Char, René (Vol. 11)
Char, René 1907–
Char is a French poet. Early in his career he was connected with the Surrealist school, a friend and collaborator of Paul Éluard and André Breton. However, he broke from this early association and continued to develop as a poet of unique gifts. His poetry has been labelled "hermetic" for its verse that often suggests the poet as prophet and poetry as a kind of religion. Char's poetry of the late thirties and early forties reflects his deep concern for the political and social upheaval of a world at war. This period and its effect on the poet lent to all his poetry its characteristic humanity and deeply-felt moral concern. Char's poetry celebrates the joys of life and love in a verse suffused with imagery drawn from the natural splendor of his native Provence. (See also CLC, Vol. 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
In ["Argument"] Char makes clear what is to him the nature of poetry, that is, those aspects which underlie understanding the poems. These convictions have to do with the poet's vocation—how a poet sees the world about him, and, especially, the kind of statement he makes concerning the human condition of which he is a necessary part. These three concerns are obviously interdependent; the poem can be read, however, as a progressive development from one to another, working always towards a poetic theory.
Char is in the tradition of the poet-seers, poets like Jouve or Rimbaud, for example, who believe that a poet's vocation is to express a moment of apocalyptic vision and to experience a profound spiritual insight. Char is unlike Jouve in that the latter poet works from a condition of darkness, from a traditional consideration of the dark night of the soul, into a state of illumination which endows that darkness with form and which gives a tangible body to forces once perceived as incoherent. Char, though working from our world into another, from the "world before" (l'avant-monde) into a present one, begins with light; the forces at work in his poetry function, in the words of one critic, like "fire on fire." Further, the world in which Char operates is similar to that described in Les Illuminations, one of a dreadful and hidden catastrophe…. For Char, a poet must seek to initiate the reader into such a world that he...
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VIRGINIA A. La CHARITÉ
René Char is the rare poet who unhesitatingly acknowledges the artistic sources of his creative vision, teleology, and practice. In La Conversation souveraine …, he identifies and appraises those poets to whom he is indebted as a poet, and he categorically states that his three major precursors are the philosopher Heraclitus, the painter Georges de La Tour, and the poet Arthur Rimbaud…. Rimbaud is quantitatively more prominent than either Heraclitus or La Tour, for among all of Char's hommage texts, Rimbaud receives the greatest attention and admiration….
Char's hommage to Rimbaud … goes beyond mere admiration; it is based on Char's awareness that he is esthetically indebted to Rimbaud….
Char and Rimbaud share a cosmic vision of a universe humanized by poetry. They begin with the intuitive knowledge that the discord, fragmentation, and multiplicity which characterize man's daily existence and his world are contradictory in appearance only, for beneath the flux, chaos, and disorder there is a totality of essence. It is the role of poetry to unify the fragments, reveal the original permanent oneness of the cosmos, discover man's integral position in that harmony, and lead him to beauty, fulfillment, and dignity. For Char and Rimbaud, poetry is man's instrument for the refutation of meaninglessness and misery; both are consistent in their conviction that life is worthwhile…. Poetry has...
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Michael J. Worton
In his preface to Fureur et mystère Yves Berger writes: "Of all today's poets, René Char is the greatest matchmaker of words. I am thinking here only of those words which, by their sound or their meaning, are least suited to go together. Words which, by their very nature, were destined never to meet." It is clear, even on first acquaintance with Char's poetry, that he achieves much of his success through the juxtaposition of terms which, while seemingly unsuited, nonetheless "work" together, creating new and unexpected images and presenting a world in which objects have a significance which transcends the purely physical. (p. 373)
Char's is not a generous pen. No word is freely given, each being carefully weighed not merely to verify its suitability but to establish its necessity…. [For Char poetry] must be essential, not merely a verbal or sonorous artifact existing only in the margin of human knowledge. Poetry is l'eau pure and, like spring water, both nourishes and purifies, quenching the human thirst for unity and purity. This, then, is the nature of Char's poetic search: he constantly desires lucidity, an awareness of the inherent unity of the world, searching through his poetry which must itself be pure; there can be no mistakes, no uncontrolled movements of lyricism.
This lucidity will result only from a perception of the opposites and contradictions which constitute the world; the poet...
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James R. Lawler
One of the most dramatic periods in Char's career is his rediscovery of nature as the central resource after 1935. Surrealism had taken him into nocturnal obsession from which withdrawal was not easy, but his poetry that postdates Le marteau sans maître contains the assertion of a Mediterranean warmth and of a language deliberately renewed. He delights in the multiplicity of plants, animals, landscapes, transforms the vocabulary of his poems; at the same time he is attentive to an implicit wisdom that he seeks to convey. He becomes the fervent hunter of meanings who reinvents the myth of Orion….
In reading Char's finest nature poems we are able to gauge his artistic integrity. He composes most often with assurance, as if his work came ripely to his pen; yet he is also ready to wait long months for a single word and to revise completed writings. He is meticulous in his analyses, in the elaboration of his themes. "La Sorgue" … is such a poem: although subtitled "Chanson pour Yvonne," it is at farthest remove from spontaneous lyricism, since—"poésie et vérité, comme nous savons, étant synonymes" ("Partage formel,"…)—desire here engages conscience, and conscience desire. (p. 376)
It is not surprising that Char once named Claudel among his poetic ancestors … for he could not but be sensitive to this breadth and vitality and power. But his stance is not that of a weak poet before a strong one. Even...
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