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  • Renaissance de l'Ode: L'Ode français au tournant des années 1550
  • Rosemary Kew
Nathalie Dauvois , ed. Renaissance de l'Ode: L'Ode français au tournant des années 1550. Colloques, congrès et conférences sur la Renaissance européenne 57. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2007. 148 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. €45. ISBN: 978-2-7453-1493-2.

This collection is offered as the first part of a history of the ode in French literature from the mid-sixteenth century to our own times. Around 1550, that pivotal moment for French verse, the ode gave rise to much debate: is this an ancient form renewed or simply a continuation of the medieval chanson? Do we look to Horace as the model, or to Marot and Saint-Gelais? What of the link with music? Is this free verse, or must it comply with strict rules of rhyme and strophe? Is it "high," or "low"? Should it be fundamentally profane or can it also be sacrée? [End Page 1276]

Nathalie Dauvois shows in her introduction how the ground was prepared for this "forme lyrique par excellence" (7) by the French Neo-Latinists who set the earliest expectations, showing with regard to form a clear indebtedness to Horace and Pindar, and offering with regard to theme a large freedom. The French ode as it developed could treat diverse themes: politics, love, encomium, religious devotion, and more.

Georges Soubielle's contribution shows how Salmon Macrin gained the title of l'Horace français with his Carmina of 1530, then passed from human love to divine love with odes of piety and then of lament at the death of his beloved wife. Thus at the very time that the Pléiade was forming, this Neo-Latin poet offered a fine and varied lyric model for their own endeavors. Soubielle emphasizes the musical aspect: Macrin intended his verses to be sung, "psalmodiés, avec un accompagnement musical" (18).

Jean-Charles Monferran offers a detailed pre-history of the French ode, demonstrating that in the "cocktail explosif" (19) of the debate, the anciens and the modernes were not so far apart as they imagined. Sébillet, Peletier, and Du Bellay with their different emphases show the very plasticity of the genre. Monferran insists that Ronsard did not invent the ode as he claimed. This was a collective effort, though Ronsard proved the strongest voice and his definition prevailed: metric and strophic regularity and the alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes for the sake of singing, and Pindar as well as Horace as models.

The discussion continues with the contribution of Michel Jourde, who shows that even Ronsard, despite his doctrinaire attitude, could not keep his own rules: he may pride himself on his art, but metrical errors occur and (following Horace) he avows that he is following a "sentier inconnu" (58). The ode and the poet, it seems, insist on being free. Dauvois herself then suggests that the defining element is in fact the musicality with its power (again following Horace) to moderate passion, and its power of persuasion, "celle d'Orphée" (79).

From this high point we pass to Isabelle His's examination of the music. This speaks primarily to musicologists: to mere amateurs, the most telling of her insights is the frequent choice of popular tunes, such as were used for the despised chanson, and also for the Huguenot Psalms. Daniel Ménager examines Ronsard's "Muses," not only as those who guide his Pindaric pen in the pursuit of art, but also as the gentle intimate companions of his youth, his poetic inspiration. François Rouget in his essay on the Bocage follows a similar line, describing the two faces of Ronsard as "côté Cour, côtéjardin" (135): the place to work and the place to dream.

Finally, Nicolas Lombard considers Nicole Bargedé's Odes penitentes, written in 1550, simultaneously imitating Marot and praising Ronsard. Lombard implies that the ode chrétienne was short-lived: one might suggest that Marot's metrical psalms gave the impetus for a lengthy continuation in hymnody, albeit primarily in the anglophone tradition.

There is much of...


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