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Compte Rendu: Ronsard's poetic legislation and 19th Century poetry (Helen Abbott)

posted 17 Nov 2015, 08:43 by Cambridge EMS   [ updated 17 Nov 2015, 09:05 ]

The second paper of the 'Modern Early Modern' series offered a brilliant foray into the 19th century rediscovery of Ronsard in particular, and constitution of literary history and its related canon in general, envisaged from a formal and prosodic perspective.

 

For the first half of the 19th Century, and especially in 19th-Century textbooks of prosody such as Pierre Fontanier's Boileau des collèges (1825), Ronsard's poetry instantiates the emergence of regular prosodic rules in French poetry, and their successful aesthetic outcomes: Wilhem Ténint, in his Prosodie de l'école moderne (1844), thus outlines the pleasing harmony of a 'Renaissance stanza-like form' where lines of three feet alternate with lines of seven feet. He quotes Ronsard, and concludes that such poetic form is reminiscent of Hugo's ballad, thus enrolling French Renaissance prosody under the banner of Romanticism.

 

On the basis of a loose reading of Boileau's Art poétique (Ronsard, qui le suivit, par une autre méthode/ Réglant tout, brouilla tout, fit un art à sa mode), Ronsard was in fact, for the first generation of Romantics, a symbol of the stifling and sterilising obsession with rules. Sainte Beuve, Arsène Houssaye and, more importantly, Banville, struck a surprising note in this Romantic chorus by praising in Ronsard the precursor of French poetry proper, and doing so in forms reminiscent of Ronsard's own poetic practices: the sonnet for Sainte Beuve and Houssaye, the hymn for Banville.

            In his 1628 'Sonnet pour Ronsard', Sainte Beuve tries to rescue Ronsard from two centuries of merciless critique and condemnation and to reinstate it in the pantheon of great poets. So does Houssaye, mimicking Boileau's 'Enfin Malherbes vint' in the 'Enfin Ronsard survient' of his own sonnet. As for Banville, his 'Apothéose de Ronsard' celebrates Ronsard's 'folle musique' which eludes prosodic rules, in a pastiche hymn which marks all the stops of the Ronsardian metaphorical and prosodic world: idyllic setting, alabaster limbs are cast in -- sometimes obviously ironic -- 'rimes riches' (Belleau/ Belle-eau).

 

From the textbooks to the literary critics, the 19th century invention of Ronsard has him stand in turn for the epitome of regulated prosodic propriety (praised in the textbook, condemned by the critics), and for the herald of a 'true' form of French poetry, characterised by its musicality -- un Ronsard impair, à la Verlaine en somme.


Ronsard, 'Petite nymphe folastre', set to music by Clément Janequin (1552)
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