Department of French and Italian
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah 84602
The Renaissance was a period with little concern for firstness. To the contrary, the writers, thinkers and artists of this era embraced their own cultural secondarity.(1) This is certainly the case in Italy, where the rediscovery of Greco-Roman ideals was held at a much higher premium than any proto-nationalistic aspirations towards originality. For a burgeoning nation such as France, this is all the more true, as the French, imitating Italy’s imitation of classical ideas, found themselves in a situation similar to that of the poet in Book X of Plato’s Republic: three times removed from the imitated ideal. In Pléiade Poetics: A Study in Sixteenth-Century Thought and Terminology, Grahame Castor goes to great lengths to reveal that, in the Renaissance, the significance of the concept of “invention” was far removed from the romantic idea of firstness it carries today. For the poets of the Renaissance, poetic creation was a combination of invention and imagination. To make this point, Castor quotes perhaps the greatest poet of the French Renaissance, Ronsard, who writes: “Le principal poinct est l’invention, laquelle vient tant de la bonne nature que par la leçon des bons et anciens autheurs” (84) [The key point is invention, which comes as much from good nature (inspiration, imagination) as from the lessons of good and ancient authors.] In the Renaissance, invention was synonymous with discovery (or, more properly, re-discovery). To repeat Thomas Greene’s vivid image from The Light of Troy, the poetic itinerary of the Renaissance was to revivify–but not necessarily renew–a tradition “lit by the dim brilliance of a vanishing city” (88). Eric Gans speaks to the same in his essay on “The Neoclassical Esthetic” in Originary Thinking: “The Renaissance was the moment of change in the relative forces of ritual and esthetic culture; it was not the origin or even the ‘rebirth’ of the latter” (150-51).(2) So, returning to my title, with our modern conception of invention so affected by the mensonge romantique, how is it possible to speak of Clément Marot’s “Invention” of the French sonnet while avoiding accusations of anachronism? The response to this question–and the justification of this study–is located in the Renaissance’s outward avowal of its secondarity, with its motto: Innovation par imitation [Innovation by/through imitation].
Marot’s invention(3) of the sonnet operates, as this study aims to demonstrate, according to these very principles of innovation par imitation, translation giving way to a sort of imitation that allows for poetic innovation to occur. The poems to be analyzed in the paragraphs to follow will be presented in such a way as to trace Marot’s poetic evolution and to reveal how his composition of typical French forms (most notably the epigram), leading to his translations of certain Petrarchan sonnets, ultimately produce a poetic effect unique to the French sonnet that I will term le couplet marotique. Even if poetic “invention” is no more than a rhetorical gesture in the Renaissance, Marot’s French imitation of the Petrarchan sonnet has most certainly presented us with one of the finest examples of lyrical innovation.
Before moving on to analysis of the Marotic sonnet and an explanation of the function of the couplet marotique, it will be useful to further expose the stakes of this argument by historically grounding Clément Marot, the literary figure, in a Renaissance context, as well as to offer reasons why the Petrarchan sonnet is an ultimate form of poetic imitation, constituting a lyrical ideal. I will thus divide my study into three sections and proceed as follows: I) Clément Marot and the Lyrical Renaissance in France, II) Marot and the Petrarchian Lyrical Imperative, and III) From the Epigram to the French Sonnet: the Innovation of the couplet marotique.
I. Clément Marot and the Lyrical Renaissance in France
While many would agree to the absurdity of the historical idea of an overnight transition from the “Dark Ages” to the Renaissance, in the history of French poetry, such a radical change is traditionally accepted. With the 1549 publication of Joachim Du Bellay’s Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, the French lyrical tradition was turned on its head, as the Angevin poet gave examples of which poets, poetic styles, and genres were worthy of imitation for the poet wishing to embellish the French vernacular and render it equal to the cultured Italian tongue and the languages of Antiquity. At the same time praising the Greeks and Romans as traditions to imitate in order to “amplify” the French language (I, 8), Du Bellay denigrates France’s national tradition and the poetic output of nearly all of his Gallic forebears (II, 2). To enrich the French tongue, he holds that their “natural” poetic style and “common” language were insufficient, appealing rather to the imitation of the epigrams of Martial, Ovidian elegies, the satires of Quintilian, Virgilian eclogues, Horatian odes, Homeric epics, and Petrarchan sonnets (II, 4-5). Oddly enough, in this treatise that would become the veritable bible for Renaissance imitation theory, formalizing the poetic doctrine of innovation par imitation, it is none other than the late Marot (who had succumbed to the plague in 1544), France’s first sonneteer (publishing his first sonnet more than a decade before La Deffence, in 1538) who would stand in as Du Bellay’s straw man example of what not to imitate.
Why single out Marot? The tradition into which Du Bellay was tapping, that of the “Defense” and the “Ars Poetica,”(4) was one in which Thomas Sébillet had found success one year earlier with his Art poétique français (1548). In many ways, Du Bellay is responding to–if not trying to subvert–Sébillet’s treatise, which sees traditional, medieval French verse forms as the natural, national products of poetic evolution since Antiquity. For achievement in what was then modern French verse, Sébillet’s model par excellence is Clément Marot.(5) Sébillet is justified in this, as Marot belongs to a group of poets that Jean Vignes labels as the derniers rhétoriqueurs (83), the sons of the Grands rhétoriqueurs, a group that included Clément’s father Jean Marot and whose poetic virtuosity was unparalleled in the French tradition, but, at the same time, whose simplistic poetic forms were derived from medieval rhyme schemes and who were more interested in playing rhetorical games than putting forward a nationalistic agenda. For his part, Clément Marot finds himself on the cusp, straddling the back end of the rhétoriqueurs, a tradition from which he never aimed to divorce himself (Vignes 87), and the front end of the poetic revival to be ushered in by Du Bellay and the Pléiade Brigade in the 1550s. In fact, Christine Scollen-Jimack has labeled Marot as follows:
Margaret Ferguson makes an important case in favor of this explanation in her reading of Du Bellay’s Deffence as an “Offensive Defense for a New Intellectual Elite” (194, my italics):
There were in fact fewer differences between du Bellay and Marot than the rhetoric of [La deffence] suggests. In addition to French medieval genres, Marot had imitated Italian and classical models with considerable versatility–not only the elegy, eclogue, and epigram, but most especially the Petrarchan sonnet, which he introduced into France. (194-95)
They recommended the cultivation in French poetry of the genres of Classical Antiquity and of Italy when Marot had already written the first French elegies, had introduced the epithalamium, the eclogue and the sonnet, had established the epigram and composed in his chansons and cantiques which differed only in name from those which Ronsard was later to callOdes. […] And long before the Pléiade’s Petrarchist and Anacreonic phases, Marot’s poetry introduced into French the conceits of the Italian love poets […]. (273, her italics)
Moving from general poetics to the great Petrarchan verse form that is the central interest of this study, the sonnet, it is of note that in the 1550 edition of his own volume of sonnets, L’Olive (the first collection in the French tradition composed entirely of sonnets), Du Bellay–whether deliberately or not–takes the distinction of introducing the sonnet to the French tradition from Marot, attributing it to his more innocuous contemporary Mellin de Saint-Gelais: “(L)e sonnet italien [est] devenu français, comme je croy, par Mellin de Sainct Gellais” (Ed. Caldarini 230) [The Italian sonnet became French, I believe, with Mellin de Saint-Gelais.] Both adopting and providing evidence of the virtual effacement of Marot in the sonnet tradition over the centuries, Max Jasinski, in his 1903 L’histoire du sonnet en France, suggests that: “Comme du Bellay le premier en avait donné la sensation nette, avec talent, et dans des conditions favorables, on fit de lui le premier sonnettiste français, l’inventeur même du genre” (58)! [Since Du Bellay was the first to have clearly rendered its sensations, with talent, and under favorable circumstances, we call him the first French sonneteer, even the inventor of the genre.] Displaying a distinctly romantic conception of invention, Jasinski fails to account for the “re-discovery,” imitation and innovation that were paramount to the Petrarchan sonnet’s entry into the French tradition. This is especially true when we consider that Du Bellay, himself, employed the couplet marotique (a concept I will soon explain) in his own sonnets. More than anything else, Marot’s contributions to the Petrarchan verse form enabled it to become recognizably French.
II. Marot and the Petrarchian Lyrical Imperative
With the aim of building to an explanation of Marot’s invention of the French sonnet, an examination of the “lyrical” as a concept and Petrarch’s codification of the 14-verse structure as the ideal lyrical form is prerequisite. In so doing I will make explicit what is at stake in the current study and respond to the over-arching questions it poses: What is it about the sonnet that makes it such an important and universally-imitated verse form? Why does it remain the most–and perhaps the lone–recognizable fixed poetic form(7) amongst the educated public? Why for centuries up to the present, when a poet has wished to articulate his anguish relating to, while immortalizing the image of, his inaccessible dearly beloved, is the logic of the constrained Petrarchan form his preferred choice? The response is found in the fact that–both structurally and thematically–Petrarch’s sonnet gets to the very heart of lyricism, rendering the imitation of this form an imperative for the aspiring poet.
I have entitled the poetic tendency to imitate Petrarch and his sonnet “The Petrarchian Lyrical Imperative,”(8) referring at a secondary level to the fact that the Petrarchan sonnet, as a lyrical form, operates linguistically and poetically as an imperative plea or command. I shall demonstrate this by, first, establishing a working definition of what is “lyrical,” followed by a explanation of how lyrical poetry operates linguistically as an imperative speech act, in order to ultimately reveal how the Petrarchan sonnet is logically germane to the lyrical pose of the poet.
In the title of a recent PMLA article (Jan. 2008), Jonathan Culler poses a very poignant question: “Why Lyric?” Lamenting the abandonment of the study of poetry in academia, where “narrative has become the norm of literature” (201), Culler calls for a rehabilitation of verse and an expropriation of the constitutive parts that separate the lyric from the more diegetic narrative forms of discourse. Following a diagnostic evaluation of the problem and before offering an antidote, Culler continues by defining the terms of this question and suggesting a series of answers to another important question: What is the Lyric? To this question, he offers at least four categories that characterize the lyric, which are as follows: 1) Direct Address, as “The classical lyric was generally addressed to someone [and] treats the poem as an event addressed to an audience, performed for an audience, even if it idealizes situations of social ritual” (204); 2) Rhetorical Transaction, or a “characteristically extravagant, perform[ative] speech act” (205); 3) Linguistic Event, where subjectivity is founded through the peculiar “givenness, the untranscendability, of a particular language” (206), which is the lyrical experience (as opposed to the translatable nature of narrative structures); and, finally, 4) Memorable Language–“made memorable [and, thus, repeatable] by its rhythmical shaping and phonological patterning” (206). Constituting the lyric as a clearly defined category of poetic creation, Culler ultimately prepares to prescribe the remedy for this critical malaise: a return to the study of the lyric.
Timely in its publication, perhaps even overdue, Culler’s article raises questions crucial to understanding what separates the lyric from discursive forms of literary creation while also resurrecting domains of genre theory that have lain dormant for some decades. Examined perhaps most famously by Northrop Frye in his canonical essay “Theory of Genres” (from Anatomy of Criticism, 1957), where he divides literature into four categories: Epos, Fiction, Drama and Lyric (248-49), the determining difference between genres depends upon what he terms the radical of presentation, the crucial divider in the relationship of the author (subject) to the audience (object). According to Frye, unlike ostensive or discursive forms of expression, “The lyric is the genre in which the poet . . . turns his back on his audience” (271). In other words, the lyric depends upon a separation between the desiring subject and the desired object–expressed linguistically as the imperative.(9)
In an article on Sappho and the origins of the Greek lyric, “Naissance du Moi lyrique” [Birth of the Lyrical Self/Ego], Eric Gans speaks of the separation between the subject-poet and the divinized, desired object that results in the creation of the lyrical genre:
From this sacred, anthropological model of the lyrical imperative-as-prayer, we advance to a model of secular poetry,(11) where the question of the imperative remains crucial. In The End of Culture,discussing the secular esthetic culture of Greece, Gans once again examines Sapphic lyrical verse and offers the following observation: “The poem is a prayer to the goddess; but the modern unbeliever will read it as a love poem addressed in fact to the beloved, as was so often the case in the Renaissance” (277). The one could be said to stand in for the other, as in the case of the “crypto-religious comportments” of the non-religious man explained by Mircea Eliade (24). Lyrical poetry, in a secular world, becomes a vestige of a sacred past while at the same time serving a very personal, subjective, and profane purpose. The collective sacred center is replaced by a (supposedly) individually-desired feminine sacred, equally inaccessible to its evoking poet. In Love and the Western World, Denis de Rougemont saw the great codifier of the verse form as providing lyrical poetry “an entirely pagan breath! Pagan, and not in the least heretical!” (180). The tradition from which Petrarch was distancing himself with his sonnet, that of the medieval performative lyrics of the Provençal troubadours, was not only excessively allegorical but was also too closely involved with the public and didactic in design. A personal, modern, secular lyric would necessarily be more reflective of personal desire; and, the desired object would not be a universally inaccessible god, but rather a personally inaccessible feminine counterpart. As it evolves, the lyrical form no longer evokes God, but, as Gans suggests in The Origin of Language, “is often addressed directly to the object of the Subject’s desire” (241).(12)
Desire remains key in this secular model, for Gans clarifies that “[le] rapport du couple lyrique est une relation de désir, non de fait; leur intimité n’est jamais que potentielle ou lacunaire” (“Naissance” 130). [The relationship between the lyrical couple is one of desire, not fact; their intimacy is never anything more than potential or lacunary.] Thematically removed from the communal scene, the physical intimacy of the couple remains entirely out of question. Passionate love can only exist in absentia–and the lyric is the poetic expression of passionate love. Desire for the inaccessible is all that can ever truly be expressed. However, in the same way that tragic theatre can communally display–in the ostensive sense–the scene of creation, the lyrical poet can likewise verbally occupy the scene of creation. The very failure–or negative resolution–of every truly lyrical poem assures that he will continue to create, if not physically reproducing, at least through representation. In this same article, Gans states it thus:
Clearly and intimately understanding the dilemma of impossible reciprocity in absence, Petrarch embeds it–formally and thematically–into his lyrical pleas for Laura, creating a parsimonious poetic scene of desire that minimizes anguish and achieves resolution in a constrained 14-verse structure: the sonnet. While the creation of the sonnet–the marriage of two popular Italian forms, the eight-verse ottava and six-verse strambotto–is traditionally accredited to Giacomo da Lentini and the scuola siciliana of Frederick II in the duecento, and the sonnet was practiced by Dante, Cavalcanti and others before Petrarch,(13) it fell to the exiled Tuscan to codify both the theme and structure of impossible, passionate love into the verse form for which he would henceforth be the ultimate reference.
Thematically, the Petrarchan sonnet would sing of anguish at Laura’s inaccessibility, but others had already successfully accomplished this using other lyrical forms. To produce the ideal form in which to express lyrical frustrations, it was also necessary to formally recreate the asymmetrical, imperative situation of presence and absence. This was achieved in the form of the sonnet. Italian poetry operates on a numerical system of versification (as does French)–that is to say that each verse bears the same number of syllables and rhyme is determined by a phonemic homophony between at least two verses at the level of the final stressed vowel and all sounds that follow. For the Petrarchan sonnet (unlike the crossing rhymes of Giacomo), the ottava would be a dually-repetitive stanzic pair of embraced quatrains: ABBA ABBA. While this symmetrical, uniform series of rhymes would seem to be able to continue ad infinitum, stanza after stanza (ABBA ABBA ABBA…), in the sonnet it is violently ruptured in the tenth verse with the introduction of a new rhyme (C): ABBA ABBA CDE CDE.(14) In violating the continuous rhyme, the poet introduces a sudden change that allows the poem to run its teleological course to resolution. Symmetry (or an illusory reciprocity) is, therefore, sacrificed to bring an end to the lyrical suffering of the poet.
Interpreting the stanzaic divisions as competing wills or mirrored desire (ABBA ABBA), in GA terms, the introduction of the C rhyme would be the moment of deferral that allows for peaceful resolution. This tripartite division of the sonnet can be said to operate as a syllogism. Understanding that, in the Renaissance, poetry was commonly known as “the art of second rhetoric,” it should come to surprise that poeticians of the period readily recognized the sonnet’s syllogistic qualities (Gendre 7). In the classic example of syllogism, “All men are mortal/ Aristotle is a man// Therefore, Aristotle is mortal,” a more general first premise is followed by a more specific second premise leading to a logical conclusion. For the syllogistic sonnet,(15) one quatrain (Q1) would offer a premise of objective generalities and the other (Q2) another a premise of more subjective particularities that would together build to a conclusion in the tercets (T) that would resolve–albeit negatively–the dilemma of the desiring subject-poet. Reading this structure into the Petrarchan thematic, the sonnet could break-down as follows: My desire for her is powerful (Q1)/ She is inaccessible to me (Q2)// Because I desire her, I am predestined to suffering (T).
Contained within the 14-verse structure of the sonnet, this syllogistic form (that responds to and recreates the lyrical thematics) is minimal, parsimonious, and repeatable. Teleologically-driven within a set mold, it allows for the poet to express his suffering while offering a resolution that is ritualistically repeatable in a subsequent sonnet. What is the Canzoniere, Petrarch’s collection of Rime sparse(Scattered rhymes), his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (collection of vulgar fragments), or later, the French recueil d’Amours, after all, but an anthologized collection of ritualistically repetitive, failed imperative pleas? This perpetually negative resolution of the sonnet enables its continuity. As Gans writes: “Les poèmes lyriques se répètent à l’infini, mais le désir qu’ils expriment est chaque fois nouveau, indépendant de toute norme rituelle ou simplement sociale” (“Naissance” 131). [Lyrical poems infinitely repeat themselves, but the desire they express is new each time, independent of any norm, ritualistic or merely social.] Within the constrained 14 verses of a sonnet, desire is recreated, represented and resolved–and can be born anew in each subsequent sonnet.
Advancing from theoretical exploration to analytical demonstration, I shall examine this phenomenon of the self-contained lyrical desire of a syllogistic sonnet in the work of its master: Petrarch. This first sonnet, the 18th poem of the Canzoniere, is a fine example of the lyrical imperative:
ove’l bel viso di madonna luce, (B)
et m’è rimasa nel pensier la luce (B)
che m’arde e strugge dentro a parte a parte, (A) 4
i’ che temo del cor che mi si parte, (A)
et veggio presso il fin de la mia luce, (B)
vommene in guisa d’orbo, senza luce, (B)
che non sa ove si vada et pur si parte. (A) 8
Cosí davanti ai colpi de la morte (C)
fuggo: ma non sí ratto che’l desio (D)
meco non venga come venir sòle. (E) 11
Tacito vo, ché le parole morte (C)
farian pianger la gente; et i’ desio (D)
che le lagrime mie si spargan sole. (E) 14 [When all of me is drawn in the direction/ of that place where my lady’s sweet face shines,/ and in my thought there shines the lingering light,/ that burns and melts me inside bit by bit,/ I, fearing for my heart that breaks to pieces,/ and seeing my day’s light is soon to end,/move forward like a blind man, without light,/ who knows not where he goes but all the same./ And so it is before the blows of death/ I flee, but not so quickly that desire/does not come with me, as it always does/ I go in silence, for my deadly words/ would make all others weep, and I desire/ that all my tears be shed in solitude. (Musa 19)]
For another Petrarchan example that will provide a segue into our discussion of Marot, “Chi vuol veder…,” the 248th poem of the Canzoniere is a significant sonnet in that it is one of the most commonly imitated in the French tradition. In addition to famous versions by Pléiade poets Ronsard and Tyard, our poet Marot made an earlier translation of this sonnet, one of six Petrarchan sonnets he chose to translate (to be examined below). First, let us begin with Petrarch’s original:
e ’l Ciel tra noi, venga a mirar costei (B)
ch’è sola un sol, non pur a li occhi mei, (B)
ma al mondo cieco che vertù non cura; (A)
et venga tosto, perché Morte fura (A)
prima i migiliori et lascia star i rei: (B)
questa aspettata al regno delli dei (B)
cosa bella mortal passa et non dura. (A)
Vedrà, s’arriva a tempo, ogni vertute, (C)
ogni bellezza, ogni real costume (D)
giunti in un corpo con mirabil tempre; (E)
allor dirà che mie rime son mute, (C)
l’ingegno offeso dal soverchio lume. (D)
Ma se più tarda, avrà da pianger sempre. (E) [Who seeks to see the best Nature and Heaven/ can do among us, come and gaze on her,/ sole sun, and not for my eyes only but/ for the blind world which does not care for virtue;/ come quickly now, because Death steals away/ the best ones first and leaves behind the worst:/ this one awaited in the kingdom of the gods,/ this lovely, mortal thing will pass, not last./ He’ll see, if he arrives in time, all virtue,/ all loveliness, all regal-mannered ways/ joined in one body, tempered marvelously;/ then he will say that all my verse is dumb,/ my talent overcome by too much light./ But if he waits too long, he’ll weep forever. (Musa 353)]
Petrarch does not disappoint, as he marries and reconciles the two syllogistic premises after the volta in the first tercet with a hypothetical si clause, “s’arriva a tempo” (v. 9). If he who wished to behold Nature’s finest achievement arrives in time, he will witness all beauty, all virtue and all regal-mannered ways tempered into one creation, one body (“Vedrà . . . ogni vertute,/ ogni bellezza, ogni real costume/giunti in un corpo con mirabil tempre” vv. 9-11). In the final tercet, the transition allor [“thus” or “then”] sets up the ultimate conclusion for the sonnet in a pure example of therefore. In this case, he who wishes to see beauty will be, much like the poet, overcome by the light emitted from the source to the point of being unable to recognize the poet’s craft in the poetry: “dirà che mie rime son mute,/ l’ingegno offeso dal soverchio lume” (vv. 12-13). Physical and poetic blindness are the results of exposure to the finest creation of Nature and Heaven. Still, the final verse holds a worse fate for him who fails to arrive in time: to him is given the poet’s plight of weeping forever (da pianger sempre).(16) In either event, with the syllogism and the sonnet attaining its logical end, the poet is prepared to recreate the scene of forever weeping in a subsequent sonnet–something achieved more potently, I argue, in the form of the sonnet as created by Marot.
III. From the Epigram to the French Sonnet: the Innovation of the couplet marotique
One can scan the pages of Clément Marot’s most famous work, his Adolescence clémentine (1532), and find only the simplistic “medieval poetic forms” for which he is condemned by the Pléïade. One major point his critics fail to consider, however, is blatantly announced in the collection’s title: these adolescent attempts at rondeaux, ballades, chansons, etc. were just that–the juvenilia of a burgeoning but already masterful poet. His invention of the French Petrarchian sonnet would date from a later, much more difficult time of his life, when he was exiled in Venice and Ferrara from 1536-37 for his “Lutherian tendencies.” It is most likely during this sojourn in Italy, where Marot was protected by Renée de France and would frequent Calvin, Rabelais and Budé, that the poet would adopt the sonnet form and pen its first versions in the French language. What is believed to be the first published French sonnet appeared in Marot’s Second livre des epigrammes, appearing in Lyon the year of the poet’s return to France, 1538. While placing the invention of the French sonnet (as rediscovery) with Marot in 1538 is a mere exercise in archival, historical research, examining its innovation–and explaining Marot’s all-important couplet marotique–requires an additional level of analysis. The remainder of this essay will break down the process of Marot’s innovation par imitation with regard to the sonnet.
Rather than proceeding chronologically with Marot’s first sonnets, it may be useful to begin with one of his “translated” Six sonnetz de Pétrarque (1539): Marot’s third, a version of Chi vuol veder quantunque pò Natura (as studied above). Upon demonstrating the effectiveness of the couplet marotique through analysis of this poem, I will then offer an explanation of the evolution of Marot’s novel take on the fixed form, concluding with the analysis of two of the sonnets from 1538.
First, I reproduce Marot’s Petrarchian version of the Petrarchan original:
Contempler vienne une qui en tous lieux (B)
Est ung soleil, ung soleil à mes yeulx, (B)
Voire aux ruraulx qui de vertu n’ont cure. (A)
Et vienne tost, car mort prent (tant est dure) (A)
Premier les bons, laissant les vicieux, (B)
Puis ceste cy s’en va du reng des dieux: (B)
Chose mortelle et belle bien peu dure. (A)
S’il vient à temps, verra toute beaulté, (C)
Toute vertu et meurs de royauté (C)
Joinctz en ung corps par merveille secret: (D)
Alors dira que muette est ma ryme, (E)
Et que clarté trop grande me supprime: (E)
Mais si trop tarde aura tousjours regret. (D) (II: 495-96)(17)
In his article “Sonnet ou quatorzain? Marot et le choix d’une forme poétique,” John McClelland asks an interesting question as to the development of the sonnet by tracing it to a common, unfixed poetic form of 14 verses: the quatorzain. Obviously, by its very nature, the sonnet is far more constrained and complex than the 14-verse epigram. The basic epigram is a poetic building up of successive rimes plates or rimes croisés to a final verse or couplet that delivers a conclusive mot spirituel, a witty punch-line. While this comical form neither corresponds to the passions graves called for by the sonnet nor does it employ rhetorically grouped forms, it does function as a sort of set-up in the same way as the sonnet does. Comically, the epigram builds to a final resolution in a mot spirituel; and, as we know, the first rule of comedic rhetoric is timely delivery. As an example of set-up and delivery in the epigram, let’s examine one of my personal favorites, “De Jehan Jehan,” where Marot plays with a stock image of a common idiot (un Jehan; likely written in response to someone named Jean), whose misery is doubled by the fact that he is also a cuckold (Defaux, II: 1148n):
Tu as tout seul ton cueur et ta pecune.
Tu as tout seul deux logis dyaprez,
Là où vivant ne pretend chose aucune.
Tu as tout seul le fruict de ta fortune.
Tu as tout seul ton boire et ton repas.
Tu as tout seul toutes choses fors une:
C’est que tout seul ta femme tu n’as pas. (II: 348) [You have all alone, Jehan Jehan, vineyards and fields./ You have all alone your heart and riches./ You have all alone two colorful lodges,/ There where no other living soul can pretend any claim./ You have all alone the fruit of your fortune./ You have all alone your drink and your meal./ You have all alone all things save one:/ This is that your wife, all alone, you have not.]
Aside from the set-up and delivery Marot carries over to his sonnet, we also recognize the form of the tercets–a distique followed by an embraced quatrain–in others of Marot’s poetic forms. A couple of epigrams from the Quatriesme Livre bear witness to this AABCCB form: one entitled “De Macé Longis” (II: 356) and another “De Pauline” that I reproduce here:
Pauline est riche et me veult bien (A)
Pour mary : Je n’en feray rien, (A)
Pour tant vieille est que j’en ay honte. (B)
S’elle estoit plus vieille du tiers, (C)
Je la prendrois plus voulentiers: (C)
Car depesche en seroit plus prompte. (B) (II: 357)
To answer the ends of passionate verse and solemn tone in his lyrical output, Marot would turn to Hebraic imitation with the translation of his Psaumes de David.(19) In his psalms, Marot not only interpreted David’s hymns from the Hebrew original, he improvised–as he did with the sonnet–with the form in making them French. In fact, two of his psalms bear the same sestet AABCCB rhyme scheme we saw in the sonnet and epigrams. Without analyzing the translated meaning of Marot’s “Pseaulme Trentesixiesme,” I reproduce the first stanza in order to outline the use of this rhyme scheme to establish a thought through a distique and nuance it in an embraced quatrain:
Me disent que devant ses yeux (A)
N’a point de Dieu la crainte : (B)
Car tant se plait son erreur, (C)
Que l’avoir en hayne, et horreur, (C)
C’est bien force, et contraincte . . . (B) (II : 642) [Of the evil one, his vicious deeds/ Reveal to me that before his eyes/ Is no fear of God:/ For, so pleased is he with his errors/ That to feel both hatred and horror/ For him one is both forced and obligated.]
Alas, Marot never composed any sonnets I would qualify as purely lyrical–considering both structure and thematics. His only real lyrical sonnets are translations of Petrarch. He did, however, through his innovation, provide a model that would come to be the norm for the French sonnet. The couplet marotique, while a product of bricolage from various other poetic forms, was truly an “innovation” in the Renaissance sense of the term in that it was not a rediscovery (invention) but a change–even an amelioration–of the form being imitated. In Évolution du sonnet français, Gendre states it thus:
Having laid out and developed the theoretical apparatus surrounding Marot’s poetic innovation, prior to concluding, let us now turn to two examples where Marot used this form to compose original sonnets. Of the four original sonnets penned by the poet, two actually have a claim to firstness in the Marotic œuvre. Let us begin with the sonnet that is currently generally accepted as the first French sonnet (Villey 538; Mayer 481; McClelland 591), most likely composed in exile in the summer of 1536 (Kennedy 126; Roubaud 18; Defaux 1099n), Marot’s “Sonnet à Madame de Ferrare”:
Suis en douleur, princesse, à ton absence: (B)
Et si languy quant suis en ta presence, (B)
Voyant ce lys au milieu des espines. (A)
O la doulceur des doulceurs feminines! (A)
O cueur sans fiel! ô race d’excellence! (B)
O dur mary remply de violence, (B)
Qui s’endurcist pres des choses benignes. (A)
Si seras tu de la main soustenue (C)
De l’Eternel, comme chere tenue, (C)
Et tes nuysans auront honte, et reproche. (D)
Courage, doncq: en l’air je voy la nue (C)
Qui çà, et là s’escarte, et diminue, (C)
Pour faire place au beau temps, qui s’approche. (D) (II: 297-98) [Remembering your divine graces/ I am pained, princess, by your absence:/ And so languished when in your presence/ Seeing this lily amidst the thorns./ O the sweetness of feminine sweetnesses!/ O heart without guile! O excellent race!/ O brutal husband full of violence,/ Who hardens next to benevolent things./ Therefore shall you be sustained by the hand/ Of the Eternal One, like precious attire,/ And those who wish you harm will have shame and reproach./ Courage, then: in the sky, I see the cloud/ That here and there moves away, and diminishes/ To make room for the lovely weather, that draws near.]
Now, let us turn to another Marotic sonnet, one undoubtedly written (given its subject matter in the city of Lyon) after Marot’s return from exile and the first ever published French sonnet, “Pour le may planté par les imprimeurs de Lyon devant le logis du seigneur Trivulse”:
Qui si à poinct sceust gouverner l’Année, (B)
Comme est Lyon la Cité gouvernée (B)
Par toy, Trivulse, homme cler, et insigne. (A)
Cela disons pour ta vertu condigne, (A)
Et pour la joye entre nous demenée, (B)
Dont tu nous as la liberté donnée, (B)
La liberté des Thresors la plus digne. (A)
Heureux Vieillard, les gros Tabours tonnants, (C)
Le May planté, et les Fiffres sonnants (C)
En vont louant toy, et ta noble race. (D)
Or pense doncq, que sont noz vouluntés, (E)
Veu, qu’il n’est rien, jusqu’aux arbres plantés, (E)
Qui ne t’en loue, et ne t’en rende grâce. (D) (II: 280) [In the Heavens there is neither Planet nor Sign/ That so knew how to govern the Year/ As is governed Lyon the City/ By you, Trivulse, great and learned man./ This we say for your virtuous merit/ And for the joy we all express/ Of which you have given us the liberty, The liberty of most worthy Treasures./ Felicitous Old Man, the great thundering Drums,/ The staked Maypole, and the sounding Fifes/ Continue praising you and your noble race./ And yet, think then, that these are our desires/ In view of the fact that there is nothing, even to planted trees,/ That does not praise you and render its good graces.]
As the above analysis of these two of his early sonnets demonstrates, Marot certainly recognized and understood the esthetic potential of the Italian verse form. A memory from his Italian exile, a form unproven, and something, to him, particularly un-French, it is safe to assume that the sonnet was simply not his form of predilection (as evidenced by his limited number of 4 original sonnets and 6 translations that seem to be “perdu[s] au milieu d’un grand nombre d’épigrammes” (Villey 547) [“lost in the middle of a great number of epigrams”]. In the end, Marot still preferred less constrained forms. McClelland offers the following explanation:
In La Deffence, Du Bellay called on his contemporaries to innovate through imitation, to rediscover models from the past and incorporate them into the French tradition for the embellishment of the French language. Ironically, they attempted to do this while breaking away from the past, singling out Marot, who was, with the ode, sonnet, elegy, discourse, and other forms, their contemporary master of innovation par imitation. Still, with no concern for firstness, Marot, this one, great poetic imagination, “invented” (re-discovered) the sonnet and innovated a French poetic form that would become the lyrical form par excellence in the tradition of French letters.
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1. In Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (the English-language translation of Europe, la voie romaine), scholar Rémi Brague asserts that Europe’s singularity is found in the relationship of cultural secondarity to Hellenism and Judaism that it adopted from Roman culture. His second chapter, “Romanity as Model” (24-42), explains this imitative and appropriative paradigm, stating that “The Romans invented nothing” (29) and outlining the Roman cultural contribution as follows: “(T)he structure of the transmission of a content that is not properly its own. The Romans have done little more than transmit, but that is far from nothing. They have brought nothing new in relation to those two creator peoples, the Greeks and the Hebrews. But they were the bearers of that innovation. They brought innovation itself. What was ancient for them, they brought as something new” (32, my italics). This is especially evident in the intermittent period between the Middle Ages and the Early-modern world (i.e. the Renaissance, 114-16), where innovation par imitation–renewal through appropriation and re-reading–is an official motto. The readership of Anthropoetics, with its pronounced interest in “fundamental anthropology” based on the mimetic theory of desire, will be interested to know that, on the back cover of the English-language edition of the text, René Girard offers a the following appraisal of Brague’s thesis: “The most characteristic feature of European (and American) civilization is not its originality but its deliberately assumed secondarity vis-à-vis Greek and Jewish models. This secondarity is a willingness to learn which itself had to be learned from another cultural model, Europe’s most direct model, the civilization that, if I may say, invented cultural secondarity, the Roman.” (back)
2. I will elaborate on Gans’s idea of the secular esthetic displacing sacred ritual in the Renaissance in the second section of this article that treats Petrarch’s codification of the sonnet as the ideal poetic form for expressing passionate love. (back)
3. Despite the anachronism inherent in speaking in these terms, questions of firstness and the “invention” of the French sonnet occupy a primary position among–and have expended the intellectual energies of–many Renaissance scholars over the past century. The debate of the sonnet’s paternity has indeed fait couler de l’encre, with scholars divided between contemporaries Mellin de Saint-Gelais and Clément Marot. The sheer volume and richness of a series of articles, each modifying the findings of the last with new research, seems proof enough, in and of itself, of the supposed stakes of this point. Everett Ward Olmsted’s 1897 dissertation at Cornell “The Sonnet in French Literature and the Development of the French Sonnet Form” claims that both Mellin and Marot were possibly writing sonnets as early as the late 1520s, and posing the question of who wrote what first (20-21), raises doubts as to the long-held belief that Mellin was the “father,” forwarded as recently as 1895 by Marius Piéri in his Le pétrarquisme au XVIe siècle on Petrarch and Ronsard (47). Jasinski, in 1903, would attribute the honor to Marot, claiming he wrote the first sonnet in 1530 (37). In 1909, Joseph Vianey’s Le pétrarquisme en France au XVIe siècle would offer another nod in the direction of Marot (45-58). The following year l’abbé H.-J. Molinier’s massive work on the life and poetry of Mellin would offer evidence supporting his subject as the first (389-99). A decade later would see the question treated with more historical rigor. Pierre Villey would promote Marot in 1920; N. H. Clement would question his dates but support the same general thesis in 1923 and Walter Bullock would take it a step further in 1924. In 1953, Françon would support Mellin as the author of the first sonnet, only to have Weber contradict him in 1955 (234n) and to enter into a polemics with C. A. Mayer in 1967. While the debate of Françon and Mayer remains open, with neither producing substantial evidence in either direction, modern scholarship–for the most part–goes with the majority and accepts Marot as the first French sonneteer. Although scholarship as recent as 1990 (Zilli’s edited volume of Mellin’s sonnets (lxii), and Jacques Roubaud’s anthology Soleil du soleil (15)) and 1993 (Defaux’s edition of Marot (1298-99n.)) reposes the question in tracing over these scholarly footprints, all archival evidence that we have points to Marot publishing the first sonnet in 1538 (Villey 547; Roubaud 16; Jasinski 38n; Gendre 34; Balsamo, “François I” 51), and more objective, less partisan scholarship is quick to concede that “The paternity of the sonnet seems thus to lie with Clément Marot” (Rigolot, “The Sonnet” 172). (back)
4. This literary genre, which constitutes another form of imitation for which Horace and Cicero are main sources, was extremely popular in the mid-16th century. Du Bellay’s Deffence is truly just one (albeit the most famous) of dozens offering poetic theories on how to embellish the French language. On the “Defense,” Margaret Ferguson’s Trials of Desire is a very insightful volume. (back)
5. We will return to Sébillet’s theories on the epigram and the sonnet in the second and third sections of this study. (back)
6. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from French to English are my own. In the case of Du Bellay, in this translation I have preserved his capitalization of certain key words. (back)
7. Granted, the ode, ballad, rondel, dizain, limerick or even the haiku also come to mind. Still, I argue that the sonnet remains the most lyrical of these forms–while also remaining the most recognizable. The sheer length and complex rhetorical structure of the elegiac Pindaric (Greek) or Horatian (Latin) ode generally limit the study (even recognition) of the genre to specialists. The musicality and variations of the popular medieval narrative ballad and rondel tends to be less lyrical thematically, formally less rigorous and, ultimately, less recognizable as a poetic form. Traditionally reserved for comedic purposes, the limerick, despite its fixed meter and rhyme scheme, is sooner to be found penciled onto truck stop walls than crafted into lyrical verse. And, while conforming to a set syllabic count, the haiku (aside from being non-western in origin) ignores most other formal conventions (rhyme, meter, etc.). (back)
8. “The Petrarchian Lyrical Imperative” is the title of my doctoral dissertation (UCLA 2008), where I study this poetic tendency–beginning with Marot–among the first French sonneteers (1536-1552). Moving away from the traditional spelling of the adjective “Petrarchan,” my choice of the alternate spelling “Petrarchian” is deliberate, as I treat imitators of Petrarch, “Petrarchists” or les pétrarquisants, in which case the letter “i” does carry significance in separating works that imitate Petrarch from works by the hand of Petrarch. A petrarchian sonnet is, therefore, one that imitates one of the true Petrarchan variety. For the poets of Renaissance France, Petrarch is, if only mythically so, a codifier of a form and a figurehead for a structure and a thematic. (back)
9. For another, earlier cultural explanation of this shift from presence to absence, public to private, see Edward B. Tylor’s explanation of “Rites and Ceremonies” (362-442) in Primitive Culture (1913), where he notes a movement from practical, outwardly expressive performances to a more symbolic, dramatic utterance of “the gesture-language of theology” (362) that would result in the development of imperative appeals, the lyrical genre and, eventually, prayer. (back)
10. Gans continues in Originary Thinking to explain in linguistic terms why the imperative subject is participating in a futile task: “‘I baptize you…’ actually effects a change in reality; an imperative merely attempts to bring about change through the agency of another. True, the change sought by the imperative is a natural one, not a cultural one like naming or titling; but, precisely for that reason, the words themselves cannot do the job” (70). (back)
11. In the footnotes of “Naissance du Moi lyrique,” Gans explains that regardless of the sacred or profane register, the lyrical (or imperative) form is always medial, lingering between the drama and the epic: “(D)ans le cadre rituel, le drame est plus primitif et le récit plus évolué que le lyrique, alors que dans le cadre séculier l’ordre est renversé, le genre lyrique occupant encore la place intermédiaire” (130n). [In the ritual framework, drama is more primitive and the tale more evolved than the lyric, whereas in the secular framework the order is reversed, with the lyrical genre still occupying the intermediate position.] Between the expressive, active participation of the former and the latent, passive absence of the latter, in both cases, dwells the lyrical imperative, the unaccomplished, intermediary form where a present subject linguistically calls upon a non-present, desired object. (back)
12. In a section on “Genres of Discourse,” in the sixth chapter of The Origin of Language, Gans divides literary genres into three forms that correspond with the evolution of language: dramatic-ostensive, lyric-imperative and narrative (or epic)-declarative (232-57). (back)
13. For detailed analyses of the lyrical limitations of these early Italian sonnets, please refer to the first two chapters of my doctoral dissertation. (back)
14. With Petrarch, while the quatrain pair is uniformly ABBA ABBA, the disposition of the remaining sestet varies. André Gendre provides a percentage breakdown of the most common tendencies of the 317 sonnets of the Canzoniere in his Evolution du sonnet français: CDE CDE (38%), CDE DCE (21%) and two-rhyme CDC DCD (36%) (32n). (back)
15. Of course, not all sonnets fit into this model of the syllogism, just like there are many that do not speak of love. In a study that speaks of the Petrarchian ideal sonnet, it is important to remember that the ideal sonnet does not exist. Therefore, such an a priori theory should be taken as such–unproven; yet, it remains useful to seeing how the sonnet can work as a rhetorical/poetic structure.(back)
16. Petrarch seems to like the term “pianger” that carries significance for both the jilted lover, who “weeps,” as well as the passionate poet, who “cries out vocally” through his imperative verse. (back)
17. In the case of this French sonnet, I will not provide the English translation. As true as it is to Petrarch’s original, Musa’s translation is sufficient to relate the content of both. (back)
18. This point is developed in more detail in the third chapter of my doctoral dissertation. It is truncated here in the interest of remaining focused on the couplet marotique and its function in the context of the French sonnet. (back)
19. Marot’s psalms are another of my current projects and a topic on which I will be presenting at a conference later this year. My working title is: “Être David ou rien: Clément Marot, the Genevan Psalter and the Question of Hebraic Imitation.” (back)
20. The term sonnet régulier can refer to sonnets with the two following rhyme schemes: ABBA ABBA CC DEED (Rg emb: régulier embrassé) or ABBA ABBA CCD EDE (Rg cr: régulier croisé). In both cases, a couplet marotique in the 9th and 10th verse positions is present. (back)
21. A pagan, Celtic practice, derived from the cult of nature, the erection of a totemic arbre de mai represents fertility, the coming of Spring and the renewal of the natural cycle. The tree is often planted on the land of a community dignitary. The practice is discussed at length by Frazer in The Golden Bough in the section on “The King in the Wood” (pp. 90-97). (back)