Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

words into French, in order to increase the number of epithels; in putting together the branching horns, the watery sources, &c.

We may remember, that in like manner as the Greeks had a poetical Peiade of seven writers, who flourished in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, so the French boast of their constellation in the days of Ronsard. Besides this writer, they had Belleau, Baif, Jodelle, Jean Daurat, Dubellay, and Ponthus. Bel. leau and Baif, however, possessed only the faults of Ronsard, without his merit. Dubartas was still worse: barbarism never was pushed further. It seemed as if an ill-directed erudition, and scholastic pedantry had conspired to destroy the French lan. guage. Latinisms, hellenisms, accumulated epithets, and outrageous metaphors overwhelmed every thing. It is one of the characteristics of mediocrity to measure a whole art by what is only a part of it; and any novelty is seized upon and used with prodigality. Ronsard showed the effect of some beautiful expletives, and some expressive metaphors. It was then conceived that these alone were sufficient, and we were favoured with such verses as these:

O grand Dieu qui nourris la rapineuse engeance

Des oiseaux ramageoux.
Par toi le gras bétail des rousses vacheries
Par toi l' humble troupeau des blanches bergeries
Ici se vont haussant les neigeuses montagnes:
Là vont s'applanissant les poudreuses campagnes.

If a profusion of epithets be a defect in poetry, it is still more so in prose, which should be very simple "This does not appear to be the opinion of writers of the present day, who imagine that they give force and colouring by an accumulation of

words. This is happily ridiculed by Voltaire: Ne pourra-t-on pas leur faire comprendre combien l'adjectif est souvent ennemi du substantif, quoiqu' ils s'accordent en genre, en nombre, en cas? Will they never learn, says this writer, that the adjective is frequently the enemy of the substantive, although they do agree in gender, number, and case?

With respect to figures, we have seen how they are employed by Ronsard. Chassignet, for instance, translating a psalm, addresses the Deity thus:

Par toi, le mol zephyr, aux ailes diaprées,
Refrise d'un air doux la perruque des prées,

Et sur les monts voisins,
Eventant ses soupirs par les vignes pamprées,
Donne la vie aux fleurs et du súe aux raisins!

We may just remark of this stuff, that to render the last verse very good, it is necessary to change but a single word, and write,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Just now we had a peruke for the meadows; but the author not being content with this, gives one to the sun:

Soit que du beau soleil la perruque empourprée

Redore de ses rais cette basse contrée. We must acknowledge, that the god of day, who, from time immemorial, had been dressed out, by the poets, with the very best head of hair, has no great reason to be satisfied with our poet for putting a wig upon him.

In a description of the Deluge, Dubartas has imitated a well known passage from Ovid's Metamorphoses. There are some verses which contain a great deal of precision and energy. His style bears a great resemblance to that of Ronsard: it is evidently formed upon that model. I copy the conclusion of the description, which, notwithstanding innumerable faults, is not destitute of beauty. This quotation will serve to show, that the poets of this period possessed talents; and also how far those talents were unrestrained by taste:

Tandis la sainte nef, sur l'echine azurée
Du superbe océan navigeait assurée,
Bien que sans mât, sans rame et loin, loin de tout port:
Car l'Eternal était son piloté et son nord.
Trois fois cinquante jours le general naufrage
Devasta l'univers; enfin d'un tel ravage

L'Immortal attendri, n'eut pas sonné sitôt
La retraite des eaux, que soudain flot sur flot
Elles vont s'ecouler: tous les fleuves s'abaissent;
La mer rentré en prison; les montagnes renaissent;
Les bois montrent déja leurs limoneux rameux;
Deja la terre croît par le décroît des eaux;
Et bref la seule main du Dieu darde tonnere,
Montre la terre au ciel et le ciel à la terre.

Desportes wrote with much more purity than Ronsard and his imitators. He rubbed off the rust which had accumulated upon our versification: he spoke the French language: he guarded against the hiatus, and the running of one verse against another. But feeble in ideas, and in style, he did not take care to guard the rank of our Parnassus in a preceding age. He imitated Marot in his amorous pieces, and remained very inferior to him. He surpassed Malherbe in those stanzas which could not yet be called odes, although the structure was sufficiently soft and easy, and Malherbe made him forgotten.

This was indeed a superior poet: his name constitutes a second epoch in our language. Marot raised it in light and gal- . lant pieces: but Malherbe was the first model of the heroic style, and the creator of lyric poetry. He possesses all its enthusiasm, its movements and inflections. Born with an ear and a taste, he understood the effects of rhyme, and brought into action a variety of poetical constructions, adapted to the genius of our language. He imparted to it a kind of imitative harmony which was suited to it. But his works did not arrive at a degree of purity to be compared with the writers under Louis fourteenth, nor would it be reasonable to expect such perfection. But for all that he has taught us, the praise is due to himself alone:-and at the end of two hundred years, many of his morceaux are still cited, which possess a beauty almost unexceptionable. The following is his paraphrase of a psalm on the instability of royal grandeur:

Ont-ils rendu l'esprit? ce n'est plus que poussiere
Que cette majesté si pompeuse et si fiere,
Dont l'éclat orgueilleux étonnait l'univers,
Et dans ces grand tombeaux où leurs ames hautaines,

Fout encore les vaines,
Ils sont rongés des vers.

Là se perdent ces noms de maîtres de la terre,
D'arbitres de la paix, de foudres de la guerre;
Comme ils n'ont plus de sceptre, ils n'ont plus de flatteurs;
Et tombent avec eux, d'une chûte commune,

Tous ceux que la fortune
Faisait leurs serviteurs.

This is indeed French verse-and we have hitherto never seen any thing which can even approach it.

If we seek that glowing fire which should pervade the ode, we may find it in that which was addressed to Louis thirteenth, when he was departing on his expedition to Rochelle. We must pardon some defects in diction, and some prosaisms: the bounds between poetry and fiction not having then been sufficiently ascertained. But we shall find that the manner and the ideas are those of a poet:

Certes ou je me trompe ou déjà le victoire
Qui son plus grand honneur de tes palmes attend,
Est aux bords de charente, en son habit de gloire,

Pour te rendre content.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Telle en ce grand assaut, où des fils de la terre
La rage ambitieuse à leur honte parut,
Elle sauva le ciel et lança le tonnerre,

Dont Briare mourut.
The following strophe is remarkable for its initative harmony:

Déjà de toutes parts s'avançaient les approches.
lei courait Minas: là Hyphon se battait;
Et là suait Euryte à détacher les roches,

Qu' Encelade jetait. In the first of these two last verses we perceive the labour of the giant who detaches the rock, and in the last we see its departure. VOL. II.

3 T

The following is the concluding verse. It is probably the last time that he struck the lyre:

Je suis vaincu du tems:" je cede à ses outrages.
Mon esprit seulement, exempt de sa rigeur,
A de quoi témoigner dans ses derniers ouvrages

Sa premiere vigueur.

Let us next behold him in subjects less elevated, which require sweetness and sensibility. The stanzas which he addressed to his friend Duperrier, upon the death of an infant, may be selected for this purpose:

Ta douleur, Dupérrier, sera donc éternelle,

Et les tristes discours
Que te met en l'esprit l'amitié paternelle,

L'augmenteront toujouns.

The choice of rhyme here deserves our attention; and the dejection of grief is well represented by the short verse falling gradually after the first! This is the true secret of that harmony of which so much is said in the present day; it is not to be acquired by hard labour, but by judicious selection:

Le malheur de ta fille au tombeau descendue

Par un commun trépas,
Est-ce quelque dédale où raison perdue

Ne se retrouve pas?

Elle était de ce monde, où les plus belles choses

Ont le pire destin,
Et rose, elle a vécu ce que vivent les roses,

L'espace d'un matin. The charm of these verses is inexpressible. It is in the same piece that we find the verses on death; which are too remarkable to be passed over without notice, and too well known to be repeated. The four first are feeble; but the four last are perfectly beautiful.

Two poets, Racan and Maynard, pupils of Malherbe, enjoyed a merited reputation even in his lifetime.

• Á poetical license. We are overcome par (by) and not du (of) time.

« ZurückWeiter »