Alphonse de Lamartine’s poetry developed, as did everything in his life, by degrees, with no marked departures from the past. Rarely have life and art been so closely intertwined. All his passions became the stuff of his art, to be woven into complex patterns of alliteration and assonance. Perhaps he created only a handful of enduring works, but few poets can claim to have done more.
Lamartine’s ability to accept and assimilate change as a Christian, a politician, and a poet demonstrates, more than any of his other qualities, his Romantic Weltanschauung. He did not merely accept nineteenth century historicism; he lived it. Change is the dominant theme of his poetry.
The Poetical Meditations
It is no surprise, then, that Lamartine’s first collection of poems had a profound effect on the evolution of French poetry. Indeed, The Poetical Meditations demonstrates the same gradual development that characterized Lamartine the statesman. The work at the time seemed a radical departure from the neoclassical sensibility that continued to dominate French poetry under the Directorate, the Empire, and the early Restoration—indeed, it seemed so radical a departure that it was refused by the publisher to whom Lamartine first submitted it in 1817. What was acceptable in the prose of Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand was, until 1820, not palatable in the more formalized realm of poetry. Lamartine took the first,...
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