The Symbolist Poets

A parallel revolt against the traditional modes of expression took place in poetry under the leadership of the Symbolists, who strove for direct poetic experience unspoiled by intellectual elements. They sought to suggest rather than describe, to present the symbol rather than the state of the thing.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)

My Bohemian Life by Arthur Rimbaud

I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvellous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

Symbolism as a literary movement came to the forefront in the work of Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98), Paul Verlaine (1844-96), and Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91). These poets were strongly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), whose writings were introduced into France by his admirer, Baudelaire. They experimented in free verse forms that opened new territories to their art, achieving a language indefiniteness that had hitherto been the privilege of music alone.

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