Introduction to Poetry in French
The following extract from a sonnet by Stéphane Mallarmé may well seem virtually incomprehensible even to advanced students of French:
A la nue accablante tu
Basse de basalte et de laves
A même les échos esclaves
Par une trompe sans vertu
Quel sépulcral naufrage (tu
Le sais, écume, mais y baves)
Suprême une entre les épaves
Abolit le mât dévêtu…
While Mallarmé’s verse is unusually – and deliberately – difficult, a lot of people simply find poetry hard to understand and enjoy. French 3502 is designed to give you the tools to be able to read poetry in French with both understanding and enjoyment.
French 3502 begins with the most fundamental difference between English and French poetry: whereas most English poetry is metrical, using rhythmic "feet" of different kinds to vary stress patterns within a line of verse, French poetry is for the most part simply based on the use of certain fixed numbers of syllables in each line with a number of fixed and floating stress accents that tends to vary only within very narrow limits. This basic fact turns out to be related to deep underlying differences between the languages, and has a profound impact on how poetry is composed, read and understood in French. French 3502 introduces the student to a wide variety of poetic forms by a large number of poets selected from all periods of French literature including both Renaissance and contemporary verse, and from the literatures of France, Quebec and other French-speaking areas. The basic lyrical verse forms such as the sonnet, the rondeau, and the madrigal are all covered in detail, as are the fundamental principles underpinning the use of rhyme and rhythm in French poetry. Stylistic and rhetorical devices commonly found in poetry are treated in detail: these include the use of enjambement, polysemy, simile, metaphor, allegory, personification, and symbolism; tropes such as synecdoche and metonymy may also be analyzed. Because poetry remains a fundamentally oral literary form, a large part of the course is devoted to understanding the many techniques used by poets writing in French to accommodate their verse to a language relatively lacking in stress accents: these include the use of such devices as alliteration, internal rhyme, harmonie imitative and the construction of deliberately repeated complex patterns of sound.
One or more anthologies of French-language poetry are normally used. Recent selections include Poètes du Québec, edited by Jacques Cotnam, and Le livre d’or de la poésie française, edited by Pierre Seghers. These anthologies are typically supplemented with material distributed in class.
Term mark, assigned to a combination of compositions, tests and assignments normally including an oral presentation, is usually given a weight of 60%, while a written final examination counts 40%.
French 3502 is offered about every two years in the Fall or Winter Semester.
Students who have completed French 3502 and who wish to continue their study of literature should consider one of French 3500, 3501, 3503 or 3504; several courses at the 4000-level may also build on material taught in 3502.Two courses from this group are the prerequisites for 4000-level literature courses.