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Rimbaud, Verlaine, and French Symbolism

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Jeff Newberry

on 4 February 2015

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Transcript of Rimbaud, Verlaine, and French Symbolism

The Symbolists
Not "symbols" in the literary theory sense of the word
Symbolists developed PERSONAL systems of symbols
Aimed for suggestion over direct statement in poetry
Atmospheric hints better than mere reporting
Rejected traditional forms and meters, though sometimes used them
Rejected traditional symbolic associations
Imagery is often elusive, fragmented
Verlaine: music/sound above sense
Arthur Symons: "[Symbolism gives] the truth of spiritual things to spiritual vision"
The Parnassians
Parnassians rise to power in the wake of European Romanticism
Called for a return to strict rhyme and tradition of French prosody
Prosody: The patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry.
Reacted against excesses in emotionalism in Romanticism
Aimed for a poetry and art of "abstract beauty"
Cold, aloof art, objective
Symbolism as a Movement
1840 (or so) - early 20th century
Rejected the Parnassians' strict rhyme and rules of decorum
Symbolist writers often associated with the Aesthetic Movement
"Art for Art's Sake"
Decadent?
Poets/Writers Associated with Symbolism
Paul Verlaine
Arthur Rimbaud
Stephen Mallarme
Jules Lafourge
Tristan Tzarza
Remy de Gourmont
T.S. Eliot (a much later poet who was influenced by Symbolist thinking and technique)
Paul Verlaine's
"The Art of Poetry"
One of Verlaine's most famous poems
A programmatic set of rules for Symbolist writers
Wryly/ironically uses traditional meter to call for a rejection of traditional meter
Argues that the sense (or rhetorical meaning) of a poem is less important than its sound
Rejects decorum, wit, and eloquence
"Literature" in the poem's final line is pejorative and dismissive
Arthur Rimbaud's
"The Drunken Boat"
Written when Rimbaud was 16 years old
Rimbaud: "I is somebody else"
"Systematic derangement of the senses"
Poem follows an un-moored boat
Boat's journey parallels Rimbaud's own as poet: un-moored from tradition, free to follow own whims/invent new routes
Boat's journey parallels the course of French poetry to that moment, as well
Ends with image of a child playing with a toy boat, a longing for innocence
Verlaine & Rimbaud
French Symbolism
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