Anabasis Summary

The Poem (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the opening song, the Leader, unidentified, describes the foaling of a colt under bronze tree leaves. A passing Stranger places bitter berries in the Speaker’s hands. The Speaker’s exclamations evoke far-off provinces, the call of a trumpet, and winged movement. From the bronze tree comes a great noise, forces of life and death expressing themselves, as the Stranger beckons to roads leading to unknown destinations.

In canto 1, the Leader recounts how, with honor and dignity, he founded his law and built a primitive society in a coastal region, not yet knowing the name of the sun but realizing the potential of humanity to dream of achieving glory. The Leader declares that he will spend one more year among his followers, not because he wishes to trace towns along the sloping landscape but because he desires to live in the community he created. The Leader communicates the aspirations of his people, spiritual and eternal, to strive to discover the unknown, to uncover the cosmic forces that feed humanity’s desires. He repeats his intent to stay for one more year among his own, although recognizing that his glory is upon the seas.

In canto 2, the Leader and his followers walk along slopes covered in the linen of the Greats, exposed to the air. The Leader speaks of a man’s desire for a woman and her daughter, a primordial impulse liberated by a sea breeze that blows inland, scattering the linen like a priest torn into pieces.

In canto 3, at barley harvest, the Leader recounts how visiting foreign dignitaries ate at a table at his door. The Assayer of Weights and Measures, with the remains of insects and bits of straw in his beard, returns after surveying the flora and fauna of the region. A society that is no longer nomadic is being founded. Illuminated by the Sun’s power, the natural order is challenged by the newly organized forces of civilization. The Leader speaks of the danger of illusion, of questioning the reality of things. As a man of action, the Leader condemns idle contemplation of one’s sadness and begins to specify the members of this new society: princes, ministers, captains, priests, grammarians, and tailors. Finally, the Leader, enveloped by the strong smells of the world around him, condemns the contemplation of death in the present.

The founding of the...

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Anabasis Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Galand, René. Saint-John Perse. New York: Twayne, 1972. A complete general introduction to Saint-John Perse’s poetry. Includes a concise study of Anabasis as well as a short, annotated bibliography of the major critical studies (mostly in French) of his work.

Knodel, Arthur. Saint-John Perse: A Study of His Poetry. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1966. An excellent study of all of Saint-John Perse’s poetry. Includes some biographical details and in-depth analyses of Anabasis.

Knodel, Arthur. “Towards an Understanding of Anabasis.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 79 (June, 1964): 329-343. An excellent and in-depth study of the structure and recurring elements of Anabasis.

Little, Roger. Saint-John Perse. London: Athlone Press, 1973. A brief overview of Saint-John Perse’s work, including some comments on Anabasis. Includes a short biographical sketch.

Little, Roger. Saint-John Perse: A Bibliography for Students of His Poetry. London: Grant and Cutler, 1971. An excellent list of studies of all of Saint-John Perse’s work.