The Pleiades in literature

The original literary Pleiade were a group of seven Hellenistic tragic poets active in Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285 - 246 BC). The bulk of their work was lost in the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria by Muslim armies in 642 AD: only those of Lycophron survived. Eighteen-hundred years passed before the title was again adopted by a group of poets. In the mid-16th century a group of French poets founded La Pléiade, with the aim of breaking away from a moribund medieval poetic tradition and enriching their native French language with a literature equal to those of the classical world and the Italian Renaissance [note 1].

Du Bellay's 'Défense et illustration de la langue Française' (1549) became the manifesto of the group. Thereafter they wrote entirely in French, in distinction to the then prevalent and authoritative use of Latin. Nevertheless, as they merely adapted Classical and Italian poetic forms, especially the sonnet and the alexandrine, they were not a radical or innovative force in wider european literature.

Although the contribution of La Pléiade to the foundations of French poetry and literature should not be undervalued, their works – and native tongue aspirations – stood in the shadow of the genius of their predecessor Dante, as they were later eclipsed by Shakespeare. Even so their legacy is assured in becoming a source of inspiration for a great 20th century poet and master of the Alexandrine, Paul Valéry.

Their enduring influence ensured that a 'Pleiade' became a synonym for a 'brilliant group' in many european languages, and so, immodestly, we have taken the name Pleiade Associates. One of our tasks is to justify this bold claim…

Note 1

The seven members were Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, Rémy Belleau, Ètienne Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard, Jean-Antoine Baïf, and the humanist scholar Jean Daurat. De Ronsard – a favourite of Charles II – was by far the pre-eminent artist of the group.
Return to [note 1]

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Tes pas, enfants de mon silence,
Saintement, lentement places,
Vers le lit de ma vigilance
Procàdent muets et glacés.

Personne pure, ombre divine,
Qu’ils sont doux, tes pas retenus!
Dieux!… tous les dons que je devine
Viennent à moi sur ces pieds nus!

Si, de tes levres avancées,
Tu prépares pour l’apaiser,
A l’habitant de mes pensées
La nourriture d’un baiser,

Ne hâte pas cet acte tendre,
Douceur d’être et de n’être pas,
Car j’ai vécu de vous attendre,
Et mon coeur n’était que vos pas.

Paul Valéry: Les Pas.

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