L’Adolescence Clémentine, 1532 (contains poetry of the years 1515-1526)
La Suite de l’adolescence Clémentine, 1533
Le Premier livre de la Métamorphose d’Ovide, 1534 (translation of Ovid and other poems)
Œuvres, 1538 (one edition printed by Dolet, one by Gryphius)
Trente psaumes de David, 1541
Clément Marot (mah-roh), born at Cahors in 1496, went to Paris in 1506. His father, the Rhétoriqueur poet Jean Marot, served Anne de Bretagne, Louis XII, and later François I. (The Rhétoriqueur poets were a group of bourgeois poets who shared a preoccupation with rhetoric.) Marot’s life has invited considerable speculation. For many dates and facts scholars must rely on the often vague information gleaned from his work. About 1514 he became page to the king’s secretary; the following year he became a clerk at the Chancellery. In 1519 he entered the service of Marguerite d’Angoulême (or D’Alençon), “mother of the Renaissance,” whose influence and protection were decisive.
Almost all Marot’s youthful work, a kind of register of court life, falls between the years 1515 and 1526. Setting out to rival the Rhétoriqueur Jean Lemaire de Belges, Marot, under humanist influence, ended this period by finding a freer, more personal manner of writing than that of his predecessors.
Marot’s brushes with authority–his imprisonment for eating meat during Lent and for attempting to free a prisoner (in 1526 and 1527 respectively)–and his sympathy for the Reformation were early indications of a religious change that would later lead to his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. In the late 1520’s Marot helped expand the influence of Erasmus in France by translating three of his colloquies into French. In the poem “L’Enfer” (Hades–the Châtelet prison), he criticizes torture and abuses of judicial authority. His condemnation of injustice and torture prefigures similar arguments by Montaigne in his essays.
In 1526, on his father’s death, Marot became valet de chambre to François. He also became a well-respected court poet. In 1528 he composed a poem to celebrate the marriage of King Francis I’s niece Renée of France to Hercule d’Este, duke of Ferrara. Marot’s typical badinage (his self-mockery, feigned naïveté, and refined laughter), the elliptical narrative, and the mixture of fact and fantasy which characterize his satire had now become apparent. Marot’s petitions, epigrams, and gossip entertained the court until 1534. His increasing popularity encouraged bolder satire, intensified the hostility of the Sorbonne, and attracted the dangerous rivalry of the poet Sagon.
In 1534 Marot, accused of Lutheranism, fled to Marguerite and then to Ferrara, where at the predominantly French court of Princess Renée, he came under the influence of neo-Petrarchan poetry, wrote the first French sonnet, and composed some of his best work.
Of his personal life it is known that he had a platonic love for Anne d’Alençon (1524-1534), was probably denounced to the Sorbonne (1526) by a vengeful mistress Ysabeau (or Luna), was married in 1529, and had two children.
Renée’s husband, Hercule d’Este, forced Marot to leave Ferrara early in 1536. Improved conditions in France (because of the Edict of Coucy) enabled him to return via Turin to Lyon, to a welcoming court in January, 1537. He abjured his religious “errors” in Lyon. Although he publicly pretended to reconvert to Catholicism, most scholars believe that Marot was committed to Protestantism from at least the early 1530’s. Wishing no more trouble, Marot forgave his enemies and expunged compromising passages from his works (in editions by Dolet and Gryphius in 1538). Sagon’s persistent attacks pushed Marot to compose the crushing “Épître de frippelippes” in 1537. Court success resulted in most pieces composed between 1537 and 1542 being official poetry, an exception being the work on French translations of the Psalms; a group of thirty psalms was published in 1541.
In 1542 a decree against Lutherans caused Marot to flee again. By December he had joined John Calvin in Geneva, the latter hoping that Marot would complete the Psalms, an important work for the Reformed church. In Geneva Marot published a verse translation of twenty more psalms. He left Geneva in December, 1543, probably for lack of funds, though doubtless his independent spirit could not accept Calvin any more than it could the papacy. He stayed briefly with friends near Annecy, Chambéry. Still hoping to return home, the poet died toward the end of the summer of 1544 in Turin.
By the end of his life Marot had written some fifty-seven épîtres, ten formally satirical poems (including “L’Enfer,” a coq-à-l’âne), ninety formally lyrical poems (including “Le Temple de Cupido,” complaintes, chansons, cantiques, epithalames, elegies, and eglogues), a large number of epigrams, epitaphs, etrennes, rondeaux, and chants royaux. Many of these poems were first published individually or in small collections. A number of important poems first appeared in unauthorized editions, attesting Marot’s popularity.