These forgotten poets: Sully Prudhomme


CHRONICLE – All the work of this man with painful sensitivity is placed under the sign of the anxious search for happiness.

At the literature prize that bears his name, Alfred Nobel had set as the award criterion the“idealism”. If the last edition reminded again that times have changedwe understand by contrast why Armand Prudhomme, known as Sully Prudhomme, was the first laureate in 1901.

All the work of this poet with painful sensitivity is placed under the sign of the anxious search for happiness. A happiness about the earthly possibility of which he basically has few illusions, but about which he strives, in the course of an ardent poetic work, supported by a solid loom, to sing the mirages, like the vain impulses of man to achieve it.

secretly bruised

Born in 1839 to a prosperous Parisian merchant, Sully Prudhomme was preparing for the Ecole Polytechnique when he was turned away by an eye condition. From the sciences, he then moved on to law, then not needing to work to live, to literature and nothing else. His first collection Stanzas and Poems, hailed by Sainte-Beuve, appeared in 1865. Immediately, the salons of the Second Empire buzzed with the recitation of his most famous poem: “The Broken Vase”. In twenty verses of assumed sentimentality, the poet spins the comparison between a vase weakened by an invisible crack and a heart secretly bruised by love: “Always intact in the eyes of the world, / He feels growing and crying softly / His fine and deep wound; / It’s broken, don’t touch it. »

Such are the work and the fate of our illusions: / They always fall, and young Hope / Always says to them: ‘My sisters, if we start again!’

He deepens this vein in several collections with program titles, among which The Trials (1866), Loneliness (1869), Vain Tenderness (1875), whose concern for formal perfection, but also antique and aesthetic inspiration, rank their author among the leaders of Parnassus, alongside Leconte de Lisle and Heredia. ” lost cry gives a voice to an anonymous slave, crushed by the construction of the pyramid of Cheops; ” The Danaides » and their barrel are the allegory of human destiny (“Such are the work and the fate of our illusions: / They always fall, and young Hope / Always says to them: ‘My sisters, if we start again!’”) ; ” The Swan is a sumptuous description of the bird which, on the water where the starry sky is reflected, “sleeps, head under the wing, between two firmaments”but also symbolizes the loneliness of beauty.

These heartbreaking accents, which are reminiscent of Verlaine, Sully Prudhomme does not find them when he translates his taste for philosophy into verse: Justice (1878) and Happiness (1888) are long didactic poems, difficult to read today, which add nothing to the glory of the poet, elected to the French Academy in 1881, nor to poetry. But they tell of the desperate search for truth of a man who, among other prose works, published in 1905, four years before his death, The True Religion according to Pascal. Should we be surprised? Philosophy, science, the same elevation of thought and above all the same awareness of the misery of man made him singularly like the defender of Port-Royal.


A text by Sully Prudhomme: “The Milky Way»

To the stars I said one evening:
“You don’t look happy;
Your lights, in the dark infinity,
Have painful tenderness;

“And I think I see in the firmament
A white mourning led by virgins
Who carry innumerable candles
And follow each other languidly.

“Are you still praying?
Are you wounded stars?
Because these are tears of light,
No of the spokes, which you pour.

“You, the stars, the ancestors
creatures and gods,
You have tears in your eyes…”
They said to me: “We are alone…

“Each of us is very far
Of the sisters to whom you believe her to be a neighbor;
Its caressing and fine clarity
In his homeland is without witness;

“And the intimate ardor of its flames
Exhale to indifferent skies. »
I told them: “I understand you!
For you look like souls:

“Like you, each one shines
Far from the sisters who seem close to her,
And the immortal lonely
Burns silently in the night. »

(The Solitudes1869)



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