French Symbolists Analysis


(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

During the first half of the nineteenth century, poetry in France was dominated by Romanticism, which had broken the rules of classicism and had opened the way for freedom of poetic creation. Poetry had become emotive and descriptive; the poet had been recognized as an isolated individual alienated from society by his genius. Materialistic bourgeois society had been rejected by the poets. As the century progressed, French poetry evolved into three main schools or styles: Parnassianism, Decadence, and Symbolism. The Parnassians took as their credo the art-for-art’s-sake theory of poetry put forth by Théophile Gautier, in which form mattered more than idea. Purity of form and emotional detachment permeated the Parnassians’ works, which treated subjects from antiquity or described exotic places. The Decadents exploited the darker traditions of Romanticism and showed a preference for morbid and erotic subjects. The extreme dislike of the bourgeoisie and the pleasure in shocking them, the idea of the poet as alienated from society, and the preoccupation with death were major elements of their poetry. They regularly used opium, hashish, and absinthe to find an inscrutable truth beyond reality. The Symbolists rejected sentimental effusion of emotion over nature and did not accept this world as the true reality. Their poems expressed states of mind, moods, and sensations evoking inner experiences and communication with a transcendental other world. The musicality of the...

(The entire section is 464 words.)