Although the legend of his short, tragic life shaped the initial critical response to his work, Jules Laforgue is now recognized as one of the first modernist poets. Laforgue is notable for his technical innovations, for his ironic voices and psychologically complex persons, for his verbal and syntactic playfulness, and for his fusion of sublimely serious philosophical questions with the plainly vulgar language and concerns of ordinary life.
Laforgue developed the poetic form known as vers libre, or free verse, in which he used lines of varying length, subtle rhyming patterns, and diverse rhythms to correspond, flexibly, to shifts in mood and subject. Although Arthur Rimbaud also has been credited with inventing free verse (with his “Marine” and “Mouvement,” poems written earlier than Les Derniers Vers de Jules Laforgue), Laforgue’s innovative verse forms were published in periodicals before Rimbaud’s examples, and his Les Derniers Vers de Jules Laforgue more directly influenced the free verse of modernist poets.
Most English and American readers know Laforgue through his influence on T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, and Wallace Stevens. In 1908, Eliot read about Laforgue in The Symbolist Movement in Literature, by Arthur Symons; in 1909, Eliot read Laforgue’s poems and letters selected in Œuvres complètes. Eliot’s poems influenced by Laforgue’s irony, dialogues, and verse...
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