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The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 16
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).

"But, à propos of Boileau, must I then accept this strange judgment of a man of esprit, this contemptuous opinion that M. Taine takes of him, and fear to endorse it in passing?—'There are two sorts of verse in Boileau: the most numerous, which are those of a pupil of the third form of his school; the less numerous, which are those of a pupil of rhetoric.' The man of letters who speaks thus (Guillame Guizot) does not feel that Bolieu is a poet, and I will go further, he ought not to be sensible of poetry in such a poet. I understand that one does not put all the poetry into the metre; but I cannot at all understand that, when the point in question is Art, one takes no account of Art itself, and depreciates the perfect workers who excel in it. Suppress with a single blow all the poetry in verse, or else speak with esteem of those who possess the secrets. Boileau was of the small number of those; Pope equally." One could not express it better nor more justly. When it is a question of a poet, the composition of his verse is a considerable thing and worthy of study, for it constitutes a great part of his intrinsic value. It is with this stamp his gold, his silver, his copper are coined.

The verse of Baudelaire is written according to modern methods and reform. The mobility of the cesura, the use of the mot d'ordre, the freedom of expression, the writing of a single Alexandrine, the clever mechanism of prosody, the turn of the stanza and the strophe—whatever its individual formula, its tabulated structure, its secrets of metre—bear the stamp of Baudelaire's sleight of hand, if one may express it thus. His signature, C. B., claims each rhyme he has made.

Among his poems there are many pieces which have the apparent disposition and exterior design of a sonnet, though "sonnet" is not written at the head of each of them. That undoubtedly comes from a literary scruple, and a prosodical conscience, the origin of which seems to us traceable to an article where he recounts his visit to us and relates our conversation. It must not be forgotten that he had just brought us a volume of verses of two absent friends, that he was commissioned to make known, and we remarked these lines in his narrative: "After having rapidly run through the volume, he remarked to me that the poets in question allowed themselves too often to write libertine sonnets, that is to say unorthodox, willingly breaking through the rule of the quadruple rhyme."

At this period the greater part of the "Flowers of Evil" was already composed, and in it there are to be found a large number of libertine sonnets, which not only have the quadruple rhyme, but in which also the rhymes are alternated in a quite irregular manner.

The young scholar always allows himself a number of libertine sonnets, and we avow it is particularly disagreeable to us. Why, if one wishes to be free and to arrange the rhyme according to individual fancy, choose a fixed form which admits of no digression, no caprice? The irregular in what should be regular, lack of form in what should be symmetrical—what can be more illogical and annoying? Each infraction of a rule disturbs us like a doubtful or a false note. The sonnet is a sort of poetical fugue in which the theme ought to pass and repass until its final resolution in a given form. One must be absolutely subservient to law, or else, if one finds these laws antiquated, pedantic, cramping, not write sonnets at all.

Baudelaire often sought musical effect by one or more particularly melodious lines recurring alternatively, as in the Italian strophe called sextine, of which M. de Comte de Gramont offers in his poetry several happy examples. He applies this form, which has the vague, rocking sound of a magical incantation half heard in a dream, to the subjects of melancholy memory and unhappy loves. The stanzas, with their monotonous rustling, carry and express the thoughts, balancing them as the waves carry on their crests a drowning flower fallen from the shore.

Like Longfellow and Poe, Baudelaire sometimes employed alliteration; that is to say, the repetition of a certain consonant to produce in the interior of the verse a harmonious effect. Sainte-Beuve, to whom none of these delicate touches is unknown, and who continually practises them in his exquisite art, has once said in an Italian sonnet of deep gentleness: "Sorrente m'a rendu mon doux reve infini."


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AUTHOR: Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
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