Pierre de Ronsard Biography


(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Ronsard enriched French poetry by adapting classical genres and styles to his native language. He wrote historically significant odes, hymns, and lyrics and one of the most important sonnet sequences in the history of literature.

Early Life

Pierre de Ronsard was born into a noble family in the Vendômois area of France. His father, Louis, was made a chevalier by Louis XII a few years before the poet was born. At the age of twelve, Ronsard was placed as a page in the French court, which put him in a position to become an important courtier or functionary in the royal household. His father wanted him to pursue a legal career, then the path to preferment, but Ronsard performed poorly at each school he attended. He was bored with the subjects that were taught but fascinated by the Latin poetry he read, and he nurtured the ambition of becoming a poet.

After the death of his father in 1544, Ronsard took a crucial step in becoming a poet. He placed himself under the tutelage of Jean Dorat, an early French Humanist. He studied Latin and Greek language and literature under Dorat with his friend Jean-Antoine de Baïf. This rigorous training provided him with classical models in form, genre, and style that he believed were superior to the existing medieval models, which were primarily romances and religious works. Ronsard and his friends Joachim du Bellay, Baïf, and others, formed a group that supported the aims of the new poetry and became known as the Pléiade. Ronsard was determined to become not merely another poet but also the poet who would change the tradition by incorporating classical models, elegance, and rigor into French literature. In 1550, three years after completing his studies with Dorat, he published Odes and was hailed as the French Pindar.

Life’s Work

Ronsard’s Odes were well received at the time, but later criticism has tended to disparage them, and a nineteenth century critic, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, called them unreadable. They were historically important in introducing classical forms and myths into French literature, and some can still affect readers today. One of the problems later readers faced was that Ronsard followed the metrical and stanzaic patterns of Pindar—primarily a short poetic line and stanzas grouped into triads—and he transferred some of the subject matter from Pindar directly into poems that seemed distant from sixteenth century France. The odes that imitated Horace were more successful; Horace’s structure was looser, the style more urbane, and the world they represented had some analogies to those of Ronsard.

The first poem of the third book of odes, in which he announces his vocation as a poet, is a good example of Ronsard’s celebration of his classical models. After announcing that he has become “the gods’ mortal companion” because the Greek Muse of poetry, Euterpe, has lifted him up to that state, he now can scorn common pretenders since the “Muse loves me. . . .” At the end of the poem, he describes his poetic position as directly linked to Greece and Rome: “Making me part of high Athens’ glory,/Part of the ancient wisdom of the Romans.” The common pretenders would be those still mired in the older forms of poetry or those writing merely love lyrics, while Ronsard has become one of the ancients.

Ronsard’s next major work was Les Amours (1552). Petrarch, who was Ronsard’s poetic model for this work, was closer in time. Ronsard wrote sonnets that followed and varied the Petrarchan structure and metaphors. These poems have remained popular through the years and to most people are the quintessential Ronsard. The first part of Les Amours deals with the poet’s love for Cassandra. In poem 20, he desires to be rain that falls “one golden drop after another/ Into Cassandra’s lovely lap. . . .” He then metamorphoses into a white bull who will take her when she passes. Finally, he becomes a narcissus and she a spring so he can plunge into her. After suggesting metaphorical and mythical ways to unite, the last three lines speak of a union at night with a desire to suspend the approach of dawn. The poem varies slightly from Petrarchan conventions, since it speaks directly about the union with the beloved.

In 1554, Ronsard offered a less ambitious but delightful collection, Le Bocage. These poems deal more directly with the countryside, nature, and contemporary events. There is, for example, a poem on the frog “La Grenouille”; Ronsard celebrates the ordinary frog above other animals and even calls her a goddess. In addition, the frog is not subject, as man is, to hard times. He also asks, in...

(The entire section is 1939 words.)

Pierre de Ronsard Biography

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Pierre de Ronsard was born of a noble family in the Vendômois region of France in 1524. At the age of twelve, he became a page for the dauphin François, only to have his master die a mere three days later. He then began to serve Madeleine de France (the new wife of James Stuart and daughter of François I). Ronsard accompanied her to Scotland, where she died almost immediately, in 1537. Three years later, a disease left Ronsard partially deaf and apparently destroyed his hopes for a diplomatic or other public career. It may have been this condition, as much as his exposure to the arts (an exposure provided both by his father and by his association with other Humanists and poets), that pushed him toward a career in letters.

Whatever the reason, Ronsard threw himself into Humanistic studies and into his early poetic efforts with single-minded energy and ambition. In 1547, he and the poet Du Bellay entered the College of Coqueret to study with the Humanist Jean Dorat. Along with others, Ronsard and Du Bellay constituted a poetic group designated as the Brigade, which (later, and with some changes in membership) was to be known as the Pléiade. In 1549, Du Bellay published his Defense and Illustration of the French Language; this composition, to which Ronsard certainly contributed, was an important manifesto which provided both a theoretical foundation for poetry in the vernacular and practical advice for the development of its resources. A year...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Pierre de Ronsard Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The most important literary movement in sixteenth century France centered around the “Pléiade,” a group of seven poets. Although the manifesto of the group, Defénse et illustration de la langue Française, was written by his close friend Joachim du Bellay, Pierre de Ronsard (rohn-sahr) remains the most famous of the coterie.

He was born in 1524 at his family’s Château de la Possonnière near Couture, the son of an official of the household of Francis I. After a short period at the College of Navarre in Paris, he was appointed a royal page. He studied at the Collège de Coqueret under the eminent humanist Jean Dorat. A high fever made him partially deaf in 1543, but this handicap did not prevent him from learning Latin and Greek. The depth of his classical learning reveals itself in his creative imitations of Greek and Latin poems.

Later Ronsard spent three years in Great Britain and was sent on various diplomatic missions. He was a special favorite of Charles IX, who called Ronsard his “master of poetry.” Ronsard had a long and distinguished literary career. When he began writing poetry in the late 1540’s, he was a fairly servile imitator of classical sources, but he eventually developed into a truly original poet who composed elegies and odes on philosophical and religious subjects as well as well-crafted love sonnets. The aim of the Pléiade was to reform French verse by adhering more closely to classic models: “Follow the ancients” was their motto. Ronsard insisted, however, that each imitation be creative.

Ronsard died at the priory of Saint-Cosme, near Tours, on December 27, 1585. For two centuries after his death, Ronsard’s reputation waned. His work was, however, rediscovered during the Romantic era, and his poetry was once again appreciated. The charm of Ronsard’s nature poetry and the magnificence of his language and metrics still bring pleasure to readers, more than four centuries after his death.