Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Au Feu De Ce Qui Fut Brule Ce Qui Sera": Louis Aragon and the Subversive Medieval

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Au Feu De Ce Qui Fut Brule Ce Qui Sera": Louis Aragon and the Subversive Medieval

Article excerpt

Louis Aragon was one of France's most prolific, prominent, and controversial modern poets, causing strong reactions even among those he supported. As a novelist, a poet, ah art critic, a member of the surrealist movement and the French Resistance, and an active member of the PCF, he was throughout his long life a major figure of the French cultural landscape. From his well-known surrealist poetry to his cycle of socialist realist novels to the difficult postmodern works he wrote late in his life, his wildly diverse body of writing leaves no shortage of work for biographers and scholars.

Aragon never accepted the status quo. As a surrealist, and later as ah ardent Communist, be pushed the boundaries of metaphor, image, and style while passionately advocating literary and social change. During the turbulent years that led up to World War II, however, as well as during the war itself, the nature of his work changed subtly. Aragon, faced with national crisis, turned to the creation of a national myth. For him, as for many other authors, this new sense of nationalism had its roots in the Middle Ages. His contemporaries, as well as his later critics, were bewildered and intrigued by the unexpected source for this myth, going as it did against so many of his social and authorial sensibilities: "Le projet d'Aragon est a la fois ideologique et poetique. Il recherche les moyens d'une expression nationale, ou pour mieux dire francaise, a la fois populaire et savante ... il va donc a rebours de l'avant-garde, de son elitisme et de sa volonte de rupture. Il se tourne vers la poesie medievale" (Murat 198; emphasis mine). Aragon took the Vichy and fascist nostalgia for a golden Middle Ages and subverted it to his own devices, using Occitan troubadour poetry and the trobar clus (encrypted troubadour poetry) of medieval poets like Arnaud Daniel to strengthen and give a historical context to his wartime work.

Aragon's popular reputation arguably rests on the poetry be wrote during the Occupation, despite his many other references to and works on war (Kimyongur 259). It is easy, however, for critics to miss the significance of the medieval trope in Aragon's work. For instance, in M. Adereth's Aragon: The Resistance Poems, the works analyzed are Le Creve-Coeur, Les Yeux d'Elsa, and La Diane francaise. There is no mention of Broceliande (1942), and only the briefest mention of the Middle Ages as a time period Aragon found "important and topical" (43). Even in Michel Murat's excellent analysis of rhyme in Aragon's wartime poetry, "Aragon, la rime et la nation," he concludes that medieval verse simply played "un role declencheur" in his work (198). Only Gisele Sapiro, in La Guerre des ecrivains, her definitive analysis of the various French authors battling on both sides during the Second World War, notes Aragon's borrowing of medieval images at any length. Aragon's reinvention of medieval verse was not merely a strange phase, despite its being apparently out of step with his surrealist and communist personas. The medieval tropes he used were essential to his conception of literary resistance. The Middle Ages provided a national mythology that was ripe for political exploitation: a vision of a medieval France broken and divided by war and language, but reunited by poetry. It also provided the model for a secret code that enabled Aragon to publish his contraband poetry legitimately while also subverting the censors. Aragon took Vichy imagery and turned it on its head: the France you praise is not the real France, he said. The best examples of his use of the Middle Ages as resistance are to be found in his essays--especially in "La Lecon de Riberac"--and in his seven-poem cycle, Broceliande, published in 1942. This article will use close readings of Broceliande to show how crucial these medieval images were to his subversive wartime poetry.

When the war broke out in 1939, Aragon went into battle as a medic. His unit moved from place to place, and by the time Petain's accession to power and the subsequent armistice took the breath away from an entire nation, Aragon had been decorated twice for courage in battle. …

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