The Idea of Poetry in France: From Houdar de la Motte to Baudelaire

The Idea of Poetry in France: From Houdar de la Motte to Baudelaire

The Idea of Poetry in France: From Houdar de la Motte to Baudelaire

The Idea of Poetry in France: From Houdar de la Motte to Baudelaire

Excerpt

Sainte-Beuve, writing in 1866, observed that ideas about poetry had changed almost completely in his time. Formerly, he says, the great poet was the one who had composed the most finished and beautiful work, the most clear and pleasant to read. But now the great poet is the one who gives the greatest latitude to his reader to imagine and to dream, the one who suggests the most. Sainte-Beuve's remarks characterize admirably the movement of ideas about poetry from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the time at which he was writing. It is a period during which the conception of poetry changed from that of embellished statement to "suggestive magic," to use Baudelaire's phrase. The story of that change is the subject of this book.

It is, of course, only a chapter of the long story of poetry and poetic theory in France, a chapter which begins at a time when poetry, after a gradual decline from its great flowering during the Renaissance, had reached so low an ebb that its complete disappearance could be, and was predicted. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the tide slowly turned, and poetry began to come into its own again. But the process was a long and slow one, and the triumphant boast of the romantic poets that they had carried out a poetic revolution as spectacular as the great political revolution of the preceding century was not a little exaggerated. Romantic poetry by no means succeeded in freeing itself completely from the shackles of the eighteenth century, and the emancipation was fully achieved only towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Baudelaire is justly considered the starting point of modern poetry, but it is equally true that he represents the culmination of the long upward struggle of poetry which lasted more than a century.

This progress of poetry itself was accompanied by a vast . . .

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