Address by Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, on the occasion of the Lyriades of the French language 2010, 5th Rencontres de Liré

Happy who, like Ulysses, had a nice trip
Happy who, like Ulysses, had a nice trip,
Or as this one conquered the fleece,
And then returned, full of use and reason,
Living with your parents the rest of your life!
When will I see again, alas, of my little village
Smoking the fireplace, and in what season
Shall I see again the enclosure of my poor house,
Who is a province to me, and much more?
The more I like my ancestors' stay,
From the Roman palaces the bold forehead,
More than hard marble I like fine slate:
More my Gallic Loire, than the Latin Tiber,
More my little Liré, than Mount Palatine,
And more than sea air the sweetness of Anjou.

Mr Mayor, dear Jean-Claude ANTONINI,
Mr President of the Lyriades of the French language, dear Dominique
Mr Delegate for the French Language and the Languages of France, dear Xavier
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,
If I chose to read you DU BELLAY’s most famous poem, then, well,
sure, so many other sonnets deserve to be read again and again, it is because I believe
that its very success perfectly illustrates the success of the poet and his inscription
deep in our national memory.
There is in our literature – and inseparably in our consciousness at all –
a "moment of the BELLAY". It is the very rich moment of a Renaissance at the
It is through DU BELLAY, above all, that the fleshly attachment to France,
to its territories and its terroirs is built, and it is built within
humanism, through the two figures of detour and return.
Jacqueline de ROMILLY said, I believe, “culture is the detour” and, at
background, the interest of DU BELLAY’s initiatory journey to Rome, the journey
humanist par excellence (and yet it was before the Villa Medici…!), this
is not only the disappointment that Rome is no longer in
Rome”. It is not only the corrupt ballet of the papal court and
of his “monsignori,” who “walk very fast” and inspire him to
tasty satires. It’s not just illness, absent friends,
the alienation of office work with its intrigues and
monotony, a life made to measure to despair a poet… No,
the interest of this trip is that, by the return, DU BELLAY transforms
humanism in a detour towards oneself, towards its rethought roots and
The one of its terroir, its «little Liré», but also those of
the great lyre of the French language.
«Happy who like Ulysses made a nice trip and then returned»:
I emphasize the “and then”. I’m not going to comment here on
text, but it is obvious that the “and then” is not simply temporal,
it does not just designate the sequence of events in their
sequence. It is not only chronological, but also
logic. He suggests that the departure is necessary, but that it is
a return to the sources thus revisited and revived. That the
roots are nothing without the humanist detour, but that the journey, if
is not the last word of Man. For Man must
find a stay that responds fundamentally – and not only by a
rhyming effect present in the poem – to the humanistic and rooted cycle of
detour and return.
It is the same movement of a nomadism and an openness that
give all its meaning and all its depth to the sedentary, that one
found in this other stay of the human being that is his language. And DU
BELLAY, deep down, in this very sonnet, does nothing but that,
living in the fertile country of the French language. And so, while singing Liré
and his «Gallic Loire», DU BELLAY makes the French language a stay,
a «region where to live», as MALLARMÉ said, the true homeland can be,
that of our representations, our ways of thinking and feeling,
that of sharing reason and emotion. CIORAN said: We
does not live in a country, one lives in a language. A homeland is that and nothing
This language, this «stay» that DU BELLAY builds as much as his forefathers,
it is itself a place of detour and return through the figures of the
translation and adaptation, whether Latin or Italian, with
the well-known influence of the great humanist PETRARCH.
In this, DU BELLAY’s experience may not be so different from
that we are experiencing today in globalization, that is
when the French language can and should be both a stay and
openness. And more than ever for the “defense and illustration of the language
of the 21st century, we need such capacity to
translate, that is, to welcome the culture of the Other in the crucible of
our language, in order to also enrich our language and our culture. DU
BELLAY thus suggests to us that, in terms of language, the
best defense is illustration. Not only would it be useless and vain
to turn the language into a besieged fortress, to have a
hexagonal and obsidional conception of the tongue. The best defense,
it’s not the defense, so to speak, but it’s not the attack either,
according to the famous formula: it is indeed the radiation by the works and, more
generally, through hospitality and creativity. This is the defense and
illustration», also related to each other as travel and return. On all
again, DU BELLAY gives us a lesson always valid and without
ceases to meditate no less than four hundred and fifty years after his
The Defence teaches us that a language is neither a stable element (because
it continues to evolve and metamorphose while remaining itself),
or a chemically pure compound, because it does not refuse to
borrowing. In this sense, it is a continuous and collective invention, a little
in the manner of the nation according to RENAN, this «daily plebiscite».
This is why there is a use and a conception of the language which
nurture and support our democratic ideal.
Indeed, the language is shared and that is also why I am here
today among you. To celebrate the memory of DU BELLAY, the child
of the country, as the actors who have just brilliantly done
says the texts of a beautiful «Tomb of DU BELLAY». But it is
also to pay tribute to the exemplary work done since
around this «genius of the place» and this figure
our language and literature, to greet these
“ministers” of the French language – that is, to these great servants
of the French language and the Francophonie – what are the founders and
enlightened leaders of the association of Lyriades, who train a little, to their
way, a new “Pléiade”…
I could not answer their friendly invitation without thanking them
and also give them this distinction, which is unique to the
Minister of Culture, the Order of Arts and Letters. It is therefore not
not now the sequence France, mother of arts, weapons and
laws”, but rather “Angers, land of arts and letters”…! I do it
with emotion and gratitude for a job I know diligent and
because he is passionate. Today’s day and all the
The Lyriades festival is a shining example of this.
That is why, on behalf of the French Republic, dear Dominique
BROSSIER [President of the Lyriades of the French language], dear
Françoise ARGOD-DUTARD, Professor, Head of the Council
Lyriades scientist], dear Dominique BEAUMON [Coordinator
General of the Lyriades of the French language, and dear Bernard STAUD, we
have the great pleasure and honor to make you, each, knight in
the Order of Arts and Letters.