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Unacknowledged LegislatorsThe Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France$
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Roger Pearson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198754473

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198754473.001.0001

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A Purpose for Sadness

A Purpose for Sadness

‘Poèmes antiques et modernes’ (1826)

(p.507) 20 A Purpose for Sadness
Unacknowledged Legislators

Roger Pearson

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines Vigny’s first collection of poems, tracing its evolution through several editions and discussing its illustration of a tripartite history of poetry that extends from the poetry of ancient Greece, through biblical poetry of the kind championed by Chateaubriand and the early Lamartine, to a poetry expressive of the modern world. Where Lamartine had revived the elegy and Hugo the ode, Vigny’s preference was for the ‘poème’, a form of narrative verse in which compassionate accounts of human suffering support the poet-lawgiver’s overt agenda of stoical acceptance and human self-sufficiency. For Vigny’s poet there is no God, no transcendent realm, just a world of literal fact to be interpreted by human reason for the moral guidance of others. Poetry as a form of pity thus lends a purpose to sadness.

Keywords:   Vigny, ‘poème’, Poèmes antiques et modernes, pity, ancient Greek poetry, the Bible

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