*Imitateur, Alain Bosquet

Je parle de vieillesse à la femme que j'aime;
on me répond : « C'est dans Ronsard, tout ça. » Je parle
d'un deuil profond et d'une enfant qui s'est noyée;
on me répond : « Tout ça, c'est dans Victor Hugo. »

Je parle d'un coeur lourd comme un lac en colère;
on me répond: « Tout ça, tu vois c'est Lamartine. »
Je parle de musique et d'un parc dans la brume;
On me répond: « Tout ça, Verlaine y est passé. »

Je parle de partir, là-bas vers l'équateur;
on me répond: « Tout ça, c'est Rimbaud. » Je parle
de mon orgueil et de ma solitude amère;

On me répond : « C'est dans Vigny, t'as pas de chance. »
Je ne parlerai plus, de peur de les gêner,
ces salauds qui sans moi ont écrit mes poèmes.

*extrait de Sonnets pour une fin de siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1980)     --     Listen to a RealAudio recording of the poem.

QUESTIONNAIRE - Répondez en français ou en anglais.

1. What does the title suggest?
2. Spot and classify all the pronouns in the poem.
3. Name and locate the different verb tenses used. Do you see anything significant in the patterns of their use?
4. What is the fixed form imitated in this poem?
5. Name ways in which this suggested or said?
6. What is the origin of this fixed form?
7. What else do you know about it?
8. What is missing in this form?
9. What is the form of the discourse within the poem (it's voice, how it addresses intended readers)?
10. What phrases are repeated?
11. Pretending that the stanzas did not matter, how would you divide the poem up, and why?
12. Who is "on"? Does the text of the poem itself give you any hints?
13. Find all of the poems to which Bosquet makes reference (Good luck with Verlaine!).
14. Give their approximate dates (what century dominates the references).
15. Say something more about the works referred to, other than what Bosquet says.
16. What does Bosquet call the other poets, and why?
17. The creation of how many poems does Bosquet claim has been thwarted by those who wrote before him?
18. What French words stand for the emotional and psychological forces which would have inspired these poems?
19. What is the possible irony of the last two lines?
20. What is the flaw in Bosquet's logic, in the matter of poetic creation?
21. Do you think that a poem or story should be completely original to be good? Why or why not?
22. What is the overall tone of the poem? Is it formal or informal? What tells you this?

23. The Amazon.com site shows 43 published book titles (novels, collections of poetry, criticism, translations) for this prolific scholarly author, whose real name is Anatole Bisk (1919-1998). You might ask yourselves about what could be a motivation for what this poem states and its manner of presentation, with the assistance of some biographical information:

24. Tell me what was Bosquet's native language?
25. How do you feel about authors writing in a language other than their own?
26. Do you sense that Bosquet may have had reason to know more about French writers throughout history that say the average aspiring French poet of his day? Explain.
27. Do you see any of Bosquet's aphorisms which might shed some light on the wisdom or the poet's attitude in "Imitateur"?

28. Try hunting for the same things as well as contrasting ideas in this poem:

29. In his reaction to an article by Antonio G. Rodriguez, published in the French Review 44, no. 4 (March 1971), 665-76, Bosquet said "En fait, un texte n'existe (je veux dire: ne peut être durable) que s'il répond à deux sollicitations. La première consiste à se plier aux règles de la dialectique classique et à résister à l'assaut de l'intelligence qu'il doit en tous points satisfaire. La seconde conviction est plus difficile à définir: il s'agit pour le texte d'échapper à ses propres lois et d'aquérir une valeur invisible, la valeur de prolongement." (675-76)

Does "Imitateur" conform to anything the poet seems to say in the above remark?

30. What is originality? Why do we admire it? Can it not become a kind of false god in the realm of art, literature and music? 31. If you have access to any of Bosquet's poetry (the titles in this bibliography), it would be interesting to see of he develops any whole poems around the themes indicated in "Imatateur".

32. Find six French poems other than the ones mentioned in Bosquet's sonnet and on themes other than those mentioned there. Now imagine you are Bosquet, writing to lament that these have been covered by poets who came before him, and write another sonnet of complaint in French.



Notes on Poetic Voice in Bosquet's "Imitateur"

Defining poetic voice within this work is more complex than one might think. There is a dialogue aspect to the poem where the voices identified by the text as "je" and "on" spar, roughly by couplets. The "je" claims it is expounding a poetic theme, announced with the words "je parle de...", and the ambiguous "on" (as reported by the "je" narrator) replies that what the "je" proposes has already been done. This only breaks down in the last couplet, where we find the "je" contemplating the work of previous poets mentioned in the first twelve lines of the sonnet, and where the "on" is not present in the the third-person half of the couplet, leaving only a third person plural, representing six dead poets. Of course, this dialog may only be a front for a poet having a conversation with himself, or perhaps with a quarrelsome muse.

There is also a kind of hidden dialogue, whose participating voices would be what the narrator may have proposed as a poem on each announced theme, facing off against the particular work of another poet which must have surfaced in the mind of the wet-blanket hypothetical interlocutor, the "on". Precision in this is limited to how well the reader has guessed what poems are implied when Bosquet links a particular poet with an announced theme.

As if this were not complicated enough, we must also ask ourselves if the title of the poem "Imitateur", was meant to suggest anything about the any of the poem's voices. The most appropriate definition given this word in the Petit Robert is third: "3. Personne qui imite (les oeuvres d'autrui). V. Epigone suiveur. 'Des disciples, des imitateurs, des suiveurs... En un mot, une tradition' (Gide)..." Another possible definition would be a translator who chooses to very loosely interpret a text, abandoning the semantic "quest for equivalence" in favor of a recontextualization of a poem in a setting contemporary to the translator and her/his own culture. An example of this might be William Ernest Henley, in "Villon's Straight Tip to all Cross Coves", which "imitates", rather than translates François Villon's poem, "Ballade de bonne doctrine". The American poet, Robert Lowell, published an entire volume, Imitations, in 1961, where he does this with a variety of non anglophone authors. Who is the imitator in Bosquet's poem? Are the poets cited by Bosquet themselves imitators of earlier authors from whom they have borrowed themes or recontextualized discourse? Is there a real voice at the origin of each theme?

Alain Bosquet Webliography

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