Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Ronsard, Horace, and the Dynamics of Poetic Creativity

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Ronsard, Horace, and the Dynamics of Poetic Creativity

Article excerpt

In the concluding poem of his Sonets pour Helene (1578), Pierre de Ronsard subtly summarizes the nature of his poetic creativity. The verse, "Je chantois ces Sonets, amoureux d'une Heleine," characterizes the sequence as a series of songs emanating from the poet's love of a Helen. (1) The notion of love as inspiration inciting Ronsard's writing of verse has been extensively examined, but the process of poetic imitation goes beyond a description of the vicissitudes of love. (2) In fact, seizemistes have related Renaissance theories of artistic creativity to Ronsard's thoughts on the poet-prophet, the four furors, and poetry as an allegorie theologique. (3) Ronsard's image of the inspired poet, then, extends to the concept of the ancient poet-seer who, through insight into the cosmic mysteries, transmits truth to man. As a humanist, Ronsard defended the divine origins of the poet's vision that become the substance of his verse. However, as a practicing poet, he was aware of the importance of expressing his inspired thoughts intelligibly and eloquently. In brief, the workings between prophetic insight and poetic craftsmanship presented a contradiction that required resolution and explanation.

Ronsard confronted a challenge similar to a dilemma faced by Horace. (4) Like his Roman predecessor who transposed Greek themes and forms to Latin taste and temper, Ronsard, along with other members of the Pleiade, attempted to accommodate classical thought and genres to the prescriptions of sixteenth-century poetic expression. The mimetic principle of contaminatio often portrayed the poet who, like a bee producing honey from flowers, reworks conventional ideas, images, structures, and styles. (5) The application of this concept justified the poet's practice of drawing upon a storehouse of themes and techniques and rearranging them eclectically and creatively. According to Ronsard, though, the poet is not solely a versifier who reconfigures conventional themes and images. Rather, the concept of his porte humain resembles the ancient poet-seer who perceives and unconsciously conveys divine truth but, at the same time, practices the craft of the contemporary versifier. Thus, Horace's thoughts on ingenium and Ronsard's views of poetic inspiration affirm a belief in the innate human capacity to shape vision to verse. (6)

In his lyric, "A Monsieur de Belot" or "La Lyre" (1569), which serves as a proemial poem to his Sixiesrne Livre des Poemes, Ronsard sets forth an art poetique that explores the operations of a poetic creativity divinely derived but humanly exercised. Although he does not directly allude to Horace in this poem, he seems to share Horace's thoughts on the source of poetic invention and on the adaptation of traditional topics to contemporary contexts. In fact, Ronsard's "La Lyre" parallels, in theme and structure, Horace's Odes 1.32, "Poscimus, si quid vacui sub umbra." But, if Ronsard borrowed Horatian argument to define his poetic practice, he also drew upon sixteenth-century readings of the Odes that placed Horace's thoughts within a Neoplatonic perspective. Through an analysis of "La Lyre," then, this study will attempt to describe more fully Ronsard's understanding of Horace's thoughts on the process of imaginative writing which, reworked by sixteenth-century commentators and theorists, enabled him to present the dynamics of poetic creativity classical in concept but Renaissance in interpretation.

1

Structurally, "La Lyre" can be divided into three segments: (1) a dedication to Jean de Belot (1-5); (2) a middle section that relates (a) the personas attempts to write poetry, (b) the influence of Belot in restoring his creative endeavors, and (c) a description of Apollo's efforts to find and express the substance of his songs (6-456); and (3) a prayer to the deities to infuse the poet with the gift of divine song (457-68). (7) According to Paul Laumonier, the poem is a blason in praise of Belot and a hymn in honor of Apollo. …

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