06 November - Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) May 16, 2008 19:09:12 GMT 2
Post by moira on May 16, 2008 19:09:12 GMT 2
Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549)
I've long been interested in Marguerite de Navarre, first simply as a famous queen in biographies, whose daughter was Jeanne d'Albret (mother of Henri IV who aid "Paris was worth a mass," an intelligent man for toleration), and then as a friend of Vittoria Colonna whose exchanged letters and poems with her. There the interest is the curious reality that the two women lived almost during the same time span (Vittoria was born 1497 and died 1547), but Marguerite wrote medieval poetry, and Vittoria, early modern. This is not the result of one being radical or more modern in her approach towards life, but the result of their immediate milieu (for Vittoria Italy) and what genres they wrote in. Vittoria wrote sonnets which explored the psyche; Marguerite stayed with medieval genres.
Hence as a writer Marguerite's prose book of tales, Heptameron are far better known than her poems. But she wrote a lot of poetry, and if you can get yourself into the idiom and specifics, it's of great interest, moving, passionate, deep, twisted by her psychological problems (like she loved her brother almost more than herself, at least was so loyal to him as to hurt herself as I am not alone in thinking) and how her society imposed on her self-sacrifice, a virtuous exterior, politics demands, and her relationship with her daughter. I don't mention the husbands because like other well-placed women in this era (well-connected and with access to wealth), she was married for political and dynastic reasons and what there is in print is about their political manipulations together (which she did on behalf of aggrandizement of property). The more you know about her life, the more you might agree with me she ought to be remembered -- I was bothered to discover Judy Chicago's choice for her plate setting was Elizabeth Tudor; nothing wrong with Elizabeth who kept the peace and enabled her people to live and prosper, and who wrote some poetry too (in the same vein, or type as Marguerite, mirrors of sinful souls), but arguerite as a personality seems the more interesting to me, if not as important politically.
The poem I've liked best by her is her long one, Prisons, a poem in 3 books. It reminds me of Christine de Pisan in tone and attitude -- and use of allegory. I think it's about depression and how at long last Marguerite chose liberty and broke out of depression and depressive behavior. I have an idea that's not a common approach to it It would not be inappropriate to compare it to Dante's Commedia. She writes as a man and tells of a mistress, but like George Sand's travel book, Lettres d'un Voyageur, it seems to me transparent a woman is talking.
Here is how it opens:
Beloved Friend, I will confess to you
That I for many a year almost despised
Sweet liberty with all its happiness,
Content to be in prison, where I lay
Through love of you; for torments suffered there
Were pastimes dear, and welcome were its chains.
Then did the darkness seem to bring me light
And sunlight was as darkness and deep gloom;
I cried and wept but thought I laughed and sang,
While iron doors enclosing me, with bolts
And bars, grilles, chains and walls of stoutest stone,
More grateful were to me than open fields.
To hunt with hound and falcon or to play
At cards gave less delight than thus to be
Bound hand and foot with knotted cords; by those
I never once was troubled or annoyed.
To toil and fast, keep vigil day and night,
Gave me more joy than feasting and display.
How often, when I saw what pastimes served
To bring men happiness, I musing said,
'Alas! you foolish folk, did you but know
The good I find within my prison walls
You would not want your guns, your hounds and birds,
Your meadows, woods and gardens; no, these ropes,
25 These solid bars, would seem to you more fair
Than all the gifts produced by Nature's hand.'
Communing thus alone for many a day ....
She does come out -- after much "distress" (very moving I think), finally through a course of serious reading , more knowledge of God and the Good, and what seems to me a friendship with someone (at least that's how the allegory runs at moments).
Here is a passage from Book Two signalling the transformation:
Too late had known him, left him all too soon ...
My own lost good, returned to me once more.
Then, since I saw no remedy for this
And found that he had left me for my needs
A store of books filled with his own wise words,
I read in them and, reading, was consoled;
From that day forth I was released from prison
And breathed the fragrant air of liberty ...
The translated text comes from The Prisons of Marguerite de Navarre, translated by Hilda Dale (Reading: Whitenights Press, 1989). I recommend this book for a started for anyone interested in Marguerite's poetry.
There are many sites on line about Marguerite and some contain a short biography and also pieces from her poetry and the
Heptameron. From one excellent site ("Other women's Voices"), which also includes a biography and much bibliography (lots of books and texts and some translations):
Here are two poems from "Comedy for Four Women." It's a debate on the value of love. It's not at all obsolete. I hope I don't offend by saying last night I watched another of these biopic movies, Miss Austen Regrets where Austen's life was interpreted as an anguish over her loss of love; in fact she was much closer to the first girl (about whose attitudes alas few movies are made today):
I guard readily
With no distraction.
For love and folly
Cannot be parted.
When I hear talking,
Coming and going,
These foolish lovers,
I end up laughing.
And I tell myself
That they are wretched.
Away with affection:
Away with passion
That can break one's heart
My heart is my own;
My faith is not meant
To be given or sold....
I shall remain free,
Not taking the risk
Of falling in love.
Let love who so wants;
We shall in the end
Turn away from them.
A virtuous love
(Not at all sinful)
I want to defend;
'Tis no less seemly
Than fair and pleasant,
As one must keep it....
Without love, a man
Is very much like
A lifeless image.
Without love, woman
Is sullen, odious,
Unpleasant and foolish.
For love, in tourneys,
Lances are tilted,
Horses are spurred,
High leaps must be jumped,
And dance performed.
For the servitude
The care, and the pains
Of love mean to me
Joy and liberty,
As long as I see
My sweet friend always.
Anyone interested in Marguerite's famous book and for an intelligent informed woman-centered perspective, if I were to name one book that I think is essential and readable (accessible, available), it'd be Patricia Francis Cholakian's Rape and Writing in the Heptameon of Marguerite de Navarre (Carbondale: So. Illinois UP, 1991).
Cheers to all,