poems

Gérard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval (1808 – 1855) was one of several pseudonyms used by Gérard Labrunie, who translated Goethe’s Faust at age 19 and continued to import German Romanticism into French while also reverting to Renaissance poets for sonnet forms. A theater critic, travel writer and prose stylist, he is also ranked, on the basis of a dozen evocative sonnets, as one of the finest French poets. Subject to repeated schizophrenic breakdowns, he died at 47.

 

Armand Sully Prudhomme

Armand Sully Prudhomme (1839 – 1907) was a student of law and philosophy who worked for years in the office of a Parisian notary after vision problems prevented a career in engineering. His writing efforts, encouraged by Leconte de Lisle, extended the Parnassian style, which objected to both Symbolism and free verse and hoped to restore the classical standards of elegance, calm and impersonality. Despite the small quantity of his verse and essays, Prudhomme was awarded the first Nobel Prize for literature, in 1901.

 

 

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891) was a French poet who wrote some of the most remarkable poetry and prose of the 19th century. He prefigured surrealism and free verse, and was a major figure in symbolism. Precocious and miserable in provincial France, he ran away to Paris at 16, where he read voraciously and lived in alcoholic squalor, sometimes with Paul Verlaine. Widely regarded as a prodigy, he wrote all of his poetry in the space of less than five years. Before age 21, he burned his last manuscripts and is not known to have written other work.

 

Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1891, the only child of upper-middle class Jewish parents. As a child, she was partly educated at home because of weak health, and for the same reason her parents discouraged her from a career in dancing, in which she had begun to excel.

 

Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1897) holds the most wide-ranging influence of the French Symbolist poets. A respected reviewer and critic whose translations of Edgar Allan Poe were much admired in his time, he died young, at only forty-six, but left behind a legacy of work at the center of which stands his masterpiece, the poems of Les Fleurs du mal, first published in 1857 to shock and acclaim.

 

Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf in either 1797 or 1799. He has been called the last of the Romantics, no doubt because he clearly skirted Romanticism through irony and satire. His university career progressed from Bonn in 1819 to Göttingen in 1820 to the more intellectual climate of the University of Berlin; by 1823 he had fled Berlin as well. When Prussia legislated against Jews taking university posts, Heine converted to Protestantism (1825), saying this was “the ticket of admission into European culture,” and changed his name from Harry to Heinrich.

 

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) was a German playwright and poet. A dedicated Marxist, Brecht is perhaps best known for helping to develop the theatrical movement known as epic theater, which considered the stage a medium for exploring political ideas and dialectical materialism. Over his lifetime, Brecht wrote two books of fiction, multiple theoretical works on theatre, over fifty plays, and hundreds of poems. He composed “Vom ertrunkenen Mädchen” [Of the Drowned Girl] after the brutal murder of revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg during the Spartacist Uprising of 1919.

 

Gaspara Stampa

Gaspara Stampa was born in Padua in about 1523 to Bartolomeo and Cecilia Stampa. Her father, a jewel merchant, died in the early 1530s leaving the family impoverished. Cecilia moved to her native city, Venice, where Gaspara and her sister Cassandra became celebrated musicians.

 

Cecco Angiolieri

Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260 – c. 1312), the son of a banker father and noblewoman mother, lived in Siena and wrote roughly 110 sonnets. He sometimes found himself in legal and financial troubles, and upon his death he left an indebted estate to his children. At some point he met Dante, possibly when both were involved in Siena’s and Florence’s alliance against Arezzo in the Battle of Campaldino (1289). Three of Angiolieri’s sonnets to Dante exist, perhaps as a part of a tenzone or poets’ exchange.

 

C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933) is the most famous and arguably greatest of the Modern Greek Poets. He was born and died in Alexandria, but spent part of his childhood in Liverpool (his first poems were in English and he is said to have spoken Greek with an English accent), and he lived for a time in Constantinople. His subjects range from homosexual love affairs to arcane Hellenistic history, but his treatments of them share a remove in time, a distance or irony. His poems were collected only after his death. Many celebrations this past year have marked the sesquicentennial of his birth.

 

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