If you do not speak a particular language it is perhaps difficult to appreciate the significance of any of the literary works that have come from a certain country or culture. For most of us such is the case with the work of French poets, which may not be familiar to us in and of themselves, but their influence may well have filtered into more recognizable avenues.
Such is the case of young Arthur Rimbaud born in 1854 whose short life is packed with adventure and innovation. Born in Charleville-Mézières, France he began writing at an early age and although an exceptional student ran away to Paris as a teenager and produced most of his work before the age of 21. His career though short lived is said to have greatly influenced the Surrealist movement and that of the Dadaists and he is credited with creating a symbolist style which would be adopted later by many other writers.
Regarded as one of the most influential lyrical poets of the 20th century Paul Eluard was born in 1895 and was initially influenced by his associations with the Surrealist poets of that time producing some of that genres most noteworthy examples. His later connections with the political world influenced the direction of his work and the Second World War encouraged him to write beyond the obvious tragedies and focus on a message of hope.
Victor Hugo, born 1802, will perhaps be more recognizable as a name from the literary world that has transcended the barriers of language and culture. Best known for his novel Les Misérables, which now appears regularly as a musical, he started his literary journey writing poetry and by the end of his illustrious career was considered to be at the fore front of the Romantic Literary movement in France.
Following the First World War many artists and writers became disillusioned and cynical about the way the world was heading and this was reflected in their work at that time. André Breton a poet and writer was born in 1896 and quickly established himself as an anti-fascist. His contact with likeminded and even more extreme individuals during his time serving in the war shaped much of his work and he is credited with being the founder of the Surrealist movement that would be influential for some time to come.
Eugène Guillevic, more commonly known professionally as simply Guillevic, was born in Carnac France in 1907 and died in 1997. He was one of the more familiar French poets of the latter part of the 20th century and his straightforward approach to writing was reflected in his no frills use of language, preferring to forgo the use of metaphor which he found to be misleading. Like many French writers he was passionate about politics and became a communist sympathizer during the Spanish civil war joining the party officially in 1942. Later he was recognized for his poetic works when he received several prizes and accolades and some of his engaging work can be read in translation though much of it remains in his mother tongue. Maybe it’s time to learn French so these and many other wonderful poets can be truly appreciated.