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MLN 119.1 Supplement (2004) S299-S326
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Facing the Marot Generation:
Ronsard's giovenili errori
Johns Hopkins University
Tousjours l'humilité gaigne le cœur de tous :
Au contraire l'orgueil attise le courrous.
Toutesfois tu doibz penser, que les Arz, et Sciences n'ont receu leur perfection tout à coup, et d'une mesme Main : ainçoys, par succession de longues Années, chacun y conferant quelque portion de son Industrie, sont parvenues au point de leur excellence.
— Du Bellay
For someone who, as I just did, spent some ten or twelve rewarding years of his life in Marotland, the rediscovery of the "new" or, rather—the correction is Du Bellays's—of the "ancient renewed poetry" (l'ancienne renouvelée poësie), 1 the shock is brutal, unavoidable. One is suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of Gidian estrangement. Nothing looks the same anymore. The picture, its content and disposition, forms, colors, technique and point of perspective, everything has been all altered, deeply transformed. Contrary to what is currently said, it is not properly speaking a "revolution"—a term too strong, and inaccurate—but rather a transmutation or, to be even more precise, a profound and thorough valorization of the poetic process. Before 1549—1550, poetry was an "art," better, it was a trade, [End Page S299] a "métier," a "rhétorique seconde" or "métrifiée" (a second or versified rhetoric) in the hands less of "poets" than of "facteurs," "acteurs" and "escrivains," that is people who made, spoke, acted and wrote, a collection of tricks, practices and recipes, of fixed and inherited forms, which were scrupulously transmitted from fathers to sons or masters to disciples; and it abruptly becomes furor, enthusiasm and divine inspiration, frenzy, magic and music, language of the Gods. It is not any longer learned and taught, but given, it descends from Heaven like grace, it becomes a sign of election, of ethical and social advancement. Not only God is no longer in all human beings, not only is He in nobis, exclusively in nobis, we the Chosen, we the Elect, the "Soothsayers" and the "Magi," we the "priests of the Muses," the "interpreters," "ministers" and "prophets" of the gods, nous les hommes divins (us "the god-like men," ) 2 —but He is not the same God at all. The Christian God of Marguerite de Navarre and Marot has been properly displaced by the pagan gods of Ronsard. On Mount Parnassus, Virgil, Horace and Ovid, Homer, Pindar, Aratus and Anacreon replace David, they overtly challenge the very existence, the mystical and lyrical splendors of the Psalms. Generally speaking, with very rare exceptions—that, for example, of Nicolas Denisot and Lancelot Carle 3 —Eros prevails over Anteros, the "little [End Page S300] Love" triumphs over the "great" one. 4 And this triumph is not of an ephemeral and Petrarchan nature, it sets, in our history, a point of no-return. From there on, philautia (amor sui) and idolatry, self-love and love of the creature, a new and lyrical religion of greed, lust and glory take precedence over "true" and "perfect Love," that is, Caritas,Agapè, the Johannic and Pauline Love of God and of God's creatures through Him.
Likewise, before 1549-1550, poetry was characterized by its "elegance," its "naturalness," "facility" and Ovidian "fluidity," its "transparence," its desire to please the "popular" and the "vulgar," to reach in fact the greatest possible number of readers through a deliberate use of "la commune maniere de parler"—the most "common manner of speaking." And it becomes suddenly lofty, impassioned, boastful and superb, deliberately obscure, not to say hermetic, inaccessible in its haughtiness and so studied, so elaborated, so affected, so full of "rare et antique érudition" (rare and Classical lore) 5 that, in order to be understood it requires the help of a "guide and interpreter." 6 It soars, it hovers and looks down from above like some Pindaric eagle, its patent and only ambition being to keep its distance, to stay aloof, to flee...