Stagnation and boredom in most cases brings about a revolution in change, which gives reason as to why the face of French poetry reshaped during the 1880’s. This new poetry, known as Symbolism, emerged from a group of iconoclastic writers who challenged the provincial norms of French writing. "They wrote largely for themselves, ignoring what they called a frivolous reading public which included well known writers and their bourgeois audience." (Houston, 3). This backlash was consequential to their lack of traditional literary structure of prose, vocabulary, and syntax. The expression and feeling that was put into symbolist poetry was far more important than a strict use of grammar. Although this movement consisted of many writers, Stephane Mallarme, Charles Baudelaire and Paul Valery remain at the forefront of this revolutionary style of poetry.
On the contrary to the majority’s aesthetic opinion, Stephane Mallarme remains as the most popular figure of the Symbolist movement. Tearing down all that was present in proper literary structure, Mallarme was truly one of the most rebellious in his writing style. ."Mallarme’s writing is devoid of rhetoric. Not only did he peel the French language to its essential meaning, freeing it from the lexical encumbrances of time and place, but once the start meanings were faced he then attacked the semantic functions of which usage had subjected them"(Balakian, 33) With a lack for proper grammar, Mallarmes writing only appealed to a select few in the French literary circle an reading public. Some critics believed that he lacked the ability to write at all. This was partly due to the fact that, Mallarme’s use of complex language suggested that writing did not come easy for him. "The heaviness of much of his prose suggests the difficulties he had in communicating his ideas." (Balarian, 27) These opinions did not affect Mallarme because they kept him out of the mainstream that he despised.

Stephane Mallarme

Carles Baudelair


Like Mallarme, Charles Baudelair alludes to a similar quality of darkness, but it is contrived through different subject matter. He often referenced nature in his poetry, which he depicted in a rather negative manner. His poems show how " Nature and man in an eternal struggle, puts the quietus to mother nature as mans great friend and protector (Macintyre, 7) With Baudelairs subject matter it is easy for a reader to become entrapped in his mentality of humanist power. "Obsession", a poem by Baudalair, displays the matter in which this poet views nature as mans enemy. Forests and oceans are cursed for their very existence and are said to bring nothing, but grief. Baudelair will more lily be remembered for his powerful subject matter, rather than a rebellious style.
Paul Valery shared similar thoughts to both Mallarme and Baudelair, but in a slightly different manner. He is often seen as a cosmic poet, due to his subject matter on obtaining self-awareness. Like Mallarme, Valery shared a close interest with breaking down the status quo, however his work is seen as more credible. His grammar was not as unclear in form as Mallarme was, but he still broke away from total formalism. Nature played a part in Valery’s writing as well, and he believed that man must be separated from nature to obtain self-awareness. These ideas were fresh to the 19th century reader, and they helped give shape and substance to the symbolist movement we know today.
Paul Valery
An early american edition of Valery's famous work Monsieur Teste. Printed by Knopf (1948).

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