but individual poems seem, almost all of them, to hide references to specific catastrophes, some of them contemporary with Du Bellay's stay in the city. These we shall never succeed in untangling, for into their creation the poet put all his perverse love of puzzles and well-kept secrets. We can even apply to the whole Estienne Pasquier's dictum regarding Maurice Scève, author of the obscure Délie, “I gave up trying to understand him since obviously he did not want to be understood.”

Here as elsewhere at this stage in his career Du Bellay's control over the mechanics of his verse is complete. He has rendered both rhyme and rhythm subservient to his will. He has used two meters, the decasyllabic and the Alexandrine, and his use of the sonnet form is equally masterful. All the more pity, then, that most readers and critics feel that his skills are mainly wasted in the Songe. There are among us few readers interested in enigmas in poetic form. Perhaps in his own day, when puzzles and acrostics were a favorite parlor game, the reception of these sonnets may have been more favorable than it is today. For us not only the enigma but the fantasy tend to be regarded as a squandering of talent. We believe that describing real palaces and real jewels calls for skill of a higher order than that required to take leave of reality and simply allow the mind to drift into daydreams of kaleidoscopic brilliance. Therefore, except insofar as they interest the scholar and antiquarian, the sonnets of the Songe are doomed to oblivion. And, as is the case with Du Bellay's less striking efforts, this is a pity, for he always manages to put a few good lines into everything that he writes. A single sonnet, one of the better ones, will suffice to suggest the general tenor of the work with its real beauties and technical skill, along with its undoubted limitations. Here is sonnet XIV:

Ayant tant de malheurs gemy profondement,
Je vis une Cité quasi semblable à celle
Que vid le messager de la bonne nouvelle,
Mais basty sur le sable estoit son fondement.
Il sembloit que son chef touchast au firmament,
Et sa forme n'estoit moins superbe que belle:
Digne, s'il en fut onc, digne d'estre immortelle,
Si rien dessous le ciel se fondoit fermement.
J'estois emerveillé de voir si bel ouvrage,
Quand du costé de Nort vint le cruel orage,
Qui soufflant la fureur de son coeur despité
Sur tout ce qui s'oppose encontre sa venüe,
Renversa sur le champ, d'une poudreuses nüe,
Les foibles fondemens de la grande Cité.(34)

Having lamented bitterly so many misfortunes, I saw a city almost like that which the Evangelist saw, but its foundation was built on sand. Its summit seemed to touch the firmament, and its form was no less proud than beautiful, worthy if one ever was, worthy to be immortal, if anything under heaven was solidly built. I stood in wonder to see so fine a work, when from the north came the cruel storm which, exhaling the fury of its angry heart on everything that stood against its coming, overturned at once with a fine cloud the weak foundations of the great city.

Du Bellay enthusiasts find even this sort of composition worth reading for the sufficient reason that it comes from the master's pen, but surely it is “caviar to the general.”


  1. Pierre Villey, Sources italiennes de la “Deffence” de Joachim du Bellay (Paris: Champion, 1908), pp. 71-75.

  2. Natale Addamiano, “Quelques sources italiennes de la Deffence de Joachim du Bellay,” Revue de la littérature comparé, 3 (1923), 177-89.

  3. Hedwig Aebly, Von der Imitation zur Originalität, Untersuchungen am Werke Joachim du Bellay (Zurich: Villiger, 1942), pp. 10-11.

  4. Isidore Silver, “Du Bellay and the Hellenic Poetry: A Cursory Review,” Publications of the Modern Language Association, 60 (March-June, 1945), 66-80, 356-63, 670-81.

  5. Hendrik de Noo, Sebillet et son Art poetique françoys rapproché de la Deffence et illustration de la langue françoise de Joachim du Bellay (Utrecht: Beijers, 1927), p. 125.

  6. Du Bellay, Oeuvres poétiques, IV, 180-81; V, 272-73.

  7. Letter from Charles Fontaine to Jean de Morel, cited by R. L. Hawkins, Maistre Charles Fontaine, Parisien (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916), pp. 150-52.

  8. Noo, op. cit., p. 123, n. 1.

  9. Pierre de Nolhac, Ronsard et l'humanisme (Paris: Champion, 1921), p. 103.

  10. M. A. Screech, Les Regrets (Geneva: Droz, 1966), p. 17.

  11. Nolhac, Lettres de Joachim du Bellay, p. 29.

  12. René Jasinski, “Sur la composition des Regrets,” Mélanges Lefranc (Paris: Droz, 1936), pp. 339-48.

  13. Alexis François, Les Sonnets suisses de Joachim du Bellay (Lausanne: Librairie de l'Université, 1946), passim.

  14. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques, II, 55, sonnet IV.

  15. Joseph Vianey, Les Regrets de Joachim du Bellay (Paris: Nizet, 1967), Ch. 7.

  16. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques. II, 76-77, sonnet XXXI.

  17. Ibid., II, 52, sonnet I.

  18. Ibid., II, 58-59, sonnet VIII.

  19. Ibid., II, 92, sonnet LII.

  20. Ibid., II 118, sonnet LXXXVI.

  21. Ibid., II, 156, sonnet CXXX.

  22. Nolhac, Lettres de Du Bellay, pp. 43-45.

  23. Chamard, Du Bellay, pp. 457-59.

  24. Frank M. Chambers, “Lucan and the ‘Antiquitez de Rome,’” Publications of the Modern Language Association, 60 (December, 1945), 937-48. See also Joseph Vianey, “Les Antiquitez de Rome, leurs sources latines et italiennes,” Bulletin italien, I (1901), 187-99.

  25. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques, II, 4, sonnet I.

  26. Ibid., II, 11, sonnet VIII.

  27. V. L. Saulnier, “Commentaires sur les Antiquitez de Rome,” Bibliothèque de l'humanisme et Renaissance, 12 (1950), 114, 143.

  28. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques, II, 16 sonnet XVI.

  29. Ibid., II, 14, sonnet XIII.

  30. Joseph Fucilla, “A Sonnet in Du Bellay's Antiquitez de Rome,” Modern Language Notes, 61 (1946), 260-62.

  31. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques, II, 25, sonnet XXVII.

  32. V. L. Saulnier, Du Bellay, l'homme et l'œuvre, p. 73.

  33. Ibid.

  34. Du Bellay, Ouvres poétiques, II, 38-39.

Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources

Ouvres poetiques. Edition critique par Henri Chamard, Vols. I-VI. Paris: Droz, 1908-31.

Secondary Sources

Chamard, Henri. Joachim du Bellay, 1522-1560. Lille: Au Siège de l'Université, 1900. The basic biography of Du Bellay, old but still good.

Nolhac, Pierre De. Lettres de Joachim du Bellay. Paris: Charavay, 1883. The letters are an indispensable tool for students of Du Bellay.

———. Ronsard et l’humanisme. Paris: Champion, 1921. Since during their time of study the careers of Ronsard and Du Bellay were closely intermingled, this book is most useful.

Saulnier, Verdun L. Les Antiquitez de Rome de Joachim du Bellay. Paris: Centre de documentation universitaire, 1950. An excellent new study.

———. Du Bellay, l'homme et l'œuvre. Paris: Boivin, 1951. A new and excellent biography.

Principal Works

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Le Deffence et Illustration de le Langue Françoyse (criticism) 1549

L'Olive (poetry) 1549

Les Regrets et autres oeuvres poétiques [The Regrets] (poetry) 1558

Premier livre des antiquités de Rome (poetry) 1558

Oeuvres françaises [edited by Guillaume Aubert and Jean Morel] (collected works) 1568

Ruins of Rome [translated by Edmund Spenser] (poetry) 1591

Oeuvres poétiques. [6 vols.; edited by Henri Chamard] (poetry) 1907-31

The Defence and Glorification of the French Language [translated by Elizabeth Smulders] (criticism) 1935

The Defence and Illustration of the French Language [translated by Gladys M. Turquet] (criticism) 1939

La deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse [edited by Henri Chamard] (criticism) 1997

A critical edition of the circumstantial verse of Joachim Du Bellay [edited by David Julian Hartley] (poetry) 2000

Jo Ann Della Neva (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: Della Neva, Jo Ann. “Illustrating the Deffence: Imitation And Poetic Perfection In Du Bellay's Olive.The French Review: Journal Of The American Association Of Teachers Of French 61, no. 1 (1987): 38-49.

[In the essay which follows, Della Neva explores the possible influences upon two of Du Bellay's works]

As literary historians have often pointed out, two of Joachim Du Bellay's earliest important works were, in fact, published simultaneously. His Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, [Hereafter referred to as DI] the theoretical work destined to become the chief poetic manifesto of the Pléiade, and his first edition of the Olive, [Hereafter referred to as O] a 50-sonnet petrarchist sequence, were published under the same privilège in 1549.1 One year later, Du Bellay published a second, expanded version of the Olive, this one containing 115 sonnets in the Petrarchan manner. In his preface to this second Olive, Du Bellay explains why he wrote his first poems:

Considerant encores nostre langue estre bien loing de sa perfection, … je voulu bien y faire quelque essay de ce peu d'esprit que la Nature m'a donné. Voulant donques enrichir nostre vulgaire d'une nouvelle, ou plustost ancienne renouvelée poësie, je m'adonnay à l'immitation des anciens Latins et des poëtes Italiens.

(O 44, italics added)

Du Bellay thus implies that one of the most striking features of the Olive is its use of language, a language that has been enriched through the imitation of classical and Italian models in an effort to perfect it.

Later, Du Bellay goes on to reveal his reasons for composing the Deffence. Fearing that his audience would consider his early poetry strange and would not understand this new poetic endeavor, Du Bellay wrote the Deffence to accompany these poems so that his literary theory could serve as an explanation to the poetry that followed:

Je craignoy' un autre inconvenient. … C'est que telle nouveauté de poësie pour le commencement seroit trouvée fort etrange et rude. Au moyen de quoy, voulant prevenir cete mauvaise opinion, et quasi comme applanir le chemin à ceux qui, excitez par mon petit labeur, voudroient enrichir nostre vulgaire de figures et locutions estrangeres, je mis en lumiere ma Deffence et illustration de la langue françoise: ne pensant toutefois au commencement faire plus grand oeuvre qu'une epistre et petit advertissement au lecteur.

(O 46)

According to Du Bellay, then, the Deffence constitutes a sort of preface to his early poetry, and indeed it echoes much of the actual prefaces to the sonnet sequence. These passages together imply that the Olive and the Deffence share a common concern: the development of the French vernacular as an excellent medium of poetic expression.2

Not only does the Olive provide a practical illustration to the theory of poetic perfection expounded in the Deffence, it also thematizes this issue in several sonnets. Here, however, Du Bellay's concern with attaining perfection in poetic expression is always directly related to the perfection of his beloved. Du Bellay insists that his love for Olive demands that he seek excellence in poetic expression, for she is undoubedly deserving of the best that art can achieve. It is in this sense that the Olive can be said to illustrate the Deffence: for both works bear witness to Du Bellay's desire to seek perfection in poetic expression, whether it be for the glory of France or for the glory of his beloved.

The theme of Olive's perfect beauty is first linked to the theme of the poet's expression in Olive “6.” After describing his beloved's dazzling face (which is comparable to the sun, since no one could behold their brilliance without being blinded), the poet-lover questions his ability to praise his beloved adequately, since he cannot even gaze on her as he would like:

Regardez doncq' si suffisant je suys
A vous louer, qui seulement ne puys
Vos grands beautez contempler à mon gré.

(O “6”: 9-11)

This self-doubt is expressed once again in Olive “8”:

Auray'-je bien de louer le pouvoir
Ceste beauté, qui decore le monde,
Quand pour orner sa chevelure blonde
Je sens ma langue ineptement mouvoir?

(O “8”: 1-4)

Similarly, in Olive “20,” Du Bellay employs a variation of the inexpressibility topos, comparing himself unfavorably to Homer, the epitome of perfect literary expression:

Puis que les cieux m'avoient predestiné
A vous aymer, digne object de celuy
Par qui Achille est encor' aujourdhuy
Contre les Grecz pour s'amye obstiné,
Pourquoy aussi n'avoient-ilz ordonné
Renaitre en moy l'ame et l'esprit de luy?

(O “20”: 1-6)

According to Du Bellay, the subject of his poetry is worthy to be praised by a true master of eloquence. While one might think that Olive's beauty should inspire poetic perfection, Du Bellay implies that he has been cheated by the gods who have not bestowed on him the gift of eloquence they had lavished on Homer. Du Bellay's choice of Homer to represent the perfect model of literary excellence in this sonnet once again recalls the arguments he developed in the Deffence, which likewise posited classical authors such as Homer as models of perfection.

Perhaps nowhere in the Olive is the theme of perfect poetic expression in the manner of the ancients (as required by Olive's perfect beauty) more evident than in Olive “62.” While this sonnet was first published in the expanded version of the Olive, one year after the publication of the Deffence, it still echoes some of the concerns of that treatise; for its theme, as Ernesta Caldarini rightfully suggests, is the “recherche d'une forme littéraire aussi noble et ornée que celle de l'ancienne poésie” (O 116):

Qui voudra voir le plus precieux arbre
Que l'orient ou le midy avoüe,
Vienne où mon fleuve en ses ondes se joüe:
Il y verra l'or, l'ivoire et le marbre.
Il y verra les perles, le cinabre
Et le cristal: et dira que je loüe
Un digne object de Florence et Mantoüe,
De Smyrne encor', de Thebes et Calabre.
Encor' dira que la Touvre et la Seine
Avec' la Saone arriveroient à peine
A la moitié d'un si divin ouvrage:
Ne cetuy là qui naguere a faict lire
En lettres d'or gravé sur son rivage
Le vieil honneur de l'une et l'autre lire.

In this poem, Du Bellay invites his readers to behold his beloved, here described as “le plus precieux arbre” since she is identified with the olive tree by virtue of her name. Like Olive “20,” Olive “62” declares that Du Bellay's beloved is worthy to be sung by the greatest authors. The repetition of the phrase “digne object” in both sonnets (O “20”:2; O “62”:7) serves as a lexical link between these two thematically similar poems. Also like O “20,” O “62” does not explicitly name the great authors for whom Olive would be a worthy object of praise. Instead, Du Bellay uses the device of antonomasia, in which a descriptive phrase is substituted for a proper name. In the second quatrain of Olive “62,” these writers are evoked by means of the names of the geographical locations with which they were associated: Florence (Petrarch), Mantua (Virgil), Smyrna (Homer), Thebes (Pindar) and Calabria (Horace). In the Deffence, Du Bellay had repeatedly held up these same authors as models for the aspiring poet to emulate; the implication was that poetic perfection could be achieved not only by divine inspiration, but also (and perhaps more importantly) by imitating the excellence of those authors whose work had attained the stature of a classic. The presence of this catalogue of classical models in O “62,” a sonnet that also treats the theme of perfect expression worthy of the beloved's own perfection, is likewise suggestive of the importance of imitation in the development of an excellent medium of poetic expression. Since O “62” is, as both scholarly editions of the Olive have pointed out, itself inspired by a well-known poem contained in Petrarch's Rime sparse, [Hereafter referred to as R]3 it seems legitimate to look more closely at this sonnet as a guide to Du Bellay's understanding of imitative practice as a means of achieving the poetic perfection Olive so richly deserves.

Petrarch's R 248 and Du Bellay's O “62” are no doubt thematically similar: they both praise the beauty of the beloved and raise the issue of poetry's ability to express that beauty.

Chi vuol veder quantunque po Natura
e'l Ciel tra noi, venga a mirar costei
ch' è sola un sol, non pur a li occhi mei
ma la mondo cieco che vertù non cura;
et venga tosto, perché Morte fura
prima i migliori et lascia star i rei:
questa aspettata al regno delli dei
cosa bella mortal passa et non dura.
Vedrà, s'arriva a tempo, ogni vertute,
ogni bellezza, ogni real costume
giunti in un corpo con mirabil tempre:
Allor dirà che mie rime son mute,
l'ingegno offeso dal soverchio lume.
Ma se più tarda, avra da pianger sempre.

(R 248)

The rhetorical articulation of the first quatrain in each of these poems is identical. Du Bellay faithfully translates the opening words of R 248 and the subsequent clauses revolving around the invitation to “come see” the beloved's beauty (“Chi vuol veder … venga … vedrà” / “Qui voudra voir … vienne … verra”). But this does not imply that Du Bellay did not transform his sources in an effort to make them his own. First, Du Bellay replaced Petrarch's sun image (“ch' è sola un sol,” v. 3) with the tree (“le plus precieux arbre,” v. 1) that represents his beloved. Just as Petrarch associated his Laura with the laurel tree, an evergreen symbolizing, among other things, the reward of poetic glory, so did Du Bellay identify his beloved Olive with the olive tree. While Du Bellay may thus have been inspired by Petrarch's symbol of poetic glory, he nevertheless transforms that image, establishing the olive as his very own symbol of glory.4

Still another transformation in the Petrarchan model occurs in Du Bellay's description of Olive's beauty. In R 248, Petrarch surely alludes to Laura's loveliness, but only in vague, general terms (“cosa bella mortal,” v. 8 and “ogni vertute / ogni bellezza, ogni real costume,” vv. 9-10). Du Bellay, however, fragments his beloved into distinct, individually describable units. He enumerates his lady's charms through a series of mineral images traditionally associated with these precise parts of a woman's body: gold (hair), ivory and marble (skin and/or hands), pearls (teeth), cinnebar (lips) and crystal (eyes). These images are petrarchist clichés which Du Bellay's readers no doubt encountered on countless occasions in the French and Italian love poetry of the time. It is tempting to conclude, therefore, that in O “62” Du Bellay is merely drawing from the stockpile of conventional images available to him.

But upon closer inspection, it is reasonable to suggest a specific subtext for this quatrain of O “62,” one that is not mentioned by either of the two modern editors of the Olive: a poem by Girolamo Parabosco, a minor Italian poet anthologized by Gabriel Giolito:

Chi uuol ueder tutta raccolta insieme
Quanta fu mai bellezza, & leggiadria,
Miri la donna mia.
Vedrà i biondi capei
Auanzar di uaghezza il più fin oro.
D'auorio il fronte spatioso, & schietto,
Et quella, onde uorrei
spesso morir, tanto n'haurei diletto,
Bocca di bei rubin, ch'asconder suole
Quelle perle d'Amor ricco thesoro.(5)

Du Bellay was probably aware of Parabosco's own imitation of R 248, for as Caldarini's notes attest, he frequently used poems contained in the Giolito anthology as sources for his Olive. While it is true that only three mineral images appear in both O “62” and Parabosco's poem (gold, ivory, pearls), it is equally true that the structure of the two texts (the Petrarchan formula “chi vuol veder” followed by a fragmentary description of the beloved) is identical. Petrarch's R 248 is undoubtedly the “official” subtext of O “62,” to use Thomas Greene's term, one “whose presence as subtext an integral reading is compelled to acknowledge” (19). Still Parabosco's poem does provide and “ornamental” subtext, one whose constituent parts could be fragmented and incorporated within the larger structure to enhance its detail.

There is, in addition, one notable expression in the list of stock images in O “62”: the word “cinabre” or cinnabar, referring to the redness of the lady's lips. This somewhat technical term, signifying the mercuric sulfide used to make vermilion pigment, was never used by Petrarch in the Rime or by Du Bellay's immediate petrarchist predecessor, Maurice Scève, in the Délie.6 Indeed, this may well be the first metonymic use of this technical term to be found in the French language.7 This is not surprising, since the appropriation of technical terms was one of the ways aspiring poets were advised by Du Bellay to enrich the French language, a major concern of the Deffence:

Encores te veux-je advertir de hanter quelquesfois, non seulement les scavans, mais aussi toutes sortes d'ouvriers & gens mecaniques, comme mariniers, fondeurs, peintres, engraveurs & autres, scavoir leurs inventions, les noms des matieres, des outilz, & les termes usitez en leurs ars & metiers, pour tyrer de la ces belles comparaisons & vives descriptions de toutes choses.

(DI 172)

Du Bellay thus seems to be illustrating his own advice in using this technical term to draw a novel comparison within a traditional framework.

But Du Bellay's inspiration to use this heretofore uncommon word may have come at least as much from a literary text as from everyday life. While it is true that Petrarch himself did not use the word “cinabro” in describing Laura's lips, another Italian poet, Ludovico Ariosto, did employ this metonym in one of the most celebrated passages of the Orlando Furioso, the portrait of Alcina: “Sotto quel sta, quasi fra due vallette, / la bocca sparsa di natio cinabro” (7: 13, 1-2).8 It is significant, but not surprising, that this passage is cited as the earliest metonymic use of this term in Italian:9 for Du Bellay had, in the Deffence, praised Ariosto for enriching the Italian language and thus rendering his epic virtually equal to the work of the greatest classical writers:

si tu as quelquefois pitié de ton pauvre Langaige, si tu daignes l'enrichir de tes thesors, ce sera toy veritablement qui luy feras hausser la teste, & d'un brave sourcil s'egaler aux superbes Langues Grecque & Latine, comme a faict de nostre tens en son vulgaire un Arioste Italien, que j'oseroy' (n'estoit la saincteté des vieulx poëmes) comparer à un Homere & Virgile.

(DI 128)

Du Bellay was thus apparentely impressed by Ariosto's eagerness to borrow words and enrich his language and may well have been struck by his innovative use of the technical term “cinabro” in his portrait of Alcina. At any rate, it is their common use of this unusual term—what Michael Riffaterre might call an “interpretant” (81-114)—that allows the reader to identify this passage from the Furioso as yet another (albeit distant) subtext of O “62.”

There is, moreover, a still more obvious subtext for Du Bellay's sonnet, as both Caldarini and Chamard point out: R 247, the poem immediately preceding Du Bellay's primary model in the Rime sparse:

Parrà forse ad alcun che 'n lodar quella
ch'i' adoro in terra, errante sia 'l mio stile
faccendo lei sovr'ogni altra gentile,
santa, saggia, leggiadra, onesta et bella.
A me par il contrario, et temo ch'ella
non abbia a schifo il mio dir troppo umile,
degna d'assai più alto et più sottile;
et chi nol crede venga egli a vedella,
sì dirà ben: “Quello ove questi aspira
è cosa da stancare Atene, Arpino,
Mantova et Smirna, et l'una et l'altra lira.
“Lingua mortale al suo stato divino
giunger non pote; Amor la spinge et tira
non per elezion ma per destino.”

(R 247)

This sonnet also treats the inexpressibility topos and is further linked to R 248 by the obvious echo in verse eight, “venga a vedella.” In this way, its relationship to R 248 is comparable to that of O “61” to O “62,” for O “61” announces the subject of O “62” through the repetition of certain lexical items: “souhaitez luy de voir / l'heureux object qui m'a faict malheureux” (vv. 13-14). But the fragment of R 247 that serves as a direct model for O “62” is limited to the first tercet, in which Petrarch alludes to the famous classical writers who would tire in the arduous task of singing Laura's praises adequately. These writers, like those in O “62,” are evoked by means of the names of the places where they were born: Athens (Demosthenes), Arpinum (Cicero), Mantua (Virgil), Smyrna (Homer), Thebes (Pindar) and Calabria (Horace).

There are, however, a number of significant changes that Du Bellay enacts upon this Petrarchan source in Olive “62.” In R 247, Petrarch declares that these famous writers would tire (i.e., be incapable) of adequately describing Laura, just as he fears he is not able to do justice to her exceptional beauty in his own poetry. It is Love, however, who destined him to attempt such a daring feat. Du Bellay, on the other hand, states that his beloved would be a worthy object of praise for the very best writers. The implication is that they, and perhaps they alone, would be capable of singing Olive's praises adequately.

A less subtle change that Du Bellay enacts upon his source consists in the way he alters Petrarch's list of great writers. The most obvious of these changes is the fact that Petrarch himself appears at the head of this catalogue that, in effect, constitutes a canon of approved authors. In this way, Du Bellay bestows a place of honor on the poet whose sonnets were the chief sources of O “62” and indeed of the Olive as a whole. Moreover, by adding Petrarch to his list Du Bellay suggests that his canon of great authors is infinitely expandable. A poet such as Petrarch, who had himself imitated prior great poets, is now made equal to his models as he takes his place alongside them in Du Bellay's poem.

As for the classical models mentioned, Du Bellay retains the names of Virgil and Homer, appearing in R 247, but substitutes Pindar and Horace for Demosthenes and Cicero. While the latter writers figure prominently in the Deffence, being mentioned together in two passages (23-24; 27-28) that closely resemble the list of famous writers contained in Petrarch's sonnet, their appearance in O “62” would be somewhat inappropriate: for Du Bellay is obviously treating the merits of poetic language as distinct from the prose discourse for which these orators were justly famous. Likewise, in the Deffence, Du Bellay establishes a similar distinction, limiting the subject of his treatise to the development of the poet, not the orator, since that objective had already been treated by Etienne Dolet (85-86; 87-89). By eliminating the names of the two classical orators and replacing them with the names of poets, Du Bellay thus gives a greater coherence to his list in O “62.”

In the first tercet of O “62,” Du Bellay again uses the device of antonomasia (that was no doubt inspired by R 247) in enumerating a series of French rivers representing contemporary poets: the Touvre (Mellin de Saint-Gelais), the Seine (Antoine Héroët) and the Saône (Scève). But unlike the catalogue of the second quatrain, the list of poets mentioned here are those incapable of singing Olive's praises: for Du Bellay clearly states that, even put together, they are scarcely capable of half such a task (“arriveroient à peine / A la moitié d'un si divin ouvrage,” vv. 9-10). This distinction between the foreign, classical poets and the modern French poets is made even sharper by the visual separation of the sonnet into quatrains and tercets, as well as by the use of the adverb “encore,” which is to be understood in the disjunctive sense of “furthermore.”

This less than flattering evaluation of what were considered to be the best French poets of the time is, once more, echoed in the Deffence:

Quand à moy, si j'etoy' enquis de ce que me semble de notz meilleurs poëtes Francoys, je diroy' … qu'ilz ont bien ecrit, qu'ilz ont illustré notre Langue, que la France leur est obligée: mais aussi diroy-je bien qu'on pouroit trouver en notre Langue (si quelque scavant homme y vouloit mettre la main) une forme de poësie beaucoup plus exquise, la quele il faudroit chercher en ces vieux Grecz & Latins, non point és aucteurs Francoys.

(DI 99-100, italics added)

Du Bellay's suggestion that the aspiring poet avoid French models and turn to classical sources is symbolized, in O “62,” by the shift in tone between the second quatrain—ending (significantly) with allusions to Pindar and Horace, the two classical models for the ode—and the first tercet, which begins with an allusion to Saint-Gelais, a French composer of “odes” exalted by Thomas Sebillet in his Art Poétique Françoys of 1549, but damned by Du Bellay in the Deffence (DI 114-115).10

Unlike Du Bellay, Sebillet had urged aspiring poets to emulate those French models who had attained the stature of a classic:

Si le voeil-je bien aviser que l'invention, et le jugement compris soubz elle se conferment et enrichissent par la lecture des bons et classiques pöétes françois comme sont entre les vieux Alain Chartier, et Jan de Meun: mais plus lui profiteront les jeunes comme imbus de la pure source françoise, esclercie par feu tresillustre et tréssavant Prince François Roy de France, vivant pére de son peuple, et des Pöétes françois, entre lesquelz lira le novice dés muses françoises, Marot, Saingelais, Salel, Heroet, Scéve, et telz autres bons espris … et autrement les suivre pas a pas comme l'enfant la nourrice, partout ou il vouldra cheminer par dedans le pré de Pöésie.

(APF 26-27, italics added).

It is perhaps no accident, then, that, given Sebillet's allusion to the “pure source françoise,” Du Bellay chose to represent these French poets by the names of the rivers that flow through their hometowns: for these rivers are, in effect, French sources that here symbolize French literature. In this way, the rivers mentioned in the first tercet are comparable to the homelands mentioned in the last quatrain, for each of these is ultimately an image of a source, an indicator of origins, both of the poets themselves and of the poetry they write.11 The first group of sources are acceptable, as both O “62” and the Deffence imply. The second list, composed of native sources, is unacceptable for the aspiring poet.

Despite the somewhat disparaging implications made concerning French poetry in the first tercet of O “62,” the final tercet of Du Bellay's sonnet does present at least a glimmer of hope for the future of French poetry. Here, Du Bellay alludes to Ronsard's recent lyrical accomplishment in more flattering terms. Finally, French literature can boast of a poet who chooses a proper form and writes in a classical manner, rejuvenating “le vieil honneur de l'une et l'autre lyre” (v. 14). This last hemistich of v. 14 links O “62” once more to R 247, faithfully translating the last hemistich of that sonnet's first terect (“l'una et l'altra lira”). Yet the last tercet of O “62” is not entirely flattering to Ronsard, despite the claim of primacy made for him, for it is clear that the negative adverb “ne” at the beginning of verse 12 puts Ronsard in the same category as those poets alluded to in the first tercet: they are all incapable of singing Olive's praises adequately. Perhaps Du Bellay's pejorative comment is merely an example of hyperbole, intended to emphasize Olive's great beauty and virtue: she is so remarkable that even so fine a poet as Ronsard would be unequal to this task. At any rate, this somewhat negative portrayal of Ronsard's verses serves to emphasize further Du Bellay's need to create the perfect poetic expression that Olive deserves.

This reading of O “62” thus demonstrates how Du Bellay's concern for enriching the French vernacular, a theoretical concept expounded at great length in his Deffence, is thematized in the Olive under the guise of praising his beloved's perfection. Moreover, as an innovative re-working of a famous Petrarchan sonnet, it further demonstrates how imitation of classical sources may be the means to perfecting French poetic expression. Indeed, O “62” contains, in its initial quatrain, an image that is truly emblematic of Du Bellay's theory of imitation. Du Bellay's poetry does not spring from a “pure source françoise,” that is, from the heads of rivers such as the Seine, the Touvre and the Saône. Instead, it is like the olive tree itself, a precious plant not native to the poet's homeland but found in more exotic, foreign locations. The olive has its origins in the east and the south (‘l'orient ou le mydy”); it is, in effect, one of the “richesses orientales” that Du Bellay refers to in the Deffence (62). These are, of course, precisely the lands of the poets mentioned in the second tercet of O “62.” The implication is, then, that a precious resource, namely literary excellence, has been developed for ages in foreign countries, much as the olive has been grown in these lands. But, with proper care, it can be cultivated elsewhere, even in Anjou, as these verses from O “61” suggest:

Allez, mes vers, portez dessus voz aeles
Les sainctz rameaux de ma plante divine
Seul ornement de la terre Angevine

(O “61”: 1-3)

The poet's task, then, is literally to transplant this foreign material, to nurture it and let it take root, so that it can eventually thrive on the poet's home shore, the banks of the Loir, as Du Bellay's almost visionary sonnet suggests. This transplantation is not unlike the one suggested in this passage of the Deffence, where Du Bellay describes how the French must cultivate their language as the Romans cultivated Latin:

si les anciens Romains eussent eté aussi negligens à la culture de leur Langue, quand permierement [sic] elle commenca à pululer, pour certain en si peu de tens elle ne feust devenue si grande. Mais eux, en guise de bons agriculteurs, l'ont premierement-transmuée d'un lieu sauvaige en un domestique: puis affin que plus tost & mieux elle peust fructifier, coupant à l'entour les inutiles rameaux, l'ont pour echange d'iceux restaurée de rameaux francz & domestiques, magistralement tirez de la Langue Greque, les quelz soudainement se sont si bien entez & faiz semblables à leur tronc, que desormais n'apparoissent plus adoptifz, maiz naturelz.

(DI 25, italics added)

This passage, which is itself based on another Italian text, the Dialogo delle lingue of Sperone Speroni, explains how transplantation of a foreign element can lead to the development of a new native plant. It is perhaps in this sense that “Olive,” the ostensible pretext of Du Bellay's love poetry, acquires her fullest meaning, for she respresents the transplantation of a foreign literary tradition onto native French soil.


  1. The original edition of the Deffence owed by the B.N. (La Deffence, et illustration de la langue françoyse, par I.D.B.A., Paris: Arnoul l'Angelier, 1549) is bound together with L'Olive et Quelques autres Œuvres poeticques (Cinquante sonnetz à la louange de l'Olive, l'Anterotique de la vieille, & de la ieune amye, Vers Lyriques), par I.D.B.A., Paris: Arnoul l'Angelier, 1549.

  2. The mutual illumination offered by the Olive and the Deffence has been noted by Gray, who remarks: “Entre la Deffence et l'Olive, des échanges ont dû se produire; l'Olive, par son caractère elliptique et obscur, demandait les explications de la Deffence, tandis que la Deffence, par ses audaces, ses nouveautés, ses imprécisions, avait besoin de l'illustration de l'Olive” (30). Ferguson maintains that this interrelationship has not been adequately explored: “Because critics tend to distinguish sharply between critical and imaginative texts, they have missed the ways in which Du Bellay's poetry may illuminate his exposition of a theory of poetry” (276).

  3. See Caldarini (116) and Œuvres poetiques I (L'Olive, L'Anterotique, XIII Sonnetz de l'Honneste Amour), ed. Chamard (78-79).

  4. On the olive as a symbol of glory, see Joukovsky (374-390).

  5. Found in Rime diversi di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte, vol. I (322), vv. 4-10. Other Italian imitations of R 248 in the Giolito anthology include Giovanni Guidiccione, “Chi desia di veder dove s'adora” (159), and Ludovico Dolce, “Chi vuol veder raccolte in un soggetto” (331).

  6. Consult McKenzie and Nash on this point.

  7. The first attested use of “cinabre” as a metonym for “couleur rouge” is Ronsard's Amours de 1552, “et de son teint le cinabre vermeil,” sonnet 62 (“Les Elemenz, & les Astres, à preuve”). See on this point, Trésor de la langue francaise, vol 5 (812). But Du Bellay's use obviously precedes this by two years.

  8. On the imitation of the portrait of Alcina by Pléiade poets, see Weber, (265-68).

  9. Consult the Grande dizionario della lingua italiana, vol. 3 (148-49.)

  10. For a discussion of Saint-Gelais's chansons see Stone, (21). In his analysis of Saint-Gelais's “odes,” Stone concludes that Du Bellay wrongfully criticized his compatriot, whose poems were indeed different from “chansons vulgaires” (34-45).

  11. Du Bellay also used a similar river/source image in Olive 77. For an extensive discussion of such imagery, see David Quint's essential study.

Works Cited

Ariosto, Ludovico. Opere. Ed. Adriano Seroni. Milan: Mursia, n.d.

Du Bellay, Joachim. La Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse. Ed. Henri Chamard, 1948. Paris: Didier, 1966.

———. Œuvres poétiques. Vol. I (L'Olive, L'Anterotique, XIII Sonnetz de l'Honneste Amour). Ed. Henri Chamard. 2nd ed. 1902. Paris: Nizet, 1982.

———. L'Olive. Ed. E[rnesta] Caldarini. Geneva: Droz, 1974.

Durling, Robert M., trans. Petrarch's Lyric Poems. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1976.

Ferguson, Margaret W. “The Exile's Defense: Du Bellay's La Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse,PMLA 93 (1978): 275-289.

Grande dizionario della lingua italiana. Vol. 3. Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editore Torinese.

Gray, Floyd. La Poétique de Du Bellay. Paris: Nizet, 1978.

Greene, Thomas M. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982.

Joukovsky, Françoise. La Gloire dans la poésie française et néo-latine du XVIesiècle (Des rhétoriqueurs à Agrippa d'Aubigné). Geneva: Droz, 1969.

McKenzie, Kenneth. Concordanza delle rime di Francesco Petrarca. New Haven: Yale UP, 1912.

Nash, Jerry C. Concordance de la Délie. U of N. Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 174. 2 Vols. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1976.

Quint, David. Origin and Originality in Renaissance Literature: Versions of the Source. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.

Riffaterre, Michael. Semiotics of Poetry. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.

Rime diversi di molti eccellentiss. auttori nuovamente raccolte. Vol. 1. Venice: Giolito de Ferrari, 1545.

Sebillet, Thomas. Art poétique françoys. Ed. Felix Gaiffe. STFM. Paris: Droz, 1932.

Stone, Donald. Mellin de Saint-Gelais and Literary History. French Forum Monographs, 47. Lexington: French Forum, 1983.

Trésor de la langue française. Vol. 5. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1977.

Weber, Henri. La Création poétique au XVIesiècle en France de Maurice Scève à Agrippa d'Aubigné. Paris: Nizet, 1955.

Further Reading

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Cooper, Richard. “Poetry In Ruins: The Literary Context of Du Bellay's Cycles on Rome” Renaissance Studies: Journal of the Society of Renaissance Studies 3, no. 2 (1989): 156-166.

Examines the works written by Du Bellay in Rome, and compares them to the literature of Classical Rome.

Macadoo, Jane. “Du Bellay's Hymne de la Surdité: Or, the Puzzle of the Third Ossicle.” Renaissance Studies: Journal for the Society of Renaissance Studies 8, no.2 (1994): 198-204.

Explores satirical elements of Du Bellay's Hymne de la Surdité.

Persels, Jeffery C. “Charting Poetic Identity in Exile: Entering Du Bellay's Regrets.Romance Notes 23, no. 2 (spring, 1988): 195-202.

Addresses the prefatory poems of Les Regrets.

Additional coverage of Du Bellay's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Guide to French Literature, Beginnings to 1789; and Reference Guide to World Literature.

Eric MacPhail (essay date 1990-91)

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SOURCE: MacPhail, Eric. “Nationalism and Italianism In The Work of Joachim Du Bellay” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 39 (1990-1991): 47-53

[In the essay below, MacPhail casts several of Du Bellay's works in the light of the political climate of Renaissance-era Europe.]

We ordinarily associate nationalism with the political and cultural upheavals of the nineteenth century and indeed the first attested use of the term in French is from a text of 1798 written in the aftermath of the Revolution. Apparently it was l'Abbé Barruel who coined the term “nationalisme” as a pejorative designation for the secular ideology of the Revolution, which he denounced as a degeneration of Christian ethics: “Le nationalisme prit la place de l'amour général. … Alors, il fut permis de mépriser les étrangers, de les tromper et de les offenser. Cette vertu fut appelée patriotisme” (Girardet 7; Nationalism took the place of charity. … Then it was permitted to disdain foreigners, to deceive and offend them. This virtue was named patriotism). From the point of view of lexicography, then, Renaissance nationalism is an anachronism. However, the Renaissance does present an interesting analogy to the Revolution in its secular, patriotic challenge to the international religious culture of Medieval Christendom. Certainly, one of the motive forces of the French Renaissance was a patriotic challenge to Italy's religious and cultural hegemony, a hegemony based or the legacy of the supranational Roman Empire. In fact, in the sixteenth century, Italy was more of a nostalgic ideal than a unified nation,1 whereas France was a newly unified nation in search of an idealized past and an imperial future. Therefore, it may be justifiable, in reference to French Renaissance authors, to emulate the Abbé's vocabulary if not his ideology and to use the terms “patriotism” and “nationalism” interchangeably to signify the expression of a certain belligerent pride in the French people, the French language, and French literary tradition. As we shall see, choice of words in this semantic field was already a motive for criticism in the sixteenth century.

In the dedicatory epistle to his first published work, La deffence et illustration de la langue Françoyse (1549), Joachim Du Bellay assured his uncle and protector Cardinal Jean Du Bellay that his sole motive for undertaking the Deffence was natural affection for the fatherland, “l'affection naturelle envers ma Patrie” (6). This might seem to us a perfectly orthodox profession of patriotism, but some readers have responded skeptically. One particularly hostile commentator named Barthélemy Aneau denounced the term “patrie” as an “Italianate corruption” and declared with nativist pride “qui a païs n'a que faire de patrie” (5). Some 400 years later, a more impartial observer, Henri Chamard, saw in the Deffence “at one and the same time the most patriotic sentiment and the least national spirit” (165; “à la fois le sentiment le plus patriotique et l'esprit le moins national”). Another critic refers with some reservations to Du Bellay's “nationalisme éclairé” (Nakam 150). There are various reasons why critics have responded ambivalently to the self-proclaimed nationalism of the Deffence, including personal animosity in the case of Aneau, but by far the most likely reason why the Deffence should make such a contradictory impression on its readers is Du Bellay's complex relationship to Italy, both to Renaissance Italy and to Ausonia, or classical Italy. The tension between nationalism and Italianism is essential to the elaboration of personal identity and poetic voice in Du Bellay's writing.

Such tension is conspicuous in the Deffence, where it completely overwhelms the expository logic of the text, much to the dismay of commentators from the sixteenth century to the present. From the outset, Du Bellay purports to defend his native language against French humanists who prefer Latin and Greek, but in fact his work is in constant dialogue with the Italians. His defense of French even implicates itself in the Italian debate over a national literary language known as “la questione della lingua.” One of the participants in this debate was Sperone Speroni, whose Dialogo delle lingue (1542) Du Bellay frequently paraphrases in the Deffence. In particular, Du Bellay defends French against charges of barbarity in the same terms as Speroni defended Italian against the chauvinism of Latin humanists (I.ix). Unfortunately for Du Bellay, the intransigent Latinist in Speroni's dialogue, Lazzaro Bonamico, accuses Italian of barbarity precisely for its borrowings from French, Provençal, and other vernaculars: “ella mostra nella sua fronte d'aver avuto la origine e l'accrescimento da' barbari, e da quelli principalmente che più odiarono li Romani, cioè da' Francesi e da' Provenzali” (296; She shows on her face to have originated and grown from barbarians and especially from those who most hated the Romans, that is from the French and the Provençal). Thus, in echoing Speroni, the Deffence inscribes itself in a European movement to emancipate vernacular language from the hegemony of Latin at the same time as it engages the rivalry between France and Italy. It is this rivalry that determines the tortuous course of argument in the Deffence, including the crucial question of barbarity.

As Franco Simone has demonstrated, the French had been answering charges of barbarity since the time of Petrarch. When Pope Urban V prematurely announced the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome in 1367, Petrarch hailed the decision by citing the incipit of Psalm 114: “In exitu Israel de Aegypto domus Iacob de populo barbaro” (Simone, Coscienza 56-57). This transparent reference to the French as a “populus barbarus” sparked an exchange of invectives with the Avignon curial humanist Jean de Hesdin, in a fourteenth-century preview of Renaissance cultural nationalism (Simone, Rinascimento 47-48). While Petrarch's formulations of Italian cultural supremacy are well known, an equally important but largely ignored source of Du Bellay's defensiveness is Lorenzo Valla's Elegantiae Linguae Latinae, whose preface provoked certain indignant echoes in Du Bellay's work.2

In his Elegantiae, dating from 1440, Valla bemoans the state of the Latin language, comparing it to Rome captured by the Gauls: “Nam quis litterarum, quis publici boni amator a lacrymis temperet, cum videat hanc in eo statu esse, quo olim Roma capta a Gallis?” (598; For what lover of literature or of the public welfare would refrain from tears when he saw her in this state, just like Rome when it was captured by the Gauls). He further exhorts all humanists to liberate Latinity from barbarity, as Camillus freed Rome from the Gauls: “Quousque, inquam, Quirites, urbem nostram, non dico domicilium imperii, sed parentem litterarum, a Gallis captam esse patiemini? id est latinitatem a barbaria oppressam?” (600; For how long, I say, Quirites, shall we suffer our city, not the home of empire but rather the mother of literature, to be captured by Gauls: how long, I mean, shall we suffer latinity to be oppressed by barbarity). Rome's claim to be “parens litterarum” is precisely the type of provocation that conditioned the development of cultural nationalism in Northern Europe. When Du Bellay in the second chapter of the Deffence appeals to any impartial judge—“à tout equitable estimateur des choses”—to recognize that French is not a barbarous language (21), he may well remember Valla's rhetorical question of what impartial judge “quis aequus rerum aestimator” does not acknowledge that the Latin language alone cleansed the peoples of the Roman Empire of their barbarity. Moreover, the “Conclusion” to the Deffence inverts Valla's historical metaphor and exhorts the French to retake Rome and avenge themselves on Camillus, “ce traitre Camile” (196). Here it should be noted that the legendary history of the Gauls was a prime locus of French Renaissance nationalism, as Claude-Gilbert Dubois has amply shown.

Despite his patriotic refutation of barbarity, Du Bellay cannot commit himself wholeheartedly to linguistic nationalism. To defend French, he feels somehow obligated to repudiate nearly all of French poetry and to advocate the exclusive imitation of classical and Italian literary models. As part of his campaign to purge French poetry, Du Bellay dismisses traditional native genres such as the “ballade,” “rondeau,” and “virelai” as so many spices that corrupt the taste of the language (108) while he champions Italian forms, especially the sonnet: “Sonne moy ces beaux sonnetz, non moins docte que plaisante invention Italienne” (120; sound me those beautiful sonnets, [that] no less pleasant than learned invention of Italy). As François Rigolot has shown, this imperative is highly ambivalent since it advocates Italianism even as it tries to naturalize the sonnet in French through the use of the verb “sonner,” as if the sonnet had always been French. Some have linked this substitution of the sonnet for traditional lyric forms to the death of Francis I in 1547 and the accession of Henry II, whose queen Catherine de' Medici actively promoted an Italian esthetic in art and letters. More generally, Du Bellay expresses the humanist repudiation of the medieval heritage, a heritage that the precursors of the Pléiade were reluctant to reject.3

Du Bellay's sweeping proposal to reform French poetry provoked fierce opposition from his compatriots, including Barthélemy Aneau who wrote a commentary to the Deffence under the pseudonym of Quintil Horatian where he proposed to retitle Du Bellay's work the “offense and denigration of the French language” (28). In one of the more revealing declarations of the Deffence, following a very disdainful review of French literary tradition, the author admits that his defense of French is somewhat unorthodox, but he assumes that the reader will not find his harsh criticism of French literature strange: “Toutesfoys je croy que tu ne le trouveras point etrange” (101), where “etrange” can carry the sense of “étranger” or foreign. It is in response to this passage from book 2, chapter 2, that le Quintil brands Du Bellay a “peregrineur” (102) or foreigner, precisely because of his estrangement from native literary tradition.4

Du Bellay only confirms this reputation in the last chapter of the Deffence (II.xii), which is ostensibly devoted to the praise of France and of French. This chapter, pretentiously entitled “Exhortation aux Françoys d'ecrire en leur Langue avecques les louanges de la France,” copies its patriotism closely from the second book of the Georgics, where Virgil sings the praises of Italy. This passage from the Georgics is one of the major source texts of Renaissance nationalism, particularly the verse which hails Italy (“Saturnia tellus”) as the great mother of men and harvests: “Salve magna parens frugum, Saturnia tellus, / magna virum” (Georgics II, 173). So often was this verse echoed by European writers of the Renaissance that their expression of national pride can be considered as much a literary convention as a political conviction.

For all his borrowed praise of France, Du Bellay betrays his inveterate Italianism when he pleads with his countrymen to rally to the vernacular just as the Italians have done. With supreme irony, he wonders why the French are so impressed by foreigners, “Pourquoy donques sommes nous si grands admirateurs d'autruy?” (p. 186). The foreigner whom he admires the most is Pietro Bembo, whom he adduces as a model of service to the vernacular. Du Bellay may have felt a particular empathy for Bembo since the latter, both in his own Prose della volgar lingua and as a speaker in Speroni's Dialogo delle lingue, proposed a classicizing reform of Italian poetry based on a return to Petrarch. Du Bellay carries such a reform to the extreme by displacing native poetry completely in favor of Greek, Latin, and Italian models.

In the same year as the Deffence, Du Bellay published a collection of lyric poetry including an “Ode to the Vernacular” that encapsulates his ambivalence to linguistic nationalism. Like the Deffence, the “Ode à Madame Marguerite d'escrire en sa langue” never lives up to its patriotic title. Here, the poet ostentatiously foreswears any desire to frequent foreigners, “Aymant mieulx entre les miens vivre / Que mourir chez les estrangers” (vv. 31-32; preferring to live among his own than to die among foreigners). The opposition of “vivre” and “mourir” presumably refers to the superiority of living vernaculars to the dead languages of antiquity. Despite this xenophobic metaphor, the poem largely ignores French poetry while lavishing praise on Pindar, Horace, Virgil and a host of modern Italians, including Petrarch and Bembo. The reader is left wondering whom Du Bellay intends as his own, “les miens,” and from whom he feels estranged.

This paradox of patriotic estrangement receives its fullest expression in the Poemata or 4 books of Latin poetry which Du Bellay composed in Rome from 1553 to 1557. Having come to Rome as his uncle's secretary, Du Bellay cultivated the acquaintance of various Italian humanists whose names are known to us from the many Latin epigrams that he composed in their honor. In such a milieu, the expression of French nationalism was naturally muted. To the pastoral poet Sanseverino, Du Bellay offers fulsome praises while regretting the inadequacy of his own Latin composition, which he fears will displease his public—“Gallia quos forsan non probet Ausonia” (v. 10). The neologism “Gallia Ausonia” or Italian France, which may refer to Frenchmen in Italy or to French humanists in general, exemplifies Du Bellay's tendency to mediate national identity through Italian models.5

The same impulse betrays itself in the epigram to Annibale Caro entitled “De laudibus Galliae” where Du Bellay thanks Caro for his recent “canzone” in praise of France, which Du Bellay himself translated into French but never published. The “De laudibus” has all the obligatory accents of nationalism including a paraphrase of Virgil's salutation to Italy in the Georgics. Here France fulfills the role of “magna virum frugumque parens, Mavortia tellus” (v. 9), where the pacific Saturnian land of Virgil has become the more belligerent land of Mars, war god. Yet the concept of nationalism, in either a hegemonic sense or a narrow, nativist sense, seems difficult to reconcile with these Latin verses inspired by Italian praise of France and imitated from Latin praise of Italy. In this poem, patriotism is a literary convention shared by an international community that recognizes a common affinity for antiquity.

The question of the “patria” is equally prominent in Du Bellay's Latin elegies, especially his nostalgic “Patriae desiderium.” This work, like the elegiac sonnets of the Regrets, elaborates the persona of the expatriate poet longing for his homeland. Haunted by an “imago patriae” (v. 33) or specter of home, he regrets his separation from “the banks of the Loire, the pastures, the hairy forests, and the fertile fields of Anjou, which in milk and wine and abundant grain vie for praise with ancient Italy” (vv. 37-40; Nec Ligeris ripas, saltus, sylvasque comantes / Cernere et Andini pinguia culta soli, / Quae lacte et Baccho flaventis et ubere campi / Antiquae certant laudibus Italiae). Now, the object of the poet's desire is his “natio” in the Renaissance sense of his province or his birth place, “terre natale.” Nationalism thus entails provincialism. These verses further complicate the question of national loyalty by preferring Anjou to ancient Italy, “Antiqua Italia,” and eliding modern Italy completely.

At the end of his elegy, the poét compares himself to Ovid composing his own sad verses in exile:

Sic teneri quondam vates praeceptor Amoris,
Dum procul a patriis finibus exul agit,
Barbara (nec puduit) Latiis praelata Camoenis
Carmina non propriam condidit ad citharam

(vv. 73-76; Just so, long ago, the poet preceptor of love when exiled far from native shores composed without shame barbarous songs on a foreign lyre preferring them to Latin Muses).

By associating himself with Ovid exiled from Rome, Du Bellay insinuates his own native affinity for that capital of humanism while ironically likening his Latin verses to the “barbara carmina” of Ovid, who claimed to have written poems in Getic while living by the Black Sea (Ex ponto IV,13,19-20), thus returning the traditionally Italian accusation of barbarity to its source. His loyalties divided, the author of the “Patriae desiderium” is exiled both from Anjou and Ausonia, from Ovid's homeland and his own. In effect, the poem suggests that Du Bellay's “patria” is as much a humanist ideal as a geographic reality and that his regret derives from temporal as well as spatial distance. Similarly, Gilbert Gadoffre likens Du Bellay to Erasmus and other humanists for whom the only “patrie” is “la République des lettres” and argues that Du Bellay repudiates the nationalist, anti-humanist myth of “translatio imperii” (99).6 Du Bellay cannot advocate such a transfer of empire while he himself is in transit between different “patriae.”

Du Bellay pursues the theme of exile in his “Elegy” to Pierre de Ronsard, the leading court poet under Henry II and Charles IX and a prolific author of patriotic odes and occasional poems as well as of the epic poem, La Franciade (1572). This elegy grants to France the title of mother of muses formerly reserved for Italy, but the France that Du Bellay praises seems to have become the exclusive province of Ronsard: “Musarum nunc alma parens te Gallia, nunc te / Detinet invicti Principis Aula tui” (vv. 5-6; Now France the nourishing mother of muses keeps you, now the court of your unvanquished Prince detains you). The insistent use of the personal pronoun in the verse “nunc te Gallia nunc te detinet” can almost be read as a possessive, “tua Gallia” or “your France” just as Henry II is identified as “Principis tui” or “your prince.” Ronsard emerges from this portrayal as the privileged possessor of inspiration and patronage while Du Bellay appears as his dispossessed and distant rival. To illustrate this role, he resorts to the image of the sea traveler: “Nos miseri interea, rapidis iactantibus Austris / Per mare, per terras pauperiem fugimus” (vv. 33-34; Miserable us meanwhile, tossed by the rapid south wind, by sea and land we flee poverty). He is left tossing forever on the waves like Aeneas caught in an eternal prologue to the Aeneid—“multum ille et terris iactatus et alto” (I,3), an image that Ovid recalled in some of his verses from the Tristia (IV,1,59-60) that Du Bellay read so carefully. While Aeneas in his storm-tossed travels tended always toward Italy and Ovid's storm took him inexorably away from Italy, Du Bellay presents the figure of an isolated wanderer cut off both from origin and destination, from the past and the future. This theme of transience and displacement not only elicits our sympathy but also confers on the poet a certain autonomy, a literally utopian existence suspended between different elements and different worlds. In contrast, Ronsard is detained at court: “nunc te detinet Aula.” The elegy to Ronsard demonstrates that nationalism was not simply a competition between nations but also between poets and often compatriots. While Ronsard arrogated to himself the role of national propagandist, Du Bellay (having earlier failed as a court poet) attempted to forge an independent identity not confined within national boundaries.

I want to conclude now by recalling a few verses from Du Bellay's best known collection, the Regrets. As their title suggests, the Regrets presuppose the poet's absence from the homeland, absence which may portend alienation and even independence from national identity. The first group of sonnets from this diffuse collection of 191 poems represents the elegiac voice of regret and despair so distinctive of Du Bellay's poetry. Among these, sonnet 9 gives particularly memorable expression to the theme of “patriae desiderium” that we have encountered so frequently.

France mere des arts, des armes, & des loix,
Tu m'as nourry long temps du laict de ta mamelle:
Ores, comme un aigneau qui sa nourrice appelle,
Je remplis de ton nom les antres & les bois.
Si tu m'as pour enfant advoué quelquefois,
Que ne me respons-tu maintenant, o cruelle?
France, France respons à ma triste querelle,
Mais nul, sinon Echo, ne respond à ma voix.
Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmy la plaine,
Je sens venir l'hyver, de qui la froide haleine
D'une tremblante horreur fait herisser ma peau.
Las tes autres aigneaux n'ont faute de pasture,
Ils ne craignent le loup, le vent, ny la froidure,
Si ne suis-je pourtant le pire du troppeau.

(France mother of arts, arms and laws, long have you nourished me with mother's milk: now like a lamb calling on its nurse, I fill the caves and woods with your name. If once you acknowledged me as your own, why don't you answer me now, o cruel one? France, France answer my sad complaint, but no one except Echo answers my voice. Among the cruel wolves I wander through the plain. I feel the winter coming, whose cold breath makes my skin crawl with trembling fear. Alas, your other lambs lack no fodder. They fear neither the wolf, the wind, nor the cold, and yet I am not the worst of the flock.)

The poem opens with a traditional formula of Virgilian patriotism, calling on “France mother of arts, arms and laws.” Unfortunately, France is not listening, and so the poet's sonorous invocation returns to him: “Mais nul sinon Echo ne respond à ma voix” (v. 8). This reference to echo, which equates nationalism with narcissism, suggests the hollowness of so many patriotic verses, whose authors vainly echo each other's pronouncements of cultural hegemony. Spurned by France, the “cruel” mistress of verse 6, the poet wanders in a desolate plain among cruel wolves: “Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmy la plaine” (v. 9). These wolves not only parody the myth of Rome's foundation but also, through their shared epithet with France, reveal the sinister side of the “magna parens” now metamorphosed into a wolfish motherland.7 In his isolation, the poet must keep at bay the wolves of Rome and France, of antagonistic nationalisms and predatory competitors while insisting on his equal entitlement to the mother's milk of royal patronage, “le lait de la mamelle” (v. 2). Here and throughout his work, Du Bellay's achievement is not so much to have reiterated the strident claims of Renaissance nationalism, as to have converted these competing claims into a poetic dialogue that still engages our attention today.


  1. A good example of such nostalgic idealism is Machiavelli's citation of Petrarch's canzone “Italia mia” at the end of the Prince.

  2. Du Bellay's use of Valla has not passed unnoticed. Eugenio Garin (115) recognized a reference to Valla's Elegantiae in the last chapter of the Deffence where Du Bellay invokes the precedent of Rome's linguistic imperialism: “La gloire du peuple Romain n'est moindre (comme a dit quelqu'un) en l'amplification de son langage que de ses limites” (183). Chamard had earlier proposed to identify the parenthetical “quelqu'un” as Valla in his annotation to the Deffence.

  3. Compared to Ronsard and Du Bellay, Clément Marot and poets of his generation (coinciding with the reign of Francis I) were unwilling to disavow Medieval literary traditions or forms. Their attitude is well represented by Thomas Sébillet whose Art poétique français (1548) recommends “la lecture des bons et classiques poètes français” including Alain Chartier and Jean de Meun “entre les vieux” and Marot, Saint-Gelais, Salel, Héroët and Scève among the moderns (59). The basic thesis of the Deffence is that there have been no “bons et classiques poètes français” and that France needs, that is, lacks, a literary history.

  4. In his Latin elegies, Du Bellay will cultivate the role of foreigner, labelling himself “peregrinus” in the “Patriae desiderium” (v. 15).

  5. It is precisely this tendency that Henri Estienne satirizes when he refers disdainfully to Italianisms as “ces paroles … Italicogalliques ou si on veut gallicoitaliques” (52) in his Deux dialogues (1578).

  6. Conversely, Guy Demerson reads the Regrets and especially the final sequence of sonnets as a reaffirmation of the nationalist program of “translatio.”

  7. The same ambivalent emblem of the motherland appears in “Songe 6” where the poet witnesses the transformation of the “Louve” from nourishing mother to cruel predator.

Works Cited

Chamard, Henri. Histoire de la Pléiade. Vol. 1. Paris: Didier, 1961.

Demerson, Guy. “Le Songe de J. Du Bellay et le sens des recueils romains.” Le Songe à la Renaissance. Saint-Etienne, 1990. 169-78.

Du Bellay, Joachim. La deffence et illustration de la langue Françoyse. Ed. Henri Chamard. Paris: Nizet, 1970.

———. Oeuvres poétiques III. Recueils Lyriques de 1549. Ed. Henri Chamard. Paris: Nizet, 1983.

———. Oeuvres poétiques VII. Oeuvres Latines: Poemata. Ed. Geneviève Demerson. Paris: Nizet, 1984.

———. Les Regrets et autres oeuvres poëtiques. Eds. Jolliffe and Screech. Geneva: Droz, 1979.

Dubois, Claude-Gilbert. Celtes et Gaulois au XVIe siècle: le développement littéraire d'un mythe nationaliste. Paris: Vrin, 1972.

Estienne, Henri. Deux dialogues du nouveau langage françoys italianizé et autrement desguizé. Ed. P.-M. Smith. Geneva: Slatkine, 1980.

Gadoffre, Gilbert. Du Bellay et le sacré. Paris: Gallimard, 1978.

Garin, Eugenio. Medioevo e Rinascimento. Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1980.

Girardet, Raoul. Le Nationalisme français. Paris: Armand Colin, 1966.

Nakam, Géralde. “Joachim Du Bellay, poète du regret: une poésie de l'échec.” Hebrew University Studies in Literature 3 (1975) 135-54.

Rigolot, François. “Qu'est-ce qu'un sonnet?” Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France 84 (1984) 3-18.

Sébillet, Thomas. “Art poétique français” in Traités de poétique et de rhétorique de la Renaissance. Ed. Francis Goyet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1990. 37-183.

Simone, Franco. La coscienza della rinascita negli umanisti francesi. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1949.

———. Il Rinascimento francese. Turin: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1961.

Speroni, Sperone. “Dialogo delle lingue” in Discussioni linguistiche del Cinquecento. Ed. Mario Pozzi. Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1988. 285-335.

Valla, Lorenzo. “In sex libros elegantiarum praefatio” in Prosatori latini del Quattrocento. Ed. Eugenio Garin. Milan-Naples: Ricciardi, 1952. 594-600.

Virgil. Opera. Ed. R. A. B. Mynors. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.

Jerome Schwartz (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: Schwartz, Jerome. “The Poet In Bivio: Du Bellay's Spiritual Itinerary in Les Regrets.” In Lapidary Inscriptions: Renaissance Essays For Donald A. Stone, Jr. edited by Barbara C. Bowen and Jerry C. Nash, pp. 61-71, Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1994.

[In this essay, Schwartz studies the allegorical and mythical aspects of two of Du Bellay's works.]

Critical response to the Regrets has typically been praise of the small number of masterpieces in the collection, emphasis on the elegiac and satirical poems and neglect of the final 60 sonnets of praise for the French monarchy. A characteristic assessment is Thomas M. Greene's remark that, compared with the greatness of the Antiquitez de Rome, Du Bellay's “aspiration in the Regrets will fall short of poetry's noblest and most proper goals; they rise no higher than a versified journal.”1 Such a negative evaluation of the Regrets fails to account adequately for the mythic and allegorical dimensions of the sequence, which is not merely a heterogeneous grouping of elegiac, satirical and encomiastic verse, but one which also narrates the spiritual itinerary of the poetic persona. Apart from its external form as “journal,” this collection is no less a “web of ironies” than the Antiquitez.2 As Albert Py has written, the paradox of the Regrets is that it sings the impossibility of poetry (“Espace de l'avoir,” 565-71). A disabused credo written under the sign of negation, the Regrets is an enactment both of poetry's dispossession and poetry's desire.

Both sequences are concerned with the relationship between poetry and political power. In the Antiquitez, the power of Rome and the power of Latin poetry are in paradoxical relation to one another. While Imperial Rome in the architectural sense has been reduced to “poudreuses reliques,” the power of Latin literature still exercises its supreme dominion over the Renaissance mind, acting upon it as a reminder of glories accomplished which the European writer can only weakly imitate, but at the same time as a spur to emulation, rivalry and surpassing. The liminary sonnet of the Antiquitez addressed to Henri II is a virtual simulacrum of imperial Rome that announces the resuscitation and reconstruction in France, and in the French language, of the grandeur that was Rome in the person and power of the French monarchy. But the poem is tinged with irony in that the history of Rome and its disappearance (the “poudreuses reliques” of the second quatrain) is already inscribed in the tercets' prayer for Henri's success:

Que vous puissent les Dieux un jour donner tant d'heur,
De rebastir en France une telle grandeur
Que je la voudrois bien peindre en vostre langage:
Et peult estre, qu'à lors vostre grand' Majesté
Repensant à mes vers, diroit qu'ilz ont esté
De vostre Monarchie un bienheureux presage.(3)

In these lines are a complex of ironized themes, an interplay of negation and affirmation. Rebirth of Roman greatness, predictions and hopes of future glories are all predicated on the pillaging of the ruins of empire now reduced to the dust that is the constant memento mori of the futility of human destiny.

In analogous terms, the Regrets opens with persistent negations; not only in the opening sonnets but throughout the sequence the negative statement occupies a predominant position. The poet's refusal of “high” poetry in the first sonnet is, however, despite the insistent negatives, not merely a negative program:

Je ne veulx point fouiller au seing de la nature,
Je ne veulx point chercher l'esprit de l'univers,
Je ne veulx point sonder les abysmes couvers,
Ny desseigner du ciel la belle architecture.


This refusal to embrace Platonic theories of the cosmic poet's divine inspiration is founded on another conception of the poetic function. Not a vessel of the divine afflatus, the poet of the Regrets makes of his verse the site of an interior, and spontaneous dialogue. Not claiming to transcend Time but to be the very creature of human time, Du Bellay's poetic persona asserts a function for poetry that is embedded in the here and now of subjective experience: “Je me contenteray de simplement escrire / Ce que la passion seulement me fait dire” (“Sonnet 4”); “Moy, qui suis malheureux, je plaindray mon malheur” (“Sonnet 5”).

As Yvonne Bellenger has briefly noted, following the hypotheses of Emile Benveniste, there are two je's in the Regrets: the je of the poet/narrator who consciously wills, judges, pities, who is his own witness, and another, passive je, one who has been dispossessed and who complaisantly listens to his sorrows.4 The lyricism of the Regrets is inscribed in that space between the two subjects of the discourse—the je de l'énonciation and the je de l'énoncé, between Du Bellay as writer responsible for his discourse and as the passive object of the writer's scrutiny. One could take this further in the attempt to understand the Regrets as a discourse functioning within a dialectical model of the human subject. According to Lacan's account, the true focus of human psychical reality is the “subject”—decentered, unstable, discontinuous, not an entity at all but a lack or a gap—rather than the “ego” as the stable site of identity and selfhood. Behind the ego's discourse in the Regrets lies an unconscious discourse (“le discours de l'Autre”), the discourse of Du Bellay's desiring subject that incapacitates him for selfhood.5

Thus the initial sonnets of the sequence pose the foundations of a poetics of subjectivity (or rather, of the “subject”—plain English belies Lacan's notion of the subject) that asserts its independence from humanist models and from the practice of other sixteenth-century French poets. What makes all this interesting and complex, furthermore, is the tension between the poet's explicit statements (those made by the moi-poet/narrator) and the discursive models implemented by this poetic voice. There is a tension, for example, between the sermo pedestris and the dense allusiveness of the language.6 The ambiguous poetic voice who pretends to flee the humanist poetic in a negative denial in effect performs what he purports to negate, as in “Sonnet 2”:

Un plus savant que moi, Paschal, ira songer
Avecques l'Ascréan dessus la double cime:
Et pour être de ceux dont on fait plus d'estime,
Dedans l'onde au cheval tout nu s'ira plonger.(7)

An anonymous third-person is the apparent subject of this parodic performance. While at first glance the effect is obscure, once the puzzle is solved and the allusions clarified, the parody of humanist style is obvious, even comical (“tout nu” achieves a certain hyperbolic and ludicrous concreteness). The poet appropriates high style while at the same time rendering it transparent as the vehicle of a discourse that is its own counter-discourse, deflating it from within itself. In the rest of this sonnet, the poetic voice now sets itself apart from the third-person of the first quatrain: “Quant à moi, je ne veux …,” as though to make it clear that the initial quatrain is but a counter-example of what the poet really intends. The concluding lines, however, pose the paradox of a rhyme that is unique and inimitable despite its (deceptive) simplicity, of a poetic style that is a rhymed prose or a prosaic verse forged on no other model than the poet's own. François Rigolot has termed Du Bellay's poetics a “poésie du refus,” citing his refusal of metaphor, his pervasive negativity, his fragmented moi given rather to the simile which atomizes the world.8 I would prefer to speak of the ambiguous negativity of the Regrets, the irony and praeteritio9 that constitute one of the major features of its rhetoric. Irony and praeteritio are similar rhetorical figures, as Robert Griffin has remarked: “The figure would approach irony if Du Bellay were aware of his duplicity or if this harmless duplicity became apparent to the reader through exaggerated use.”10 In fact, is it possible to know whether or not Du Bellay was aware of his duplicity and whether or not we may make a strict distinction between conscious and unconscious use of these figures? A reading of the Regrets, in fact, reveals the repeated use of praeteritio and irony as the characteristic rhetorical stance of this collection.

Indeed, these figures have been described from a psychoanalytic point of view as the inverted rhetoric of the unconscious which affirms and asserts through denial.11 Negation in the Regrets is not so much mere negation but dénégation (Freud's Verneinung).12 What this means in psychoanalytic terms is that the subject formulates the expression of his desire at the same time that he denies it. Rhetorically speaking, this is strictly what a preterition is.

Du Bellay formulates his desire in terms that appear to be univocal denials and refusals but which are, according to a psychoanalytic hypothesis, the simultaneous affirmative expression of the text's unconscious desire.13 What I take this to mean is that the je of the Regrets exists at a number of levels which include author, poetic persona, the subject which the reader assumes in reading Du Bellay's text—all both at conscious and unconscious levels. When we speak of the text's unconscious we speak of a phenomenon of trans-subjectivity that functions in ways that are not always available to the consciousness either of author or reader.

Interestingly, Montaigne, in an often-cited passage, spoke intuitively of the unconscious of his text while using the figure of Fortune:

Mais la fortune montre bien encores plus evidemment la part qu'elle a en tous ces ouvrages, par les graces et beautez qui s'y treuvent, non seulement sans l'intention, mais sans la cognoissance mesme de l'ouvrier. Un suffisant lecteur descouvre souvant és escrits d'autruy des perfections autres que celles que l'autheur y a mises et apperceües, et y preste des sens et des visages plus riches.14

In the context of this passage, Fortune “functions in a way akin to the unconscious. It is the principle of hidden organization in texts.”15 If this is the case, one might say that the figure of Fortune can stand in Renaissance texts not merely for destiny and chance but as well for any imputation of causality that is not understood but that is nevertheless presumed to exist. So it is with Fortune in the Regrets.

While John Lapp has asserted that mythological allusions in the Regrets “might almost be considered … as an ‘anti-poetic’ device,” this is surely not always the case.16 Certainly, Du Bellay's deployment of the Fortune figure is not confined to ironic uses, except insofar as the wheel of Fortune, the accidents of destiny, are inherently susceptible to what is commonly termed the “irony of fate.” Fortune functions also in alliance with “adventure” in “Sonnet 1,” where, under the guise of an initial and initiatory praeteritio that appears to refuse the high calling of the poet and the Neoplatonic conventions of divine inspiration, the narrative je invokes, implicitly, the figure of Fortune as his tutelary goddess:

Mais suivant de ce lieu les accidents divers
Soit de bien, soit de mal, j'escris à l'adventure.


To write à l'adventure is to invoke the power of Fortune, or as Montaigne suggests, to allow the unconscious to speak. The preterition reinforces the idea that what will emerge in the Regrets are not the prescribed poetic conventions which a court poet obeys, but the displacement of the conventional poetic program by the poet's unconscious desire.

Fortune is frequently paired with Virtue in Renaissance iconography. The two are found together in “Sonnet 3,” framed by a praeteritio. The quatrains oppose the poet's past, when he was not yet exposed to the play of Fortune and was a follower of Apollonian furor, to his present loss of inspiration and suffering; the tercets explain his abandonment of the path followed by Ronsard:

Et c'est pourquoy (Seigneur) ayant perdu la trace
Que suit vostre Ronsard par les champs de la Grace,
Je m'addresse ou je voy le chemin plus batu:
Ne me bastant le coeur, la force, ny l'haleine
De suivre, comme luy, par sueur & par peine
Ce penible sentier qui meine à la vertu.

In my view, the tercets describe a kind of preterition, the disavowal of the intention to scale the heights of virtue (“vertu” here means poetic difficulty and excellence) in order to remain on the beaten path of lesser ambition. I would term this an ironic preterition which reveals something of the unconscious of the Regrets. The final line—alluding to the myth of virtue situated on a rocky mountaintop, which comes, as we know, from Hesiod, Works and Days, ll. 289ff.—is a verbatim quotation without quotation marks from Ronsard, a line originally from the Hymne de la philosophie and repeated by Du Bellay in his Hymne de la surdité, l. 146.17 This line can be interpreted in more than one way: is it proof of Du Bellay's sincerity, that is, has he lost inspiration to the point where he can do no better than import a line of Ronsard's to close his sonnet? Or else, is it, in fact, the pointe that clinches, by an intertextual irony, a reading of the sonnet as a text that subverts from within its apparent assertions? The line appears then in all its cliché-ridden facility as an unconscious discourse running counter to itself.

Another figure that functions frequently in the Regrets and elsewhere in Du Bellay's work is the figure of Hercules at the Crossroads choosing virtus over voluptas. In fact, this figure is implicitly present in “Sonnet 3,” where it seems that Du Bellay, unlike Hercules, chooses the lesser path. In fact, Du Bellay is, in the Regrets, rehearsing a spiritual crisis in which the poet, feeling himself the victim of Fortuna (the generalized figure for the complex of forces—fate, destiny, necessity—indifferent to his talent), is at the same time contemplating the possibility that he may throw off the oppressive weight of these powers by pretending to accept his fate through the preteritions that are really “Freudian negations,” denials that are affirmations in disguise. Du Bellay is actually positioned in the Regrets at the crossroads of Fortuna and Virtus and the focus of the collection is the enactment of an ontological drama in the guise of a moral conversion.

We are familiar enough with the role of Fortune in the sequence. In “Sonnet 6” she is “maistresse”; in sonnets “24” and “82” she is accompanied by allusions to one of her iconographical attributes—the wheel. In “Sonnet 24,” her blindness is the attribute that pits her and Du Bellay, on the one hand, against Amor and Baïf, on the other:

Qu'heureux tu es (Baif) heureux & plus qu'heureux,
De ne suivre abusé ceste aveugle Deesse,
Qui d'un tour inconstant & nous haulse & nous baisse,
Mais cest aveugle enfant qui nous fait amoureux!

and in “Sonnet 82,” where Du Bellay evokes the wheel of Fortune in the context of the round of fickle destinies to which one is enslaved in Rome:

Veuls-tu sçavoir (Duthier) qu'elle chose c'est Rome?
Rome est de tout le monde un publique eschafault,
Une scene, un theatre, auquel rien ne default
De ce qui peult tomber es actions de l'homme.
Icy se void le jeu de la Fortune, & comme
Sa main nous fait tourner ores bas, ores haut.

Rome becomes identified in the Regrets with vice and with the error Du Bellay made in choosing to exile himself there for the wrong reasons. The Regrets sing the lament of that error:

O marastre nature (& marastre es-tu bien,
De ne m'avoir plus sage ou plus heureux fait naistre)
Pourquoy ne m'as tu fait de moymesme le maistre,
Pour suivre ma raison, & vivre du tout mien?
Je voy les deux chemins, & de mal, & de bien:
Je sçay que la vertu m'appelle à la main dextre,
Et toutefois il fault que je tourne à senestre,
Pour suivre un traistre espoir, qui m'a fait du tout sien.

(“45,” ll. 1-8)

It is noteworthy that lines 5-8 articulate two contradictory and coexisting desires. In psychoanalytic terms, the conscious ego recognizes what is called virtue, that is, socially approved desires, but this is suborned by a desire for transgression that has proven itself stronger and has succeeded in lifting the repression against it. The ego, under the domination of repression, finds no pleasure in its transgression and chooses flight in sonnets “50” and “51,” which evoke the possibility of rededication to virtue through moral conversion and self-knowledge: “Sortons (Dilliers) sortons, faisons place à l'envie, / Et fuions desormais ce tumulte civil. … Allons où la vertu, & le sort nous convie. … Banissons la vertu d'un exil volontaire” (“50”). Then, even misfortune can be an ally in the renewed quest for virtue:

Mauny, prenons en gré la mauvaise fortune,
Puis que nul ne se peult de la bonne asseurer,
Et que de la mauvaise on peult bien esperer,
Estant son naturel, de n'estre jamais une.
Le sage nocher craint la faveur de Neptune,
Sachant que le beau temps long temps ne peult durer:
Et ne vault il pas mieulx quelque orage endurer,
Que d'avoir tousjours peur de la mer importune?
Par la bonne fortune on se trouve abusé,
Par la fortune adverse on devient plus rusé:
L'une esteint la vertu, l'autre la fait paroistre:
L'une trompe noz yeux d'un visage menteur,
L'autre nous fait l'amy cognoistre du flateur,
Et si nous fait encor'à nous mesmes cognoistre.


As Robert Griffin has written, “Du Bellay holds that Fortune disregards virtue and at the same time makes it more evident to the individual through self-knowledge” (Coronation of the Poet 139). What we call “self-knowledge,” however, is not a static process; it is dynamic and dialectical, as “Sonnet 51” suggests. This dialectic is functioning in the subjective itinerary of the Regrets. The very misfortune of the poet is what makes him sensitive to the ploys and deceitfulness of others, and prepares him to rededicate himself to virtue with the inevitable passage of fortune's wheel. But when we speak of “self-knowledge” as process we had better understand what we are saying, for psychoanalysis teaches us something about the human psyche that eludes these overly self-confident formulations. The sense of self is an “uneasy fabrication, born under the pressure of others and of the inextirpable otherness that social codes and custom embody” (Bowie 148). The dialectic of self-knowledge described in these sonnets functions also at the level of the text's unconscious. In the guise of the allegorical figures of fortune and virtue a dramatic agon is taking place that is nothing less than a psychomachia in a psychoanalytic sense. “Sonnet 169” evokes the triumph of virtue over fortune:

La fortune (Prelat) nous voulant faire voir
Ce qu'elle peult sur nous, a choisi de nostre aage
Celuy qui de vertu, d'esprit, & de courage
S'estoit le mieulx armé encontre son pouvoir.
Mais la vertu qui n'est apprise à s'esmouvoir,
Non plus que le rocher se meut contre l'orage,
Dontera la fortune, & contre son outrage
De tout ce qui luy fault se sçaura bien pourvoir.

(ll. 1-8)

From this sonnet onward, Fortune disappears from the Regrets as a powerful force and gives way to the predominance of virtue in the final 30 sonnets of the collection. The myth of Virtue (according to Hesiod, situated at the summit of a rocky mountain) is combined with the story of Hercules at the Crossroads, as in “Sonnet 172”:

Voicy de la vertu la penible montee,
Qui par le seul travail veult estre surmontee:
Voila de l'autre part le grand chemin battu,
Où au sejour du vice on monte sans eschelle.
Deça (Seigneur) deça, où la vertu t'appelle.
Hercule se fit Dieu par la seule vertu.(18)

Indeed, the figure of Hercules, who passed through purifying flames before ascending to heaven as an immortal, comes to the fore in the second half of the Regrets. One entire sonnet, number “117,” which other commentators have found “out of place,” “troublesome,” or “puzzling,” is devoted to the theme of fire.19 This sonnet can, however, be viewed as critical in the mythic and moral context of the Regrets in relation to the Hercules story and its exemplary value for Du Bellay. The Screech edition quotes in a footnote the text of another sonnet of Du Bellay's (Oeuvres 2: 259) in which the theme of fire, explicitly associated with the myth of Hercules, is the vehicle for the poet's desire for transcendence:

Tout ce qu'on voit universellement
Resent du feu la nature divine,
Du feu qui tout purge, esprouve & affine,
Comme plus noble & parfaict element.
Hercule mesme, avant qu'au firmament
Feust eslevé pour faire un nouveau signe,
De Juppiter n'en fut estimé digne
Que par le feu purgé premierement.
Et moy, pour m'estre approché de ce feu,
Je me sens ja esloigner peu à peu
De tout penser terrestre & vicieux.
Mais si l'ardeur penetre jusqu'à l'ame,
J'espere bien sur l'aile de ma flamme
Laisser la terre & m'en voler aux cieux.(20)

“Sonnet 117,” while not as specifically Neoplatonic, nevertheless functions in its immediate context as a philosophical vision of the divine fire that would purify base matter and restore the purity of a new spiritual beginning. The preceding sonnet announces the theme of war and creates a martial context in which Rome is potentially consumed in the apocalyptic yet abstract conflagration of “Sonnet 117.”

Themes of the poems just quoted are fused in “Sonnet 189,” Du Bellay's final expression in the Regrets of the poet's desire to emulate Hercules' choice, to have virtue triumph over fortune, to reenact the Herculean apotheosis and appropriate it as his own:

Cependant (Pelletier) que dessus ton Euclide
Tu monstres ce qu'en vain ont tant cherché les vieux,
Et qu'en despit du vice, & du siecle envieux
Tu te guindes au ciel comme un second Alcide:
L'amour de la vertu, ma seule & seure guide,
Comme un cygne nouveau me conduit vers les cieux,
Où en despit d'envie, & du temps vicieux,
Je rempliz d'un beau nom ce grand espace vide.
Je voulois comme toy les vers abandonner,
Pour à plus hault labeur plus sage m'addonner:
Mais puis que la vertu à la louer m'appelle,
Je veulx de la vertu les honneurs raconter:
Aveques la vertu je veulx au ciel monter.
Pourrois-je au ciel monter aveques plus haulte aelle?

This poem, complimenting Peletier, who turned from poetry to mathematics, is far from “the ultimate disparagement of poetry in the Regrets,” as Katz would have it (The Ordered Text 194). Although it speaks of virtue not in the sense he had used the word in “Sonnet 3” (virtue as the conquest of poetic technique) but in a strictly ethical sense, this does not mean that poetry is being downgraded as quasi-Platonic imitation (Katz 194). Poetry is not conceived here as mere praise in the sense of paid flattery, but as dedication to virtue itself and because of this, coinciding with virtue itself. If we compare the context of “Sonnet 3” with that of “Sonnet 189,” we observe a clear contrast between Fortune and virtue in Hesiod's terms as a painful and difficult ascent to the mountaintop, and the Herculean apotheosis to which Du Bellay aspires. Transfigured, “comme un cygne nouveau,” and under the guidance of virtue, the poet rises toward his apotheosis, utterly displacing the melancholic swans of “Sonnet 16.” This sonnet is in every way the counterpoint to the previous one, “188,” where Du Bellay returns, in a final reminiscence, to the preteritions with which the collection opened—preteritions in which he appears to reject “fable” in favor of “veritable histoire.” As Screech notes, “Du Bellay exagère ici, en partie pour flatter Paschal, historien” (ed. Regrets 264n). “Je ne veulx deguiser ma simple poesie / Sous le masque emprunté d'une fable moisie, / Ny souiller un beau nom de monstres tant hideux.” But in fact Du Bellay has by no means rejected the role of myth in the overall plan of the Regrets, and the figures of Fortune and Virtue, and especially of Hercules, are never ironized (as are, for example, those of Ulysses and Jason), and preside over the mythical unity of the Regrets.

And yet, one may ask, what of the altered role of poetry, those lowered sights, that ironization of poetry to which I alluded at the beginning? Does not Du Bellay's return to encomium with his return to France in the last third of the Regrets prove ironically that Du Bellay merely resigns himself cynically to the poet's dependence on courtiers, flattery, all the courtly vices which make his praise of virtue hollow indeed?

Notwithstanding the ironies of the concluding sonnets, Du Bellay's repeated praise of Marguerite in the final sonnets (“174-90”) is different from all the other poems of praise. In these poems, Marguerite is the embodiment, as it were, of the allegorical figure of virtue. Not reducible to her physical existence, nor merely to her royal identity, she is the essence of virtue itself, both signifier and signified, image and concept of virtue victorious over fortune.21 Just before the end of the sequence, despite the final two sonnets which evoke a France devoid of beauty and poetry and the poet's nothingness totally dependent on an ironically inflated royal power (“Car rien n'est apres Dieu si grand qu'un roi de France”), it is the figure of Marguerite/Virtue who synthesizes the poetic persona's spiritual itinerary from exile to return, symbolizes the transcendant desire of poetry for spiritual perfection—beyond elegy and satire, beyond the dissatisfaction of ego, the failed ambitions of career, the cupidities of bodily existence. If only in a virtual sense, the poet of the Regrets contemplates the possibility of realizing his desire—to go beyond regret itself, to reclaim, in the immolating, self-consuming fire of virtue, his soul's true homeland.


  1. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1982) 230. But cf. Albert Py, “Espace de l'avoir, espace de l'être dans les ‘Regrets’ de Du Bellay,” Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France 79 (1979): 563-76.

  2. See Richard A. Katz, The Ordered Text: The Sonnet Sequences of Du Bellay (New York, Berne, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1985). While I find some of Katz's ironic readings persuasive, the present essay is in part an attempt to refute Katz's thesis that the final epideictic poems are ironic.

  3. Les Regrets et autres oeuvres poëtiques, eds. J. Jolliffe and M. A. Screech (Geneva: Droz, 1966) 271.

  4. Du Bellay: Ses ‘Regrets’ qu'il fit dans Rome … (Paris: Nizet, 1975) 99.

  5. I rely here on Malcolm Bowie's account of the Lacanian subject in his Freud, Proust and Lacan: Theory as Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987) 114-17.

  6. On sermo pedestris see Floyd Gray, La Poétique de Du Bellay (Paris: Nizet, 1978) 58-78.

  7. L'Ascréan is Hesiod; la double cyme is Mount Parnassus; l'onde au cheval is Hippocrene, the fountain sacred to the Muses. See Screech ed., notes ad loc.

  8. “Du Bellay et la poésie du refus,” BHR 36 (1974): 489-502.

  9. Praeteritio is the figure by which one mentions subjects one claims not to discuss.

  10. Coronation of the Poet: Joachim Du Bellay's Debt to the Trivium (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1969) 55.

  11. See Paul-Laurent Assoun, “L'Ironie comme rhétorique de l'inconscient,” in Analyses et réflexions sur “De l'art de conferer,” de Montaigne et l'ironie (Paris: Edition Marketing, 1980) 157-65; and for an analysis of Racine's Phèdre built on Freudian negation, see Francesco Orlando, Toward a Freudian Theory of Literature, trans. Charmaine Lee (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978) [originally published in Italian in 1971 and 1973].

  12. See Sigmund Freud, “Negation,” Standard Edition, ed. James Strachey et al. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1961) 19: 235-39.

  13. The hypothesis of the text's unconscious has been formulated by J. Bellemin-Noel, Vers l'Inconscient du texte (Paris: PUF, 1979), quoting B. Pingaud: “Dans l'oeuvre ce n'est plus l'écrivain qui parle, c'est, en quelque sorte, le texte lui-même—un texte qui, en se fermant sur soi, l'exclut. … On pourrait dire que le texte est le gardien du fantasme, qu'il incorpore, annexe, manipule pour en faire sa substance propre, l'arrachant ainsi au vécu de l'auteur. Dès lors, la critique psychanalytique n'a de chances d'atteindre son véritable object que si elle pose, au départ, l'hypothèse d'un inconscient du texte … “(119).

  14. Essais, I, 24: 127 [PUF edition].

  15. Jeffrey Mehlman, “La Boétie's Montaigne,” Oxford Literary Review 4 (1979): 51.

  16. The Brazen Tower (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1977) 26-27, quoted in Richard A. Katz, The Ordered Text 83-84. I do not agree with Katz's assertion, altering Lapp, that such poems are not merely “frequently ironic,” but “invariably so” (Katz 206).

  17. See Divers Jeux rustiques, ed. V. L. Saulnier (Paris: Droz, 1947) 182-83, and notes.

  18. Screech notes (ad loc.) Du Bellay's combining of Hesiod and the myth of the choice of Hercules.

  19. Katz 212-13. Cf. Screech, who asks “Que fait dans les Regrets ce sonnet philosophique?” (Regrets 191n1). Indeed, this sonnet is a prime example of the lofty poetry that Du Bellay's poetic persona excludes/includes in the Regrets by ironic preterition.

  20. As quoted in Regrets, Screech ed. 191.

  21. Although I do not subscribe to all her assertions, Marie-Dominique Legrand, “Explication du sonnet 176 des Regrets de Joachim Du Bellay,” Information Littéraire 39 (1987): 84-88, underlines the importance of the Marguerite poems in establishing the unconventional status of encomium in the Regrets: “les poèmes qui achèvent Les Regrets donnent a posteriori une signification à l'éloge et à la satire. Dispersé dans les palinodies de l'enfer romain, le moi du poète retrouve ici son unité, son identité; la poésie retrouve son sens: le voyage était une initiation, une catharsis” (88).

Mark Bizer (essay date 1999)

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SOURCE: Bizer, Mark. “Letters from Home: The Epistolary Aspects of Joachim Du Bellay's Les Regrets.Renaissance Quarterly 52 (1999): 140-175.

[In the essay which follows, Bizer argues that Du Bellay's Les Regrets is a product of humanist tradition.]

Les Regrets, a collection of sonnets composed by the poet Joachim Du Bellay during a four-year stay in Rome from 1553 to 1557, while he served as secretary and intendant to his second cousin, Cardinal Jean Du Bellay, gives expression to a paradox. It constitutes a poetry of exile, in which Du Bellay mercilessly dissects Roman society and yearns to return to his native France. At the same time, however, Rome was home for a humanist such as Du Bellay; for once in the eternal city, he had in a sense returned to his intellectual and cultural heritage, although it was fragmented, incomplete, and in ruins. This simultaneous estrangement and familiarity is played out in the space of the collection's sonnets, most of which explicitly address, indeed name, friends in Italy and in France. It is my intention to show that these names, far from merely being poetic word play or dedicatory gestures, indicate that Les Regrets was conceived as verse epistles whose content was specifically intended for different individuals. While isolated examples of sonnets whose contents are specifically oriented toward their addressees have been pointed out before,1 this in fact occurs much more generally and systematically than has previously been thought.

Les Regrets should thus be seen in a new light, as a collection of verse epistles that experiment with the sense of community on a human and poetic level. The epistle allowed Du Bellay to maintain a sense of community with friends, both at “home” in Rome and “abroad,” back in France, but by its very nature it was also a device for stressing exile and separation. Furthermore, although Du Bellay often disparages in Les Regrets his official responsibilities as intendant and secretary, this role, a major part of which involved letter-writing, contributes significantly to the collection's epistolary character. As part of a larger work on the epistolary nature of Les Regrets, it is our intention here not only to demonstrate the importance of the epistolary and secretarial traditions for our understanding of Les Regrets, but also to show how Du Bellay uses them to elaborate a new poetics. Du Bellay's Roman sojourn was extraordinarily fruitful: just as he transformed the Petrarchist poetics of the Olive into a painful deliberation on Rome's past, present, and future in the Antiquitez de Rome,2 Du Bellay expanded the rather limited amorous repertoire of the sonnet, only recently adopted in France, by combining it with the entire classical and vernacular epistolary tradition. He also redefined his place in French poetry with respect to the towering figure of Pierre de Ronsard.

Two key examples should suffice to illustrate the validity of an epistolary approach to Les Regrets. Not only can one find many rich instances in the collection where, in the manner of a letter, a sonnet's subject matter is completely tailored to its addressee, but there are numerous examples of actual correspondence, such as the exchanges between Les Regrets of Du Bellay and Les Souspirs of Alfred de Magny, who was also a secretary/poet living in Rome at the same time as Du Bellay. Indeed, many instances of actual exchanges involve other poets. One of the more obvious cases was with Pierre de Ronsard: in La Continuation des Amours 119, he called attention to the decision of Du Bellay to write Latin poetry—he was, after all, author of La Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, in which he had exhorted writers to turn away from Latin to their native tongue. Du Bellay responds in Regrets “10”:

It is not the Tuscan river with its haughty banks
It is not the air of the Latins or the Palatine hill
Which now (my Ronsard) makes me speak Latin,
Changing to a foreign tongue my natural language.
It is the anguish of seeing myself, three years and more
Like a Prometheus, attached to the Aventine hill
Where miserable hope and my cruel destiny,
Not the amorous yoke, hold me in servitude.(3)

It is not, according to Du Bellay, his residence in the city of the Romans which has inspired him to compose in Latin, but strangely enough, the sadness occasioned by his “cruel destiny” and long “servitude.” Although one might wonder how state of mind and subject matter could influence Du Bellay's choice of language in which to compose his verse, the relationship becomes clear in the first tercet:

So what (Ronsard), so what, and if on the foreign shore
Ovid dared to change his language into a barbarous one
In order to be understood, who can reproach me
With making a change for the better?(4)

He has taken as his model the poet Ovid, who laments his exile from Rome in his Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, which are collections of verse epistles. Thus Du Bellay writes to Ronsard in French about his new poetics in Latin—which will carry over into his French work as well, for the title Les Regrets is in fact a French echo of Tristia. It is also important to note here that Du Bellay uses this epistolary sonnet to counterpoint his poetics with Ronsard's; while Ronsard is held prisoner by the “amorous yoke,” and thus by love poetry (particularly of the Petrarchist kind), Du Bellay is experimenting with Ovidian elegy. One notes, then, how indirect, allusive, even obscure this seemingly straightforward sonnet is. Such is typical of the language of letters: although they are often published for a larger audience, they usually contain private references mainly intended for the recipient. At the same time, however, these learned allusions to Ovidian and Petrarchist poetics are also accessible to a wider group of readers: they suppose the existence of a community familiar with poetry and with the Pléiade's program, i.e. French and Italian humanists. This epistolary sonnet also helps to cement this community by the very fact that it requires the audience's complicity in order to be understood.

The very first sonnet of Les Regrets establishes the important relationship between the role of the secretary and the body of poetry that will follow. There Du Bellay describes his verse precisely as reliable secretaries, confidants who sympathetically record the troubles of his existence in Rome:

I complain to my verse, if I have any regrets
I laugh with them, I tell them my secret
For they are the most trustworthy secretaries of my heart. …(5)

In accordance with the etymology of secrétaire, the secretary was first and foremost considered to be a guardian of secrets; by confiding his own secrets in his verse, whose contents were both private and public, Du Bellay is announcing a deliberate poetics of obscurity which draws upon guidelines developed for the epistle and in particular for the secretarial profession, where diplomatic security was an important issue. We also learn in a sonnet (Regrets “14”) that poetry is a consolation and a compensation for Du Bellay's dissatisfaction with his professional activities. To Estienne Boucher, himself official secretary of the French embassy in Rome,6 Du Bellay declares, “Verse takes the bother away” (“Les vers m'ostent l'ennuy,” “14”.2). Yet more is at stake than mere frustration: two sonnets, both addressed to secretaries, develop the idea that being a secretary jeopardizes one's ability to write poetry. The first sonnet addresses the poet Olivier de Magny, secretary to the French ambassador to Rome Jean d'Avanson, to whom Du Bellay dedicates the long introductory poem of Les Regrets: “Given the household aggravations which assail me … you are often stunned that I can sing” (“Veu le soing mesnager, dont travaillé je suis … Tu t'esbahis souvent comment chanter je puis,” “12”.1-4). In the second, addressed to Jean de Pardeillan (“Panjas”), secretary to cardinal Georges d'Armagnac, Du Bellay enumerates his administrative responsibilities, which he ironically calls “pastimes” (“passetemps”) and then concludes, “Don't you wonder how I manage to compose verse?” (“Ne t'esbahis-tu point comment je fais des vers?” “15”.14). Thus he presents his career as being at odds with his poetic production, and he does so in correspondence with other secretaries.

In order better to grasp the evidence for the epistolary character of Les Regrets, it is now essential to review briefly the history of the epistle prior to humanist practice, to examine its status at the time Du Bellay was writing, and to evaluate the relationship between Du Bellay's professional and poetic activity while in Rome. Demetrius of Phaleron, writing in the second or third century c.e., had established the main characteristics of the letter as it would be known in the Renaissance: its style which is plain, yet more crafted than spoken discourse, the idea that it represents a gift of sorts, and finally the notion that the character of the letter is determined by its recipient.7 The reflections of Cicero on the ideal Attic style in the Orator, in particular his treatment of the “low genre” or genus humile, one of the three oratorical styles, would have a crucial influence on epistolary literature.8 First of all, he gave the genus humile, the low style, a central place in oratorical prose. For him, the genus humile is above all an exquisite genre: it manifests neglegentia diligens, a style whose simple aspect is inimitable because it is the product of the greatest art. The genus humile exemplifies the quality of purity (elegantia), precision (subtilitas), and clarity. It is a useful tool against adversaries thanks to the incorporation of verbal barbs, but it still remains in conformity with decorum. When Cicero discusses the letter itself (in his correspondence), in which the genus humile would play a role, he gives a definition which will be adopted by almost all the theoreticians of the Renaissance, namely that the letter palliates an absence and brings news to someone uninformed.9 However, although he uses everyday discourse,10 Cicero disdains the purely communicative letter, the staple of scribes and messengers,11 instead regarding it as an art closely related to pleasure and the search for glory.12 The contributions made by two other classical authors to the prose epistolary tradition should also be mentioned here. Seneca's Letters to Lucilius takes the idea of correspondence as dialogue further by using it to develop philosophical ideas; his difficult choppy style brought about self-discovery and the gaining of wisdom in the reader, who was required to develop great discernment in order [to] decipher its meaning. With Pliny the Younger the letter becomes a partly fictional form and moves closer to acquiring the status of a literary work. Finally, the verse epistolary tradition, including Ovid's Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto on the one hand, and Horace's Satires and Epistles on the other, provided important models for Du Bellay's Regrets, both as letters and as exile literature; a good deal of critical work already exists on this subject.13

The next important stage in the epistolary tradition for our study takes place in the eleventh century: the letter acquired new importance in response to the needs of chanceries and was heavily influenced by the formulaic writing required. Yet according to Ernst Robert Curtius, these developments not only affected administrative letter-writing but the practice of writing in general, since all of rhetoric became subordinate to a theory of epistolary style.14 This new rhetoric became known as the ars dictaminis, and depended upon dictatores, whose responsibility it was to take letters in dictation. The term dictator had acquired many meanings over time: even though the original meaning of dictare in Antiquity was “to dictate,” it had gradually come to encompass the activity of writing in general, and then, beginning with Augustine, to signify “to compose poetry.” Through this semantic fusion, a dictator became both a letter-writer and a poet; Dante refers to the troubadours as “dictatores illustres” (76). At least in theory, then, letter-writing was entirely compatible with poetic composition.15 In practice, however, the authors of letters were separate from the scribes who took them in dictation. These dictatores, far from composing missives which communicated their personal thoughts, were expected to be mere transparent instruments of their superiors and to add nothing of their own to what they were writing.

Thus a considerable evolution had taken place since Cicero, who disdained to write letters conveying simple news because such functions were better-suited to servants, while reserving for himself the pleasure (and the craft) of the familiar and higher, more refined style. Now the “servants” engaged in almost no writing of their own. In addition, from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, artistic prose fades into the background while the strict chancellery style, product of dictation, comes to the fore. Letter-writing becomes more and more technical.16 Thus was born the epistolary art of the secretary.17

Petrarch's contributions to letter-writing in the Quattrocento offer an important counterpoint to this administrative tradition. It is not surprising that the great humanist, who had discovered Cicero's private correspondence, would adopt many of its underlying principles, especially the “familiar” style which is incompatible with formal, philosophical discourse such as that practiced by Seneca. Petrarch states that the main use of his letters is to communicate his state of mind (“nichil quasi aliud egi nisi ut animi mei status”18), and from this idea he draws the conclusion that letters are as variable as one's moods. Petrarch's uses of the letter have therefore little to do with the prescriptions of the ars dictaminis.19 On the other hand, one must not forget that in being so “personal,” Petrarch is following his model Cicero—even Petrarch's characteristic sadness is authorized by him: “Talis ille vir tantus in doloribus suis fuit: talis ego in meis fueram.”20

Yet this is not to say that Petrarch did not find practical applications for his missives. Manifesting his typical historical and literary self-consciousness, Petrarch complains that unlike Cicero who wrote to Atticus, or Seneca who addressed his thoughts to Lucilius, he is forced [to] write to many and to travel in search of patrons.21 In the same letter, he states that the primary rule of the letter-writer is to take into account the character of the recipient.22 According to Petrarch, it is this necessity, in addition to his changing states of mind, which explains why his letters appear so diverse and even contradictory when taken together.23 Yet, since there is the additional requirement of being faithful to one's nature, a conflict results; Petrarch recognizes that in certain cases he betrays himself.24

The Ciceronian (and Demetrian) tradition thus seem more pertinent than the Senecan for understanding the form and even the subject matter of Petrarch's correspondence; this is by Petrarch's own confession.25 These influences, as well as his personal situation, allow him to break definitively with the tradition of the dictator. Unlike Seneca's letters, Petrarch's familiar letters must adopt a light style, avoid a too-pronounced philosophical character, and respect the double necessity of being faithful to the character both of their author and of their many recipients. Such constraints were responsible for contradictions not only between letters, but also in the epistolary theory which Petrarch developed. Their effect on Petrarch is also illustrative of a certain flexibility of the self, which, according to Thomas Greene, typifies the period that has come to be known as the Renaissance.

Petrarch's epistolary legacy was important to later humanists because his uses of the letter had made clear how well-suited the genre was to meeting the needs of their milieu—and his stature authorized such practice. First of all, the letter was a means of displaying one's talents as a writer.26 Second, it allowed humanists to keep others abreast of their work and to solicit aid from the powerful. Finally, the letter also excelled at its original role of maintaining contact between separated friends, and it made possible the exchange of news. This was perhaps the most oft-practiced type of humanist literature. Being of a Protean nature, the letter adapted itself so well to so many different roles that it became one of the most fluid genres, capable of moving from prose to poetry, from the private sphere to the public domain.27

Desiderius Erasmus's De conscribendis epistolis, published in 1522, had an enormous effect on Renaissance epistolography. Its most important contribution was to remove almost all constraints from the letter, leaving only the rule that it should be perfectly adapted to the circumstances. This program is implemented in the first lines of the treatise, where Erasmus affirms the infinite complexity and heterogeneity of the letter genre.28 Determined by widely differing conditions, all of which fell under the general idea of the aptum, the epistle took on an infinitely malleable nature. Thus De conscribendis breaks definitively with the medieval tradition of the artes dictaminis.29

As for the circumstances which determine the nature of a particular letter, according to Eramus the epistola must above all please the addressee. It is this requirement which paradoxically gives the letter a flexibility denied other genres.30 The addressee is so important in the Erasmian conception of the letter that the classification of letters by subject, inherited from Cicero and so often adopted by letter-writing manuals, is replaced by a system founded exclusively on the type of person to whom one is writing.31De conscribendis also offers directions concerning the appropriate letter-writing style. Adopting the traditional definition of the letter as a conversation between separated friends, “absentium amicorum quasi mutuus sermo,” Erasmus explains that the appropriate language is one characterized by simplicity and candor, charm and finesse.32 Just as in Cicero's letters, a fundamental aspect of this style is the variety of subject matter which it accommodates.33 It is the Attic style, the genus humile based on brevitas, which best meets these requirements. Anticipating the objections of those who would be revolted by the inferior status of the genus humile with respect to more noble styles, Erasmus states that it is better to crawl on the ground than fly with Daedalus through the air, suggesting that humilitas is better than attempting a style beyond one's reach.34

One might think that this simple yet elegant style (which accords with Demetrius's principles) would be incompatible with obscurity. Indeed, Erasmus condemns lack of clarity in both oratory and letters.35 However, obscurity is not inherently bad; it all depends on the addressee, for what is clear to one person may be incomprehensible to another.36 Besides the fact that the letter is the genre which is most forgiving of errors (because it has so few rules), it is also the only one which allows obscurity.37 According to Erasmus, ambiguity in fact has its uses, as long as it is erudite (modo non indocta). The letter thus becomes a space for play, a place for verbal fencing among two humanists who wish to show their learning and/or who want to avoid being understood by others or even by their correspondent:38 Erasmus boasts of having written to Thomas Linacre a letter in trochaic tetrameters, thus in verse, a fact which Linacre did not perceive.39 As a means for playing such games, Erasmus advises the letter-writer to follow Cicero's example and make use of allusions, riddles, foreign words, and abrupt phrases.40 Despite the learned allusiveness, the Erasmian letter still tries to seem as spontaneous as speech, but of course this impression is the product of considerable work.41 The Erasmian letter thus treads a thin line between simplicity and complexity masquerading as simplicity, between clarity and obscurity which is clarity only to a select few.

The role of obscurity in the letter is a topic which will be given more and more attention in subsequent treatises on letter-writing.42 Manuals intended for ambassadors and secretaries often devote important sections to it.43 Obscurity became increasingly common in letters written in the second half of the sixteenth century, when brevitas became a dominant ideal under the renewed influence of Seneca and Tacitus at the expense of Cicero. It is worth noting, however, that while humanists increasingly seem to want to purify the epistolary style by making it ever more brief and sober—and thus bring it closer to the most simple prose—they see more and more affinities between the authors of letters and inspired poets. In his treatise on the art of letter-writing, the Epistolica institutio (1591), the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius wrote that the writer comes to his work “mente tumente,”44 like a poet inspired by a divinity. As if this parallel with poetic fury were not sufficiently clear, a little later, in order to justify the idea that the relative carelessness of the letter is in conformity with the principle of decorum,45 Lipsius cites a letter to Atticus by Cicero, according to which “Epistolas debere interdum hallucinari” (Att. 11: 16.1). It follows that the writer must also become ecstatic, enter into a poetic state, in order to compose such letters.46 Lipsius made a similar declaration in one of his own letters, where he explicitly compares the necessary state of mind to that required for poets composing verse.47 Such observations were completely in keeping with the Pléiade's insistance on fureur poétique as a precondition to writing poetry.

The official letter as practiced by the secretary could seem diametrically opposed to the creative process involved in composing familiar letters according to Lipsius. While at least in theory, private correspondence had a tendency to free itself progressively from overly-strict rules, official letter-writing was still very much subject to them. For a private individual, letters were the most personal genre of writing, an open space for personal thoughts, yet for the secretary, the former dictator, the letter was the most impersonal genre, and it required total self-effacement. Sincerity was de rigueur in the private letter, but the secretary's duty was to maintain appearances. Finally, if a private individual might need recourse to different techniques to protect the intimacy created by the private letter, it was even more strongly recommended that the secretary, in accordance with his etymologically-determined role,48 constantly avail himself of them to hide secrets—not his own, of course, but those of his prince.

Yet the differences are not as irreconcilable as one might think. In growing recognition of the importance of the secretarial profession, one observes, in the second third of the sixteenth century, the publication of numerous manuals, called Segretarii, aimed at guiding those who intend to become secretaries.49 The Segretarii often contain letter-writing treatises.50 Conversely, the letter continued to play such an important role in the administration of the affairs of states that in the sixteenth century, letter-writing manuals are intended for secretaries rather than for authors of private correspondence;51 even general treatises use the term secretary, but quite simply in the sense of author of letters.52 When Estienne Du Tronchet published the first sixteenth-century private French correspondence, his “Lettres missives et familieres d'Estienne du Tronchet, secretaire de la Reyne mere du Roy” (1569), the title of secretary seems to confer an auctoritas necessary for an author of familiar letters. On the other hand, in his Idea del Segretario (1606), Bartolomeo Zucchi has his two volumes of model letters preceded by a treatise on imitation and even a manual on composition, where, as the secondary title explains, the secretary is almost forgotten, since only “a few remarks concerning the profession of the secretary” are given.53 Perhaps most importantly, despite the very administrative style of writing which the secretary often had to practice and the conception of the secretary-automaton who needed inspiration from his master, several Segretarii stipulate that the secretary should also be a poet54—just as we have seen for the writer of familiar letters. In his Il Segretario (1620), for example, Vincenzo Gramigna offers a practical justification for such a requirement: the secretary must be as much poet as historian, because the poet's ability to create comparisons and allusions is crucial to the art of secrecy, of dissimulation.55 In fact, the poetic side of the secretary seems to compensate for the extreme servitude characteristic of his role.56

The general principles which govern the official letter and private correspondence are the same, with a similar insistence on the importance of brevitas, clarity, and decorum.57 For example, both types of manuals emphasize the importance of the recipient in determining the nature of the letter, in addition to its variability which makes the classification of letters by type58 or even the elaboration of universally applicable rules impossible. Not surprisingly, then, secretaries moved in a seemingly effortless fashion between official and familiar letters, and in sixteenth-century Italy, the popularity of the familiar letter as a literary genre is attributed to the fact that so many erudite men were writing official letters as part of their secretarial careers.59

Unlike the situation in Italy, in sixteenth-century France, the vernacular epistle had a tenuous generic status. In her study of the French verse epistle from 1400 to 1550, Yvonne Leblanc shows through careful diachronic textual analysis, but also through an examination of the ways in which epistles were collected and printed in poetic collections, that the epistle followed a certain number of rules, albeit fluid ones. Leblanc succinctly defines the epistle as “a monologic work written for a specific addressee whose relationship to the letter-writer inspires its theme and style” (1). In addition, following the work of Paul Zumthor, she states that another essential characteristic is that epistolary practice draws attention to itself; this occurs through such elements as “superscription, subscription, salutation, securing of goodwill and complimentary close—[which] often contain thematic references to the act of corresponding” (29). However, in the Neo-Latin tradition, which provided some of the models that Du Bellay would seek to emulate, it was not customary to identify verse epistles as such,60 and the tight form of the sonnet made the inclusion of meta-epistolary features rather difficult.

In his famous 1549 manifesto, La Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, in which the epistle seems to acquire formal generic status for the first time,61 Joachim Du Bellay himself had but little to say about the letter: just enough to condemn it as incapable of enriching the vernacular, on the grounds that it deals generally only with familiar and domestic matters rather than more worthy literary subjects.62 This is in keeping with its ill-defined status, for twenty years later, in the preface to his Lettres missives et familieres, Estienne du Tronchet states that since the French language has just begun to pulluler, it is time for letters to contribute to this development—and one might add especially because of the competition represented by the Italians, whose Pietro Aretino had published his letters in 1537.63 However, Du Tronchet's collection was mainly composed of fictive pieces, models, and translations of Aretino's letters. Although Estienne Pasquier thought he had reason to claim in 1586 that his Lettres were the first true correspondence, they were more like short treatises on political, moral, and literary subjects. The birth of the collection of vernacular prose correspondence as a literary genre would have to await the publication of Guez de Balzac's correspondence in 1624, and would not flourish on a wide scale before the period 1650-1660.64

Du Bellay, preoccupied with the role of poetry in his program of French literary renewal, makes no mention of the prose letter; however, the place of the verse epistle remains to be considered. Although there certainly existed a well-developed body of French epistolary poetry at the time, Du Bellay chose to avert his gaze from this tradition and focus exclusively on the imitation of the Ovidian elegy and the Horatian epistle.65 Why? Du Bellay was doubtless seduced by the irresistible prestige of classical models, but he was perhaps also motivated by his rivalry with Thomas Sébillet who had published his own poetic treatise one year earlier in 1548. Sébillet had only discussed the verse epistle in the Art Poétique françois, yet he had adopted the Ciceronian definition of the prose letter, commenting that it was a missive sent to inform someone absent about a matter concerning him or her; he added that it was a short form which was not confined to any one subject but rather accommodated many.66 Unlike Du Bellay, though, Sébillet finds French as well as Latin models to recommend: not only does he mention Ovid, but also the court poet Clément Marot whose works Du Bellay held in low regard for not being able to glorify (illustrer) the vernacular.

Since Marot's contributions to the verse epistle earn him a major place in the history of French poetry, the implications of his influence on Du Bellay's use of the genre cannot be ignored. This influence, while indisputable and essential, was extremely problematic for Du Bellay. Thanks in part to their more independent status and as part of their effort to seek a greater prestige for themselves and their works, the Pléiade poets sought to distance themselves from what they perceived as the too-common character of their predecessor's verse; part of this banality stemmed from its courtly character, which is hardly surprising since in the context of French vernacular poetry, the epistle was a courtly genre par excellence.67 Du Bellay was to go on to write an anti-courtly poem, “Le Poete Courtisan,” but most importantly, Les Regrets itself is in large part a diatribe against the Papacy and its court. Thus, while the epistle had attractive models in Latin, the tradition of the vernacular epistle made the composition of epistles in French quite compromising to both the Pléiade's program in general and Les Regrets in particular. If one adds to these considerations Marot's authority in French poetry, Du Bellay's interest in dissimulating the fact that he had chosen the epistle—by grafting it on the form of the sonnet and avoiding explicit identification of the form—would be at least as strong as his interest in using it.68 Marot's most significant legacy for Du Bellay, however, may lie on the one hand in the tailoring of the epistle to emphasize the poetic persona and its experiences, and on the other in the use of familiar language resembling speech.69

One year after La Deffence, in his anonymous Quintil Horatian, Barthélémy Aneau protested against Du Bellay's narrow views and took up Marot's and Sébillet's defense. While Du Bellay had made no mention in La Deffence of either the familiar letter or of its official counterpart—with the seeming implication that they had no contribution to make to glorifying and enriching the French language—Aneau not only seeks to make a place for the familiar letter, but even focuses on the value of the secretarial, official letter. Most importantly, Aneau takes issue with Du Bellay's view that there is an irreconcilable difference between the practical prose letter and the poetic elegy which Du Bellay had recommended.70 In the Quintil, it is precisely the prose letter's utility which should make it a cornerstone for enriching the vernacular, and he cites the examples of Cicero and Pliny as proof.71 Immediately after the enumeration of these famous Ancients, he gives, not without malice, the example of an official letter, an epistle sent to a German secretary, which he attributes to a certain Monsieur de Langey, who was none other than the brother of Cardinal Du Bellay, and thus the poet's cousin. Aneau's further argument is actually a long apology for the craft of those involved in any kind of letter-writing: secretaries, lawyers, prosecutors, shopkeepers—even personal friends. Aneau concludes that he would rather learn to speak and to write, and to glorify his mother tongue by reading letters of this sort, than Du Bellay's “tearful elegies.”72 In an uncanny foreshadowing of Du Bellay's situation in Rome, he adds that it would be an affront for a secretary, who was ordered by his lord to write a letter for him, to produce instead a personal missive which related only the secretary's own sadness.73 Aneau ends by insisting that if Du Bellay indeed sees himself as a glorifier of the French language, he should then recognize the value of both prose and poetry,74 but Aneau's final jabs are to mention Marot's contributions to the verse epistle, and to insist that knowing how to write prose letters is a prerequisite for composing elegies.75 It is significant that Aneau uses “elegies” here to designate the sonnets of the Olive, for the elegy was an outgrowth of the epistle, generally dealing with love in an elevated fashion.76 Thus Du Bellay's first work is already seen by a contemporary as participating in the epistolary tradition.

Aneau's insistence on the value of the prose letter for enriching the vernacular and most importantly his defense of the profession of secretaries, whose duty was to write letters for others, is particularly relevant for our understanding of Du Bellay's Regrets. Although all of the details of Du Bellay's role in Rome are uncertain, it is generally accepted that Du Bellay was employed as an intendant, or secretary, by his cousin the cardinal, in which capacity he almost certainly wrote letters.77 Thus, in a strange twist of fate, Du Bellay found himself precisely in the position of an official letter-writer faced with making the transition from the official letter to the tearful elegy.

As has already been intimated, Les Regrets is a complex reflection of these ideas, of a confrontation with the practices and ideologies of Du Bellay's contemporaries and his predecessors. The secretary is not important merely as a professional backdrop to the collection: the word actually appears in the first sonnet in the lines already cited, “I complain to my verse, if I have any regrets / I laugh with them, I tell them my secret / For they are the most trustworthy secretaries of my heart … (lines 8-11).” Du Bellay's use of the figure cannot be adequately understood without referring to its appearance elsewhere in Renaissance poetry, especially in the verse of his great Italian forerunner Petrarch.78 In Petrarch's Canzoniere 168, a thought transmitted by Love to the poet is presented as a secretary:

Love sends me that sweet thought
which is an old secretary between us
and comforts me and says that I was never
so close as I am now to to what I yearn and hope for.(79)

Here the secretary tends toward being a mere intermediary, a conduit as it were between Love and the poet.80 Not only does the “thought / secretary not console” (for that is the role of Love), but there is little emphasis here on the idea of the secretary as an assistant entrusted with secret, private thoughts—nor is he at all involved in the act of writing, be he a scribe or copiste. However, at the same time, the secretary's role does seem to carry a hint of that of the counselor.

The secretary also appears frequently in the poetry of Du Bellay's contemporary and rival Pierre de Ronsard.81 In a sonnet taken from Ronsard's Amours, published in 1552, the poet carries on a dialogue with the Gâtine forest, also introduced as his secretary, and the Loire river:

Saint Gâtine, fortunate secretary of my agony,
Who respond in your woods,
Now in high, now in low voice,
To the long sighs that my heart cannot keep quiet:
Loire, you who restrain the impetuous movement
Of the swiftest currents through my land,
When you hear me accuse this beauty,
Who always leaves me hungry and thirsty:
If I receive the favorable sign,
And if my eye was not yesterday deceived,
By the sweet looks of my sweet Thalia,
From now on you will make me a poet,
And you will be called throughout France,
The one my laurel, the other my Castalie [my fountain of Parnassus].(82)

Ronsard is intent on establishing his own poetic genealogy, appropriating Petrarch's legacy of the amorous wood and the laurel myth, yet giving them the cachet of France and the stamp of Ronsard. In this context, the secretary has ceased to be a mere emissary, let alone an ethereal one (“sweet thought”). He has assumed an imposing physical presence; Ronsard's secretary, “fortunate” in its devotion to Ronsard, is the entire Gâtine forest. The forest plays an important passive role as confidant—but also a somewhat more active one as the poet's respondent, even if the answer is basically an echo.83 One supposes that the “forest's”/“secretary's” response comes most likely in the form of verse; it is crucial to Ronsard's poetic immortality, for, if Ronsard himself is fortunate, it “will make [him] a poet” and insure him, like Petrarch, the laurel in line 14. Thus the secretary is, as Douglas Biow calls him, a “complex double of the poet,” yet one of the functions of this subordinate is to underscore the superiority of the poet Ronsard.

The materialization of the secretary's writing and Ronsard's dependence upon it for eternal fame are rendered even more explicit in one of his Sonnets pour Hélène, included in the 1587 edition:

You streams, you rocks, you solitary caves,
You oaks, heirs of the silence of the woods,
Hear the sighs of my last voice,
And of my testament be present as notaries.
Be faithful secretaries of my misfortune,
Inscribe it in your bark, so that it grows
Each month.(84)

Here the oaks take in dictation, as it were, Ronsard's last lines of verse, and insure his immortality by inscribing them in their bark. This time they are both skillful notaries (necessary so the testament will be valid) and faithful secretaries. By calling upon the expertise of two professions, the legal and procedural knowledge of the notary and the dependable transparence of the secretary, Ronsard seems to emphasize the importance of his survival with posterity.85

Such clear dramatizations of the dependence of poets on a secretarial subordinate also exist in the sixteenth-century French tradition prior to Ronsard and outside of Petrarchism. Clément Marot's treatment of the secretary in his poetry has implications for both the status of the secretary and the style of his writing. In the “Epître de Frippelippe” (1537), Marot has a secretary write, using his name, to Marot's arch-enemy François Sagon. By choosing a secretary for this duty, Marot implies that being a secretary is a lowly occupation since Sagon is not worthy of a direct answer from himself. The figure of the secretary is also associated with a much more familiar and vigorous style with which he further excoriates his adversary.86

These examples cast a new light on the presence of the secretary in Du Bellay's Regrets, where the conflict between his activities of secretary and poet becomes a leitmotiv. Du Bellay himself makes very clear that the move from paying bills and writing administrative letters to composing Les Regrets is nevertheless a natural one—as we saw earlier in the sonnet to Etienne Boucher, writing verse is a consolation for the annoyances of his position: “Verse takes the bother away” (“Les vers m'ostent l'ennuy” line 2). Of course, we also observed that if poetry makes Du Bellay's administrative life bearable, at the same time the demeaning role of the secretary thwarts and threatens his poetic powers, as in the twelfth and fifteenth sonnets of the collection where Du Bellay complains of his administrative responsibilities in order to conclude, “Don't you wonder how I manage to compose verse?” (“Ne t'esbahis-tu point comment je fais des vers?” “15”.14).87 Yet in the very first sonnet, where Du Bellay declares that his lines are secretaries of his heart, he makes the idea of consolatory verse a major theme of the collection:

I complain to my verse, if I have any regret
I laugh with them, I tell them my secret,
For they are the most trustworthy secretaries of my heart
Thus I do not want to comb and crimp them,
Or disguise them with more noble names
Than daily records and summaries.(88)

The poet does not reject his role as an abject secretary: like Marot and Ronsard before him (who however were not secretaries), he transfers, displaces it from himself onto his verse, in a sense thereby abandoning a subordinate position for one of prestige and power. Here the secretary is a poet determined, on one level, to compensate for, and in a sense rehabilitate, his stultifying professional role by projecting it on his verse. This poetry, “the most trustworthy secretaries of my heart” (“de mon coeur les plus seurs secretaires”) comes in the form of prosaic “papiers journaulx, ou bien de commentaires” (“daily records and summaries,” line 14)89—the jottings-down of a secretary. Du Bellay's relationship with this secretary is however more involved and intimate than in Petrarch or Ronsard: his lines of verse seem to be real interlocutors, not merely emissaries or echoes, for not only does Du Bellay complain to them, but they laugh and he laughs with them (“Je me ris avec eulx,” line 10). While these letters constitute an intimate, solipsistic correspondence between the poet and himself, they will eventually be re-addressed to close friends—through the different addressees who inform the sonnets—and also, in accordance with the nature of the verse epistle, to a wider public capable of comprehending the dense personal, literary, and political allusions typical of this work.90

Thus far we have seen the implications of Du Bellay's administrative duties in Rome for the genesis of Les Regrets—a relationship made clear by the sonnets themselves. However, a more subtle and perhaps more profound influence can be discerned in the very poetics of this verse, in its style and generic qualities. In terms of style, the lines quoted above emphasize the “simple” character of the collection and Du Bellay's modest claims for it: “Thus I do not want to comb and crimp them” (“Aussi ne veulx-je tant les pigner et friser” line 12). By treating his verse at the end of this very same sonnet as daily records and summaries, Du Bellay is doing more than denigrating it as simple, uncarefully wrought poetry: seemingly in accordance with the prose production of a secretary, he is quite simply denying it the status of poetry at all. The style of Les Regrets chosen by Du Bellay is the genus humile. Finally, there is a subtle irony in the refusal to disguise Les Regrets by applying more noble names, “plus braves noms” to them, to mince words so to speak, for this collection of sonnets is replete with names, references to living people who share the extratextual reality on which Les Regrets is based. Yet these names help to undermine their status as poetry: the epistolary phenomenon itself, the constant reference to real-life people and events, depoeticized Les Regrets.91 Du Bellay thus uses proper names to define an anti-poetry, a prose poetics. At the same time, however, he may also be brilliantly applying the adage ars celare artem: there is no greater artistic refinement for the courtier—and the poet—than to deny that his work is the product of any craft whatsoever. From this perspective, one can hardly imagine a more illustrious accomplishment than to refuse one's poetry recognition as such.

The apparently simple, yet complex low, “transparent” style characteristic of Les Regrets contributes significantly to the poems' status as epistles. At the same time, however, the declared forthrightness and clarity of this verse, ostensibly intended to communicate Du Bellay's thoughts and to act as secretaries, must be considered with suspicion because the message is so often obscure.92 Here the obscurity characteristic of the humanist epistle comes into play. Indeed, the relative opacity of Les Regrets was noticed almost at the time of publication by one of its addressees, the disgraced chancellor François Olivier, who remarked in a letter to Du Bellay's protector, Jean de Morel, that some allusions escaped him, and that as he reread the sonnets, he became increasingly aware of how many oblique references they contained.93 Not surprisingly, certain contemporary readers appeared to enjoy deciphering the enigmatic references.94 This is completely in keeping with the type of obscurity which Erasmus recommended. While Wolfgang Iser sees this phenomenon as inherent in literature, which requires that the reader fill in the gaps,95 and François Rigolot sees it as fundamental to poetic discourse,96 the elliptical language of Les Regrets seems characteristic of letters, written to one person or a small group who alone understand their particular context.97 Indeed, insofar as Les Regrets are presented as at least semi-private correspondence between friends, the same playful obscurity of which Erasmus boasted in his letters helps to give the reader the impression of eavesdropping on an intimate dialogue between others.98

As mentioned earlier, the proper names which figure so prominently as addressees—149 out of 191 sonnets are addressed to third parties—as well as the content of the sonnets, often specifically tailored to these people, are a signal of the epistolary nature of Les Regrets. There is even evidence of actual exchanges: for example, one finds numerous reciprocal references between Les Regrets and the collection of another French secretary/poet in Rome, Olivier de Magny's Souspirs.99 The themes of Les Regrets fall into the two broad categories typical of epistles: encomiastic pieces addressed to patrons and poems centered around friendship.100 The plaintive tone so characteristic of the collection also shows unmistakably its Ovidian epistolary heritage: the Tristia (whose title is echoed in Les Regrets) and Epistulae ex Ponto were an important classical model whose influence on Les Regrets has been clearly established. Finally, the political and satirical dimensions of these sonnets were a well-established part of the vernacular epistolary tradition.101

A clear example of the correspondent-addressee relationship characteristic of epistolary literature can be found in those sonnets addressed to other poets. In particular, when these poets are other members of the Pléiade, the group whose cause Du Bellay championed with his Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, Du Bellay uses the allusive, epistolary possibilities of Les Regrets to delimit the boundaries of his artistic milieu and further refine his poetic program. It is surely not an accident that the most frequent correspondent of Les Regrets is none other than Pierre de Ronsard, the acknowledged head of the Pléiade and premier French poet. It is perhaps most instructive to begin with Du Bellay's and Ronsard's teacher, Jean Dorat. In “Sonnet 130,” addressed to Dorat, the first poem devoted to Du Bellay's return to France from Rome, Du Bellay plays with an earlier piece, the famous “Sonnet 31,” using the imperfect tense to describe his former naïve jealousy of Odysseus/Ulysses who had been able to return home to see his smoking chimney:

And I too used to think what Ulysses thought
That there was nothing more sweet than seeing again one day
Smoke leaving one's chimney, and after a long stay
Finding oneself back in one's native land.(102)

Trouble has awaited him as it did Odysseus: “I find a thousand biting cares in my home” (“Mille souciz mordans je trouve en ma maison” line 5). Du Bellay ends the poem by saying “Adieu” to Dorat and telling him that he will return to Rome unless Dorat lends him the Muses's poetic bow to wreak his vengeance.

One might take Dorat's presence in this poem to be more or less gratuitous, having no necessary relationship with the use of the Ulysses myth, for example. However, as Henri Chamard points out in his edition of Les Regrets, “Sonnet 130” is a condensation of a Latin poem by Du Bellay also addressed to Dorat, and most importantly, both respond to a Latin poem of welcome written by Dorat for Du Bellay precisely on the latter's return from Rome:

Circe tried everything, as did Calypso,
In order to detain this cherished man.
But they tried everything in vain: Odysseus
Preferred being a mortal in his homeland, to being a god far away.(103)

In this witty Latin epigram, entitled “De eius reditu ab Italia” (“Upon his return from Italy”), the basis for the antithesis mortal at home/god abroad is not easy to grasp at first: what could make Du Bellay an immortal in Rome? However, the Latin language itself (and by extension whatever was written in it) was associated with immortality, and in terms of the number of lines, about half of poetry to have come from Du Bellay's stay in Rome is in Latin. Dorat thus salutes not only the return of Du Bellay to France, but also praises the decision to write French poetry—thereby also underlining the irony that the author of the Deffence, which passed judgment on contemporary poets who preferred Latin to their native tongue, had himself courted the Latin muse. Thus when in “Sonnet 130,” Du Bellay, now disappointed with France, threatens to return to Rome, he is alluding to the fact that he will continue to indulge in the prestige and pleasure of composing Latin poetry—and recultivating the sense of exile that pervades the poetry he composed in Rome.

The sonnets of Les Regrets which trace the poet's return trip from Rome have a particularly pronounced epistolary character: they resemble poetic postcards. In the Bibliothèque Nationale's copy of the 1558 edition, four of these sonnets carry manuscript titles such as “Suisse,” “De Genefve,” “De Lyon” (addressed to the poet Maurice Scève), and “Paris,” further suggesting portraits sent from different cities. Of the two Swiss sonnets, which are satirical in character, the piece entitled “Suisse” (“Sonnet 135”) is addressed to a member of the Pléiade, the poet Rémy Belleau, and describes the gluttony and barbarity of the Swiss. When Du Bellay magnanimously praises the country's abundant natural resources, he imitates drunken, repetitious speech, concluding that he can no longer remember, because he has been made to drink so much.104 Again, the link with Belleau might appear to be gratuitous, but only if one forgets that Belleau had just published (1556) his translation of the Carmina Anacreontea, where drinking and love are important themes. Thus this sonnet playfully and allusively salutes Belleau's first published work. Du Bellay does so again explicitly in the “Sonnet 156”; addressed to the Pléiade poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf, this piece acclaims the recent works of five members of the Pléiade and so trumpets the accomplishments of the group as a whole: “Because of his Anacreontic lines Belleau makes me love both wine and love” (“Par ses vers Teïens Belleau me fait aymer / Et le vin & l'amour” lines 1-2).

Du Bellay's frequent sonnets addressed to Ronsard throughout Les Regrets offers him a means to counterpoint his own poetics to that of his great rival. In accordance with the exceedingly humble characterization of his forthcoming verse as “papiers journaulx” and “commentaires,” it is not surprising to see Du Bellay oppose Ronsard the poet inspired by his lady and Marguerite de France with himself, incapable of composing poetry so far from such a flame as the latter:

Do not be shocked (Ronsard), dearer part of me,
If of Du Bellay France reads nothing more …
But I, who am absent from the rays of my Sun,
How may I feel a warmth like that
Of he who is close to his divine flame?”(105)

In a sonnet mentioned at the beginning of this essay,106 Pierre de Ronsard had begun his Continuation des Amours with the picture of Du Bellay contemplating the Tiber and the Palatine hill—and abandoning his “naturel langage” (line 4) in order to compose in Latin—only to contrast this tableau with the self-portrait of the enslaved lover. Ronsard's remark was doubtless meant to underscore the irony of seeing the author of the Deffence give in to the prestige of Latin after exhorting French poets to compose in the vernacular. Du Bellay responded in “Sonnet 10” of Les Regrets by saying that he had not chosen to compose in Latin merely because he was in the Eternal City, as Ronsard had supposed, but rather because of exile—just as Ovid had adopted the language of the Getae in order to be understood. By citing the example of the Roman poet, Du Bellay makes clear (in French) that he is staking out a new poetic territory, that of Ovidian imitation in Latin and French, as distinct from Ronsard's new simple style of love poetry.

However, Du Bellay's affirmation of a different poetic identity is not made without borrowings from Ronsard—or perhaps it would be better to speak of exchanges since it is not clear with whom certain features originated. When one examines La Continuation des Amours, first published in 1555, one is struck by the fact that the first few sonnets speak to individuals—to members of the Pléiade or its friends, in fact: Pontus de Tyard, Étienne Jodelle, Jacques Peletier du Mans, Jean Dorat, and naturally Joachim himself. This of course is hardly a rarity in poetry, but what is noteworthy in both Ronsard's and Du Bellay's works is the way in which they address others as a means of creating community. Whereas Du Bellay acclaims the Pléiade's accomplishments in order to make them known to the world, in his capacity as author of the Pléiade's manifesto and thus as its authorized spokesperson, Ronsard brings these members together around his person, the recognized head of the group, in order to inaugurate a new work. Du Bellay's movement is mainly centrifugal, away from the Pléiade (nevertheless with him at its center) toward his addressees but also beyond them to a greater public; Ronsard's is centripetal, making sure that the gazes are focused on his next performance. Because of this centripetal movement, the sonnets which are directed at others are less shaped by the addressees than by Ronsard himself and have much less of an epistolary quality; moreover, the number of poems addressed to living individuals is a small proportion of the total number. This does not prevent isolated pieces from functioning like epistles, however: the Ronsardian sonnet to which Du Bellay responds in Les Regrets actually quotes a poetic exchange with Olivier de Magny, a French secretary in Rome who was Du Bellay's other important correspondent. While the form is the same in both Ronsard's and Du Bellay's case, the effects of genre are different: Ronsard's sonnets are love poems written by a stable persona mainly to a single mistress, whereas Du Bellay's are elegiac epistles in which the poetic self subtly searches to define itself by reaching out to make a multiplicity of contacts.

The contrast between the inspired poet of a high genre and the uninspired practitioner of the genus humile is a leitmotiv in all of Du Bellay's exchanges with Ronsard. In “Sonnet 20,” Du Bellay celebrates Ronsard as a living, yet already immortal, poet and implicitly compares him to the premier divinely inspired bard, Orpheus.107 At the same time, however, Du Bellay's praise is subtly tainted because Ronsard's success may be due to diplomatic skill: the victory is already Ronsard's, he says, since he has the king's favor.108 Ronsard's true claim to fame, as the epic poet of the forthcoming Franciade, comes to the fore in sonnets “22” and “23.” “Sonnet 22” both continues the thread about favor and revives the debate with Ronsard about Du Bellay's fidelity to his French mother tongue. More than ever, Du Bellay says, he enjoys composing in French and Latin, given the indulgence with which the ruler (Henry II) looks upon literary endeavors. Du Bellay uses this flattery directed at the king to counter-attack, saying that Ronsard has henceforth no excuse for not finishing his Franciade:

Thus the sacred craft, in which your mind finds amusement,
Will be henceforth a vain exercise,
And the late labor which your hand promises us,
Henceforth for Francus will have no more excuse.(109)

At the same time, Du Bellay will imitate the humblest songs of Ronsard's tired muse, the laureate's famous beau style bas, by continuing to compose his Regrets.110 In the following “Sonnet 23,” Du Bellay adopts a much more aggressive tone, appearing to taunt Ronsard in the two quatrains with six successive questions, all of which ask why the laureate's love poetry has not given way to the Franciade. The purely rhetorical nature of these questions is confirmed shortly thereafter, at the end of the sonnet: there is no and will be no Franciade because, despite optimal conditions, the epic's hero and future founding father of France, Francus, is stuck on the Trojan shore and will never leave.111 If one reads between Du Bellay's lines, then, one discovers that this naturally self-denigrating poet is severely criticizing Ronsard while giving himself considerable praise: he implies that the inspired poet Ronsard might nevertheless be à bout de souffle because he continues to write the same love poetry (albeit with variations in tone and style which distinguish the Amours from the Continuation and Nouvelle Continuation), while Du Bellay has already moved beyond with his Olive and Petrarchist love poetry and is experimenting with genus humile poetry in an entirely new vein.

Sonnets “98” and “147” also discuss Ronsard's privileged status as an inspired poet, yet in a more flattering light. “Sonnet 98” and the preceding piece form a pair dealing with the Demoniaques, women possessed by the Devil, whom Du Bellay had a chance to observe during his stay.112 The subject receives a different treatment depending on the addressee. “Sonnet 97” first shows the poet terrified at the sight of these women, then laughing at an exorcism performed by a monk. This poem is addressed to René Doulcin, a cleric from Chartres who would probably appreciate such humor.113 The next sonnet is addressed to Pierre de Ronsard and in the manner of “Sonnet 23” is entirely built of questions, this time about the nature of demonic possession. As Screech indicates in his edition of Les Regrets, the immediate answer to why Du Bellay would ask such questions of Ronsard is that the head of the Pléiade could be considered an expert on the subject, for he had written as part of his Hymnes a piece entitled “Les Démons” in 1555; this allusion is thus a way of praising Ronsard's accomplishment and erudition.114 However, the flattery goes even deeper, since only an inspired poet such as Ronsard would have personal experience of possession and thus be able, for example, to answer Du Bellay's last question, namely whether the demons inhabiting these women were of high, middle, or low nature:

Tell me, I beseech you (Ronsard) who know their natures,
Those who torment these poor creatures in this way,
Are they of the higher, middle, or lower orders?(115)

Du Bellay's ignorance of these matters implies that he is not an initiate; as he states in the sonnet to Doulcin, he feels terror, with hair standing up on his head, yet this is simply fear and not inspiration.

As if the epistolary nature of this flattery were not sufficiently clear already, Du Bellay himself is forced to draw attention to it in “Sonnet 152,” in response to the reproach that he and Ronsard are like two donkeys who scratch each other's backs.116 For the first time, one finds explicit mention of the fact that Du Bellay and Ronsard correspond as if by letters:

So enough, I beseech you, enough talk of these boors
And these little gentlemen, who, at a loss for words,
Say, upon seeing Ronsard and Du Bellay correspond,
That they are two donkeys who scratch each others' backs.(117)

Yet this praise, which Du Bellay cynically states can be trafficked like money yet at no cost whatsoever,118 and especially the means by which it is trafficked, has been shown to be very significant for our understanding of Les Regrets. Clearly, this collection is a product of the humanist epistolary tradition. Despite the fact that Du Bellay opposes secretaries and poets, he is a poet-secretary to his friends; his secretarial activities may appear to compromise his poetic production, yet the allusiveness and obscurity associated with these responsibilities (and with letter-writing in general) carry over into his verse. Perhaps most typical of humanist epistolary practice, the epistolary form, whose raison d'être is to be found in the addressee, becomes a means for Du Bellay to experiment with different forms of himself as he reaches out to different individuals. In the exchanges with Ronsard, Du Bellay's praise of his rival and self-deprecation are paradoxically a means for outlining his own poetics in opposition to Ronsard's poetic practice.

The letter makes this possible in at least two ways. First of all, Seneca's Letters to Lucilius showed that the letter can help one to reflect in a manner analogous to an essay—but with the advantage afforded by a distinct addressee. Approximately a quarter of a century after Du Bellay's death, Montaigne affirmed that his Essays would have adopted the form of letters “si j'eusse eu à qui parler.”119 Second, although designed to bring people closer together, the letter posits by definition a distance that underscores a separation between its author and its addressee. By writing to Ronsard, Du Bellay thus distances himself from the poet laureate. If the epistolary tradition offers Du Bellay a means for fashioning a new lyric voice, and for situating himself in the French literary constellation, it serves to make him an outsider as well. In fact, Du Bellay utilizes the letter so as to express a sort of perpetual exile. In Rome he has returned “home” to his cultural heritage, yet by means of the epistolary sonnet he expresses his estrangement from it, yearning to see “the chimney smoke of my little village” (“de mon petit village / fumer la cheminee,” line 30). However, no sooner does he return to France, to his patrie and mother tongue, than he writes his teacher, the humanist Jean Dorat, “so goodbye Dorat, / I am again Roman” (“Adieu donques [Dorat] je suis encor' Romain,” line 130).120 Exploiting the possibilities offered by the epistle to insure that his self is de-centered both linguistically and geographically, Du Bellay demonstrates that he is a quintessential Protean man of the Renaissance.


  1. See for example Cooper, 1980, 491 and Legrand, 35; see also Weber, 461 and François Paré, 261. Tucker has viewed Les Regrets as participating in a “fictional dialog with his contemporaries in France and Rome” (35); although he too pursues how Du Bellay forges an identity through exile and writing, he is less interested in how Du Bellay uses the epistolary tradition to fashion that exile.

  2. For a brilliant analysis of Rome as Du Bellay's imperial mistress, see Rebhorn's article. Professor Rebhorn's insight and exquisite sense of judgment were crucial to me as I worked on this article.

  3. All references to Les Regrets are drawn from the Screech/Jolliffe edition. All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. “Ce n'est le fleuve Thusque au superbe rivage, / Ce n'est l'air des Latins ny le mont Palatin, / Qui ores (mon Ronsard) me fait parler Latin, / Changeant à l'estranger mon naturel langage. / C'est l'ennuy de me voir trois ans & d'avantage / Ainsi qu'un Promethé, cloué sur l'Aventin / Ou l'espoir miserable & mon cruel destin, / Non le joug amoureux, me detient en servage” (1-8).

  4. “Et quoy (Ronsard) & quoy, si au bord estranger / Ovide osa sa langue en barbare changer / Afin d'estre entendu, qui me pourra reprendre / D'un change plus heureux?” (9-12).

  5. “Je me plains à mes vers, si j'ay quelque regret, / Je me ris avec eux, je leur dy mon secret / Comme estans de mon coeur les plus seurs secretaires …”(8-11).

  6. See Richard Cooper, 1990, 402. Basic information concerning the extratextual reality of Les Regrets is provided by Gladys Dickinson's Du Bellay in Rome.

  7. §223-35. I have used the Loeb edition by Doreen Innes.

  8. §75-§90. The debate on the ideal “Attic” style continued through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; although at the outset Cicero had spoken in favor of the “Attic” style, beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, it was the anti-Ciceronians who made it their own; for them, the characteristic abundance of oratorical Ciceronian prose was on the contrary evidence of its “Asianism.” John Monfasani observes that “after the mid-sixteenth century Ciceronianism came to be understood especially as denoting not merely an adherence to Ciceronian diction but also a preference for a fulsome oratorical style as distinct from a plain or, as a major anti-Ciceronian, Justus Lipsius, put it, ‘Laconic’ style, which, in fact, meant different things to different critics and which was believed to be best represented by other classical authors, such as Seneca and Tacitus,” 195. It is also useful to read Morris Croll, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, in particular “‘Attic Prose’ in the Seventeenth Century,” 68-70, where he affirms that the Attic label “attique” always kept a trace of its original associations with philosophy. Other helpful chapters are “Muret and the History of ‘Attic Prose’” and “Juste Lipse et le mouvement anti-cicéronien,” 21 sqq.

  9. “Epistolarum genera multa esse non ignoras, sed unum illud certissimum, cuius causa inuenta res ipsa est, ut certiores faceremus absentis, si quid esset quod eos scire aut nostra aut ipsorum interesset,” (Correspondence 2: 4.1; my emphasis).

  10. “Epistulas cotidianis verbis texere solemus” (ibid., 4: 21.1). Quintilian, who does not specifically discuss the letter in his Institutio oratoria, does however admit free prose (oratio soluta), close to conversational speech and to epistolary language, suitable for treating “familiar” matters: “Est igitur ante omnia oratio alia vincta atque contexta, soluta alia, qualis in sermone et epistulis, nisi cum aliquid upra naturam suam tractant, ut de philosophia, de re publica similibusque” (9: 4.19).

  11. “Huius generis litteras a me profecto non expectas; domesticarum enim tuarum rerum domesticos habes et scriptores et nuntios, in meis autem rebus nihil est sane noui. Reliqua sunt epistolarum genera duo, quae me magnopere delectant, unum familiare et iocosum, alterum seuerum et graue” (ibid., 2: 4.1).

  12. For example, he distinguishes between letters intended for a specific addressee and those which can reach a wider audience: “aliter enim scribimus quod eos solos quibus mittimus, aliter quod multos lecturos putamus” (ibid., 15: 21.4). Cited in Pauly, article “Brief,” 841.

  13. See for example Demerson, 1982, Legrand, and the collective work Ovide en France dans la Renaissance. On Du Bellay and Horace, see Demerson, 1984 and Lebègue. For the recent perspective of a classicist on Ovid's exile poetry, see Williams.

  14. Curtius, 76: “what is new in the eleventh century is the attempt to subordinate rhetoric to the art of epistolary style.”

  15. Ibid., 148: “in theory the ars dictaminis embraced both prose and poetry”; in practice they were distinguished by different rules governing them, “prose being regulated by rhythm, poetry by meter or by rhythm and rhyme.” The end result was that “the boundaries between poetry and prose … became more and more blurred.” (149).

  16. Witt, 33, writes of the “narrow technical approach to rhetoric prevailing among the dictatores,” rejected by Petrarch. Fumaroli, 1978, 887, is of the same opinion: “Ces Formae dictandi ou Artes dictaminis, dont James Murphy, dans son Rhetorics [sic] in the Middle Ages a fait l'inventaire et l'analyse, avaient gelé pour ainsi dire le genre (de la lettre] dans une pratique administrative de secrétaires, le soumettant à la disposition en cinq parties de l'oratio antique, à une imitation étroitement calquée sur des modèles fixes, à un décorum impérativement adapté à des situations officielles en nombre limité.” See Murphy, 1974.

  17. For an analysis of the somewhat dramatic consequences which the slavish art of letter-writing had for cultivated Renaissance secretaries such as Machiavelli and Torquato Acetto, see Biow, Najemy, and Nigro.

  18. Familiari 1: 1. 33: “Multa igitur hic familiariter ad amicos, inter quos et ad te ipsum, scripta comperies, nunc de publicis privatisque negotiis, nunc de doloribus nostris, que nimis crebra materia est, aut aliis de rebus quas casus obvias fecit. Nichil quasi aliud egi nisi ut animi mei status, vel siquid aliud nossem, notum fieret amicis; probabatur enim michi quod prima ad fratrem epystola Cicero idem ait, esse «epystole proprium, ut is ad quem scribitur de his rebus quas ignorat certior fiat».”

  19. See Witt, 31-32: “A major factor influencing [Petrarch] was that he was not a dictator by profession, but a private man. Even when he spoke on issues of public life, he spoke with a certain detachment from political partisanship, a freedom not enjoyed by the chancery official or the professional teacher. … Cultivation of a personal mode of expression accorded naturally with this status.”

  20. See Michel, 25-26: “Au moment même où il critique le caractère de Cicéron, Pétrarque imite amoureusement son style dans ce que ce dernier a de plus spontané.”

  21. It is significant here that Petrarch describes himself as an exiled Ulysses, just as Du Bellay will do in his Regrets: Familiari 1: 1.21: “Ulixeos errores erroribus meis confer.”

  22. Ibid., 1: 1.28: “Prima quidem scribentis cura est, cui scribat attendere.”

  23. Ibid., 1: 1.27: “In his ergo vite tempestatibus, ut ad rem redeam, nullo portu anchoram longum in tempus iaciens, quot veros amicos nescio, quorum et iudicium anceps et penuria ingens est, notos autem innumerabiles quæsivi. Multis itaque multumque animo et conditione distantibus scribere contigit; tam varie ut ea nunc relegens, interdum pugnantia loquutus ipse michi videar: Quod propemodum coactum me fecisse fatebitur quisquis in se simile aliquid expertus est.”

  24. Ibid., 1: 1. 29: “Quibus ego difficultatibus multum a me ipso differre compulsus sum.”

  25. Ibid., 1: 1. 32: “Multa quoque de familiaribus curis, tunc forte dum scriberentur cognitu non indigna, nunc quamvis cupido lectori gravia, detraxi, memor in hoc irrisum a Seneca Ciceronem; quanquam in his epystolis magna ex parte Ciceronis potius quam Senece morem sequar.”

  26. Henderson, 339. For a detailed study of how Erasmus used his correspondence in part to promote himself as the premier European humanist, see Jardine, and Mesnard. According to Mesnard, Erasmus's correspondence “vise à construire le monde de l'humanisme sur la base de rapports personnels entre tous ses représentants qualifiés” (24). These functions are confirmed in Machiavelli's correspondence by Najemy. The role of the letter in the evolution of the humanist program is made clear in Grafton and Jardine, 1986.

  27. Najemy, 57: “I would add that it was also the Proteus among Renaissance literary genres. It slipped into the novella, the treatise, and the essay, into poetry and the theater; it was public and private, political and personal; and it straddled the critical space between the old myth (so dear to the rhetoricians) of language as natural and pure speech and the unsettling recognition (usually urged by the poets) of the mysteries and obscurities of textual metamorphosis.”

  28. Erasmus: “res tam multiplex propeque ad infinitum varia” (209).

  29. See Fumaroli, 1978, 888: “Il revint à un humaniste du Nord, à Erasme, de renouer de façon décisive avec l'esprit de Pétrarque, et de combattre, dans le stylus ciceronianus italien, un retour masqué au formalisme social des Artes dictaminis médiévaux.”

  30. See Henderson, 355: “Although books are written in a style designed to please the most learned of their many readers, Erasmus argued, the letter need please only the correspondent. It can therefore be distinguished from other genres by its flexibility of style.”

  31. “Nam quod M. Tul. ad Curionem tria epistolarum genera facit, non ide agebat vt singulas literarum species distingueret, sed vt propositae complexioni seruiret. Ea vero diuisio quae non ex argumenti varietate, sed ex characteris conditione ducitur, parum mihi videtur ad docendum apposita. Quod si quis ex argumentorum differentia formas commetiatur, quum illorum infinita sit varietas, quis erit formarum modus?” (309). All quotes refer to the Margolin edition in the Opera Omnia series.

  32. “Eoque simplicitatem, candorem, festiuitatem, argutiam amat hoc epistolarum genus” (225).

  33. “neque diu sermonem eundem vrgebimus … miscebimus … non solum multa, verumetiam varia” (225).

  34. “Huic generi magis congruet atticismus, ac stilus humilior, comoediae propior quam tragoediae, aut si quid etiam humilius phrasi comica, modo docta sit humilitas; meminerimusque non inferioris esse facultatis, cum laude humi serpere, quam cum Daedaleo volare per aëra; et vicinum litus legere contractis velis, quam sublatis antennis medio ferri pelago. Amica est huic generi breuitas, maxime si vel de multis, vel de minutulis negociis agetur; et si aut ipsi qui scribimus, aut ii quibus scribitur occupatiores erunt” (225).

  35. “Caeterum, vt ad institutum sese referat oratio, quanquam obscuritas quoties officit, vbique vitanda est vel dicenti, vel scribenti; tamen haud scio an vllo in genere plus inueniat veniae quam in epistolis, modo non indocta …” (221).

  36. “Quod huic obscurum est, illi dilucidum” (221).

  37. “haud scio an vllo in genere plus inueniat veniae quam in epistolis”; “non aliud genus admittat obscuritatem” (217-18).

  38. “velut cum eruditus cum erudito velitatur literatis iocis, quos nolit a quouis intelligi” (218).

  39. “Quemadmodum nos olim lusimus cum eruditissimo viro Thoma Linacro: cui scripsimus epistolam metro trochaico tetrametro, sed ita temperata ompositione, vt aliud agenti non suboleret esse carmen” (218).

  40. “Ciceronis exemplo, licet subinde graeca miscere latinis obscuris allusionibus vti, amphibologiis, significationibus, paroemiis, aenigmatibus, clausulis de repentes praecisis” (221).

  41. See for example “Multa lectione, multis praescriptionibus, accurata scriptorum obseruatione, multi scribendi dicendique vsu paratur sermonis mundicies” (227) and Fumaroli's comments: “le choix du style harmoniquement accordé, dans chaque cas, aux nombreuses variables qui président à l'écriture d'une lettre, est une opération trop complexe et délicate pour être abandonnée à la spotanéité. Ce coup d'oeil exercé, ce consilium, ne peut conquérir sa justesse qu'au prix d'une soigneuse et longue préparation. La liberté épistolaire n'est pas une license, mais récompense de la parfaite maîtrise d'une culture, et des possibilités du langage” (890).

  42. In a passage which appears to follow Erasmus's De conscribendis very closely, the great Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives admits that allusions, riddles, and language shifts may be used with learned recipients (301). Yet he goes further, because for Vives, using foreign words in a letter constitutes an example of coded, secret language which is appropriate for making delicate subjects unintelligible to others.

  43. Very early in De officio legati d'Estienne Dolet (1541), but then in the Segretario of Francesco Sansovino (1561) (and thus in the Secrétaire de Gabriel Chappuys, published in 1588, which translates it), in the Secretarii of Angelo Ingegneri, Panfilo Persico and of Vincenzo Gramigna. See below.

  44. “Nam ad Inuentionem vberibus præceptis quid opus? cùm semper ea prompta; nec ad Epistolam scribendam veniatur nisi argumento concepto, & mente (vt ita dicam) tumente” (17).

  45. “Omnino decôra est hæc incuria” (17). One also finds slightly earlier: “Vt in colloquiis incuriosum quiddam & incompositum amamus: ita hîc” (17).

  46. Which requires corresponding capabilities in the reader. Fumaroli, 1978: “Lipse découvre que le lecteur, contrairement à l'auditeur, est libre de revenir en arrière, de s'attarder sur la page, de la méditer et de la goûter à la façon d'un poème” (897).

  47. “Sane si quid in oratione nostra aut stilo probandum: totum a natura est, vix a cura. Rationem meam scribendi scire uis? fundo, non scribo. Nec id nisi in calore et interno quodam impetu, haud aliter quam poetae” (Cent. II. Ep. 2). Cited in Mouchel, 426 n.196. With respect to “calor ingenii,” Mouchel states on page 192 that Lipsius “était ici l'héritier de Sénèque,” but like us he also sees the influence of Longinus (via Manutius's reflections on the Sublime). For the history of Longinus's influence in the sixteenth century, relatively weak according to the experts, see Logan and also Fumaroli, 1986.

  48. It is the first meaning of the word given by Huguet's Dictionnaire de la langue française du seizième siècle. Moréri, II, 309 which traces this idea back to Carolingians and even to the Romans, who called certain servants of the ruler secretaries because they kept secrets. “[à Rome] On distinguoit trois colléges de notaires. … Ceux du second collége étoient nommés Domestici & Familiares Principis, parcequ'ils étoient logés dans le palais, & qu'ils avoient plus de part dans les secrets du prince: c'est pourquoi ils furent ensuite appellés Secretarii.” On the Carolingians: “les rois en prirent quelques-uns après de leurs personnes pour travailler aux choses secrettes & de confidence. Eginhard fut secrétaire de Charlemagne.” Angel Day, author of the sixteenth-century treatise The English Secretory, gives perhaps the best explanation: “I will boldly for this cause define, that in respect of such Secrecie, trust and assurance required at the hands of him who serueth in such a place, the name was first giuen to be called a Secretory, and that by the Etymologie of the very word it selfe, founding in true coniecture, quasi custos, or conseruator secreti sibi commissi, a keeper, or conseruer of the secrets unto him committed,” 393-94.

  49. One can suppose that theory often codified what was already well-established in practice, and that as a consequence the end-of-the-century manuals mentioned can furnish important information about the secretarial profession at the time when Du Bellay was writing his poems.

  50. For example, the entire third book of Panfilo Persico's Segretario treats different types of letters; the second book develops the art of writing them, with a discussion of figures and metaphores. This is very common according to Nigro who writes of the invitation “à la préparation et à l'exercice dans le «mode épistolaire» … à travers l'étude de lettres exemplaires dont, en général—dans la deuxième partie de tous les traités—est fourni un très vaste recueil” (187).

  51. Such as in Le Prothocolle des notaires, tabellions, greffiers, sergens … avec le guydon des secretaires (1518), which contains a collection of models at the end: “Actestation,” “Bail a loyer,” “Lettres de reception en foy,” “Marche de menuserie,” “Summation et denonciation,” “Traicties de mariaige.”

  52. See for example the title page of Gabriel Chappuys's Secretaire (1588), which seems quite simply to equate the secretary with one who writes letters: l'art des / secretaires / et nobles parties / et qvalitez d'iceux, // Avec le Stile & methode fort facile d'escrire en / tous genres de lettres missives: la declaration de / chacune des parties d'icelles, illustrees d'exem- / ples, pur l'instruction de ceux qui veulent appren- / dre a composer plusieurs belles, parfaictes & / doctes Epistres, pour le profit & contentement / de tous ceux qui suiuent vn art tant noble, ex- / traites d'hommes sçauans.

  53. “alcuni auuertimenti per la professione del segretario.” I thank Douglas Biow for having drawn my attention to this treatise.

  54. Butler: “If he is interested in poetry, and can write verse himself, so much the better” (14).

  55. Gramigna: “Laonde per non tacere vn pensiero, che mi viene ora a mente, non solo dourà chi lode acquistar brama di Segretario, esse storico, mà poeta. Conciosiacosache a niun' artefice più che al poeta si apartengano le similitudini, nelle quali perche ageuol cosa e'l prendere ‘nganno, conuiene perciò che finissimo giuditio habbia, oltre alla viuacita dell'ingegno, che le dee accoppiare” (39-40).

  56. For Persico, the reading of poetry, like the reading of history and oratory, is an important part of the secretary's literary training. Poetry constitutes moreover an ornament which serves to make him appreciate beauty and virtue. “Ma per far quella ricca suppelletile e quell' apparato copioso, chi hauemo detto desiderarsi nel Segretario per adornar l'inuentione, e l'elocutione, e per seruirsen' ad ogni bisogno meditatamente, e d'improuiso, essendo necessaria la lettione dè poeti, degli histori, e degli oratori, ci resta dimostrar come di questi s'habbia a coglier frutto per l'vso, e per l'imitatione. Conciosiache trà le parti, che sono d'ornamento in lui alcuni stimino assai la poesia, perche oltre quel, che conferisce all' arte del dire, eleua lo' intelletto, essercita lo' ngegno, & induce nell' animo dilettatione del bello, e della virtù” (63). As Nigro states: “Le lecteur de la Dissimulation honnête est donc averti dès le début: l'auteur est un secrétaire qui répugne à endosser l'habit étroit et servile que l'office et les traités ont cousu sur lui; c'est un «poète» qui dans la littérature retrouve la dignité et la liberté qui lui sont refusés en société et qui connaît les possibilités d'allusion de l'artfact littéraire et la valeur circonstancielle de l'utilisation de citations stratégiquement placées et astucieusement censurées” (789-90).

  57. Day, 232: “first Aptnesse of words and sentences, respecting that they be neate and choicely picked, and orderly handled: next, Breuitie of speech, according, in matter and circumstance fitly to be framed: lastly, Comeliness in deliuerance, concerning the person and cause whereupon the direction is grounded;” Ingegneri, 43: “Queste sono, il Decore, la Chiarezza, & la Brevità.”

  58. Ingegneri: “perche non è di intention mia, nè perauentura di necessità della materia, che al presente si tratta, il discorrerne particolarmente; oltre che ciò sarebbe vn gire in infinito” (40). However Ingegneri proposes a classification scheme according to the type of relationship between author and and addressee and according to the type of letter (private/official): “Affermo pertanto, triplicemente diuidersi le lettere, secondo la loro sostanza, nell'vfficio, nel negotio, & nel composito dell'vna cosa, e dell'altra; & altrettanto farsi, secondo l'accidente, cioè, che trà vguali, ò dal superiore all'inferiore, ò dall'inferiore al superiore si scriua. Hora quello, ch'à tutte queste sorti, & à ciascuna di esse, si richiegga conuenevolmente, si verrà essaminando” (42).

  59. See Butler on this: “Another reason for the vogue of the letter as a literary form during the Cinquecento may well be sought in the extraordinary number of cultured men of literary tastes who were secretaries to secular and ecclesiastical princes, and in the nature of things spent a great part of their time writing letters. Bembo, Caro, Bernardo Tasso, Guarini, to mention only the more outstanding, all at one time or another held such secretarial posts while hosts of minor writers served lesser princes in the same capacity, and probably expressed themselves more readily in letter-form than in any other. It would seem indeed that seventy-five per cent or more of the authors of published letters either were secretaries at the time of bringing them out, or had once been secretaries, or remained secretaries all their lives” (13).

  60. See Sperberg-McQueen who writes on the Neo-Latin German poet Martin Opitz: “It is not immediately apparent, when one examines editions of Opitz's poems, that he actually wrote poetic epistles in German. None of his German poems is titled ‘Brief,’ and none is so called in its text. Such omissions are, however, consistent with neo-Latin practice, where explicit genre markers for both prose and verse epistles are often absent until a number of epistles are brought together and collectively labelled ‘liber epistolarum’ or the equivalent. The difficulty of identifying any of Opitz's poems as epistles is made even greater by the lack of autographs. These might have exhibited traits—address, letter format—which would clearly have marked certain poems as epistles … What, in general, will Opitz's poetic epistles look like? As letters, they will, of course, be addressed to someone and will have the title ‘An …’” (527).

  61. LeBlanc: “Beginning with Du Bellay, the term genre was applied to the verse epistle, though the precise meaning of this word was not determined in the Arts poétiques of the sixteenth century” (52).

  62. Quand aux epistres, ce n'est un poëme qui puisse grandement enrichir nostre vulgaire, pource qu'elles sont voluntiers de choses familieres et domestiques, si tu ne les voulois faire à l'immitation d'elegies, comme Ovide, ou sentencieuses et graves, comme Horace” (II: iv.215).

  63. Du Tronchet: “Ce que ie ne puis receuoir de nous, que d'vne pure negligence, & d'vne diffidence que nous auons de nous-mesmes, sinon qu'ils voulussent dire qu'il ny a pas longtemps que nostre langue Françoise commance de pulluler, & depuis qu'elle est entrée à se congnoistre, prenant quelque plus gratieux air, de mitiguer sa dureté ancienne, comme si nous venons à fueilleter les liures & expeditions de noz modernes predecesseurs, sans courir plus auant, nous trouuerons qu'elle est de beaucoup augmentée, singulierement sur le butin qu'elle a faict au moyen de la curieuse & loüable couersation de ses voisines, mesmement sur l'Italienne, qui sans nulle doubte luy a faict heureuse part de son bien” (n.p.)

  64. Viala, 182.

  65. “[S]i tu ne les voulois faire à l'immitation d'elegies, comme Ovide, ou sentencieuses et graves, comme Horace” (II.iv).

  66. Sébillet, 153: “L'épistre Françoise faite en vers, ha forme de missive envoyée a la personne absente, pour l'acertener ou autrement avertyr de ce que tu veus qu'il sache, ou il desire entendre de toy. …”

  67. LeBlanc, 165: “Though its range had shifted, the epistle remained primarily a poetic form at the service of a closed society, such as the courts of late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century France.”

  68. Ibid., 170: “Besides exploiting the personalizing aspect of the epistle, Marot explored the form's generic limits.” Yet just like Marot, Du Bellay loved to explore the generic limits of the form he was working with.

  69. Ibid., 158: “The most important innovation brought to the epistle by Marot was thus the personalizing of its content and the oral quality of its discourse”.

  70. Du Bellay, 1969, 215: “Tu metz les epistres hors du jeu, qui sont bien les plus necessaires, non seulement à nostre langue, mais à toutes, pour la commune société des hommes, soit en prose ou en vers.” All quotes from the Quintil come from the 1904 Chamard edition of the Deffence (reprinted in 1969).

  71. Ibid., 215-16: “Tu allegues une belle et suffisante raison: pource qu'elles sont (ce dis tu) de choses familieres. Mais d'autant plus sont idoines à enrichir nostre vulgaire, qui converse et est le plus souvent mis en usage és choses familieres. Combien que outre l'exemple et la translation des autres langues, comme les epistres de Ciceron, Pline, Basil le Grand, Phalaris, Euchier, mises en françois, encores en est il de françoises originales, de non moindre gravité que celles-là.”

  72. Ibid., 216: “Desquelles je voudroie mieux apprendre à parler et escrire, et enrichir mon vulgaire, et ma langue illustrer, que de tes elegies larmoyantes.”

  73. Ibid.: “Car si j'estoie secretaire de quelque grand seigneur qui me commandast escrire son vouloir et son intention en autre lieu, et à autre tel personnage, ou à quiconque ce fust, et au lieu de cela, je luy allasse escrire une elegie suyvant l'affection de ma propre douleur, qui en rien et à luy et à autre ne toucheroit … : pensez qu'il seroit bien ayse, et m'en sauroit grand gré de faire ainsi, Nostre Dame de Pitié.”

  74. Ibid.: “N'es tu pas celuy illustrateur de la langue françoise? laquelle doit et peult bien estre, et est illustrée de l'une et l'autre, oraison et poësie?”

  75. Ibid., 217: “[Q]ui ne sait escrire une epistre ou une missive (car c'est tout un) pour parler à un absent et luy communiquer son intention, en vain sait il poëtiser des elegies.”

  76. Sébillet, 155: “Prends donc l'élégie pour epistre Amoureuse”; Peletier du Mans, 183: “A mon avis que l'Élégie a été transferée en l'Amour, non point comme en considération de joyeuseté, mais plutôt de tristesse, dont les pauvres amoureux sont toujours pleins …” For the relationship between the elegy and the epistle, see LeBlanc, 48: “In France, the elegy appears to have grown out of the epistle and, by consequence, shared its general format. The elegy was always perceived as a more homogenous and elevated form than the epistle which seemed by the mid-sixteenth century to be irrevocably associated with the quotidian.”

  77. See for example Henri Chamard, 304 (who, however, always exaggerates biographical indications): “Les fonctions de Joachim ne se bornaient pas au simple rôle d'intendant. Je n'irai pas jusqu'à prétendre avec Colletet qu'il était au courant de tous les secrets politiques. Les secrétaires d'ambassadeurs au XVIe siècle ne connaissaient pas tant de choses. Magny, qui l'était, nous renseigne péremptoirement (Souspirs, S.13). On ne traite pas de la sorte quelqu'un qui détient des secrets d'État. Du Bellai sans nul doute était logé à la même enseigne. En qualité de secrétaire, il pouvait rédiger pour son maître des billets de politesse mondaine: les dépêches diplomatiques ne passaient point par ses mains.” In the edition of Du Bellay's correspondance edited by Pierre de Nolhac, there are letters concerning administrative matters which were written after Du Bellay's return to France: see the letters 9 and 10, for example.

  78. I am greatly indebted here to my colleague Douglas Biow's work in progress, Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries: Professionalism and Humanism in Renaissance Italy.

  79. “Amor mi manda quel dolce pensero / che secretario antico è fra noi due, / et mi confort et dice che non fue / mai come or presto a quel ch'io bramo et spero.”

  80. See Biow: “The secretary in this sonnet is just a substitute, a stand-in for the presence of another whose words he simply transmits.” Vincenzo Gramigna would insist much later on the letter's role in communicating our thoughts to others: “le lettere, come quelle, che mezzane sono per communicare altrui i nostri pensieri, e più communi anche dell' altre scritture, e più necessarie, deono, s'esser vogliamo ‘ntesi, conformarsi di mano in mano a’ presenti costumi” (88).

  81. See for example in the Laumonier edition 4: 128, l. 1; 8: 159, l. 206; 9: 72, l. 175; 11: 138, l. 415; 15: 208, l. 26; 15: 340, l. 10; 17: 163, l. 123; 17: 211, l. 5; 18: 218, l. 5; 18: 355, l. 9. The first sonnet may well be directed at Ronsard, given the repetition of different sounds which make up Ronsard's name: see Mathieu-Castellani, 255.

  82. “Saincte Gastine, heureuse secretaire / De mes ennuis, qui respons en ton bois, / Ores en haulte, ores en basse voix, / Aux longz souspirs que mon cuoeur ne peult taire: / Loyr, qui refrains la course voulontaire / Du plus courant de tes flotz vandomoys, / Quand acuser ceste beauté tu m'ois, / De qui tousjours je m'affame & m'altere: / Si dextrement l'augure j'ay receu, / Et si mon oeil ne fut hyer deceu / Des doulx regardz de ma doulce Thalie, / Dorenavant poëte me ferez, / Et par la France appellez vous serez, / L'un mon laurier, l'aultre ma Castalie” (4:128.1-14).

  83. Ronsard the poet, is after all, a Narcissus.

  84. “Vous ruisseaux, vous rochers, vous antres solitaires, / Vous chesnes, heritiers du silence des bois, / Entendez les souspirs de ma derniere vois / Et de mon testament soyez presents notaires. / Soyez de mon mal-heur fideles secretaires, / Gravez-le en vostre escorce, afin que tous les mois / Il croisse comme vous …” (18.218.1-7).

  85. As Biow comments, “It would seem that in sixteenth century France to climb the heights of Mount Parnasssus the professional poet needs a professional secretary too.”

  86. See LeBlanc. 163, for a discussion of the poem.

  87. It is interesting to compare this declaration with that of the lawyer and part-time rhetoriqueur Jean Bouchet, who, writing a century earlier, defends his poetry against the charge that it is a waste of time for someone as busy as he, and in so doing uses the verb “rymassez,” of which Clément Marot made great use in his famous “Epistre au Roy”: “Plusieurs ont dit, ainsi comme j'entends / Que je perdois a rymasser, le temps, / Mais telles gens ne scaavent par quel guise / Le temps, les jours, et heures je divise, / Si j'emprunty en trente ans le sejour / Pour composer une heure seule on jour, / Ne sont pas grans le temps et les demeures / De dix foiz mil neuf cens et cinquante heures?” fol. 24.

  88. “Je me plains à mes vers, si j'ay quelque regret, / Je me ris avec eulx, je leur dy mon secret, / Comme estans de mon cœur les plus seurs secretaires / Aussi ne veulx-je tant les pigner & friser, / Et de plus braves noms ne les veulx deguiser, / Que de papiers journaulx, ou bien de commentaires” (9-14).

  89. I justify this translation as follows: Huguet actually has an entry for “papier journaulx” as it appears in this very poem: “registre relatant les faits de chaque jour.” As for the meaning of “commentaires,” it would seem to derive from its Latin cognate commentarius, which for example Aulus Gellius, the author of the Noctae atticae, uses to designate an intermediate stage of his work whereby notes (annotationibus pristinis) were combined to form portions of text (commentarii) which are still fragments: “Facta igitur est in his quoque commentariis eadem rerum disparilitas quae fuit in illis annotationibus pristinis, quas breviter et indigeste et incondite eruditionibus lectionibusque variis feceramus” (1:3). The editor of the Budé edition explains that “Les essais, commentationes et commentarii, désignent l'ouvrage mis en œuvre comme fait de morceaux indépendants: essais, études, notes, cahiers, carnets, feuillets. Cela s'oppose aux notes primitives de lectures annotationes, matière première inélaborée de l'ouvrage” (2, n. 2). Like Du Bellay, Aulus Gellius insists on the insignificant, playful character of his work, calling it modeste little elaborations (lucubratiunculas istas). I owe these insights to Catherine Magnien-Simonin; see her very pertinent article on the influence of the Noctae atticae on Montaigne's Essays.

  90. Leblanc, 34: “most verse epistles were composed with a larger audience in mind than their inscribed addressees. They are mostly public texts, polished works intended for the consumption of a particular readership.”

  91. As LeBlanc notes, “the use in an epistle of proper names and dates serves to situate the text within a spatio-temporal reality, for they delimit and particularize the relationship between correspondent and addressee” (11). Roman Jakobson defined the function of poetic language precisely as the tendency toward linguistic autonomy. See the article “Linguistique et poétique” in his Essais de linguistique générale.

  92. The style is also not as low, as un-epic, as Du Bellay would have us believe. Pantin, 156-58 shows convincingly that both the high and low styles are present in Les Regrets, and that they highlight each other: “Cette intensité et cette mobilité émotionnelles, se reeflètent dans le style qui utilise beaucoup de figures pathétiques, telles que les hyperboles ou les apostrophes. Ces dernières sont loin d'être toujours utilisées parodiquement, or elles caractérisent le style sublime. … Le style haut, accompagné de ses ‘ornements essentiels’, occupe donc une grande place dans Les Regrets; il n'en disparaît jamais mais il n'y règne pas et s'y trouve comme perturbé et brouillé.”

  93. This letter was included (2) in the 1558 edition of Du Bellay's Poemata: “Bellaii poemata, mihi post tuum discessum, ter, quater relecta, semper magis ac magis allubescunt. Quanquam sunt in iis nonnulla quae me fugiunt, quod scilicet res ipsas queat.” Olivier also noted that far from being rough, Les Regrets was the extremely polished product of a very refined judgement: “Hoc unum scio: qualia scribit, nisi ab eo praestari non posse, qui sit uaria ac multiplici eruditione, iudicio autem perelegante perpolitus.”

  94. For example, see B.N. ms. coll. Dupuys 736, where Regrets sonnet 113 whose allusions to three popes in the first line “Avoir veu devaller une triple Montagne” are explained by marginal annotations. The 1558 edition of Les Regrets (grande réserve Rés. Ye. 410) contains similar annotations.

  95. Iser, 111: “Communication in literature, then, is a process set in motion and regulated, not by a given code, but by a mutually restrictive and magnifying interaction between the explicit and the implicit, between revelation and concealment. What is concealed spurs the reader into action, but this action is also controlled by what is revealed; the explicit in its turn is transformed when the implicit has been brought to light. Whenever the reader bridges the gaps, communication begins. The gaps function as a kind of pivot on which the whole text-reader relationship revolves.”

  96. Rigolot, 1977, 13: This ambiguity is “un corollaire obligé de la poésie.”

  97. Duchêne, 1976, 34-35: “les lettres ne se comprennent pas par rapport au lecteur éventuel, mais par rapport à celui pour lequel elles ont été écrites, leur destinataire. En cela aussi, il y a «traduction immédiate» de la réalité vécue: elles appartiennent au monde de l'allusion, du clin d'oeil, du demi-mot. Entre l'autre de la lettre et le destinataire, il y a toute une masse de connaissances partagées, de complicités implicites, d'affaires menées naguère ensemble qui servent de base et de toile de fond. Les lettres surgissent au confluent de deux vies, et traduisent en conséquence une double complexité. Le lecteur n'est que le témoin de confidences fragmentaires et sporadiques. Il ne peut tout reconstituer. …”

  98. Finally, such language may well have been protective: Les Regrets is often filled with satirical and generally controversial content, could and would fall into the hands of others; thus, the secretarial tradition of masking, of using allusive, even coded language to insure that a message was only understood by few may have been of use here; many pages of the secretarial treatises are devoted to the subject of dissimulatio. Yet the oblique quality of the satiric discourse in Les Regrets was not sufficient to keep their meaning obscure to unwanted readers; in a prose letter to his second cousin Cardinal Jean Du Bellay, involved in sensitive negotiations with the Vatican which could have been affected by the poet's mordant wit, Du Bellay found it necessary to explain that his sonnets had circulated without his permission. Even when he published Les Regrets, certain of the most virulently satirical sonnets were excluded from all editions but one, the edition B.N. Rés. Ye. 410, with its special “carton” containing sonnets 105-112.

  99. See for example R.1 and S.176; R.11-14, 48 and S.50; R.15 and S.13; R.33 and S.148; R. 38 and S.34; R.53 and S.67; R.67 and S.70; R.64 (addressed however to Bizet) and S.48, 99, 141, 142; R.85 and S.138; R. 93 and S.160; R.105 and S.118, 143, 147; R.116 and S.7; R.123-26 and S.119, 125, 152; R.150 and S.94.

  100. LeBlanc mentions that as far as the epistles of sixteenth-century poets are concerned, “the thematic range of their epistles is already previewed in the works of Chastellain, Castel, Robertet, Baude, and Molinet: encomiastic pieces to glorify a patron and texts of friendship to honor and entertain a peer” (105).

  101. See LeBlanc, ch. 3: “Social Context and Epistolary Practice at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century.” Also Desan.

  102. “Et je pensois aussi ce que pensois Ulysse, / Qu'il n'estoit rien plus doulx que voir encor' un jour / Fumer sa cheminee, & apres long sejour / Se retrouver au sein de sa terre nourrice” (1-4).

  103. Omnia tentavit Circe, pariterque Calypso, / Dilectum ut possent detinuisse virum. / Omnia sed frustra tentarunt: maluit esse / Ille vir in patria, quam procul inde Deus (I:39). This is also in Dorat's works. For more on Dorat, see Grafton, 1983, esp. chapter 3 “Poliziano's Legacy in France” and Demerson, 1983.

  104. “Ils ont force beaux lacs & fore sources d'eau, / Force prez, force bois. J'ay du reste (Belleau) / Perdu le souvenir, tant ilz me firent boire” (12-14). There is also a play on words Belleau / belle eau. See Xenia 52, “Remigius Bellaqueus” in the Autres œuvres latines and Magnien-Simonin.

  105. “Ne t'esbahis (Ronsard) la moitié de mon ame / Si de ton Dubellay France ne lit plus rien …” (1-2). Mais moi, qui suis absent des raiz de mon Soleil, / Comment puis-je sentir échauffement pareil / A celuy qui est pres de sa flamme divine? (9-11).

  106. Continuation des Amours (1555), 3:119.

  107. “Ja du laurier vainqueur tes temples se couronnent, / Et ja la tourbe espesse à l'entour de ton flanc / Ressemble ces esprits, qui là bas environnent / Le grand prestre de Thrace au long sourpely blanc” (11-14).

  108. “Courage donc (Ronsard) la victoire est à toy, / Puis que de ton costé est la faveur du Roy” (9-10).

  109. “Donq le sacré mestier, ou ton esprit s'amuse, / Ne sera desormais un exercice vain, / Et le tardif labeur que nous promet ta main / Desormais pour Francus n'aura plus nulle excuse” (5-8).

  110. “je suivray … Les plus humbles chansons de ta Muse lassee” (10-11).

  111. “Il a le vent à gré, il est en équipage, / Il est encor pourtant sur le Troyen rivage, / Aussi croy-je (Ronsard) qu'il n'en partit jamais” (12-14).

  112. See Viatte, 456-60.

  113. On Doulcin, see Chardon.

  114. Du Bellay reiterates the compliment with a new twist in sonnet 147 (which responds directly to a poem by Ronsard entitled “l'Elegie à Chretophe de Choiseul, abbé de Mureaux” and included in the second book of Hymnes), where it is implied that immortal works are accompanied at the outset by a Demon.

  115. “Dy, je te pry (Ronsard) toy qui sçais leurs natures, / Ceulx qui faschent ainsi ces pauvres creatures, / Sont-ilz des plus haultains, des moyens, ou plus bas?” (12-14).

  116. Erasmus uses this image in The Praise of Folly and Holbein illustrated it. I thank Professor Rebhorn for drawing my attention to this fact.

  117. “Laissons donc je te pry laissons causer ces sotz / Et ces petitz gallandz, qui ne sachant que dire, / Disent, voyant Ronsard & Bellay s'entr'escrire, / Que ce sont deux muletz qui se grattent le doz” (5-8).

  118. “On peult comme l'argent trafiquer la louange, / Et les louanges sont comme lettres de change, / Dont le change et le port (Ronsard) ne couste rien” (12-14). On this subject, see Hampton.

  119. This is a reference to the loss of his great departed friend Estienne de la Boétie: “Sur ce subject de lettres, je veux dire ce mot, que c'est un ouvrage auquel mes amys tiennent que je puis quelque chose. Et eusse prins plus volontiers ceste forme à publier mes verves, si j'eusse eu à qui parler. Il me falloit, comme je l'ay eu autrefois, un certain commerce qui m'attirast, qui me soustinst et soulevast. Car de negocier au vent, comme d'autres, je ne sçauroy que de songes, ny forger des vains noms à entretenir en chose serieuse: ennemy juré de toute falsification. J'eusse esté plus attentif et plus eur, ayant une addresse forte et amie, que je ne suis, regardant les divers visages d'un peuple. Et suis deçeu, s'il ne m'eust mieux succédé” (1.40.252). On the analogy between the letter and the essay, see Rigolot, 1988, especially chapter 4.

  120. He of course continued to compose Latin poetry once he was back in France.


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