12 APRIL 1873, Page 17

POEMES BARBARES.* THE latter part of this century has witnessed

the disappearance- of most of the highest ornaments of French literature, and their places remain vacant. A country cannot, it is true, boast many times of periods equal in brilliancy to the twenty years- between 1820 and 1840. Most of the characters of that memor- able time, Balzac, Sainte-Beuve, Frederic Soulie, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Theophile Gautier, and- Alfred de /gusset, were gifted with real genius. In political. economy, there were Proudhon and Comte ; in history, Louis. Blanc, Edgar Quinet, Mignet ; in romance, George Sand ; in poetry, Hugo, Lamartine, Gautier—not to speak of Jules Janin, Ponsard, Scribe, and a host of other minor stars—and each went his own way, wrote in his own style, in his own ideas, shunned

• Panes Barbara. Par Leconte de Lisle. Paris: Alphonse Lemerre. Poisles de Sully Prudliamme. Paris : Alphonse Lemerre. imitation, and felt not that unfortunately too frequent tendency among the most distinguished minds of abiding by the rules of a school. The times have undergone considerable change ; Balzac's realm has fallen to M. Edmond About ; Alexandre Dumas, the author of Antony, Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, Utz Mariage sous Louis XV., has left his place to his son, the author of Une Visite de Pieces and La Femme de Claude. The poets have not been much happier with their heirs. Charles Baudelaire is succeeded by M. Coppee, and Thdophile Gautier by M. Catulle Mendez. In fact, the present generation aboun Is in clever men—not in men of genius—in dramatists who supply absence of dramatic power by stage knowledge and suppleness of wit ; novelists who live on the past ; poets who make up for lack of originality by quaintness of rhythm and affectation of form. The lustre of their predeces- sors seems to dazzle and discourage them, and many, thinking that they cannot equal a Balzac or a Hugo, are content with imitating the one or the other. The listless, wearied, blasé taste of the public gives them no encouragement ; if they wish to be read, they must amuse ; if they wish to amuse, they most flatter ; and this they cannot do but at the sacrifice of their independence ; a poet must be erotic, like M.usset ; a novelist must be immoral, like M. Adolphe Belot. On these conditions only does French writing prosper at the present time.

But it would be unjust not to admit that this prevalent corrup- tion of French literature, which will see its decline, just as the classical school of the end of the last century, is not general. There are a few exceptions, and M. Leconte de Lisle, the author of the Poetizes Barbares, is the most brilliant of those who have rebelled against the golden yoke of public tyranny. M. Leconte de Lisle has, as a matter of course, suffered the usual punishment inflicted on writers who refuse to stoop down to the reader who -ought to rise to their level; most of his countrymen ignore his risme; a boulevardier could not exactly say whether he is a poet at all; in these circumstances, it is not surprising that he should stand in the world of letters as one of the great poets of the time, while with the common kind his name is only remarkable for its similarity with that of the author of the Marseillaise. Meanwhile, with the haughtiness which is the usual characteristic of his manner, M. Leconte de Lisle has paid but little attention to the indifference of his compatriots, and has contributed to French literature works of singular power and pregnancy. The last, Poetizes Barbares, affords the best sample of his strange genius, so strange indeed, that M. Leconte de Lisle's nationality becomes a matter of doubt for his reader. All countries have yielded at times men whose temperaments, ideas, and leanings were entirely foreign,—men born in their wrong place, brought up in a society which was unfitted for their dispositions ; such was Alfred de Vigny, who was far more English than French, and Thdophile Gautier, whose nature was singularly Oriental. The same may be said of M. Leconte de Lisle. He is more a Greek than a Frenchman ; he seems to have inspired himself with the wild grandeur of ...Eichylus, to have identified himself with the haughty loftiness of the greatest of Grecian dramatists, and to have intro- duced in the use of the French language a foreign manner which 'is wholly without precedent. The Poetizes Barbares are composed of a great variety of pieces, principally written in alexandrines, all of them remarkable for their marvellous harmony and rich rhyme ; the poet cleverly avoids the monotony inseparable from the metre he prefers by making use of the rejet, which consists in carrying over without break to the second and third line the idea developed in the first, a manner much in favour with the members of the Parnasse littiraire, which would destroy rhythm, unless effected by a masterly hand :- " Thogorma dans ses yens sit monter des =rallies Do for d'oit s'enroulaient des spirales de tours,

Et de palais cercles d'airain sur des blocs lourda.'

For his resources of language and free treatment of versifica- tion, without triviality and incorrectness, M. Leconte de Lisle may bear, as far as we can see, comparison with any French poet, both modern and ancient. But there are few of his verses that are not full of bitterness and despair ; whether this results from the wrong he has suffered at the hands of the public, added to a sombre predisposition, or to the natural tournure of his mind, it is difficult to say. M. Leconte leaves to poets who dislike harsh and portentous subjects the softer tone more congenial with the celebration of tender sentiments, and when occasiotally he relapses into some dreamy souvenir of love, expressed in strains so sweet that one almost regrets that he should not always write in the same mood, in spite of the fine, bitter verses which have preceded these gentler expressions, M. Leconte de Lisle seems as if ashamed of betraying transient weakness, and resumes the avenging tone

of a man who believes in justice, honesty, and goodness, but who despairs of their eventual triumph. To quote an instance among

many, we find an Oriental piece, Le Mancky, in which the poet, who was born in the Ile Bourbon, and sighs after the luxuriant

vegetation and dazzling sun of the tropics, recalls a first love, and finishes with these verses, full of tender pathos :—

"Maintenant, dans lea sables asides de nos greves, Sous les chiendonts, au bruit dos mere,

Tn dora parmi les morts qui me sont chore, 0 charmer do mss premiers reves!"

Then, in another part of the book, in contrast with this, is a fierce anathema hurled " aux Modernes"

" Vous vivez lgchement, sans rev°, sans dessein,

Plus vieux, plus decrepits que la terra infeconde, Chatres dos le b3rceau par le siecle assassin Do touts passion vigoureuse et profonde.

Votre cervollo est vide autaut que votre sein,

Et vows avoz souffle ce miserable monde

D'un sang si corrompu, d'un souffle si malsain, Que la mort germe souls on cotte bone immonde.

Hommes, tueurs de Dieux, les temps no sent pee loin Oft, sur un grand tas d'or, vautres dana quelque coin, Ayant rouge le aol nourrissior jusqu'aux roches, Ne sachant plus que faire ni des jours ni dos nuits, Noyes dans le neant des supremos ennuis, Vous mourrez betement en emplissant vos poches."

And what a supreme expression of despair, of indifference for life, in these words !—

"J'entends gemir les marts sous les herbes froissees.

0 pales habitants de is nuit sans resell, Quel amer souvenir, troubhsnt votre sommeil, S'echappe en sourds sanglots do vos levros glacees?

" Oubliez, oubliez ! cos comirs sont consumes; Do sang et do chaleurs cos arteres sent vides.

0 morts, morts bionhoureux, en prole aux sere asides, Sonvenez sous plutat de la vie, et dormez !

Ah ! dens vos lits profonds grand je pourrai descendre, Comma us forcat visilli qui volt tomber sea fors, Que j'aimerai sentir, fibre des mans soufferts, Ce qui fut mot rentrer dana is commons cendre

At times M. Leconte de Lisle's verses become positively savage, as in l'Anathenze, la Fin de l'Homme, and it is almost painful to fol- low him in his sinister denunciations against what he considers the perversity of mankind. However, this sourness of spirit is not wholly prevalent in those poems which contain a philosophical object. One of these, Kain, deserves particular mention, for in conception, in power, and in language it is unique ; a comparison with Byron's work on the same subject would be interesting, and

it may be said, out of justice to M. Leconte de Lisle, that his pro-

duction could bear the parallel with advantage, and that this single piece would ensure him a place of honour among the great poets of France. it is a pity that he should not prefer the splendid style, pregnant with the finest qualities, of Kalil to the sombre tints but too common with him. It appears to us that if he threw away the dark glasses through which

ho looks at the world, M. Leconte de Lisle would become

accessible to a large class of readers, who do not care to hear too ugly things, however well said they may be. There is yet another subject in which M. Leconte excels, and which con- stitutes one of the chief attractions of the Poemes Barbares; he is obviously partial to the description of Nature in its primeval state; he delights in virgin forests, in tropical landscapes, in the

"royalty of wild beasts," to use the expression of a French novelist. In this special department, to the best of our belief

untouched by any French poet, the author of the Poetizes Barbares is unimpeachable ; his descriptions are worthy of the things he depicts; there is a luxuriance, a vivacity of colouring, and a power of imagination in these peculiar verses which might better entitle them to be called " Poemes Indians ;" and the. French lan-

guage has seldom been used to a more curious and clever purpose

Au tintement de l'eau dans les porphyres roux Les rosiers de l'Iran melent leer frais murmures, Et les ramiers reveurs leur roucoulement dons. Tandis qua l'oiseau frele et lo frelon jaloux Siffiant et bonrdonnant mordent les agues mares Les rosiers de ('Iran melent lours frais murmures Au tintement de l'eau dans les porphyres roux."

To sum up the merits of the Poemes Barbares, BEL Leconte de

Lisle has his shortcomings, which the greatest of writers are not exempt from ; he is harsh and sceptical at times ; he may be charged with making an abuse of proper names, which occasionally

clash with the harmony of the verse in anything but a pleasant manner, and he has some few favourite expressions, like elle dardait sea prunelles, which reappear more often than is absolutely neces- sary. Bat such comparatively slight defects are not sufficient to conceal the real worth of his work. There remains a poet of really great genius,—such a one as France has not produced many in

the course of this century. Poetical genius is incomplete without a perfect form ; M. Leconte de Lisle has it. Whether he remains what he now is, or exchanges his present ideas on the aspirations of modern society for a more hopeful and humane view, he must be considered as the greatest living French poet, after Victor Hugo ; and it is to be hoped for the sake of Frenchmen of the period, that they may be enabled to read him and reader him full justice.

It is doing to M. Sully Pradhomme's poems more wrong than they deserve to speak of their merits after reviewing the POelltei Barbares. M. Pradhomme is a young writer of promise ; he is justly considered as one of the worthiest poets of the Parnasse contemporaire ; he has made himself known by several meritorious productions ; these he has collected in the volume under our notice. Like most of his brother Purnassiens, he is especially remarkable for finish and refined expression ; he writes very pretty things,

so simple and innocent that a young lady fresh from the boarding- school might read them without the slightest danger. But this is all we can say in his favour. M. Sully Prudhomme is skilful ; his work is too " elegant." He has form without genius. As an elegant rimeur, however, M. Sully Prudhomme deserves commendation.