Alexis Saint-Léger Léger Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexis Saint-Léger Léger, the French poet who wrote under the pseudonym of Saint-John Perse (pehrs), was born on the small, family-owned island of Saint Léger les Feuilles, off the coast of Guadeloupe. His biographers credit his Caribbean upbringing with having given him a love of colorful vistas and traveling. Growing up in Guadeloupe made Léger a man of the New World as much as of the Old, an American as well as a European. His early education explains in part the symbolic and esoteric nature of his poetry, for his first intellectual influences came from a Roman Catholic bishop and from a nurse who was a Hindu priestess of Shiva. His formal education, begun in France when he was eleven years old, was liberal in the fullest sense of the word. Léger’s poetic gift began to blossom in 1907, when the sudden tragedy of his father’s death forced him to confront his own imaginative maturity. The studies of medicine, letters, and law all combined to fashion the background that made him not only a poet but also a distinguished statesman.{$S[A]Léger, Alexis Saint-Léger;Perse, Saint-John}

It was as a diplomat that he became known to his countrymen, and it was in the French diplomatic corps that he made his public career. He entered the foreign service in 1914, served in Beijing from 1917 to 1921, and acted as consultant on Asiatic affairs during the Washington conference on disarmament in 1922. He served in the foreign office under Aristide Briand and...

(The entire section is 598 words.)


(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Marie-René Alexis Saint-Léger Léger (who later shortened his name to Alexis Léger and chose the pseudonym Saint-John Perse) was born on May 31, 1887, on a small island near Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. His parents were both of French descent and came from families of plantation owners and naval officers established in the islands since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Perse spent his childhood in Guadeloupe, where his father was a lawyer. The young poet and his sisters were brought up on family plantations among servants, private tutors, and plantation workers. It was not until the age of nine that Perse started school. In 1899, a few years later, earthquakes, the Spanish-American War, and an economic crisis compelled the family to leave for France, where they settled in Pau. In 1904, Perse began studying law, science, literature, and medicine at the University of Bordeaux. He wrote his first poems there, and between 1904 and 1914 he met a number of writers, among them Francis Jammes, Paul Claudel, Paul Valéry, André Gide, and Jacques Rivière. After his military service in 1905 and 1906, Perse divided his time between traveling and studying political science, music, and philosophy; he soon extended his circle of friends to include Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky.

Perse spent the years from 1916 to 1921 in Peking, where he wrote Anabasis. After serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was promoted in 1933 to secretary...

(The entire section is 428 words.)