An introduction to the art of reading poetry, specifically French poetry. I will be teaching you the rules to which French verse must obey in order to deserve that name. We will see how those rules apply as illustrated by a poem by Victor Hugo. In the later meetings, we will rely on this background for our explication of sonnets written by younger poets (born around 1820 and later): Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Valéry. Although a fairly good command of French is expected, I will take into account the difficulties which a non-native reader unavoidably has with these texts.
I taught French literature at the University of Michigan between 1966 and 1994 and have a very dear memory of initiating my students to the often obscure language of poets of the 19th and 20th century. It was a very rewarding experience for them and also for me. Most people today do not know how to react to texts which seem absurd and yet deal with the most fundamental questions that we ask ourselves. You will hopefully leave this course having overcome your inhibitions in the face of poetry, whether French or not.