Pierre de Ronsard Ronsard, Pierre de (Poetry Criticism) - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Pierre de Ronsard 1524–1585

French poet and critic.

Considered his nation's greatest lyric poet in the Pindaric vein and an outstanding figure in the literary life of the French Renaissance, Ronsard wrote an enormous amount in a wide variety of forms: songs, elegies, sonnets, philosophical and scientific poems, and the beginning of an epic. Admired most for its meticulous language, often innovative metrics, and broad range of themes, Ronsard's poetry is today widely considered the epitome of French Renaissance poetics, and its author is regarded as a major force in the advancement of his native tongue.

Biographical Information

Information about Ronsard's life comes from a variety of contemporary sources, none entirely reliable. He was born at the Château de la Possonière in the Vendômois, the son of Louis de Ronsard, a minor nobleman and amateur litterateur who held a court appointment, and Jeanne Chaudrier, a close relative of many of the ancient families of Touraine and Anjou. Except for a half year spent at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, Ronsard passed his early years in the Vendômois, where he was educated at home by preceptors and acquired a firsthand knowledge of nature and an abiding love of his native province which later figured prominently in the poet's work. At the age of twelve, Ronsard was sent to the royal court to serve as a page to members of the royal family. In 1538 he began a peripatetic career as a soldier and a diplomat. Illness however—the beginnings of a lifelong affliction with arthritis and deafness—forced him to abandon a diplomatic career in order to convalesce in the Vendômois, where he at once determined to take up literature as a full-time occupation. Encouraged by the distinguished poet Jacques Peletier, Ronsard published his first work, "Ode de Pierre de Ronsard a Jacques Peletier," in 1547. Ronsard's first collection of poems, Les quatre premiers livres des odes, met with considerable critical success. Other works followed in quick succession as Ronsard diversified his style to include philosophical, occasional, and scientific poetry. In 1558 or 1559, with his reputation firmly established, he was made official court poet, the responsibilities of which position included writing occasional and honorary verse. Ronsard spent his last years mainly at Saint-Cosme Priory near Tours and at Croixval Priory, where he devoted himself to religious duties and to revising his works. Ronsard died at Saint-Cosme in 1585.

Major Works

Ronsard's literary canon is vast, and its range and variety challenge critics who seek a neat, uncomplicated overview of it. His first major collection, the largely Horatian and Pindaric Les quatre premiers livres des odes, reflects, in its rhyme schemes, imagery, and themes, many of the principles found in Joachim du Bellay's Deffence et illustration de la langue françois. Ronsard's Les amours, Continuation des amours, and Nouvelle continuation des amours, which were inspired by their author's love for a Florentine banker's daughter, Cassandre de Salviati, are a departure from the style and purpose of Les quatre premiers livres. Elaborate, sensual, overtly Petrarchan, and often mannered, the sonnets of Les amours treat more conventional themes—unrequited love, solitude in a lover's absence, and erotic longing. In contrast, Ronsard's two books of Homeric poetry, Les hymnes and Le second livre des hymnes, published at about the same time as Les amours, are majestic, laudatory addresses and panegyrics to patrons and friends on philosophical, scientific, and other typically Renaissance subjects. The publication of Les œuvres in 1560 initiated Ronsard's second literary period, distinguished from the first by its overtly public nature. In a number of alexandrine discours, or addresses, published during the next ten years, most notably Discours des miseres de ce temps and Remonstrance au peuple de France, Ronsard used satire and invective to promote religious and political issues, especially patriotism, Catholicism, and the king's success in the religious wars. Ronsard's most aspiring work, Les quatre premiers livres de la Franciade, was also one of his last. An epic account of the French nation's Trojan ancestry, this poem was never completed owing to the unfavorable reception of its first books, and, critics agree, was followed by nothing of special merit.

Critical Reception

In his day—especially in the 1550s and 1560s—Ronsard enjoyed extraordinary critical and popular success. But Ronsard's achievement was increasingly questioned by the end of the sixteenth century, and by about 1650 his reputation had suffered a dramatic reversal, bringing on a period of neglect that lasted nearly two hundred years. Scholars and critics began to reevaluate Ronsard's poetry during the third decade of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, his work increasingly has become the subject of rigorous academic inquiry and criticism. From fame to obscurity to fame again, Ronsard's reputation has come full circle centuries after his death, and once more he is widely considered the greatest French poet of his age.

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


Avantentrée du Roy trescrestien à Paris 1549

L'hymne de France 1549

Ode de la paix 1550

Les quatre premiers livres des odes de Pierre de Ronsard, ensemble son bocage 1550; revised edition, 1555

Les amours de P. de Ronsard vandomois, ensemble le cinqiesme de ses odes 1552; revised editions, 1553, 1557, 1560, 1578

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

Le livret de folastries à Janot Parisien 1553; revised edition, 1584

Les odes 1553

Le bocage 1554

Continuation des amours 1555; revised edition, 1557

Hymne de Bacus, avec la version latine de Iean Dorat 1555

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

Les meslanges 1555; revised edition, 1555

Nouvelle continuation des amours 1556

Le second livre des hymnes 1556

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

Exhortation pour la paix 1558


(The entire section is 473 words.)

Donald Stone, Jr. (essay date 1966)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Ronsard's Sonnet Cycles: A Study in Tone and Vision, Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 3-18.

[Stone is an American academic and scholar of French literature whose major works, including France in the Sixteenth Century (1969) and French Humanist Tragedy (1974), give special attention to the Renaissance period. In the following excerpt, he provides a thematic and stylistic overview of Ronsard's sonnets.]

Speak of Pierre de Ronsard to any student of literature, and he will quote immediately from "Mignonne, allon voir" and "Quand vous serez bien vieille." He may also have read "Comme on voit sur la branche," but he will be familiar...

(The entire section is 4587 words.)

H. M. Richmond (essay date 1970)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ronsard and the English Renaissance," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. VII, No. 2, June, 1970, pp. 141-60.

[Richmond is an English critic. In the following essay, he examines Ronsard's influence on the major English Renaissance poets, particularly John Donne, William Shakespeare, and Andrew Marvell.]

There can be little doubt that a knowledge of the Petrarchan tradition provides a necessary background to any detailed study of almost any of those poets of the English Renaissance who are presently most fashionable in scholarly circles: authors such as Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, and even Marvell. But it seems doubtful that the Italian tradition...

(The entire section is 6624 words.)

Terence C. Cave (essay date 1970)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ronsard's Bacchic Poetry: From the Bacchanales to the Hymne de l'autonne," in L'Esprit Créateur, Vol. X, No. 2, Summer, 1970, pp. 104-16.

[An English scholar of French Renaissance literature, Cave is the author of Devotional Poetry in France (1969) and The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (1979). In the essay below, he traces the development of Ronsard's interpretation of the myth of Bacchus by examining the poems "Bacchanales," "Dithyrambes," "Hymne de l'autonne," and "Hinne de Bacus."]

The interest in Bacchus, wine and drunkenness which is prominent in Ronsard's earlier poetry is most fully worked...

(The entire section is 4435 words.)

Odette de Mourgues (essay date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ronsard's Later Poetry," in Ronsard the Poet, edited by Terence Cave, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973, pp. 287-318.

[In the essay below, de Mourgues offers a stylistic and thematic analysis of Ronsard's later work.]

The first ten years in Ronsard's poetic production are so rich and so varied that they seem both to contain and to herald all the rest of his work—with perhaps the exception of his political poems and of the Franciade. Even more than being a triumphal arch opening up the succession of poetic achievements, they reveal the perspective of the long colonnade and determine its main structural features, down to the very end of the vista. I am here...

(The entire section is 7677 words.)

Gertrude S. Hanisch (essay date 1979)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ronsard's Early Elegies: 1553 to 1563," in Love Elegies of the Renaissance: Marot, Louise Labé and Ronsard, ANMA LIBRI, 1979, pp. 73-95.

[In the following excerpt, Hanisch discusses the defining characteristics of Ronsard's early elegies.]

In the first posthumous edition of Ronsard's works, published in 1587, the book of Elegies was preceded by a quotation from Horace's Ars Poetica regarding the elegy and by two prefaces, both of which are of interest to us. The first shows the confusion which Ronsard evidently felt regarding the nature of the elegy and ends with a translation of two lines taken from Horace….

In her study of...

(The entire section is 5157 words.)

Malcolm Quainton (essay date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A conclusion to Ronsard's Ordered Chaos: Visions of Flux and Stability in the Poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, Manchester University Press, 1980, pp. 219-25.

[In the following excerpt, Quainton examines the treatment of flux and stability in Ronsard's poetry.]

[The] twin concepts of flux and stability represent an important and continuing source of inspiration for Ronsard. These concepts do not merely result in a poetic rejuvenation of certain lyrical commonplaces concerning time's flight, the omnipotence of death and the inconstancy of Fortune, but they have widespread consequences which encompass a diversity of attitudes and perspectives—allegorical,...

(The entire section is 2818 words.)

I. D. McFarlane (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mythology and Structure in Ronsard's Les Amours (1552-53)," in Myth and Legend in French Literature: Essays in Honour of A. J. Steele, Keith Aspley, David Bellos, Peter Sharratt, eds., The Modern Humanities Research Association, 1982, pp. 60-72.

When we read the early love-sequences of the Pléiade, notably Du Bellay's Olive (1549-50), Pontus de Tyard's Erreurs amoureuses (1549) and Ronsard's Amours (1552), we shall see that only Ronsard has made extensive use of classical legend to enrich his thematic web. Neither Du Bellay nor Pontus really exploits this poetic source; perhaps, given their Christian-Platonizing tendencies, they were less likely to do...

(The entire section is 4651 words.)

Margaret M. McGowan (essay date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dancing Forms," in Ideal Forms in the Age of Ronsard, University of California Press, 1985, pp. 209-41.

[McGowan is an English academic and scholar who has published works on Michel de Montaigne's Essays, Jean Racine's dramas, and the ballet in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. Below, she explores the role of dance and music in Ronsard's poetry.]

Ronsard had discovered in his triumphal odes that his reader's feelings could be most sharply affected by verse that conveyed a sense of images in motion; his poems in praise of the human form demonstrate a similar awareness. Let us consider for a moment the song of farewell that Ronsard wrote on the...

(The entire section is 8820 words.)

Ullrich Langer (essay date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ronsard's Death: From Desportes to the Derniers Vers," in Invention, Death and Self-Definitions in the Poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, ANMA LIBRI, 1986, pp. 89-107.

[In the following excerpt, Langer traces Ronsard's treatment of death in "A Philippes des-Portes Chartrain," "Hymne de la mort," and the poems of Les derniers vers de Pierre de Ronsard, gentilhomme vandomois.]

A la fin je me trouve en un estrange esmoy,
Car ces divers effaicts ne sont que contre moy,
C'est mourir que de vivre en ceste peine extreme.
(Jean de Sponde, 1588)

I have isolated three aspects of...

(The entire section is 5658 words.)

Donald Gilman (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "'It's All in the Name': Amorous Vision and Poetic Creativity in Ronsard's Sonets pour Helene," in Literary Onomastics Studies, Vol. XV, 1988, pp. 15-22.

[In the following essay, Gilman describes some of the onomastic strategies that Ronsard employs in order to represent and unite his vision of love and poetic creativity.]

In his final sonnet sequence, Pierre de Ronsard unites his vision of love with his search for poetic creativity. As a poet of love, he describes the turbulence of amorous experience throughout his personal verse and, like Petrarch and his followers, details the disquiet and disappointment of unrequited love. By centering attention on...

(The entire section is 3322 words.)

Lance K. Donaldson-Evans (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Demons, Portents, and Visions: Fantastic and Supernatural Elements in Ronsard's Poetry," in Renaissance Rereadings: Intertext and Context, Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Anne J. Cruz, and Wendy A. Furman, eds., University of Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 225-35.

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

(The entire section is 3944 words.)

Jean Braybrook (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Aesthetics of Fragmentation in Ronsard's Franciade," in French Studies, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, January, 1989, pp. 1-11.

[In the essay below, Braybrook reassesses the episodic, fragmented quality of the narrative of Ronsard's La Franciade.]

La Franciade was Ronsard's only attempt at a full length epic. In it he set out to glorify the French monarchy and to show that the French were descended from the Trojan Francus, the son of Hector rescued from a bloodthirsty Pyrrhus thanks to a sleight of hand on the part of Jupiter. As the rhyme Franciade-Iliade suggests, Ronsard originally intended to produce twenty-four books. He spent years planning...

(The entire section is 3854 words.)

Ehsan Ahmed (essay date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

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

[In the following essay, Ahmed argues that in the Odes Ronsard goes beyond boundaries and rules that historically had defined poetry and the poet.]

Et faictes que toujours j'espie
D'oeil veillant les secretz des cieulx.
("Ode à Michel de l'Hospital")

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

(The entire section is 5981 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Calin, William. "Ronsard's Cosmic Warfare: An Interpretation of His Hymnes and Discours" Symposium XXVIII, No. 2 (Summer 1974): 101-18.

Examines cosmological, heroic, and religious interpretations of Ronsard's Hymnes and Discours.

Castor, Grahame. Pléiade Poetics: A Study in Sixteenth-Century Thought and Terminology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964, 208 p.

Comprehensive study of the Pléiade movement, commenting on Ronsard's understanding of nature, imagination, and invention.

Cave, Terence...

(The entire section is 1182 words.)