Eugene Davis

 

 

The New School of Poetry in France.

 

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François Coppée, the romantic lyrist, Leconte de Lisle, the classic poet, and Catulle Mendès, the bard of Eros, are still alive, and busy with their pens; but it looks as if the scepters were soon to pass from their hands in the domain of French verse. As Hugo and Lamartine supplanted the glorifiers of Roman and Grecian mythology over-half a century ago, so are the followers of these great singers being supplanted today by a set of rhymesters who, with all the audacity but with none of the talent of Walt Whitman, are creating quite a revolution in poetry in France. These new apostles have abandoned the old forms of expression, and are driving a coach and four through all the rules of prosody. With refreshing candor they admit that they are not poets themselves, although they hasten to add that a poet is an impossibility in this degenerate age of ours. "The shrine of letters", they say, "is chock full from roof to celling. Dead poets are there – packed together like sardines in a box. There is no longer any room for the living in the temple of song." Therefore they adopt the policy of despair or of cynical incredulity. Love, according to them, has been overdone. Of romance we have had quite a surfeit. Let the gods of Greece and Rome rest in peace. Not taking up any theme in particular, they play fantastic tricks with words for the sole pleasure of striking at a tangent off the beaten track. In order to single themselves out from the vulgar herd they break all currents, they change every kind of routine, they turn phrases upside down and inside out, and load their rhyme and rhythm with refractory syllables and high-sounding metaphors. The skepticism of these littérateurs has, in fact, assumed such alarming proportions that, outside a choice circle of master minds, poets themselves no longer believe in the worth, merit or glory of poetry. The lyric beauties of a Hugo or a Musset are being abandoned for the catch-penny jingle of grinning pessimists. The muse in France is, like Saturn, being devoured by her own children.

These literary revolutionists call themselves "les Décadents." The cardinal principle of their doctrine is that thought has been exhausted, and that consequently the only resource left to the rhymester nowadays is to dress up his sweet nothings in meretricious robes, and thus command the appreciation of a superficial and uninitiated public; one of its leading lights, M. René Ghil, is the author of the symbol of this coterie of poetic lunatics: "The spoken composition of the instrumental parts, or the sense of hearing arrayed in colors." To decipher these pedantic hieroglyphics would, I dare say, be no easy task. As for myself, I dare not attempt it. This same M. Ghil published a volume of verse entitled Legends of Dreams and Blood, the interpretation of which has defied the ingenuity and skill of even M. Francisque Sarcey, the first of Parisian critics, who found no ray of light whatever in its pages. There is not, so far as I could see, one intelligible phrase in the volume from cover to cover. It appears, however, that there is a key to many of the author's dark passages, which can be translated into decent and intelligible French by the elect only.

Here are a few specimens of Décadent jargon: "We sigh for the tintings still. We do not want the color – we simply want the tintings; for these alone can affiance dream to dream and flute to horn." "Too much ennui of my long unity, which is being decoyed, betrays the love of a God who delivers up with his pious hand so many moments of a self-isolating dream to the capricious waves of twin thoughts." This sonorous twaddle reminds me of a happy remark in one of the works of Lope de Vega, the illustrious Spanish writer, who lashed with such effect the pedantry of certain self-sufficient poetasters of his day: "Understandest thou, Falio, what I have just said?" "Certainly, master, I understand." "No, thou liest, Falio, for I who spoke the words understood them not myself!"

An ostentatious display of vocables and the "beauty of whispered sounds" are the leading characteristics of the new school of verse. One of its favorite theories is that the senses ought to act on the understanding, and not the understanding on the senses, and it, moreover, professes to discover a secret intuition of certain relations between things imperceptible to other eyes. The idea of anything in particular is produced on the brain by a series of associated sensations. In the name of one object is found a sufficient number of elements to evoke numerous and diverse ideas, as the simple effects of sonorousness, color, resemblance und figure. By a system of easy deduction the Décadent disciples come to the conclusion that the sound of a word reverberating on the senses is susceptible of creating a special sensation, which, acting in turn on the mind, gives birth to thought! The results of the use and abuse of such a system are self-evident. Personal and directing conception is entirely done away with. Thought could in these circumstances no longer govern the imagination, but would be compelled to receive with docile submission the impressions communicated to it by the aspects of mere outward surroundings. According to this doctrine the sounds of a word and the "tints" of an idea are as much and as closely wedded together as are the word and the idea. Such, in a nutshell, is the gospel of the new Décadent school of poetry.

 

 

 

 

Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Literary World. A Fortnightly Review of Current Literature.
Bd. 23, 1892, 8. Oktober, S. 356.
URL: https://archive.org/details/literaryworld01copegoog
Hier: S. 356. [PDF]

Gezeichnet: Eugene Davis.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

 

 

Literatur

Acquisto, Joseph: Between Stéphane Mallarmé and René Ghil. The Impossible Desire for Poetry. In: French Forum 29,3 (2004), S. 27-41.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. Stuttgart u.a. 2011, S. 1-14.

Foster, Edward: Decadents, Symbolists, & Aesthetes in America. Fin-de-Siècle American Poetry: an Anthology. Jersey City, NJ 2000.

Ghil, René: Traité du Verbe, avec Avant-dire de Stéphane Mallarmé. Paris 1886.
URL: https://archive.org/details/traitduverbe00ghilgoog

Ghil, René: De la Poésie-Scientifique & autres écrits. Hrsg. von Jean-Pierre Bobillot. Grenoble 2008 (= Collection "Archives critiques").

Ghil, René: Les Dates et les Oeuvres. Symbolisme et Poésie scientifique. Hrsg. von Jean-Pierre Bobillot. Grenoble 2012 (= Collection "Archives critiques").

Hall, Jason D. u.a. (Hrsg.): Decadent Poetics. Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siècle. New York 2013 (= Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture).
Vgl. S. 50-51.

Higgins, Jennifer: Sea Change. English Responses to French Poetry between Decadence and Modernism. In: Franco-British Cultural Exchanges, 1880-1940. Hrsg. von Andrew Radford u.a. New York 2012, S. 17-33.

Höllerer, Walter (Hrsg.): Theorie der modernen Lyrik. Neu herausgegeben von Norbert Miller und Harald Hartung. 2 Bde. Darmstadt 2003.

Lamping, Dieter: Moderne Lyrik. Göttingen 2008.

Lange, Wolfgang: Die Nuance. Kunstgriff und Denkfigur. Paderborn 2005.

Marchal, Bertrand: Le Symbolisme. Paris 2011 (= Collection "Lettres Sup: Esthétique").
Vgl. Kap. "De la musique avant toute chose" (S. 111-120).

Newcomb, John T.: Would Poetry Disappear? American Verse and the Crisis of Modernity. Columbus, Ohio 2004.

Newcomb, John T.: The Twentieth Century Begins. In: The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Hrsg. von Alfred Bendixen u.a. Cambridge 2015, S. 497-518.

Palacio, Jean de: La Décadence. Le mot et la chose. Paris 2011 (= Collection "Les Belles Lettres/essais").

Stephan, Philip: Paul Verlaine and the decadence 1882-90. Manchester u.a. 1974.

Taupin, René: The Influence of French Symbolism on Modern American Poetry. New York, NY u.a. 1985.

 

 

Edition
Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer