Anthologies of the conventional type, printing three or four poems by each of a large number of writers, have their place; but they suffer from a disadvantage memorably expressed by Hugh MacDiarmid: the disadvantage that 'cheek by jowl with Shakespeare and Milton must go . . . the incredibly small' (he names 'Waring' and Toke Lynch, Wathen Mark Call and Menella Bute Smedley). For most purposes, English-speaking readers would probably find a moderate- sized selection of Hugos and Baudelaires and Rimbauds more useful than a volume that interspersed two or three poems by each with a comparable number by (say) Banville, Coppée, Jean Moréas, and Francis Jammes. This was recognized long ago by H. E. Berthon, and his Nine French Poets 1820-1880 ( London, 1937), which 'deliberately left out of account the minor poets, in order to devote all available space to the few really great' ones, has had various successors. But those were French-only volumes; the present anthology applies the principle in a bilingual format.
Naturally, notions of the 'really great' vary: Berthon, for instance, included Musset and Vigny, yet ommited Rimbaud. The six nineteenth-century French poets in this volume are certainly among those who are most widely read and most frequently studied today. Furthermore, they are arguably the ones who have had the greatest historical influence on the course of French poetry; and between them they present a good cross-section of the varied styles and concerns of the century, early and late. But nobody should suppose that they are the only 'great' poets of the century, or even the 'best' ones.
In choosing individual poems by our six poets, we have aimed for variety -- for a mixture of the lyric and the satiric, the narrative and the philosophical. Long poems as well as short ones are represented, since many of these writers worked mainly in large-scale forms. We have tried to include as many of the standard favourites as possible, though in a few cases, such as that of Hugo, there is little agreement as to which poems are the writer's 'best'. ( Louis Aragon's celebrated Hugo selection consists almost entirely of 'political' poems, Jean Gaudon's of 'visionary' ones; the two volumes have scarcely an item in common!) In such cases we have