Char, René (Vol. 14)
Char, René 1907–
Considered by many to be France's greatest living poet, Char celebrates life while acknowledging its pain and chaos. Involvement with World War II shaped his major themes, and his early association with the surrealists fed his imagination and colored his imagery. Char's poetry has been labeled "hermetic," for it often suggests the poet as prophet and poetry as a kind of religion. His work has been illustrated by such notable contemporaries as Braque and Picasso, and set to music by Pierre Boulez. (See also CLC, Vols. 9, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
Robert W. Greene
With few exceptions, René Char's poems start out at a high pitch of intensity, which they rarely relax and in fact usually increase. Char, moreover, maintains his extremely tense, vigorous style at least as consistently in his prose poetry as he does in his verse poems. That this should be so is quite remarkable given the inherently discursive, muting tendency of prose as compared with the more paratactic possibilities of verse, hence its greater potential for dramatic, polarized juxtaposition. Because of the tension that obtains between the eruptive texture of his poems and the smooth prose vehicle that he often elects to use, Char seems both more impressive and more authentically himself as a prose poet than as a poet in verse. In either form, however, his unfailing capacity to energize to the utmost degree the individual words and phrases of what are in the end thoroughly organized structures suggests that a convulsive paradox throbs at the heart of his poetry, that in Char the forces of total anarchy, if not utter destruction, are constantly at war with those of complete control, absolute order.
The striking incongruity between texture and structure in Char, while it is doubtless responsible for the almost palpable vitality that his texts possess, also reflects the poet's abiding commitment to the principle of contradiction. Char rejects one of the fundamental premises of Western thought, Aristotle's principle of identity (a thing...
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Though it never took the form of a whole-hearted commitment, René Char's participation in the surrealist movement is, nevertheless, a fact of literary history, a fact which, furthermore, played a decisive role in the development of the poet and the man. (p. 2)
During his brief surrealist apprenticeship, Char gained, I believe, two important insights: (1) the realization that the existing socio-political order was in need of re-examination and with it the consecrated canons of art, and (2) the certainty that violence and destruction would not solve the problems faced by his generation…. The investigation of the outer world had to lead [the] poet back to a re-examination of his inner universe. There René Char sought the answer to the apparent contradictions of a world shared by partisan and poet, violence and magic. (pp. 2-3)
The key-notes of Char's poetry of 1930–1934 are given by words such as attentat, barbare, brutal, cadavre, carvan, cataclysme, catastrophe, coup, couteau, crasse, crénau, crever, crime, cruel, égorger, fer, gratter, matraque, meutre, offensant, pourriture, rage, résistance, révolution, rude, saigner, sang, sauvage, scandale, sévère, suicide, tomber, trancher, tuer, viol, violence, violent….
A poem from L'Action de la Justice est éteinte [a volume dedicated to Breton], "Les soleils chanteurs", mentions the kinds of violence—natural catastrophies,...
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VIRGINIA A. La CHARITÉ
Any examination of the whole body of Char's work reveals a variety of written modes: regular verse poems (sonnet, ballade), free verse texts, prose poems, aphorisms, diary notations, prefaces, essays, introductions to art catalogues, radio scenarios, theater, and ballet. One aspect which these multiple forms of written expression have in common is Char's interest in the plastic arts, for some mention of an artist is found in all of his writings. In fact, in his aphorisms and poems Char acclaims Georges de La Tour as one of his major sources. Moreover, besides the many contemporary artists mentioned in his work, Char has written numerous verse and prose poems on Georges Braque as well as a lengthy essay, Flux de l'aimant (1965), on Joan Miró….
Because of his writings on artists and, more important, because of his constant references to La Tour and homages to Braque, Char seems to fall into that general category of modern poets who collaborate with painters because of the affinities between the poem and the painting. (p. 14)
However, René Char is more than vitally interested in painting and its adjuncts. He is himself a practicing painter who has illustrated some of his own poems…. But these "minuscules" with sketches by the author are not readily available, and, until the publication of La Nuit talismanique in 1972, Char as a practicing artist was relatively unknown. And, simultaneously, La Nuit...
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René Char's poetry arises from pain, and exists because of it. His creativity confronts it, opposing to the pain of Chants de la Balandrane, which is often the thought of death, things that, if they cannot remove it, can harden it, and transform it into an energy. He takes a purchase on places around where he lives in southern France, like the farm of the title, situated on a wooded plateau "where the ruins of numerous abandoned wells still stand". He celebrates hard things in nature, especially the enduring earth, like certain naked winter fields that, in a typically dense cluster of metaphors, are seen as "daughters of the hoarfrost" and "stars" that "finish the crumbs of their nocturnal food on the table of the sun".
He also confronts pain with analogy, with the metaphors of the imagination that relate him to the processes of nature. In particular, the potent ambiguities of fire and cold are made to act in his life as they act in the seasons, in the life of the planet and even beyond. Analogy is a placing of his own "destiny", a word he uses, and also a triumph of poetry.
For the project of Char's poetry is to be just that: a triumph. The poems are concentrations of force produced from painful emotions toughening into vision and into phrases…. Char concentrates the mind by his compression of thought and feeling and at the same time concentrates the body by pressing into sentences strong sounds and...
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