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"Thematically Innovative And Diverse But Technically Unadventurous" To What Extent Is This Of French Poetry 1840-70

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"Thematically Innovative and Diverse but Technically Unadventurous" To what extent is this of French poetry 1840-70

"L'Indйcis au Prйcis se joint" -Art Poйtique, Paul Verlaine

French poetry between 1840 and 1870 is predominantly marked by the work of Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine.

Baudelaire is most praised for his poetry collection "Les Fleurs du mal", he is considered to be thematically innovative due to his exploration of erotic, aesthetic, and social themes in ways that appalled many of his middle-class readers, and he was accused of obscenity and blasphemy. However, the book became perhaps the most influential collection of lyrics published in Europe in the 19th century mainly due to his diversity and bold approach to poetry.

He is considered to be one of Verlaine's main influences but both poets differ substantially particularly in the goals of their poetry. Baudelaire is attempting to search for the ideal through his poetry and seems tormented by moral and physical conflict. Verlaine on the other hand does not appear to want to unite the two, his poetry is more concerned with emotion, and particularly the collection marked "Romances sans paroles" which he mainly composed in prison after shooting his homosexual partner.

The subject matter of their poetry is shocking when taken in context, but on first glance their use of structure and versification may seem regular and unadventurous. Although both poets do not flagrantly abuse the rules of French versification, it is in fact their adaptation of traditional ideas to aid the comprehension of their poetry that makes them innovative. The collections are also marked by diversity in content, poetic form and versification.

When considering whether each poet is technically unadventurous or not, it is necessary to not only compare them against the fixed set of prerequisites which define French verse but also to consider their reasoning behind such choices. Furthermore, it is important to look at the multitude of different techniques employed by each poet.

French versification is rigid and somewhat mechanical, it focuses on three main areas; rhyme, rhythm and form. Its rules define the ideal that poets should attempt to achieve when writing poetry. It does not however dictate the ability of a poet but should be taken as more of a guide; it is ridiculous to expect any poet to strictly follow its rules.

Rhyme is an important element of poetry. The rules of versification state that rhymes with no sequence render work inharmonious (alternance des rimes) and French versification favours the alternation between masculine and feminine rhymes.

Verlaine often rejects the use of correct rhymes or "rimes riches", in order to explore the endings of words. These are regarded as merely assonance in French versification and gifted poets are not expected to use them very often. Their use in Verlaine's poetry almost lowers the register; however this is not necessarily negative.

The effect of the lack of rich rhymes gives the poetry a more conversational tone. Verlaine is attempting to engage the reader where elevated lexis can often be unattractive because it impedes understanding. Verlaine wants the focus to be on the words as tools for creating emotion rather than the sound patterns.

Il faut, voyez-vous, nous pardonner les choses.

(Ariette IV)

La lune est rouge au brumeux horizon;

Dans un broillard qui danse, la prairie

S'endort fumeuse, et la grenouille crie

Par les joncs vers ou circule un frisson

(L'Heure du Berger)

Baudelaire also flaunts the rules of versification in his use of weak and rich rhymes. In the poem "Le Voyage" the juxtaposition of rich and weak rhymes gives the reader an indication of Baudelaire's poetic ability.

"Nous avons vu des astres

Et des flots, nous avons vu des sables aussi;

Et, malgrй bien des chocs et d'imprйvus dйsastres,

Nous nous sommes souvent ennuyйs, comme ici.

The contrast in the rhymes shows the thematic contrast of the stanza. The cosmic magnificence of the "astres" and the spontaneous excitement of the "dйsastres" are contrasted against the banality of "sables" and "ici".

Another example of weak rhymes can be found in "La cloche fкlйe ". The words "hiver" and "aimer" barely rhyme at all. It is important to note that this imperfect rhyme occurs in the first stanza, even before the poet has established the rhyme scheme. Not only does this defy the reader's expectation but it throws an element of uncertainty upon the comforting fireside scene. The reader knows almost straight away that this comforting security is as illusory as the rhyming of "hiver" and "aimer".

II est amer et doux, pendant les nuits d'hiver,

D'йcouter, prиs du feu qui palpite et qui fume,

Les souvenirs lointains lentement s'йlever

Au bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume.

Verlaine more frequently employs unusual rhyme schemes in "Romances sans paroles". For example in "L'ombre des arbres dans la riviиre embrumйe" he uses only feminine rhymes and furthermore, in "C'est le chien de Jean de Nivelle" he uses rhymes which are look correct but in fact do not sound the same.

C'est le chien de Jean de Nivelle

Qui mord sous њil mкme du guet

Le chat de la mиre Michel;

FranÐ*ois-les-bas-bleus s'en йgaie.

Feminine rhymes soften the effect of the poetry due to their mute "e" sounding endings and the effect of incorrect rhyme is to highlight the words used.

Internal rhyme is also frowned upon in French poetry, particularly at the time of Baudelaire. The book "Traitй de versification francaise"

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