Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

April 2001


Published in Dalhousie French Studies 55 (2001), pp. 11-25. Used by permission. Dalhousie French Studies


This study seeks to rehabilitate Eustorg de Beaulieu's (c. 1495-1552) Du cul (1537) in terms of the poem's satirically subversive nature. I choose the term "rehabilitate" in order to challenge certain aspects of Annette and Edward Tomarken's argument that the poem should be read more in terms of its commentary on the lyric genre of the blason than as a derisive indictment of social norms. I hold that on an implicit level, the poem does support the Tomarkens' contention that Beaulieu "push[es] to its ultimate limits the genre (i.e., the blason) with which he is working" (151). In the opening verses of Du cul, the reader remarks that the poem is indeed aware of itself as a blason, and Beaulieu's work decidedly reflects many of the genre's formal and thematic traits. Yet, apart from these opening verses and occasional allusions to various forms of the blason, the poem's language makes little to no reference to the theory and actual composition of the genre. Arguments about Beaulieu's self-conscious critique of the design and execution of the blason are certainly plausible, but other elements of the poem stand out more forcefully as meriting scholarly inquiry. The Tomarkens' comments are reason enough to revisit the poem, but it should be noted that the depth of Beaulieu's satire, and its relation to contemporary notions of sexuality are such that one could also easily challenge Michael Pegg's dismissal of Du cul as a largely obscene effort to attract attention.

From a critical perspective, the topic of scatology offers a richer means of analyzing the poem’s language and purpose. In this essay, “scatology” and the “scatological” will come to mean the prurient references to the excretory and sexual organs and functions of the body. Beaulieu deploys a scatological thématique in order to set forth a derisive vision of 1. the body and sexuality, 2. political structures, and 3. the Catholic Church. Scatology also helps explain the relative absence of the je/poète who normally acts as the mediator between the world and the reader. In the case of Du cul, the eye of the poet is figuratively substituted by the anus, which becomes an oculus in the sense that human activity, in its most sophisticated and base forms, is perceived by its relation to this aperture. Beaulieu’s choice of the anus as a topic for praise is best explained by a rhetorical question he poses near the end of his poem: “Diray je rien de ta grande franchise ?” (v. 103). For Beaulieu, the ass represents a certain kind of sexual, literary, and social freedom. Clearly, Beaulieu would not have been as free if he had chosen a more conformist subject for his blason, and in many respects, the “frankness” of the poem represents its fundamental characteristic. Contact with the sexual other, the nobility, and the Church is “viewed” through the “lens” of the anus in order to illustrate human vanity as well as Beaulieu’s inverted view of the world. In this sense, “inversion” refers to the idea that what is normally hidden and kept inside the body, i.e., the anus, is turned outward and exposed, thereby presenting a satirical mentality that undermines established norms. On a social level, the anus becomes an equalizer in that it commands attention from all classes and persuasions. By reducing human exchange to its primordial anal element, Beaulieu figuratively “lays waste” to social conceit via the poetic conceit of the blason. The fundament has a similarly equalizing effect with respect to the body, as Beaulieu’s cul becomes the principal organ on which all other body parts depend in order to maintain either their beauty or function.