I've decided to give you an hour of modem literature . . .
- And now here is a discourse in prose on the future of poetry:
All ancient poetry culminated in Greek poetry, harmonious Life.
- From Greece to the romantic movement - in the Middle Ages - there are men of letters, versifiers. From Ennius to Theroldus, from Theroldus to Casimir Delavigne, it's all rhymed prose, a game, the enfeeblement and glory of countless idiotic generations: Racine is the pure, strong, great man - If his rhymes had been effaced, and his hemistitches got mixed up, today the Divine Fool would be as unknown as any old author of Origins
. After Racine the game gets crumby. It has been going on for two thousand years!
Neither joke nor paradox. My reason inspires me with more certitude on this subject than any Young-France
ever had with rage. Besides, newcomers
are free to condemn their ancestors: one is at home, and there's plenty of time.
Romanticism has never been properly judged. Who was there to judge it? The Critics!! The Romantics? who proved so clearly that the song is very seldom the work, that is to say, the idea sung and intended by the singer.
For I is someone else. If brass wakes up a trumpet, it is not its fault. To me this is obvious: I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I listen to it: I make a stroke of the bow: the symphony begins to stir in the depths, or springs on to the stage.
If the old fools had not discovered only the false
significance of the Ego, we should not now be having to sweep away those millions of skeletons which, since time immemorial, have been piling up the fruits of their one-eyed intellects, and claiming themselves to be the authors of them!
In Greece, I say, verses and lyres give rhythm to action
. After that, music and rhymes are a game, a pastime. The curious are charmed with the study of this past: many of them delight in reviving these antiquities - that's their affair Universal mind has always thrown out its ideas naturally; men would pick up a part of these fruits of the brain: they acted through them, they wrote books through them: and so things went on, since man did not work on himself, either not yet being awake, or not yet in the fullness of the great dream. Writers, civil servants - author, creator, poet, that man never existed!
The first study for a man who wants to be a poet is the knowledge of himself, complete. He looks for his soul, inspects it, puts it to the test, learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it! It seems simple: in every brain a natural development takes place; so many egoists
proclaim themselves authors; there are plenty of others who attribute their intellectual progress to themselves! - But the soul has to be made monstrous, that's the point: after the fashion of the comprachicos
, if you like! Imagine a man planting and cultivating warts on his face.
I say that one must be a seer
, make oneself a seer
The poet makes himself a seer
by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses
. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself,he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed - the great learned one! - among men. - For he arrives at the unknown
! Because he has cultivated his own soul - which was rich to begin with - more than any other man! He reaches the unknown, and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed! . . .
- To continue:
So, then, the poet really is the thief of fire.
He is responsible for humanity, even for the animals
; he must see to it that his inventions can be smelt, felt, heard. If what he brings back from down there
has form, he brings forth form; if it is formless, he brings forth formlessness. A language has to be found-tor that matter, every word being an idea, the time of the universal languages will come! One has to be an academician - deader than a fossil - to finish a dictionary of any language. Weak-minded people, beginning by thinking about
the first letter of the alphabet, would soon rush into madness!
This [new] language would be of the soul, for the soul, containing everything smells, sounds, colours; thought latching on to thought and pulling. The poet would define the amount of the unknown awakening in the universal soul in his own time: he would produce more than the formulation of his thought or the measurement of his march towards Progress
! An enormity who has become normal, absorbed by everyone, he would really be a multiplier of progress
This future will, as you see, be materialistic - Always filled with Number
, these poems will be made to endure. Essentially, it will be Greek poetry again, in a way.
Eternal art will have its function, since poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer rhyme with action; it will be ahead of it
Poets like this will exist! When the unending servitude of woman is broken, when she lives by and for herself, when man - hitherto abominable - has given her her freedom, she too will be a poet! Woman will discover part of the unknown! Will her world of ideas be different from ours? She will discover things strange and unfathomable, repulsive and delicious. We shall take them unto ourselves, we shall understand them.
Meanwhile let us ask the poet
for the new
- in ideas and in forms. All the bright boys will imagine they can soon satisfy this demand: - is not so!
The first romantics were seers
without quite realizing it: the cultivation of their souls began accidentally: abandoned locomotives, but with their fires still alight, which the rails still carry along for a while. - Sometimes Lamartine is a seer, but strangled by the old form. Hugo, who is too ham
, really has VISION in his last works: Les Miserables
is a real poem
. I have Les Chatiments
with me; Stella
shows the limit of Hugo's vision
. Too many Belmontets and Lamennais, Jehovahs and columns, old cracked enormities.
Musset is fourteen times execrable to us suffering generations carried away by visions - to whom his angelic cloth is an insult! O! the insipid tales and proverbs! O the Nuits
! O Rolla
, O Namouna
, O the Chalice
! it is all French, that is, detestable to the highest degree; French, not Parisian! More work of the evil genius that inspired Rabelais, Voltaire, Jean La Fontaine, with M. Taine's commentary! Springlike, the wit of Musset! Charming, his love! There's ename painting and solid poetry for you! French
poetry will be enjoyed for a long time - but in France. Every grocer's boy can reel off a Rollaesque speech, every budding priest has the five hundred rhymes hidden away in the secrecy of a notebook. At fifteen, these outbursts of passion make boys lecherous, at sixteen they are already content to recite them with feeling
; at eighteen, even at seventeen, every schoolboy who has the ability does a Rolla, writes a Rolla! Perhaps some still die of it. Musset could not do anything: there were visions behind the gauze of the curtains he closed his eyes. French, sloppy, dragged from barroom to schoolroom desk, the fine corpse is dead, and henceforth let us not even bother to awaken it with our execrations!
The second Romantics are very seeing
: Théophile Gautier, Leconte de Lisle Théodore de Banville. But because examining the invisible and hearing the un-heard-of is quite different from recapturing the spirit of dead things, Baudelaire is the first seer, king of poets,a real God
! Unluckily he lived in too artistic a circle; and the form which is so much praised in him is trivial. Inventions from the unknown demand new forms.
Broken-in to the old forms, among the simpletons, A. Renaud - has done his Rolla - L. Grandet - has done his Rolla; the Gauls and the Mussets, G. Lafenestre, Coran, Cl. Popelin, Soulary, L. Salles; the scholars, Marc, Aicard, Theuriet; the dead and the imbeciles, Autran, Barbier, L. Pichat, Lemoyne, the Deschamps, the Des Essarts; the journalists, L. Cladel, Robert Luzarches, X. de Ricard; the fantasists, C. Mendès; the bohemians; the women; the talents, Léon Dierx and SuIly-Prudhomme, Coppée - the new school, called Parnassian, possesses two seers
: Albert Merat and Paul Verlaine, a real poet. - So there you are. Thus I am working to make myself a seer