Joachim du Bellay
Les Regrets is a collection of 191 poems published by Joachim du Bellay in 1558. These poems were written in Rome, where du Bellay was working for his uncle, the Cardinal Jean du Bellay. They are a lament on his three years in Rome, reflecting on how he misses his friends and the Anjou province, where his ancestral home is located. While in Les Antiquitez de Rome du Bellay is harsh, analytical, and critical, here, his lyric persona is sorrowful, mournful, and regretful. In almost every poem, he returns to the topic of longing for France, hence the title of the collection.
As for the architectural references in Les Regrets, many are similar to Les Antiquitez de Rome: images of Roman buildings and their ruins. Yet, there is another layer of representation: names of French cities and regions, and descriptions of landscapes; for example, one poem in particular, XIX, where he talks about the woods, the golden fields of wheat, the vineyards, the gardens, the green meadows. Du Bellay describes his beloved France with a great level of detail, as an alive, colorful, vivid landscape, while in Rome, the landscape is harsh: Roman buildings are not described in detail, they are little more than piles of stone. Thus, the two landscapes are in opposition and the contrasting levels of detail emphasize that difference.
How Loathsome is Rome
Similarly to Les Antiquitez de Rome, in Les Regrets du Bellay uses references to Roman architecture, contemporary and Ancient, to disparage Roman culture. Often, he simply refers to different buildings as ruins or great piles of stone, with no detail as to what they once were. His harsh tongue didn’t spare the politics and the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
If du Bellay is harsh, even ferocious about the Roman landscape, he praises the French countryside with equal passion. As he does this, the two landscapes work in contradiction and emphasize each other. While in Rome, du Bellay sorely missed France, its people and the friends he left behind. There is no better way to transport himself to France than by reminiscing and virtually recreating his home, so it can be enjoyed again and again. The landscapes he paints in his poems come to life in the reader’s mind. This also serves to emphasize the ruin of Rome.
Bellay, Joachim Du. Les Antiquitez de Rome et Les Regrets. Lille, Geneve: Librarie Giard and Librarie Droz, 1947.
I chose all the background pictures for Les Regrets as symbolic representations; they do not belong to the period. The header is the Colonnade Grove, part of the seventeenth-century gardens at Versailles. It features thirty-two columns made of French materials, which encircle the sculpture of the Abduction of Proserpine/Persephone by Pluto/Hades. This image represents du Bellay’s own “abduction” to his personal hell -- Rome. The twelfth-century church from the Abbey of Fontenay illustrates “How Loathsome is Rome.” In Les Regrets, Du Bellay criticizes the Roman Catholic Church. He sheds light on the negligence and corruption of Church authorities. That was also the intention of the Cistercian reform, of which the Abbey of Fontenay is an architectural example. In the twelfth century, Cistercian reformers stripped the Benedictine order of its splendor and corruption, creating a minimalist architecture marked by the near-absence of ornamentation and monochromatic painting and stained glass schemes, which we can see in the photo. Lastly, the landscape for “French Superiority” shows the beauty and serenity of France -- just as Du Bellay paints it.