Le Symbolisme

A literary manifesto

For two years, the Parisian press has been busy with a school of poets and pros-authors who are called the "decade". The narrator of Thé chez Miranda (in collaboration with Paul Adam, author of Soi ), the poet of Syrtes and Cantilènes , Jean Moréas, one of the most talked about among these revolutionaries of literature has, at our request for the readers of the supplement the Essential principles of the new art.

The symbolism

Like all the arts, literature is also developing: a cyclical development with strictly defined repetitions, which are becoming more and more complicated by the changes that the course of times and the upheavals of the milieus bring about. It would be superfluous to point out that every new developmental phase of art corresponds exactly

to the senile frailty and the unavoidable end of the immediately preceding school. Two examples will suffice: Ronsard triumphs over the impotence of the last imitators of Marot, the romance unfolds its banner over the ruins of classical music, casuously guarded by Casimir Delavigne and Étienne de Jouy. For every appearance of art inevitably comes to the point where it is stunted and exhausted; From copy to copy, from imitation to imitation dries out and shrinks, which was full of juice and freshness; What was the new and spontaneous, became template and commonplace.

The romance, after she had rung all the wild storm-bells of the insurrection after having had her days of glory and struggle, lost her power and charm, renounced her heroic boldness, gave herself bravely, skeptically, and full of healthy human understanding; With the honorable and petty attempt of Parnassia, she hoped for a deceptive renewal; and finally, like a monarch falling back into her childhood, she let herself be separated from naturalism, to whom, on the contrary, one can only confine the value of a protest action which, Legitimate, but ill-advised, against the shawls of some then fashionable novelists.

A new artifice was thus to be expected; It was necessary and inevitable. This long-cherished appearance unfolds. And all the innocent jokes of the fidel press, all the worries of serious criticism, the whole bad mood of the audience, surprised in his stifling heartburn, only lead to confirm the vitality of the present development in French literature every day In an incredible contradiction as decadence. Note, however, that the decadent literatures are by their very nature proving to be tenacious, diffuse, petty, and creepy: all tragedies of Voltaire, for example, are marked by decadence. And what can be accused of the new school, what is it to her? Exaggerated splendor, extraordinary metaphor, a new vocabulary in which the harmonies connect with the colors and lines: marks of every renewal.

The only label that is capable of in a reasonable way, to identify the current trend of the creative spirit in art, we have already Symbolism proposed . This designation can be maintained.

At the beginning of this article it has already been said that the developments of art have a cyclic character, which is extremely complicated because of divergences; Then, in order to trace the exact lineage of the new school, one would have to go back to certain poems of Alfred de Vigny, to Shakespeare, to the mystics, and still further back. These questions would require a volume full of explanations; Let us say that Charles Baudelaire must be regarded as the true precursor of the present movement; Stéphane Mallarmé gave her the sense of the mysterious and the unspeakable; Paul Verlaine, in her honor, burst the cruel fetters of the verse, which had already become more supple, under the splendid grasp of Théodore de Banville. But the magic last Gelingens is not there yet: A tireless and zealous work awaits the newcomers.


As an enemy of instruction, promulgation, false sensibility, and objective description, symbolic poetry seeks to dress the idea into a sensuous form, which, however, is not a self-purpose, but which, by serving entirely the expression of the idea, remains subordinate to it . The idea, on the other hand, must not be deprived of the splendid robe of external analogies; For the essential property of symbolic art consists in never going to the concept of the idea itself. Thus the images of nature, the actions of men, all concrete phenomena can not show themselves in this art; In this context they are sensuous phenomena, destined to portray their esoteric affinities with the original ideas.

That readers who perceive such an aesthetics only fleetingly accuse them of darkness has nothing to surprise. But what can you do? Pindar Pythian , Shakespeare's Hamlet , Dante's Vita Nuova , Goethe's Faust II , The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Flaubert - were not assessed it as ambiguous?

For the exact reproduction of his synthesis, symbolism needs an archetypical and complex style: unused words, the period that stands solidly, alternately with one that is weak and moves gently, meaningful pleonasms, strange ellipses, anacoluthe, which remain in limbo , Every tropic bold and varied; Finally the right language - new and modernized - the right and lavish and spirited French language from the time before the Vaugelas and the Boileau-Despréaux, the language of François Rabelais and Philippe des Commines, Villon, Rutebœuf and so many Other free writers who shoot the sharp word of language as the trakic toxotes their tortuous arrows.

THE RHYTHM: the old metric refreshed; A wise-ordered disorder; The rhyme shining and hammering like a shield of gold and bronze, beside the rhyme of incomprehensible flexibility; The Alexandrians with numerous and moving pauses; The use of certain principal numbers-seven, nine, eleven, thirteen-dissolved in the various rhythmic combinations of which they are sum.


Here I ask permission to let them participate in my little INTERVIEW that comes from a valuable book: the treatise of French poetry, in which Théodore de Banville, pitiless as the God of Claros, monstrous donkey ears on the head of so Many midas.


The persons who speak in the play are:


First Scene

THE CRITIC. - O! These decadent! What emphase! What Galimathias! As our great Molière was right when he said,

This image-rich style, which boasts, depart from nature and truth from.

THÉODORE DE BANVILLE. - Our great Molière makes two bad verses, which differ very much from nature. What nature? From what truth? The apparent disorder, the insidious madness, the passionate emphasis are the real truth of lyric poetry. To fall into the excess of the figures and the colors - the evil is not great, and our literature will not perish. If, in its worst days, as in the First Empire, it really dies, they do not kill the emphase and misuse of the jewelery, but the shallowness. The taste and the natural are good things, but the poetry is certainly less useful than one believes. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare is written from beginning to end in a style that is as stilted as that of the Marquis de Mascarille; The one of Ducis shines through the happiest and most natural simplicity.

THE CRITIC. But the caesura, the caesura! They hurt the caesura !!

THÉODORE DE BANVILLE. In his remarkable prosody published in 1844, Wilhelm Tenint establishes that the Alexandrian admits twelve different combinations, from the verse which has its caesura after the first syllable to the verse which has it after the eleventh. This means that the caesura can indeed be set according to any syllable of Alexandrin. He also establishes that the verses of six, seven, eight, nine, ten syllables permit variable and differently set caesura. Let us go further; We dare to proclaim complete freedom and to say that in these complex questions alone the ear decides. You always perish, not because you are too bold, but because you have not been bold enough.

THE CRITIC. How terrible! Do not follow the regular change of rhymes! Do you know, My Lord, that the decadent dare to allow themselves the hiatus? Even the Hi-a-tus !!

THÉODORE DE BANVILLE. The hiatus, the diphtong, which constitutes a syllable in the verse, and all the other things which were forbidden, and above all the unregulated use of the male and female rhymes, gave the poet of Genius a thousand means to his senses, always different, unexpected, Inexhaustible effects. But to be this complicated and learned verse to use, you needed genius and a musical ear, while the mediocre writer with fixed rules by obey them faithfully, unfortunately passable verses can make! So who won something in the regulation of poetry? The mediocre poets. Her alone!

THE CRITIC. - It seems to me nevertheless that the romantic revolution ...

THÉODORE DE BANVILLE. Romanticism was an incomplete revolution. What a misfortune that Victor Hugo, this victorious Hercules with bloody hands, was not a complete revolutionary, and that he left some of the monsters who were wiped out with his flaming arrows, he was commissioned!

THE CRITIC. Every renewal is crazy! The imitation of Victor Hugo - there lies the salvation of French poetry!

THÉODORE DE BANVILLE. When Hugo had liberated the verse, one could believe that the poets who had been taught by his example, who came after him, were free and dependent on himself. But the love of servitude in us is such that the new poets competed and imitated Hugo's most unusual forms, combinations and cuts, instead of struggling to find new ones. So it happens that we created for the yoke of a slavery in the other fall and that it comes to the classic template romantic has given template of the cut stencils sets and masks the rhymes; And the stencil, that is, the chronically commonplace, is death in poetry as in every other thing. On the contrary, we dare to live it! And to live means to breathe the air of heaven and not the breath of our neighbor, be this neighbor also a God!

Second scene

ERATO ( invisible ). - Your Small Treatise on French Poetry is a delicious work, master Banville. But the young poets get to fight the fed by Nicolas Boileau monster bloodshot eyes; One calls you to the field of honor, and you remain silent, Master Banville!

Théodore de Banville ( dreamy ). - O misfortune! If I had not fulfilled my task as the oldest and lyrical poet!

(The author of Exiles utters a lamentable sigh and the interlude is over.)


The prose novels, novels, narrations, phantasy pieces - develops in a poetic analogous sense. Apparently heterogeneous elements contribute to this: Stendhal introduces his unobtrusive psychology, Balzac his exuberant vision, Flaubert his sentence cadences from wide arcs. Edmond de Goncourt, his modern suggestive impressionism.

The concept of symbolic novel is multiform: Soon a single figure moved in environments that are deformed by their own hallucinations, by their temperament: In this deformation is the only real . Beings with mechanical gestures, with shaded silhouettes, move around the single figure: they are only pretexts for feelings and conjectures. It is itself a tragic or droll mask, but of a perfect, yet intellectually shaped humanity. Soon people, touched superficially by all that are happening at the same time, turn to actions which remain unfinished in the alternation of collisions and stagnation. Sometimes show individual wills ; They join, clash, unite to a goal which, reached or missed, dissipates them into their original elements. Soon, mythical phantasms emerge, from the ancient Demogorgos to Belial, from the Kabirs to the Nigromans, splendidly adorned on the rock of Caliban, or in the forest of Titania, with the Mixolydian modes of barbitones and octachoras.

The puerile method of Naturalism contemptuous - Zola was saved by a wonderful literary instinct - is the symbolic and impressionistic novel in such a way his work of subjective deformation build, based on the principle: that the art in the lenses just looking for a simple, extremely limited starting point Can

18 september 1886


Jean Moréas.

Art by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley

PS In case if you didn't know, I collect prints of rude paintings by famous artists. Just in case)

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