Erotic Spirituality: The Integrative Tradition from Leone Ebreo to John Donne

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview

Chapter 6 Erotic Experiment and Androgynous Integration: Héroët's Poetry

Pernette du Guillet's elaborate temptation scene in the second elegy, culminating in her transfiguration into the sensuously chaste Diana, was both a contrived test of Scève's Platonic philosophy and an important instance of a new attitude in France in the 1540s. When, for example, the saintly Marguerite de Navarre boasted that she would not at all be shocked to look upon a naked man, 1 she thereby expressed her sympathy for the same philosophy. The most open advocate for the new eroticism was the future Bishop of Digne, the poet Antoine Héroët, whose influence on his generation was accurately captured by two puns on his name: heroic and erotic. 2 His best- known work, the Parfaicte Amye ( 1542), marked his entry into the Querelle des Amies (the famous debate on love and ladies) by a call to arms: "Dames . . ., Veillez, vivez, incessamment aymez" ( Amye, v. 1116)! Ladies must live and love, and not only ardently but provocatively.

Héroët's critical popularity has lagged so far behind his literary merit that it is hardly an exaggeration to call him the most neglected of important French Renaissance poets. A flurry of interest occurred at the turn of the century with Gohin's edition of the Oeuvres poétiques, but even this and Larbaud's sensitive essay could not overcome three centuries of oblivion. 3 One reason for this critical neglect was already sensed by the seventeenth- century critic Guillaume Colletet, when he detected in Héroët's works "a mood contrary to ours, a courtly, old-fashioned atmosphere." 4 This quality is not primarily a matter of diction, although Héroët is resolutely plain in his poetic manner--anti-Petrarchan, he called it; rather, it may be explained by a vibrant narrative personality that perfectly embodies the poet's peculiar Platonism and that seems strange only because its type has passed from our literary environment. Larbaud's portrait of the parfaite amie is as suggestive as one could wish:

Composed, refined, stubborn in her fidelity, and in a better structured society the best of wives and the "angel of the house". . . .Sensible, not at all a "grande amoureuse" in the romantic manner but as a dutiful woman. . . . Her love is

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