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I FROM UNITY TO COHERENCE Critics and historians of seventeenth-century French literature agree that the odes of Fran9ois de Malherbe are the major work of a pre-eminent poet. There is far less consensus, however, about the grounds for ascribing esthetic value to these poems. The traditional view- enunciated at the Sorbonne- emphasizes the odes' conformity to the norms of deductive logic. For Gustave Lanson, it is an "impersonnelle demonstration" which distinguishes the odes. 1 Raymond Lebegue sees in them a "composition rigoureuse," which is to say a "discours logique et oratoire d'ou les digressions sont bannies ... et ou les articulations sont saillantes." 2 "Such comments, we shall see, have little to justify them," wrote Professor Philip A. Wadsworth at the beginning of his important article, "Form and Content in the Odes of Malherbe." 3 To discredit the conventional wisdom, Professor Wadsworth analyzed the order and articulation of themes in each of the poems. His analyses showed that: a forceful argument, in Malherbe, is not necessarily a logical one. Some of his odes contain material which can be eliminated ... some have a rather loose structure with little continuity from theme to theme, some depart widely from the principal subject. Malherbe was a master of form 1 Histoire de la littlirature franr,;aise (Paris: Hachette, 1912), p. 359. 2 La Poesie franr,;aise de 1560 a1630 (Paris: Societe d'Edition d'Ensignement Superieur, 1951), II, pp. 84-85. s P. M. L. A., 78 (June, 1963), p. 190. 16 HIGHER, HIDDEN ORDER in individual lines and stanzas, but the form or coherence of a whole poem seemed less important to him. 4 Malherbe's apparent indifference to exposition in his longer poems led Professor Wadsworth to a double conclusion. First, Malherbe bears the stamp of the age he lived in, an age whose sensibility is nowadays often described as baroque. What we have brought to light in his poetry can be found in that of many other French writers of the early seventeenth century, such as Regnier, Theophile de Viau, Saint-Amant, and Tristan l'Hermite. In their longer poems -whether ode, satire, elegy, or epistle- they wrote in a rather haphazard, accumulative manner, with little concern for structural unity. 5 Secondly, Professor Wadsworth drew attention to the prescriptive Renaissance theory of the ode: elle se donne les apparences du desordre dans les successions de faits et les liaisons d'expressions . . . . Mais ce desordre n'est qu'un ordre superieur et cache. 6 On this basis, it follows that by neglect of logic, Malherbe achieved "lebeau desordre," but it would be "harder to prove [that] he ... attained 'un ordre superieur et cache."' 7 The implication is plain: the absence of logical unity in Malherbe 's odes- coupled with an apparent lack of evidence for some other structuring technique- may signal not merely the odes' generic faultiness, but above all their lack of value as literary artifacts, considered in vacuo. Despite this scepticism - expressed and implied -Professor Wadsworth opened another new perspective on the odes when, in the same article, he observed that "it is not easy to separate this aspect [i. e., the arrangement of themes in] ... the poems from the many others which contribute to their poetic structure, 4 Wadsworth, p. 194. 5 Ibid. 6 Rene Bray, La Formation de la doctrine classique en France, 2nd ed. (Paris: Nizet, 1957), pp. 352-353. Cited by Professor Wadsworth, p. 195. 7 Wadsworth, p. 195. FROM UNITY TO COHERENCE 17 such as imagery, harmonic qualities, feelings, rhymes, and vocabulary ." 8 Indeed, a synthetic study of the odes may show that they possess a "higher, hidden order" attributable less to the logical unity for which Professor Wadsworth analyzed them than to the organic coherence of wholes, whose plot and character, argumentation and style converge on one or several related thematic centers. It is this possibility that the present work will explore. The principal means by which poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries integrated their creations is the prolonged comparison . But, according to Jean Rousset, to propose this technique as the source of "higher, hidden order" in Malherbe's odes would be a serious error: A trente ans, le Malherbe des Larrrws de Saint Pierre, loin d'eviter les metaphores, les fait proliferer, les cultive et surtout les prolonge .... II est visible qu'a ce moment-la Malherbe ne craint pas la metaphore prolongee. Et le Malherbe de la maturite, apres 1600? On connait son attitude de principe: il les marque...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469637730
Related ISBN
9780807891179
MARC Record
OCLC
1080549175
Pages
124
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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