Traditionally, discussions of Alfred de Vigny’s poetry have been characterized by a focus on the ideas which inform individual poems as well as on the quasi-philosophical “system” which informs his œuvre as a whole. In Vigny studies, technical analysis of how such ideas are expressed (through prosody, form, and so on) has always taken second place to discussion of what is said. If this is so, it is largely a result of the emphasis the poet himself placed upon the concept of the poem as an artistic medium for the exploration of philosophical issues, the concept of the poème philosophique. It is certain, from numerous entries in the personal and literary diary Le Journal d’un poète, that Vigny conceived of all the technical aspects of poetry as being at the service of underlying philosophical concepts. Discussing poetry in one of his letters, he states: “All of humanity’s great problems can be discussed in the form of verse.”
Vigny’s central themes are few; taken together, they lend one another a resonance which virtually endows them with the coherence of a philosophical system. Humanism is the unvarying foundation of that quasi system; human experience is examined repeatedly in terms of three fundamental relationships: the relationship of the individual man with God, with society, and, in ultimate solitude, with the self. These themes possess a natural kinship, and a Vigny poem may deal with any combination of the three...
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