There was, however, one poet who was content to remain for his whole life a Romantic in the sense in which that word was used in 1830. Théophile Gautier has stolen our hearts away so often with his exquisitely finished poems that when we are compelled to admit that he is not in a line with the great poets of the nineteenth century we feel self-convicted of treachery to a benefactor. For the readers who hold that poetry can be great independently of great ideas Gautier is naturally and logically the king of rime, but they who hold the contrary opinion are compelled, when they read him, to sigh the lack of many a thing they sought. He is a master of descriptive poetry, an incomparable word-painter, a carver of gems; any one who reads the best poems in Émaux et Camées will afterwards discover that they absolutely decline to be forgotten; but we remember them as we remember fragments of music, or colour in some picture: seldom because they are the noble expression of noble thoughts. They never appeal to our profound emotions for the simple reason that they were constructed unemotionally, or rather, with the highly restrained emotion that an artist in ivory feels when he executes an extremely intricate piece of work. Gautier would have said that this was precisely the kind of emotion that the poet should feel. And this is the shibboleth of his camp. From him, and still more from Leconte de Lisle, the poets of the Parnasse Contemporain of 1866 claim their descent. Their return to a rigid theory of versification was a reaction against the loose methods of various disciples of Lamartine and Hugo; a deliberate conspiracy (to quote M. Sully Prudhomme, one of their most distinguished poets) `against the excessively facile line, the line which is feeble and flabby, fluid as water, and as formless'. The passion for order once again obsesses French verse; no matter how exotic or commonplace his ideas, this phantom bestrides Pegasus behind the poet: it is equally obvious in the terrible and haunting dreams of Baudelaire and in the agreeable palinodes of Banville. We may view the future of poetry in France without foreboding, conscious that, in spite of the amusing revolts of transient eccentricity, the love of symmetry, the desire for comely order, will never wholly forsake the art of a nation so justly famous for her tradition of harmony in construction and clearness in idea.



THE Compiler desires to thank very heartily the various owners of Copyright in French poetry who have so courteously given him permission to print a large selection from the authors whose poems are their literary property. He is especially indebted to M. Robert Vallier, administrator of the Revue de Lamartine; M. Charles Delagrave, the publisher of the definitive edition of Alfred de Vigny; M. Gustave Simon, the literary representative of the heirs of Victor Hugo; M.A. Messein, for the selections from Verlaine, and M.E. Fasquelle, for the poems of Gautier and Banville.

It was unfortunately impossible to obtain permission to print any of the poetry of José-Maria de Heredia. Readers of this Anthology who are not acquainted with his fine sonnets will find them in Les Trophées (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre). No living authors are represented in the selection.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.