Literature plays a great role in helping to learn a foreign language. Like French songs, French poetry has two great advantages: it helps one to appreciate the beauty of the sound of the French language; and it is also a great aid in pronunciation, since each word is usually recited clearly and with precision. French poetry can enhance French studies.
Victor Hugo stands out as one of the leaders of the Romantic Movement. Like Shakespeare in England he was a poet as well as a dramatist. He was also a novelist, essayist and critic. Shakespeare‘s influence of n the English language remains steadfast, and Hugo’s work is compared to that of Shakespeare. His work not only influenced writers and poets of the French language, such as Charles Baudelaire; but also poets of the English language like Alfred Lord Tennyson and Walt Whitman.
Despite the fact that critical editions and translations of Hugo’s poetry into the English language have been inaccessible; in recent times, his work has inspired international scholarly activity. His poems on love, nature and death should be introduced to students of French. Among these are Les Feuilles d’automne(1831), Les Chants du crepuscule (1835) and Les Rayons et les Ombres (1840). His L’Année Terrible of 1872 can give students some insight into French history, especially the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870.
Alphonse De Lamartine
Alphonse De Lamartine is another pioneer of the French Romantic poets whose work students of French should become acquainted with.He was also a novelist as well as a historian and essayist. His Méditations Poétiques, Jocelyn and Harmonies poétiques et religieuses should definitely be part of a program to enhance French studies. Les Méditations Poétiques(1820) was Lamartine’s first publication of poetry which owns him immediate acclaim. It is a collection twenty-four poems which are most delightful to read.
One of the poems in Les Méditations Poétiques is entitled Le Lac. It is written in highly melodious and emotional verse and epitomizes the lyrical qualities of his poetry. Students would enjoy reading and also dramatically reciting aloud these verses. French poetry is generally considered to have begun in 1820 with the collection of these poems. Lamartine is remembered as a significant figure in the history of French literature. His poetry is said to have marked the transition from the restraints of the former neoclassical area to the passion and lyricism of the Romantic period.
Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Rimbaud
Charles Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud are two of the leading poets of literary period referred to as the Period of Symbolism (1860-1890). It was a complex and influential literary and political movement which flourished during the last two decades of the 19th century.
Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal which was published in 1857, is now regarded as one of the most important and influential collections of 19th century poetry. Mallarmé’s L’Après-Midi d’un faune and Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre, Les Illuminations and Une saison en enfer, should definitely be included in a program in learning French.The Symbolist movement for poets was short-lived in French literary history but it has had a lasting and profound effect on the subsequent course of world literature.
Students should enjoy reciting and translating these poems. They can compare their own translations against professional translations acquired by the teacher.
Here is a lovely verse from Lamartine’s Le Lac which your students can try their hand at translating:
Aimons donc, aimons donc! De l’heure fugitive
L’homme n’a point de port, le temps n’a point de rive ;
Il coule, et nous passons !