with Gill Storey

In July I talked about various movements which arose out of Romanticism, but later poets took up the cause of Symbolism (also known as the Decadents).

They wished to move away from the somewhat impersonal standpoint of the Parnassiens, breaking further away from the tyranny of the Aloexandrine (the 12 syllable line used by Racine, which is as important in French poetry as the 10 syllable/five foot line  used by Shakespeare).

Their lines run on into each other instead of being end-stopped as in July’s poem, Midi.

They wanted an affinity with music rather than painting, and would make room for the vague, the dreamy and the mystical.

Paul Verlaine (1844-96), who had visited England, and was in touch with the various movements in English poetry, wrote an essay, Art Poétique: de la Musique avant toute chose. (The Art of Poetry, music before everything else).  His poems are often short and concise and make their appeal through a direct approach to the senses.

This little poem evokes the warmth and sleepiness of a late summer evening, when the Hunter’s Moon or the Harvest Moon are crimson in the sky, and Nature seems to be closing itself down, as the first taste of Autumn appears.  It has a strange, dreamlike quality.

Le Soir

La lune est rouge au brumeux horizon;

Dans un brouillard qui danse, la prairie

S’endort fumeuse et la grenouille crie

Par les joncs verts ou circule un frisson.

Les fleurs des eaux referment leurs corolles;

Des peupliers défilent aux lointains

Droits et serrés, leurs spectres incertains ;

Vers les buissons errent les lucioles ;

Les chats-huants s’eveillent, et sans bruit

Rament l’air noir avec leurs ailes lourdes,

Et le zénith s’emplit de lueurs sourdes.

Blanche, Venus émerge, et c’est la nuit.



The moon is red above the misty horizon ;

In a dancing haze, the meadow

Sleeps smokily and the frog croaks

Among the green reeds shaken by a circling rustle ;

The flowers on the water close their petals;

The poplars march off into the distance,

Upright and in line, like uncertain ghosts;

The glow worms flit among the bushes.

The screech owls awake, and noiseless

Row through the dark air with their heavy wings,

The sky fills with a deaf glow,

White, Venus comes out, and it is night.

Leave a Comment