Translation of the week: Jules Lemaître on poetry

It is only too true that no-one reads poetry these days. Victor Hugo I except; his verses, though they have become sacred, still do get a bit of attention. Everyone has heard the Revenant or the Pauvres gens at some matinée, recited by a fat lady or a gentleman dressed in black; there are students who have perused the Châtiments and even leafed through the Légende des siècles. Musset, for his part, is no longer the “poet of the youth” of today.
Inspired by Justin Smith’s Thursday Translations.
He has continued, even so, to struggle against the indifference of the public; but some of his latest readers do him no favors. As for Lamartine, who still likes him, who still knows him? Perhaps, in the provinces, some solitary, some convent-girl of seventeen who hides him at the bottom of her desk. And remember that Lamartine is more than a poet—he is pure poetry itself. Baudelaire has his faithful, but their admiration is often pathetic.
And who, among those we call the public of today, loves and understands that marvel, the Émaux et Camées? […]
Poets, minor or major, are not really read except by other poets. Perhaps because poetry has become in our day an art more and more refined and special and that, whether through impotence or disdain, it no longer has much oratorical or lyrical stamina. Around 1830, when poets were expressing broadly and full-throatedly widely-shared feelings and passions understandable to everyone, they did not lack for readers. It is likely, then, that poetry owes its failing fortunes to the increasing predominance of artistic curiosity over inspiration.

LinkSeptember 24, 2009 in Literature