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Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)

Gordon 1569 .D83

Oeuvres francoises de Ioachim Du-Bellay, gentil homme Angeuin, & poëte excellent de ce temps. Reueuës, & de nouueau augmentees de plusieurs poësies non encores auparauant imprimees. / Au roy treschrestien Charles IX.

Paris: Federic Morel, 1569. (8vo)

Du Bellay died at the age of 37, having published numerous collections of poetry that first followed then contradicted the doctrine put forth in his famous Défense et illustration de la langue française (1549). On behalf of the Pléïade poets (Du Bellay, Ronsard, Baif and their compatriots) the Défense defines the poet as a visionary figure, both learned and divinely inspired, whose duty is to enhance the glory of the French language through verse, in order to rival the achievements of the Ancients. Du Bellay’s collected works, the Oeuures francoises de Ioachim Du-Bellay, gentil homme Angeuin, & poëte excellent de ce temps were published posthumously in 1569. From the first title in the collection (the Défense of 1549, with its lofty vision of the poet’s role) to the pastoral rejection of such grand ambitions in the Jeux Rustiques (1558), Du Bellay’s collected works mark an important transition in French poetry of the mid-sixteenth century. Du Bellay’s oeuvres convey first the optimism of a growing humanist movement, then increasing disappointment with humanist intellectual goals and pessimism regarding the attempt to construct earthly glory for oneself, in the face of the inescapable ravages of time.

More about Du Bellay and his works

Born into a family of nobility in Anjou, Du Bellay was orphaned at a young age, and his early education in the country was neglected. As a young man, he studied law in Poitiers, where he met Marc Antoine Muret and Jacques Peletier du Mans and began writing poems in Latin and in French. Du Bellay subsequently met Pierre de Ronsard and joined him in 1547 at the Collège de Coqueret in Paris, where the young poets pursued studies of Latin and Greek and read the great literary and philosophical works of antiquity and of Italy under the tutelage of the humanist Jean Dorat. At the Collège de Coqueret, Ronsard and Du Bellay formed a group called “la Brigade.” The seven members of the group, later adopting the name of the “Pléïade,” sought to make the French language and its literature grow in stature to the point of rivaling the grandeur of the classic languages.

Du Bellay’s Défense et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549) served as the group’s manifesto, asserting the dignity of the French language in keeping with Renaissance humanists’ growing support for the vernacular, and calling on poets to draw upon and then surpass the literary models of Greece, Rome and Italy. According to Du Bellay and his compatriots, the poet was not only an inspired artist, but also a skilled artisan who must find inspiration in classical and Italian models, then transform them into something new and capable of enhancing the glory of the French language. The Pléïade upheld a lofty ideal of poetry for poetry’s sake and of the poet as one who expresses universal truths.

Du Bellay’s first collection of fifty sonnets, l’Olive (published in 1549, then in an expanded edition of 115 sonnets in 1550), reflects the ideals outlined in the Défense and establishes Du Bellay as a master of the sonnet form, inspired by Neoplatonic themes and Petrarchan motifs. This love poetry does not so much express amorous sentiments for one beloved woman as a passion for formal perfection that incorporates Petrarchan themes and figures -- antitheses and oxymorons, for example, -- and metaphors borrowed from classical mythology. The Neoplatonic notion of the climb to the world of forms and then to realm of Ideas pervades the collection, yet here the upward voyage of the soul becomes the poet’s ascent to glory, in keeping with the doctrine proclaimed by the Défense.

In 1553, Du Bellay realized the humanist dream of a voyage to Italy, traveling to Rome as secretary to his uncle, the cardinal Jean du Bellay, Henry II’s ambassador to the pope. Once in Italy, the poet’s enthusiasm soon faded to disillusionment with the pretensions of the papal entourage and painful reflection on the fallen grandeur of Rome and the vanity of all earthly glory. These feelings of great deception and a growing nostalgia for his homeland inspire the poetry Du Bellay wrote while in Italy and published following his return to France in 1557. Upon his return home, Du Bellay was beset by family legal matters and medical problems, and his deafness from an earlier illness worsened. He died in 1560, at the age of 37.

The Antiquitez de Rome (1558) convey Du Bellay’s somber reflections on the grandeur and decadence of Rome, and on the inexorable passage of time. Inspired in part by classical models dealing with similar themes, Du Bellay’s sonnets nonetheless convey a very personal sense of disappointment, grounded in nostalgia for France. The Regrets (1558) also reflect the themes of disillusionment with Rome and absence from the homeland, as well as messages to friends, sonnets inspired by daily life, and poetic reflections on the jouney home. In the Regrets, Du Bellay seeks inspiration in daily experience and in the emotions of one who suffers in exile from his native land. The Jeux Rustiques (1558) also reject the grand ambitions outlined in the Deffense, replacing the poet’s quest for eternal glory through erudition and formal perfection with the search for individual happiness founded on simplicity.


Gordon 1559.D83 Tumulus Henrici Secundi Gallorum Regis Christianiss. / per Ioach. Bellaium. ; Idem Gallice totidem uersibus expressum per eumdem. ; Accessit et eiusdem elegia ad illustriss. Principem Carolum Card. Lotharingum Parisiis : Apud Federicum Morellum, in vico Bellouaco, ad vrbanam Morum, 1559. "Tumulus" in Latin and French on facing pages; French version has caption title: Le Tumbeau du treschrestien Roy Henry II. Lettre du mesme autheur à un sien amy sur la mort du feu Roy...

Gordon 1560 .I5 In Ioachimum Bellaium andinum poetam clarissimum doctorum virorum carmina et tumuli. (4to) Parisiis : Apud Federicum Morellum ..., 1560.


Editions and translations

Du Bellay, Joachim.  La Deffence, et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549)&L’Olive.  Ed. Jean-Charles Monferran (La Deffence) and Ernesta Caldarini (L’Olive). Textes Littéraires Français 943. Geneva: Droz, 2007.

---. Oeuvres complètes. Sous la direction d’Olivier Millet, par Richard Cooper… [et al]. 2 volumes. Paris: Champion, 2003.

---. La deffense, et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549). Facsimile and critical edition by Jean-Charles Monferran. Geneva: Droz, 2001.

---. Oeuvres poétiques. Critical edition by Daniel Aris & Françoise Joukovsky. Volumes 1 & 2. Paris: Bordas, 1993.

---. Oeuvres poétiques. Critical edition by Henri Chamard. Updated edition with appendix, bibliography, glossary and index by Yvonne Bellenger. Paris: Nizet, 1982.

---. The regrets: A bilingual edition. Translations from the French and Latin by David R. Slavitt. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2004.

Shapiro, Norman R. (translator and preface) and Hope Glidden (introd.). Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot, Du Bellay, Ronsard. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2002. (Text in French with parallel English translation)

Selected Works of Criticism and Interpretation:

Du Bellay: Actes du Colloque International d'Angers du 26 au 29 mai 1989. Cesbron, Georges (ed.). Angers: P de l'Univ. d'Angers, 1990. 730 pp. (a large collection of articles by scholars who presented their work at the Angers conference)

• Bellenger, Yvonne, ed. (with Jean Balsano et al). Du Bellay et ses sonnets romains: études sur les Regrets et les Antiquitez de Rome. Paris: H. Champion, 1994

• Bizer, Marc. Les lettres romaines de Du Bellay : les Regrets et la tradition épistolaire. Presses de l’université de Montréal, 2001.

• Coleman, Dorothy Gabe. The chaste muse: a Study of Joachim Du Bellay’s Poetry. Leiden: Brill, 1980.

• DellaNeva, JoAnn. “Illustrating the Deffence: Imitation and Poetic Perfection in Du Bellay’s Olive.” The French Review, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Oct., 1987), 39-49.

• Gadoffre, Gilbert. Du Bellay et le sacré. Paris: Gallimard, 1995.

• Gray, Floyd. La poétique de Du Bellay. Paris: Nizet, 1978.

• Tucker, George Hugo. Les regrets et autres oeuvres poétiques de Joachim du Bellay. Paris: Gallimard, 2000.


INTERNET RESOURCES - Bibliographie d’agrégation.  Bibliography of editions and secondary works for Du Bellay, prepared by Professor Michel Magnien for the 2007-2008 “Programme d’agrégation.”  The extensive bibliography can be downloaded as a Word document from the SFDES website. - Introduction and biography in French - Text of numerous poems by Du Bellay (in French), with recordings of several sonnets. - Website of the Musée Joachim du Bellay (Liré, France), with background information in French on the poet and his life. - “Poésie sur la Toile” - Brief biography of the poet, with links to the texts of selected poems. - Searchable, full-text transcription of the Antiquitez de Rome (1558) on ABU (“la bibliothèque universelle”) - The Gallica site includes numerous editions of Du Bellay’s works, most in image format and two in text format (searchable transcriptions). The text files are from the Oeuvres poétiques, vols. 1 & 2, Edited by Daniel Aris and Françoise Joukovsky (Paris: Bordas, “Classiques Garnier,” 1993).

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