Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While with his generic imagery Nerval seems to make a simple statement that is devoid of detail and as spare as the sonnet form is brief, when the poem is considered in its context, a further complexity emerges that is perhaps analogous to the sonnet in its detailed structure. Between its autobiographical opening sonnet, “El Desdichado,” and this concluding one, Les Chimères devotes five sonnets to figures from pagan antiquity and five to the sonnet sequence “Christ on the Mount of Olives.” In the context of “Golden Verses,” this pagan/Christian dualism may seem to combine views centered on nature and on humanity. The time sequence of the poems, however, suggests a more coherent view.

Time as it is invoked in “El Desdichado” works backward from the early references to “my only Star,” said to be the woman Nerval loved, and the relatively modern Dürer engraving of Melencolia I (1514) to classical references to the Acheron and Orpheus. Nerval frequently connected his family to early periods of French history, but here he combines French references with those from a much earlier time. Thus, by the time the first sonnet ends, one is ready to accept Nerval’s assertion in the first pagan poem, “Myrtho,” that “the Muse made me one of the sons of Greece.”

One may wonder how much of Nerval’s pagan experience was real and how much was imagined, for while he asserts that he “had drunk the...

(The entire section is 524 words.)