Mellin de Saint-Gelais

Mellin de Saint-Gelais Poems

Mellin de Saint-Gelais Biography

Mellin de Saint-Gelais, sometimes known as Melin St. Gelays or Melin Sainct-Gelais, was a French medieval poet of the Renaissance era, much in favour at the royal court.  He was a member of the literary group known as “Le Pleiade” and was well regarded and compared favourably with Clément Marot, a contemporary known as the “Prince of French poets”.  He also spent some time filling the prestigious posts of chaplain to the king and custodian of the royal library.

He was born sometime during the year 1491 in Angouleme, a small town in the Aquitaine region of south west France.  It is believed that he came from noble stock although doubts exist over his parentage.  Some records suggest that his father was the bishop of Angouleme, and also a poet and translator of ancient classics such as the Aeneid.  It is likely that he was home tutored initially but he did pursue courses of study in Poitiers and also in the Italian cities of Padua and Bologna.  He became an accomplished scholar of Italian and French literature.

Although he was an enthusiastic poet, with some historians suggesting that he may have been one of the first writers of the French sonnets, he also made a career as a custodian of books.  In 1536 he looked after a collection within the grounds of the chateau at Blois and, eight years later, was a major figure in the operation to move the royal library from that city to Fontainebleau.  Saint-Gelais then became “Master of the Library” at what was soon known as the National Library of France.

Despite his clear passion for the printed word, in book form, it seems that he was not keen on his own work being published in this format.  It was mostly found in a hand-written format although an unauthorised collection of his work was published in Lyon in 1547.  It has been estimated that he produced some six hundred pieces of poetry, either in neo-Latin or French, between the early 1530s and 1558 which was the year of his death.  One piece of prose was published in 1546, under the title Warning on the judgments of astrology, to a studious damoyselle.

Saint-Gelais was not always popular amongst his contemporaries, especially when acting as a royal courtier and chaplain to King Henry II.  For some reason he decided to attack his rival Pierre de Ronsard by reading out Ronsard’s poetry in a mocking way.  This amused the king but, having humiliated Ronsard, the two were enemies for a time.  The quarrels between them were ended in 1553 when Ronsard was persuaded to offer an olive branch to his opponent with the composition of an ode of reconciliation. He did so, but not with good grace.

Although the work of Saint-Gelais was popular in his lifetime it is much less so now.  As previously mentioned, he was an early exponent of the sonnet form of poetry and here is an example, simply titled Sonnet:
Mellin de Saint-Gelais died in Paris on the 14th October 1558 at the age of 67.  Ironically he was replaced as chaplain to the king by his bitter rival Ronsard.