Other Literary Forms

Tristan L’Hermite was one of the most eclectic writers of the seventeenth century. His first published work, of 1626, was the scenario of a ballet, Vers du ballet de Monsieur Frère du Roi. An impressive ode, La Mer, followed in 1628, and his first collection of poetry, Les Plaintes d’Acante, in 1633. Numerous individual poems and collections of all types—erotic, heroic, religious, burlesque—followed in a fairly steady stream; the most notable of these are Les Amours de Tristan (1638), La Lyre (1641), L’Office de la Sainte Vierge (1646), and Les Vers héroïques (1648). It is principally for this poetic output that he is remembered today, but in addition to that—and to his multifaceted dramatic endeavors—he penned numerous letters (Lettres mêlées, 1642), a treatise on cosmography, Principes de cosmographie (1637), a fine picaresque novel, Le Page disgracié (1643), and a series of debates, Plaidoyers historiques (1643). With the exception of Le Page disgracié, which is receiving increasing critical attention, Tristan’s prose works have fallen into a not-undeserved neglect. Such is not the case with his poetry, which was frequently edited and well-represented in every major anthology of his time. Neglected for two centuries, his poetry returned to the limelight at the time of the Symbolists (Claude Debussy set some of Tristan’s best lines to music) and today, thanks in large part to the efforts of poets such as Amédée Madeleine and Carriat, he is universally recognized as the greatest lyric voice of the age of Louis XIII.


One of Cyrano de Bergerac’s extraterrestrial travelers said of Tristan L’Hermite, “He is the only poet, the only philosopher, and the only free man that you have.” The author who has been called the predecessor of Symbolism and the precursor of Jean Racine was basically an anachronism. His first play, La Mariane, was a huge success, artistically and critically. Though lyric and oratorical, it revealed to the audience of seventeenth century France what psychological drama could be and do. By the time he died, some twenty years later, he was already out of step with his time and ready for oblivion. Much the same can be said of his poetry, but it is precisely those qualities that made the classical age reject it that allow the modern reader to appreciate it fully. His poetry is replete with conceits, prolonged metaphors, and preciosity, but beyond these commonplaces of baroque expression lie a sensitivity and sensibility so universal as to reduce all artifice to subservience. All the thematic and metaphoric commonplaces of his day are to be found in his work, yet they are imbued with such a personal coloration and such deep conviction that they strike responsive chords in a modern reader. What first appears to be a mere rhetorical exercise is shown by careful scrutiny to be a sterling expression of profound sensibilities. A court poet, Tristan had to play a game, one that had to be played consciously and seriously. “The Muses have no brush that I cannot handle with some dexterity,” he once said, and though his work is not of uniform merit, he was right. His poetry is once again finding its way into numerous anthologies, both academic and commercial, and his drama is being dusted off by academics and actors alike.


Abraham, Claude. Tristan L’Hermite. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A basic biography examining the life and works of Tristan L’Hermite. Bibliography and index.

Grove, Laurence, ed. Emblems and the Manuscript Tradition: Including an Edition and Studies of a Newly Discovered Manuscript of Poetry by Tristan L’Hermite. Glasgow, Scotland: University of Glasgow, 1997. Although this discussion focuses on Tristan L’Hermite’s poetry, it also provides information on his life and dramatic works.

Gude, Mary Louise. Le Page disgracié: The Text as Confession. University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, 1979. This publication, in discussing Tristan L’Hermite’s autobiographical work, provides insights into his life. Bibliography.

Shepard, James Crenshaw. Mannerism and Baroque in Seventeenth Century French Poetry: The Example of Tristan L’Hermite. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Through his examination of the poetry of Tristan L’Hermite, Shephard sheds light on the dramatic works of Tristan L’Hermite. Bibliography and indexes.