Thursday, February 09, 2012


Ronsard's World and Ours

D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), p. 328:
Having more leisure and (by God's mercy) fewer books than we, being unaware of the necessity to rush to and fro at maniac speed in pursuit of the Unattainable, the Renaissance poetry-lover was not heard to complain that an ode of twenty or fifty stanzas was of inordinate length. If it seemed good to the poet to use that amount of words to develop his thought, it provided all the more pleasure to fill a winter's evening,
Ces longues nuicts d'hyver, où la Lune ocieuse
Tourne si lentement son char tout à l'entour ...
So prolixity and repetition in a poet of Ronsard's stature no more offended or bored the men of his time than repetition and prolixity in a Bach fugue annoys a musician. Their minds, as I have said, were not easily fatigued or fretted. They had not to be kept constantly amused, like children or stockbrokers. They were not fed on spicy scraps by a semi-illiterate popular Press whose sole concern is to entertain; they sipped their reading slowly and meditatively, as an epicure sips Romanée-Conti. Ronsard lived and sang in a world of mental vigour and endurance whose most jaded moments were brimful of red-hot vitality compared with the numb and nervesick mental exhaustion of our present age.
Id., p. 329:
The great masters of the Renaissance exhilarate and dazzle and bewilder our shoddy decline and shame our machine-made middle-class mediocrity. The spectacle of a herd of modern trippers shambling through the Chateau of Amboise is a handy satirical illustration of this truth, needing no embroidery. Mingling with the perfume of Ronsard's roses is the light and air and brilliance of his age, and reading his pages we re-enter it with him in illusion and are enchanted. Here is, I think, one more obvious reason why Ronsard has returned to the Machine Age. He stands for so many noble and gracious things now in peril from without and within: the golden Classic Spirit, the fundamental Culture, the ancestral Religion which nourishes and supports it all.
Id., pp. 333-334:
Ronsard's world was bloody and beautiful, ours is bloody and ugly. His world produced masses of great song, ours does not. Amid the miseries of his time Ronsard sang like a nightingale, in the midst of ours the poets are dumb, or, if they attempt to sing, produce nothing but the harsh croaking of spiritual bankruptcy and despair, or tuneless and futile poncifs, inspired by a woolly optimism full of pathos; being rootless and drifting men afflicted by that malady of the West which, as Comte said, is a continual revolt against human antecedents. The mental health and vigour of Ronsard are tonic. Under his roses and raptures lurk the rooted certitudes. However far into folly the flesh may drive him, the spirit is intact. His dualism, pagan and Christian, resolves, whenever issue is seriously joined, in the triumph of reason, with the plain finality of that monumental line in the Song of Roland which says "Pagans are wrong and Christians are right". That eager wayward sword-keen mind, that vast hungry scholarship, that joyous appetite for life, that lifelong mastery and surfeit of fame bring him to the same conclusion as the strong mind of St. Thomas More and those other Renaissance humanists who never were beguiled by toys: sine auctoritate nulla vita.

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