Litanic Verse III


by Magdalena Kowalska (Volume editor)
©2018 Monographs 424 Pages
Series: Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 000000


Despite the numerous famous examples of «les litanies» in French poetry, the manner in which the structures of this form of worship affect the versification strategies of poems has not previously been discussed thoroughly. Litanic verse, whose origins are as ancient as those of the litany genre, is recognized in works whose poetic diction, in whole or in part, includes the distinctive features of the litany, such as enumeration, parallelism, anaphora, and epiphora. The third volume describes the development of litanic verse from troubadour poetry and Old French religious verse up to World War II. This rich and multifaceted material is presented in chronological order and in the context of different literary genres.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Litanic Verse in Medieval France
  • 1. Preliminary Remarks
  • 1.1 Medievalists on Traces of Poetic Litanies
  • 1.2 Some Remarks on the Idea of Medieval Litanic Verse as Being More Common in Short Lines
  • 2. Litanic Verse in the Poetry of Troubadours
  • 2.1 Isometric Stanzas—Litany’s Over-regularity
  • 2.2 Heterometric Stanzas
  • 2.3 Conclusion
  • 3. Old French Litanic Verse
  • 3.1 The Marian Miracle Narratives of Gautier de Coincy
  • 3.2 Litany and Lyrical Lai
  • 3.3 Hélinand Stanza
  • 3.4 Litanic Dit of Rutebeuf
  • 3.5 Refrain as a Factor in Litanic Verse
  • 3.6 Chairetisms: “Ave” and “Benedicta”
  • 3.7 Litanic Love Verse
  • 3.8 Justice and Peace
  • 3.9 How to Be Constant in Prayer—The Endless Series of Invocations
  • 3.10 Litanic Pastiches
  • 3.11 Conclusion
  • Part II: Renaissance Litanic Verse
  • 4. Sonnets in the Service of Litanic Verse
  • 5. Litanic Love Verse
  • 6. Devotional Poetry
  • 7. In a Bucolic Tone
  • 8. Cosmological Poetry
  • 9. Litanic Verse in Chants Royaux—Exploring the Rules of Repetition
  • 10. Litanic Verse in Narrative Prose
  • 10.1 Conclusion
  • Part III: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century
  • 11. Baroque Poetry
  • 11.1 Sonnets
  • 11.2 Canticles
  • 11.3 Seeking Appropriate Names—Lists of Antonomasias
  • 11.4 Parodies of Litanies
  • 11.5 Conclusion
  • 12. Age of Classicism
  • 12.1 Litanic Verse in the Dramatic Genre
  • 12.1.1 Corneille and the Presence of the First and Second Person Singular Pronouns
  • 12.1.2 Racine between the Infinity of Anaphora and the Recurrence of Apostrophe
  • 12.2 Love Sonnets, Descriptive Sonnets and Spiritual Sonnets
  • 12.3 Descriptive Poetry
  • 12.4 Conclusion
  • 13. Age of Enlightenment
  • 13.1 The Image of the World in the Eye of the Enlightened: Rousseau—Lebrun—Roucher
  • 13.2 Mythological World of Idyll and Elegy
  • 13.3 Parodies of Litany
  • 13.4 Conclusion
  • Part IV: The Nineteenth Century
  • 14. Romantic Movement toward Litanic Verse
  • 14.1 Lamartine—Litanic Verse Which Praises God’s Work of Creation in Its Entirety and All National Heroes
  • 14.2 Hugo—Human Affairs Discussed with God and Saints
  • 14.3 Musset—Speaking with One’s Polymorphous Self
  • 14.4 Other Romantic Poets—How to Capture the Proper Name of Phenomena
  • 14.5 Romantic Religious Poetry
  • 14.6 Litanic Verse in a Litany Written in a Diary
  • 14.7 Conclusion
  • 15. Around Parnassianism
  • 15.1 Leconte de Lisle—The Broad Scope of Litanic Verse: Historical, Political, Intimate
  • 15.2 Invoking Nature, Venus and Maia—Parnassian Interest in Ancient Mythology
  • 15.3 Théodore de Banville—A Poet’s Attitude toward His Predecessors, His Muse and the Richness of the World
  • 15.4 Baudelaire’s Litanies and Litanic Verse
  • 15.5 Fears and Hopes of Nineteenth-Century Man
  • 15.6 “C’est la revanche / Des prés, des ondes et des bois”—When Nature Replaces Gods
  • 15.7 Confessional Poetry
  • 15.8 Last Manifestations of Parnassianism—Litanies of Nonsense?
  • 15.9 Conclusion
  • Part V: The Growing Popularity of Litanic Verse from the Late Nineteenth Century up to World War II
  • 16. French fin de siècle Litanic Verse
  • 16.1 “And now these three remain”… “But the greatest of these is love!”—Nouveau’s and Verlaine’s Litanic Verse
  • 16.2 Decadent Litanic Verse
  • 16.3 Homage to the Author of the Passing Age
  • 16.4 Conclusion
  • 17. The Félibrige
  • 18. Various Paths to Litanic Verse up to World War II: Jammes, Claudel and Others
  • 18.1 The Last Manifestations of Decadent Litanic Verse
  • 18.2 One More Example of Litanic Verse Praising the Rose
  • 18.3 A Small Image, a Huge Cathedral and a Tapestry as Material for Litanic Verse
  • 18.4 Exoticism in Theme and Form
  • 18.5 War Traces in Litanic Verse
  • 18.6 Francis Jammes
  • 18.7 Claudel’s Litanic Verse of the Saints, of Holy Mary and of Sainte Bernadette Soubirous
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Subjects
  • Index of Names
  • Series index

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We share the conviction that a litany is a prayer that can be identified without any knowledge of the language in which it is said. Thanks to its perceptible rhythm, litany was recognized among other forms in the nineteenth century by writers who traveled to exotic places and heard it in foreign languages, as, for example, in these remarks by Alphonse de Lamartine:

Tout à coup, comme une plainte douce et amoureuse, un murmure grave et accentué par la passion sortit des ruines, derrière ce grand mur percé d’ogives arabesques, et dont le toit nous avait paru écroulé sur lui-même: ce murmure vague et confus s’enfla, se prolongea, s’éleva plus fort et plus haut, et nous distinguâmes un chant nourri de plusieurs voix en chœur; un chant monotone, mélancolique et tendre, qui montait, qui baissait, qui mourait, qui renaissait alternativement, et qui se répondait à lui-même: c’était la prière du soir que l’évêque arabe faisait avec son petit troupeau, dans l’enceinte éboulée de ce qui avait été son église, monceaux de ruines entassés récemment par une tribu d’Arabes idolâtres. […] Nous fûmes frappés de saisissement, et nous accompagnâmes des élans de notre pensée, de notre prière et de toute notre poésie intérieure, les accents de cette poésie sainte, jusqu’à ce que les litanies chantées eussent accompli leur refrain monotone, et que les derniers soupirs de ces voix pieuses se fussent assoupis dans le silence accoutumé de ces vieux débris.1

One might ask whether these writers make the right choice; nevertheless, they do not hesitate to use the name of the genre for the composition they hear, which stands out by the fluctuation of tone, recurrence of formulae and the participation of at least two voices, which they deem to be monotonous: Lamartine uses this adjective twice in this one short passage of his Voyage en Orient.

Contrary to what the title of this book suggests—it contains the relational adjective derived from the name of one of the oldest prayers—it is not devoted only to religious poetry. The difference between litany and litanic verse has been explained by Witold Sadowski in a monograph on the subject.2 Drawing upon examples from Polish literature, he defines litanic verse as a poem whose poetic diction, in whole or in part, includes distinctive features of litany, such as, most ← 11 | 12 → importantly, repetitions, anaphoras, enumerations (of antonomasias), and series of apostrophes. There are few poetic works that contain all the structural components of litany (and these poems do not necessarily include the word “litany” in their titles): this is the case when each petition is of a different length and includes an element that distinguishes a given line from the preceding and following lines; a petition is followed by a one-line recurring formula; and the presence of introductory and concluding formulae is recognizable. In essence, what makes the subject matter discussed herein so unique is the wealth of poems which creatively modify the shape of litany. The most commonly employed devices in French litanic verse are as follows: reducing the number of lines containing a response to a petition to just one; splitting the content of the invocation and the supplication into stanzas of varying line-length; and removing repetitions from the series of invocations, thus focusing on enumerations.3

What may appear debatable to the reader is the choice of material. A book which purports to explore French litanic verse also contains two chapters on Occitan poetry. While there is need for a monograph on Occitan litanic verse in all literary periods, it can be argued that the panorama of French litanic verse would not be complete without Occitan poems, notably those written when this form began to infiltrate western Europe, namely the Middle Ages4 (interestingly, in that period Occitan litanic verses outnumbered those written in Old French), and when southern Europe saw the revival of literatures in regional languages at the turn of the nineteenth century.5 ← 12 | 13 →

In terms of the genres taken under consideration, the book focuses on poetry; however, there are also references to prose and drama works written during the periods when poetry was not the main field of literary activity. These two forms of literature are also analyzed when they include particularly interesting examples of litanic verse. The source material is presented in chronological order, that is, by literary periods, but within the chapters themselves, it is organized according to research problems, genres or authors.

One feature of the book that we hope will prove particularly useful is that analyses of so many works are carried out in order to exemplify the general directions in which litanic verse in France evolved from the Middle Ages up to the start of World War II. In many cases, interpretations have entailed discussing a particular litanic verse against the background of the author’s entire literary output. Hence, it needs to be emphasized that this book contains more of an overview of examples of litanic verse and an analysis of selected works rather than a thorough discussion of all cases. Our approach is designed to stimulate further research into litanic verse which might result in new studies. The line of development of litanic verse is sketched out—and for the author of this work, it would be an honor if later scholars should decide to follow the framework proposed herein.

It is our contention that a high proportion of French poems exhibit some features of litanic verse. Examples include poems written by world-renown poets as well as some whose authorship is disputed, which appear under different titles, and of which there are no critical editions or indeed any other editions, besides the original. Sometimes, the increased prominence of litanic verse in works by minor authors from a specific period says more about the direction of development than its presence in outstanding or exceptional works. The ecumenical approach to so many sources is not meant to call into question established hierarchies of authors from specific literary periods. It is intended, rather, to bring attention to the broad range of materials for study whose subject matter has not been exhausted in the present work.

As has already been mentioned, litanic verse does not occur solely or most frequently in the genre of litany itself. One of the key objectives of the present work is to grasp the mechanisms for embedding litanic verse in various genre structures—well-known ones, such as ballades, elegies, and idylls, and more specific ones (dit, lai,6 miracle, etc.). An important theme is the presence of litanic ← 13 | 14 → verse in the sonnet, especially during the Renaissance, but also in selected works written in later literary periods.

It is obviously a simplification to assume that there is one universal model of liturgical litany. While exploring the topic, on many occasions we experienced several problems: we realized how useful it would be to determine which version of the litany a particular author drew on. Sometimes it was clear that the poet had primarily been inspired by the Latin text. If it was the French text, the question was: which book of hours, prayer book or contemporary version was consulted? Such detailed explorations went beyond the scope of the present work, but, given the status and importance of litanic verse in the works of particular authors, such research is well worth undertaking. Another issue is that in some cases a standard approved version of the litany did not exist before a particular work was written. The most spectacular example is the medieval Marian litanic verse, which occurs simultaneously with many versions of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary,7 and which was officially approved by the Catholic Church only in 1587. Yet another problem concerns the Huguenot Wars of the sixteenth century, which had an impact on the absorption of litanic verse. Some of the authors whose works are discussed in this book were Protestants. How can their choice of litanic verse be accounted for? Did they choose to use a convention that was designed to bring popularity to their poems? Or was it an unconscious choice, which may have been dictated by rhythmic values?

A multitude of topics can be addressed in litany because of features of the litanic model such as the following: the monotony of semantic focus on a specific object or personality trait which is overcome by the creativity of subsequent petitions; the possibility of employing lines of varied lengths coupled with a rhythm that makes the reader expect to see a well-known and recurring formula; and the inclusion of sacred components in the text in various proportions, or their ostentatious absence against the context imposed by the poetic shape. In terms of the subject matter, many authors address religious topics, writing about God the Father, the Son of God, Holy Mary, and the saints. A high proportion of the works discussed herein are love poems, which provides additional support for the view of Western European society, including French society, taken by Denis de Rougemont.8 Other problems addressed in litanic verse include topical political events and scientific issues hotly debated at a particular time. The use of ← 14 | 15 → litanic verse can also be linked with the process of archaization (as in the case of Théodore de Banville). However, most frequently, the use of the litanic verse in a given text speaks volumes about the condition of contemporary society, its political situation, the way it perceives power relations, the ideal of urban life or country idyll, the borders of adoration and profanity in art and the properties of poetic meter in a given literary period.

Research on litany in French literature has resulted in specific studies which, however, have tended to focus only on a particular period or work. The most extensive bibliographies, though they too are not exhaustive, concern medieval literature and works written after the publication of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Litanies de Satan.” However, it should be stressed that many studies are restricted to identifying the structure of a litany and making a few remarks on the use of this kind of Christian prayer. This is not followed by any further detailed research. In addition to general discussion of the stylistic aspects of the litany, it is also worth investigating the metrical systems of different specific litanic petitions, which is a problem that has not been previously researched. This may be because there has been a general sense of the unimportance of litanic inspiration in French literature:

[…] l’assimilation de la litanie à une forme littéraire fait apparaître des sensibilités diverses: genre très développé dans l’Allemagne médiévale […] et en Espagne […], cultures où s’affirme une tradition de poésie mystique, utilisé également par le Baroque allemand et les « metaphysical poets », la litanie est considérée historiquement, dans ce pays, comme une des sources de l’écriture poétique; en France, en revanche, même s’il en existe des versions anciennes, elle ne semble pas reconnue comme « fait poétique » avant le XIXe siècle.9

The writer adds in the footnotes that: “Ceci semble d’ailleurs confirmé par la place accordée à la litanie dans les ouvrages récents de théorie littéraire: l’entrée est généralement absente des études françaises.” We hope that the current study may help to change this view.

The question of why litanic verse should be studied can be answered with another question: is it possible to conduct similar research on “psalmic” verse,10 ← 15 | 16 → “the Lord’s Prayer” verse or “the Angelus” verse? Even though the presence of these prayers in literature is not disputed, as many poets draw inspiration from them, it cannot be argued that they have shaped a model that is analogous to the one found in litanies. Their uniqueness rests in the meanings of words derived straight from the Bible, and their arrangement does not create a pattern. It would be more fruitful to apply the litanic verse research framework to studies of rosary verse or the hours office, that is, prayers in which a particular sequence recurs at a specific frequency rate. These prayers have also evolved over the centuries; new hours were added to the book of hours and luminous mysteries were added to the rosary. Just like the versions of litanies for private use, they originated in certain literary periods. The links between litanic verse, the rosary and the book of hours can be seen in the present work. Litanic verse occurs in works from different periods entitled “rosary” (Francis Jammes, Rosaire) or in works that clearly refer to the structure of the rosary or the book of hours (Christine de Pisan, Martial d’Auvergne). Of equal importance and interest in litany studies is the analysis of litany paraphrases and paratexts, such as introductions and commentaries. These texts can be addressed by the field of religious studies, as the present analysis employs tools from literary science and uses a poetics approach to investigate the genres, styles, and metrical systems that most frequently contain litanic verse. In the following subsection, I outline just a few key features of litany paraphrases (especially from the medieval period), which can be crucial—as source material or context—to the development of litanic verse.

The Psalter with an inscription which refers to its date and place of origin, Conscripti Lutetie, anno Domini MCC, attests that litanic prayer was in use in Paris around 1150–1200. The text of the litany of Parisian origin is included only in the manuscripts that belong to the group of the Petites bibles historiales,11 a part of the ← 16 | 17 → collection of manuscripts called Bibles historiales complétées, traditionally divided into three groups, named petite, moyenne, and grande. The first translation of the Bible into French, which was made in prose, dates from 1295 and was done by Guyart des Moulins. We quote below a few stanzas of the litany to illustrate its form as it appeared in a manuscript from the beginning of the fourteenth century:

Kyrie leyson, douz Diex,
Souez nous soies et piteuz.
Xpe leyson, biauz douz Sire,
Ne noz demoustre mie t’ire.
Sainte Marie, eure pour nouz
A ton chier fil qui est si douz.
Sainte mère Dieu, a ton filz prie
Qu’il nous doinst pardurable vie.
Prie pour nous, sire saint Pol,
Qui pour Dieu estendi le col.
Prie a Dieu pour nous, saint Andrieu,
Qui crucefiez fus sanz gieu.
Saint Jaque, prie pour nouz touz
A Jhesucrist ton cousin douz …
Prie por noz, saint Barnabé,
Qui mieux vauz que prestre n’abbé…
Filz Dieu, filz Dieu, ce te prionz,
Que tu oies nos oroisons.
Agniauz de Dieu, qui tout pechié
Ostez, aies de nouz pitié.

The text of this French litany differs considerably from the Latin one in the form known from the Missale Parisiense, created at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The frame of the composition matches the criteria of the litany, with the initial triple Kyrie eleison and Agnus Dei at the end. However, the supplication, constantly varying in form, is recurrently placed in first position of the line, before the invocation to the saints. The meaning of the petition is wider, as “pray for us” is replaced by “pray to God for us” or “pray for all of us.” At the same time, the position of the supplicatory components is changed for rhythmical reasons; for instance, we read “aies de nouz pitié.” The composition of the list of the saints ← 17 | 18 → also varies: apart from “Saint Andrew” and “the sire Saint Paul” we may encounter an additional line, describing acts of the saints with the anaphora on “qui.” The author apparently adjusts the meter of line taking into account the length of the saints’ names. For two-syllable names such as “Martin” and “Amant,” a longer supplication has been chosen: “Prie a Dieu por noz,” whereas longer ones like “Sainte Marie Magdelainne” and “Sainte Marie Egyptïenne” comprise an independent line in themselves. The irregularity of the placement of invocations and supplications in a line, along with their different coexisting forms, determine the contrast with Litaniae sanctorum omnium, which was composed of the short petitions and the same supplicatory formulae repeating in a specified order.

The version of the litany quoted above might be considered a typical example of the French medieval paraphrases of litanic prayer13, as it represents the octosyllable with plain rhyme, a very common meter. The same meter is also used in La letanie en francois from manuscript 837 (dating from 1278) in The National Library of France (ms. Paris, BnF, fr. 837):

Gloriex apostre saint Pere,
Proiez por moi le vostre Père,
que par sa grace me regart
et de vilain pechié me gart.14

This example is characterized by a lack of stable supplicatory formulae.

In fact, the status of French litany may be considered a challenge for medieval authors: “L’octosyllabe à rimes plates constitue une sorte de degré zéro de la versification […].”15 The simple imitation of litanic form does not ensure an interesting poetic effect. Furthermore, the choice of the above-mentioned versification pattern seems to be inimical to the immanent dynamic of the litanic prayer: ← 18 | 19 →

Le poème à rimes plates ou la strophe monorime est une négation de la faille qui affecte profondément l’être humain en le tiraillant entre deux pôles, […]. L’homme doit assumer et ordonner l’angoisse de cette bipolarité. Un dessin strophique régulier à deux rimes ne l’assume que s’il combine ces rimes dans des systèmes où l’écho se fait attendre, signe du tiraillement entre deux pôles; […].16

The Renaissance litanic verse, as we will see in the following chapters, in many cases demonstrates the secular use of the form. Therefore, these are probably not the paraphrases of prayers which influenced the writers. The situation changes in the Baroque period, when litanic verse becomes in turn the basis for a large number of spiritual works. In this chapter, we will mention two litanic paraphrases written by important authors of the era. The first one is Claude Hopil’s paraphrase entitled Litanie de la Glorieuse Vierge Marie, which does not aspire to present a litanic prayer in sophisticated poetic form—the structure of his text imitates the exact manner in which the ecclesiastical litanies are arranged. The length of lines varies, and they are not divided into stanzas; however, one may specify the demarcation into several parts, depending on the anaphoras. The first sequence of invocations, in which numerous Marian titles are contained, is occasionally joined with the anaphora on “Saint,” “Vierge,” “Mere,” “Femme,” or “Royne,” but it contains also individual titles: “Jardin fermé de tous cotes,” “Aduocate des Chrestiens.”17 To all of them the traditional formula is added: “Priez pour nous.” Two series of invocations follow: the first with the anaphora on “De” to which the response “Mere de Dieu gardez nous” is required, and the second with the anaphora on “Par” to which one responds: “Mere de Jesus secourez nous.” We also encounter expressions starting with “de”—“De peste, guerre & famine”—and the “Par” anaphora—“Par votre bien-heureux ventre qui a porté neuf mois le Sauveur du monde,” “Par le doux laict, duquel l’avez allaicté.” Before the end of this litany, a longer passage is dedicated to supplications beginning with “que,” and finishing with the formula, “Nous vous prions mere de Jesus.” We should also add that Hopil’s interest in the litanic form, as well as his familiarity with chiefly the Marian titles, is recognizable in other works of his, for instance, the prose works: ← 19 | 20 →

Vous estes, ô saincte Vierge, le jardin fermé auquel le céleste Espoux entre luy seul pour y prendre ses délices […]. Vous estes la fontaine scelée qui a receu la plénitude des grâces divines et de la sapience éternelle. Vous estes la porte orientale d’Ézéchiel, par laquelle le roy seule devoit entrer et venir en ce monde pour le salut de tous.18

The accumulation process of this enumeration gains size and strength in the following lines, as the new Marian metaphors are not included in the single sentence with “qui” pronouns (“à qui,” “par qui”) but appear in succession without unnecessary conjunctives: “la verge de Moyse, la verge de Jessé, le lys entre les espines, le throsne de Salomon, la tour d’ivoire.”19

In contrast to the liturgical “free” form of Hopil’s litanies, Paraphrase des Litanies de la Vierge Marie by Martial de Brives participates in an endeavor to create a stanzaic version of prayer. It is composed of dizains with a rhyme scheme abbaccdede, each mooting one Latin invocation which determines the theme of the entire stanza. In fact, both the Latin invocations and supplications accompany the stanza, which is written in French, taking the shape of, for instance, Sedes Sapientiae, Ora. In the edition dating from 1655, they were put above the stanza,20 while in Le Parnasse seraphique (1660), they appear next to the column of text.21 Although the structure of the stanza is heterometric, it should be noted that though the finishing hendecasyllable may comprise part of the request, it may also continue the enumeration. The other lines of the dizain have shorter meters, such as heptasyllables and octosyllables. Another factor to consider is the presence of pauses in the dizains, which usually fall at the end of the fourth and seventh lines.22 The balance of invocations and supplications is, however, not stable, because the stanzas may include two or even more rather descriptive supplications: “Soyez notre porte auiourd’hui,” “Que votre oeil les regarde & qu’il ait pitié d’eux,” “Faites nous regner sur nous-mesmes,” “Benissez,” “Menez notre ame,” whereas in other cases after the sequence of antonomasias, only one precise sentence explains the intention of the person praying: “Faites que nous soyons des feüilles de ce lys.” Several longer supplications usually start at the eighth line, ← 20 | 21 → but the urge to denominate still moves the author and he adds some additional metaphors, too.

The characteristic feature is that this paraphrase does not contain a large number of repetitions, even the frequently used “qui” or “de” appear separated by a line, which does not contain them, and the highest number of anaphoras in successive lines is three repetitions of “où.” The inclination to enumeration is much more visible, not only of various Marian titles, but also of different groups known from the liturgical litanies:

Apostres, Martyrs & Pasteurs,
Vierges, Hermites & Docteurs,
Patriarches, Prophetes, Anges;
Grands Saincts de splendeur revestus.

Applying the meter of the stanza widely used at the time, introduced by François de Malherbe,24 the author makes this paraphrase legible to the audience and poetically refined to all who were aware of literary conventions.

Manuel de piété by François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon (published posthumously, after 1715) contains four litanies which vary in their status: the Litanies des Saints do not exhibit any important features distinct from those that are commonly approved in the litanies, but those that have “new” in the title, such as Nouvelles litanies du Saint Nom de Jésus et de la Sainte Vierge, are rather the paraphrases of ecclesiastical litanies and maintain their general form without any attempt to give them a poetic costume. Two aspects should be emphasized: in Nouvelles litanies the invocations are lengthy. Sometimes several antonomasias are set in one line, for instance: “Jésus, voie qui nous mène à la vérité, vérité qui nous promet la vie, vie dont nous vivons à jamais dans le sein du Père.”25 Furthermore, the narrative structure lets the author put an entire quotation into ← 21 | 22 → one of the invocations from the Nouvelles litanies de la Sainte Vierge: “Marie, qu’Elizabeth ne put recevoir sans s’écrier: D’où me vient que la mère de mon seigneur fasse des pas vers moi.”26

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Litaniaire, ou Recueil complet de litanies et de divers exercices de piété en l’honneur de la Très-Sainte Trinité, de la Sainte Vierge et des saints (1857) was published for the first time, edited by Fr. Anicet de Sainte Suzanne. The work was issued during a time when the canon of approved litanies was being modified. The proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception made by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 enriched the body of litanies to be found in private prayer books or works of tribute to Holy Mary with Litanies de l’Immaculée Conception, composed in 1839. The collection also contains the Litanies du Saint Nom de Jésus which were approbated later, partially in 1862 and then for the whole Holy Church in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII, as well as the Litanies du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus (1899, Leo XIII). This allows us to observe the innovative elements which potentially served as material for poets.

The system of notation in the Litaniaire is similar to those used in the prayer books, because the supplication formulae are written vertically on the right-hand side of the page.27 In some cases, the initial part of the invocations is also inscribed crosswise on the left-hand side; like for instance, the element “Seigneur” in the Litanies des trois personnes divines.28 Considering the selection of litanies included in the Litaniaire, we realize that some of them are no longer encountered in the litanic canon, for example, Litanies des perfections de Dieu and Litanies pour honorer la sainte volonté de Dieu, which were common in the nineteenth century, and the Litanies des saints parents de Marie or Litanies des justes de l’ancienne loi. Other litanies were extended or even multiplied, as we find in the Litaniaire the litanies of the Holy Virgin for every day of the week, the Litany of the Saints for every month in the year and, for instance, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—respectively, Jesus-Child, Jesus among men, Jesus dying, and Jesus resurrected. In the Litaniare, the form of the Litanies de l’Immaculée Conception differs from that of the one published one year earlier: there the invocations are much longer and contain a full sentence starting with the anaphora on “Sainte Marie”—an element which was omitted in the modern version of the Litanie de Lorette, (for instance: “Sainte Marie, que nous croyons avoir été préservée du péché originel, dès l’instant même de votre Conception, par une grâce toute spéciale du ← 22 | 23 → Saint Esprit”29), because in the Litaniaire the stable anaphora is based on the title: “Vierge immaculée.”30

Owing to the litanies introduced in the Litaniaire, even if only for private recitation, we may add to our list of litanic mainstays several new elements, which in fact had already been used by the poets of previous periods as an element of, for instance, anaphora or repetition, although previously they had appeared as the original idea of the individual author, whereas now they are sanctioned to a certain degree, as they are indeed used in a liturgical litany. Among such examples we should mention “C’est” in Litanies de l’amour de Dieu composed by Pope Pius VI.31 Litanies pour honorer la sainte volonté de Dieu also lead us to draw interesting conclusions, because they contain repetitive elements such as “en,” “dans,” “parce que” (this expression dominates especially in the Litanies de l’amour de Marie—more than thirty invocations start with it32), and “quand.”33 The anaphora on “ô” opens the invocations (“Ô Père,” “Ô vous”) in the Litanies en l’honneur du Père Éternel34 and “Bienheureux” in the Litanies de tous les saints de l’ordre de Saint Dominique.35 One particularly important fact regarding nineteenth-century litanies is that the reference of some supplications is reduced to one person, as in the Litanies pour honorer la sainte volonté de Dieu: “Régnez souverainement sur nous et particulièrement sur moi.”36 ← 23 | 24 →

1 Alphonse de Lamartine, Voyage en Orient (1832–1833) (Aleppo: Art & Ray Publishing, 2009), 341.

2 Witold Sadowski, Litania i poezja. Na materiale literatury polskiej od XI do XXI wieku [Litany and Poetry. On the Body of Material of Polish Literature from the Eleventh to the Twenty-First Century] (Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2011), 16–21; 111–145.

3 Witold Sadowski, “Le texte en dialogue avec son genre. Les litanies de Laforgue,” Poétique, vol. 179 (2016): 99: “Le genre de la litanie est bien plus libre qu’on ne croit à première vue. On peut réaliser des changements significatifs en agissant sur l’ordre de l’énumération. On peut opérer des déplacements dans le système de communication. On peut mettre en relief un gène et en atténuer un autre. On peut utiliser des formules traditionnelles ou les remplacer par ses propres formules, voire créer des relations entre les versions traditionnelle et personnelle de la formule. Il existe néanmoins un noyau du genre, une couche essentielle dont on ne peut se passer, sauf à le rendre méconnaissable.”

4 Occitan litanic verse belonged at the time to the cultural area that is explored by Marta Piłat Zuzankiewicz, “Praise, Litany and Cantigas: Catalonian, Galician-Portuguese, and Portuguese Poetry up to the End of the Seventeenth Century,” in Litanic Verse I. Origines, Iberia, Slavia et Europa Media, eds. Witold Sadowski, Magdalena Kowalska, and Magdalena Maria Kubas (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2016), 157–158.

5 Maria Judyta Woźniak analyzes the development of litanic verse during the Renaissance of the Catalan language: “On the Trail of Litany in Catalan, Galician, and Portuguese Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the 1930s,” in Litanic Verse I, 197; and Galician-language literature (ibid., 200).

6 Cf. Magdalena Kowalska, “La forme de la litanie comme cadre: le cas du lai et d’autres genres littéraires médiévaux,” Zagadnienia Rodzajów Literackich, vol. 59 (2016): 31–49. This theme is also approached in the current study.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Litany French poetry Versification Anaphora Enumeration Refrain Repetition Literary genres Religious poetry
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 424 pp.

Biographical notes

Magdalena Kowalska (Volume editor)

Magdalena Kowalska holds a Ph.D. in Literature from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Having joined the University of Warsaw she carried out the research on French litanic verse. Her publications (in Polish, French and English) concern the romantic travel writing and French religious poetry.


Title: Litanic Verse III
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426 pages