Arthur Symons



The Decadent Movement in Literature




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Texte zur Baudelaire-Rezeption
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Texte zur Theorie und Rezeption des Symbolismus


What Goncourt has done in prose – inventing absolutely a new way of saying things, to correspond with that new way of seeing things which he has found — Verlaine has done in verse. In a famous poem, "Art Poétique," he has himself defined his own ideal of the poetic art:

"Car nous voulons la Nuance encor,
Pas la Couleur, rien que la Nuance!
Oh! la Nuance seule fiance
Le rêve au rêve et la flûte au cor!"

Music first of all and before all, he insists; and then, not color, but la nuance, the last fine shade. Poetry is to be something vague, intangible, evanescent, a winged soul in flight "toward other skies and other loves." To express the inexpressible he speaks of beautiful eyes behind a veil, of the palpitating sunlight of noon, of the blue swarm of clear stars in a cool autumn sky; and the verse in which he makes this confession of faith has the exquisite troubled beauty — "sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose" — which he commends as the essential quality of verse. In a later poem of poetical counsel he tells us that art should, first of all, be absolutely clear, absolutely sincere: "L'art, mes enfants, c'est d'être absolument soi-même." The two poems, with their seven years' interval — an interval which means so much in the life of a man like Verlaine — give us all that there is of theory in the work of the least theoretical, the most really instinctive, of poetical innovators. Verlaine's poetry has varied with his life; always in excess — now furiously sensual, now feverishly devout — he has been constant only to himself, to his own self-contradictions. For, with all the violence, turmoil, and disorder of a life which is almost the life of a modern Villon, Paul Verlaine has always retained that childlike simplicity, and, in his verse, which has been his confessional, that fine sincerity, of which Villon may [861] be thought to have set the example in literature. Beginning his career as a Parnassian with the Poèmes Saturniens, Verlaine becomes himself, in his exquisite first manner, in the Fêtes Galantes, caprices after Watteau, followed, a year later, by La Bonne Chanson, a happy record of too confident a lover's happiness. Romances sans Paroles, in which the poetry of Impressionism reaches its very highest point, is more tourmenté, goes deeper, becomes more poignantly personal. It is the poetry of sensation, of evocation; poetry which paints as well as sings, and which paints as Whistler paints, seeming to think the colors and outlines upon the canvas, to think them only, and they are there. The mere magic of words — words which evoke pictures, which recall sensations — can go no further; and in his next book, Sagesse, published after seven years' wanderings and sufferings, there is a graver manner of more deeply personal confession — that "sincerity, and the impression of the moment followed to the letter," which he has defined in a prose criticism on himself as his main preference in regard to style. "Sincerity, and the impression of the moment followed to the letter," mark the rest of Verlaine's work, whether the sentiment be that of passionate friendship, as in Amour; of love, human and divine, as in Bonheur; of the mere lust of the flesh, as in Parallèlement and Chansons pour Elle. In his very latest verse the quality of simplicity has become exaggerated, has become, at [862] times, childish; the once exquisite depravity of style has lost some of its distinction; there is no longer the same delicately vivid "impression of the moment" to render. Yet the very closeness with which it follows a lamentable career gives a curious interest to even the worst of Verlaine's work. And how unique, how unsurpassable in its kind, is the best! "Et tout le reste est littérature!" was the cry, supreme and contemptuous, of that early "Art Poétique"; and, compared with Verlaine at his best, all other contemporary work in verse seems not yet disenfranchised from mere "literature." To fix the last fine shade, the quintessence of things; to fix it fleetingly; to be a disembodied voice, and yet the voice of a human soul: that is the ideal of Decadence, and it is what Paul Verlaine has achieved.

And certainly, so far as achievement goes, no other poet of the actual group in France can be named beside him or near him. But in Stéphane Mallarmé, with his supreme pose as the supreme poet, and his two or three pieces of exquisite verse and delicately artificial prose to show by way of result, we have the prophet and pontiff of the movement, the mystical and theoretical leader of the great emancipation. No one has ever dreamed such beautiful, impossible dreams as Mallarmé; no one has ever so possessed his soul in the contemplation of masterpieces to come. All his life he has been haunted by the desire to create, not so much something new in literature, as a literature which should itself be a new art. He has dreamed of a work into which all the arts should enter, and achieve themselves by a mutual interdependence — a harmonizing of all the arts into one supreme art — and he has theorized with infinite subtlety over the possibilities of doing the impossible. Every Tuesday for the last twenty years he has talked more fascinatingly, more suggestively, than any one else has ever done, in that little room in the Rue de Rome, to that little group of eager young poets. "A seeker after something in the world, that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all," he has carried his contempt for the usual, the conventional, beyond the point of literary expression, into the domain of practical affairs. Until the publication, quite recently, of a selection of Vers et Prose, it was only possible to get his poems in a limited and expensive edition, lithographed in fac-simile of his own clear and elegant handwriting. An aristocrat of letters, Mallarmé has always looked with intense disdain on the indiscriminate accident of universal suffrage. He has wished neither to be read nor to be understood by the bourgeois intelligence, and it is with some deliberateness of intention that he has made both issues impossible. M. Catulle Mendès defines him admirably as "a difficult author," and in his latest period he has succeeded in becoming absolutely unintelligible. His early poems, "L'Après-midi d'un Faune," "Hérodiade," for example, and some exquisite sonnets, and one or two fragments of perfectly polished verse, are written in a language which has nothing in common with every-day language — symbol within symbol, image within image; but symbol and image achieve themselves in expression without seeming to call for the necessity of a key. The latest poems (in which punctuation is sometimes entirely suppressed, for our further bewilderment) consist merely of a sequence of symbols, in which every word must be taken in a sense with which its ordinary significance has nothing to do. Mallarmé's contortion of the French language, so far as mere style is concerned, is curiously similar to the kind of depravation which was undergone by the Latin language in its decadence. It is, indeed, in part a reversion to Latin phraseology, the Latin construction, and it has made, of the clear and flowing French language, something irregular, unquiet, expressive, with sudden surprising felicities, with nervous starts and lapses, with new capacities for the exact noting of sensation. Alike to the ordinary and to the scholarly reader, it is painful, intolerable; a jargon, a massacre. Supremely self-confident, and backed, certainly, by an ardent following of the younger generation, Mallarmé goes on his way, experimenting more and more audaciously, having achieved by this time, at all events, a style wholly his own. Yet the "chef d'œuvre inconnu" seems no nearer completion, the impossible seems no more likely to be done. The two or three beautiful fragments remain, and we still hear the voice in the Rue de Rome.

Probably it is as a voice, an influence, that Mallarmé will be remembered. His personal magnetism has had a great deal [863] to do with the making of the very newest French literature; few literary beginners in Paris have been able to escape the rewards and punishments of his contact, his suggestion. One of the young poets who form that delightful Tuesday evening coterie said to me the other day, "We owe much to Mallarmé, but he has kept us all back three years." That is where the danger of so inspiring, so helping a personality comes in. The work even of M. Henri de Regnier, who is the best of the disciples, has not entirely got clear from the influence that has shown his fine talent the way to develop. Perhaps it is in the verse of men who are not exactly following in the counsel of the master — who might disown him, whom he might disown — that one sees most clearly the outcome of his theories, the actual consequences of his practice. In regard to the construction of verse, Mallarmé has always remained faithful to the traditional syllabic measurement; but the freak or the discovery of "le vers libre" is certainly the natural consequence of his experiments upon the elasticity of rhythm, upon the power of resistance of the caesura. "Le vers libre" in the hands of most of the experimenters becomes merely rhymeless irregular prose; in the hands of Gustave Kahn and Édouard Dujardin it has, it must be admitted, attained a certain beauty of its own. I never really understood the charm that may be found in this apparently structureless rhythm until I heard, not long since, M. Dujardin read aloud the as yet unpublished conclusion of a dramatic poem in several parts. It was rhymed, but rhymed with some irregularity, and the rhythm was purely and simply a vocal effect. The rhythm came and went as the spirit moved. You might deny that it was rhythm at all; and yet, read as I heard it read, in a sort of slow chant, it produced on me the effect of really beautiful verse. But M. Dujardin is a poet: "vers libres" in the hands of a sciolist are the most intolerably easy and annoying of poetical exercises. Even in the case of Le Pèlerin Passionné I cannot see the justification of what is merely regular syllabic verse lengthened or shortened arbitrarily, with the Alexandrine always evident in the background as the foot-rule of the new metre. In this hazardous experiment M. Jean Moréas, whose real talent lies in quite another direction, has brought nothing into literature but an example of deliberate singularity for singularity's sake. I seem to find the measure of the man in a remark I once heard him make in a café, where we were discussing the technique of metre: "You, Verlaine!" he cried, leaning across the table, "have only written lines of sixteen syllables; I have written lines of twenty syllables!" And turning to me, he asked anxiously if Swinburne had ever done that — had written a line of twenty syllables.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 87, 1893, Nr. 522, November, S. 858-867.

Unser Auszug: S. 860-863.

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A Bibliography.
Greensboro, NC: ELT Press 1990.

Symons, Arthur: Silhouettes.
London: Matthews & Lane 1892.

Symons, Arthur: Paul Verlaine.
In: The National Review.
Bd. 19, 1892, Nr. 112, Juni, S. 501-515.

Symons, Arthur: Mr. Henley's Poetry.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
1892, August, S. 182-192. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: The Decadent Movement in Literature.
In: Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 87, 1893, Nr. 522, November, S. 858-867.

Symons, Arthur: Paul Verlaine.
In: The New Review.
1893, Dezember, S. 609-617. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: London Nights.
London: Smithers 1895.

Symons, Arthur: Silhouettes.
Second edition. Revised and enlarged. London: Smithers; New York: Richmond 1896.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Two Literatures.
London: Smithers 1897.

Symons, Arthur: Mallarmé's "Divagations".
In: The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.
Bd. 83, 1897, 30. Januar, S. 109-110.

Symons, Arthur: Le mysticisme de Maeterlinck.
In: La Revue des Revues.
Bd. 22, 1897, 15. September, S. 531-536.

Symons, Arthur: Stéphane Mallarmé
In: The Fortnightly Review.
1898, 1. November, S. 677-685. [PDF]

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
London: Heinemann 1899.

Symons, Arthur: Jules Laforgue.
In: Ders., The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
London: Heinemann 1899, S. 105-114.

Symons, Arthur: A Book of French Verse.
In: Literature. An International Gazette of Criticism.
1899, 10. November, S. 413-414.

Symons, Arthur: Poems.
Bd. 1. New York: John Lane 1902.

Symons, Arthur: Poems.
Bd. 2. New York: John Lane 1902.

Symons, Arthur: Lyrics.
Portland, Me.: Mosher 1903.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Prose and Verse.
London u. New York: Dent o.J. [1904].

Symons, Arthur: Ernest Dowson.
In: The Poems of Ernest Dowson.
With a Memoir by Arthur Symons, Four Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a Portrait by William Rothenstein.
London u. New York: Lane 1905, S. V-XXIX.

Symons, Arthur: Qu'est-ce que la Poésie?
In: Vers et prose.
Bd. 3, 1905, September-November, S. 29-33.

Symons, Arthur: Studies in Seven Arts.
New York: Dutton 1906.

Symons, Arthur: Aspects of Verlaine.
In: The Smart Set. A Magazine of Cleverness.
Bd. 18, 1906, Nr. 1, Januar, S. 79-83.

Symons, Arthur: London. A Book of Aspects.
London: Privately printed 1909.

Symons, Arthur: Plays, Acting and Music. A Book of Theory.
London: Dutton & Company 1909.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Goncourt, DE.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 231.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Mallarmé, Stéphane.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XVII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 490.

Symons, Arthur: Art. Verlaine, Paul.
In: The Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition.
Volume XXVII. Cambridge, England; New York 1911, S. 1023-1024.

Symons, Arthur: Figures of Several Centuries.
London: Constable and Company 1916.
URL:   [New York o.J. (1916)]

Symons, Arthur: Colour Studies in Paris.
New York: Dutton & Company 1918.

Symons, Arthur: Claude Debussy.
In: The Egoist.
Bd. 5, 1918: Nr. 6, Juni-Juli, S. 82-83; Nr. 7, August, S. 93-94.

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Revised and enlarged edition. New York: Dutton & Company 1919.

Symons, Arthur: Letters to W. B. Yeats, 1892-1902.
Edited by Bruce Morris.
Edinburgh: The Tragara Press 1989.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Letters, 1880-1935.
Edited by Karl Beckson and John M. Munro.
Basingstoke: Macmillan 1989.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Writings.
Edited with an introduction by Roger Holdsworth.
Manchester: Fyfield Books 2003.

Symons, Arthur: The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Edited by Matthew Creasy.
Manchester: Carcanet 2014.

Duclos, Michèle: Un regard anglais sur le symbolisme français.
Arthur Symons, Le mouvement symboliste en littérature (1899), généalogie, traduction, influence.
Paris: L'Harmattan 2016.

Symons, Arthur: Selected Early Poems.
Edited with an introduction and notes by Jane Desmarais and Chris Baldick.
Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association 2017.

Symons, Arthur: Spiritual Adventures.
Edited with an introduction and notes by Nicholas Freeman.
Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association 2017.





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