Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August 16: Birthday of Jules Laforgue

The French Symbolist poet, Jules Laforgue was born on this day in 1860, in Montevideo, Uruguay. He died of tuberculosis just twenty-seven years later (on August 20th 1887) at his home in Paris -- the fifth floor flat at 8 rue de Commaille (pictured above).

Today (August 16th 2007) on the 147th anniversary of his birth, I hereby inaugurate The Jules Laforgue Appreciation Society and corresponding website (

And now, a few brief inaugural words from Jules (from Mona Tobin Houston and John Porter Houston's beautiful English translation* of the tenth poem from Laforgue's Derniers vers - go HERE for the full French version):

"Alas, alas, and no more possibility of wandering, hypochondria and rain, and no more, alone under the ancient skies, the possibility of acting crazy! Poor demented madman without hearth or home (a poor, poor unloved madman)! And then, falling very low to purify my flesh and exult in the dawn by fleeing from myself in a train. O Literature, O Fine Arts, I am like some special angel completely unlike anyone else. I will have spent my life in the train station, almost setting off on deplorable adventures. All that for the love of my heart crazy for the glory of love. How picturesque the trains we miss! How "goodby for now" the boats at the end of the pier! The well-built pier protecting me from the sea, from my flesh, from love."
* Houston, John Porter, and Mona Tobin Houston. French Symbolist Poetry: An Anthology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

And Warren Ramsey's translation* of Laforgue, On Poets:

"Since they are idle and childlike they have time to be afraid of death and are frightened by all its calls, the winds of autumn nights, twilights, the whistles of express trains — they need to be pitied, comforted, and are sad for everything and for nothing — life passes for them as for a grave and curious child who turns through fine colored pictures and finds among them friends, and traitors, and beautiful forlorn ladies whom he consoles."
* Ramsey, Warren. Jules Laforgue and the Ironic Inheritance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Okay, so you can't miss the desperate romanticism, note also the subtle irony.

I confess to a certain amount of embarrassment at my passion for this mode of writing, this mode of being. When I first read Laforgue in my early twenties I felt a great affinity, not just for the aching melodrama with the self-concious irony, but also for his use of mundane details to convey emotion. Will write more about this later. It was many years later (when I fell for T. S. Eliot) that I also learned of Eliot's passion for Laforgue, more on THAT later as well.

Laforgue's vision of constant yearning and melancholy surely impacted my intimacy skills — focused so exclusively on the idea of pursuit and never giving a pragmatic thought to what happens after. And he is so clearly resigned to this state of hopeless longing — he will perenially pine for his love object, recognizing his own inability to commit to a mature relationship. Embracing and celebrating his own melancholic loneliness he then magnifies his desire even further by giving voice to his idealized, excessively chaste picture of the love that is always out of reach.

I've always been drawn to this in Gide as well. And, at the same time ashamed at the obvious immaturity of this world view. But it makes for fertile creative material.

More postings to come. In the meantime you can learn more about Jules Laforgue at