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French Poetry

Nothing is better than poetry to help you get inside a person’s mind, to understand a culture, or to gain perspective on a time period.  Poetry isn’t always an easy read, but your effort is rewarded with a greater understanding of people, places, and times.

Charles Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867) was a French poet who also wrote essays, art critiques, and translated the works of Edgar Allan Poe into French.  His most famous work is a collection of poems called, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil).  The poems express the changing nature of beauty in Paris during the 19th century. Baudelaire’s style was very original and unique – writing his poems is a prose-poetry manner (no rhymes, no particular rhythm).  He was a huge influence to many young French poets who came after him.

To get an idea of Baudelaire’s prose-poetry, check out Anywhere Out of the World, a poem about not feeling that you quite fit anywhere, or At One O’Clock in the Morning, a poem about being overwhelmed and overloaded.  Another option would be to browse through Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), Baudelaire’s most famous collection of poetry.

Arthur Rimbaud (October 20, 1854 – November 10, 1891) was a French poet who influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and helped start the movement of surrealism. He started writing poems at a very young age and stopped completely before he turned 21, writing most of his work between the ages of 17 and 20. Because he was so young when he wrote his poems, many of the themes are great for young people nowadays.  Rimbaud was known as a libertine, someone who did not believe we have to live by any sort of moral code, that life is all about your own physical pleasure.  He died from cancer just after his thirty-seventh birthday.

You can find several examples of Rimbaud’s poems online, the most famous being The Drunken Boat, a long metaphor in which the narrator envisions himself to be a boat exploring the world and tossed around in the sea, and Novel, which is about the carefree life of being seventeen years old – a great poem for teenagers.

André Breton (February 19, 1896 – September 28, 1966) was a French writer, poet, and playwright. He is known as the founder of Surrealism, which is a style of art and writing that began in the early 1920s. The idea was to erase the line between dream and reality. Artists painted strange and unsettling, created strange creatures from everyday objects, and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.  Breton was considered a leader of the movement, which developed in Paris in the years after WWI.  Eventually the Surrealism movement spread around the world affecting visual arts, literature, film, music, and even political thought and social theory.

Breton’s poems are quite strange, and you can see some of his best known works, like Freedom of Love, Always for the First Time, Less Time, and Postman Cheval can be found online.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 30, 2015 4:59 pm

    André Breton was a poet. He was considered a pioneer in the Surrealism movement. His poems blur the lines of reality and imagination. Brenton was born on February 19, 1896 in Normandy. He was also a playwright and French writer as well as poet. He died in Paris on September 28, 1966. He has written many different poems including Freedom of Love, Less Time, and Postman Cheval.
    This poem was a little difficult to understand at first. Surrealism is hard to follow but in the poem Always for the first time I think Brenton is talking about France. It sounds like he is talking about a person but I think he is describing what he feels about France and Paris in particular. It is a changing city from one moment to the next and he never knows what he is going to find. He talks about places in France like Grasse, the perfume capitol, and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, a military cemetery. I think the main point of this poem is how he loves France and Paris from sun up to sun down. Even in death it is a beautiful place.
    One thing I take away from this poem is that when I see things for the first time I am going to love them like Brenton did. If I went back again and again I think I would fall in love with the city over and over again. I am going to take long looks at the places we visit and try to memorize each little detail so I can re-live them again and again.
    Another thing I am going to take away from this poem is that I am not going to take this trip for granted. I am going to appreciate each stop we make. When preparing for this trip I plan on learning more information so when I get there I can see what I have been reading about and fall in love with it again.
    Reading this poem makes me excited to go on our trip. It makes me picture what Paris will look like in the different light; morning, afternoon, dusk, and evening. I want to see how much it’s going to change day to day and minute by minute.

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