What is the poet's mood like

Alfred de Musset's "La nuit de mai" - An interpretation

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Alfred de Musset - life and work

3. Les Nuits - embedding the Nuit de May in the complete works

4. La nuit de mai - An interpretation

5. Final remarks


Primary literature:

Secondary literature:


1 Introduction

“Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux” is what is probably the most famous verse in Alfred de Musset's poem La nuit de mai from 1835.

These few words describe Musset's mood at that time very succinctly, as this poem was written shortly after his failed love affair with the poet and novelist George Sand. In this mood of the poet is also the inspiration to Nuit de May to search.

The Nuit de May, according to the testimony of Alfred de Musset's brother Paul "written down in two days and one night of poetic enthusiasm" (Luscher 1991: 133), is the first dialogue between the creative genius of the poet Alfred de Musset and the one betrayed by earthly love for a woman , people penetrated by pain, who lack any strength to write (cf. Luscher 1991: 132 f.).

As part of this housework, the poem La nuit de mai interpreted, whereby the approach should be largely inherent in the work. The interpretation of the poem is preceded by two introductory chapters: First of all, it will deal with the romantic writer Alfred de Musset himself, with the aim of getting a little insight into his life and work and to better understand any interpretive approaches that are related to his life can.

In a second step, the Nuit de May in the corresponding cycle of poems, which in addition to this three more Nuit - Contains poems and was published in 1840 (cf. ibid).

The largest part of the present term paper should be devoted to the poem interpretation itself; the poem is attached to the appendix due to its size.

When interpreting, the main focus should be on the corresponding secondary literature, whereby it is my aim to incorporate numerous of my own considerations.

2. Alfred de Musset - life and work

Alfred de Musset (born December 11, 1810 in Paris, † May 2, 1857 ibid) was a French writer and is considered one of the most important personalities of French Romanticism.

He grew up as the well-protected son of noble parents in Paris, where he also attended the traditional high school Henri IV, where he completed his school days very successfully. He then began to study law and then medicine, but was mainly active as a young bon vivant; his rampant lifestyle corresponded to the contemporary ideal of dandyism with heavy alcohol and hashish consumption.

After early years of apprenticeship in the literary circles arsenal by Charles Nodier and des Cénacle by Victor Hugo, Musset came out with his own works.

The Contes d´Espagne et d´Iatlie, a collection of extremely perfectly formed poems in the style of romanticism, full of exoticism and exalted feelings.

In 1833 Musset met the novelist and poet George Sand, who was six years his senior, and began a romantic and passionate love affair with her. This liaison came to an abrupt end in the winter of 1835 on a trip to Italy together when Musset fell ill in Venice and Sand cheated on him with the doctor[1].

Musset has the subsequent crisis to his novel La confession d´un enfant du siècle and to the cycle of poems Les Nuits inspired.

In the years 1838-48 and from 1853 he was state librarian. In 1852, after two unsuccessful nominations in 1848 and 1850, he was accepted into the Académie Française, after joining the new regime of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.

The author, who was particularly popular in the second half of the 19th century, was initially denied literary success. His first play La nuit venitienne from 1830 was rejected by both contemporary audiences and classicist art judges because of its bold innovations. After this failure, Musset turned to reading drama. The most famous pieces are Les caprices de Marianne (1833), Fantasio (1834) and On ne badine pas avec l'amour (1834). In 1832 he published under the title A spectacle in a fauteuil several theatrical poems, including the historical drama Lorenzaccio from 1834.

Programmatically, the collective title announces that the author is withdrawing from the public and placing "the freedom of his imagination above aesthetic, political and religious demands" (Hölz 1989: 2068).

Musset accepted this non-conformist attitude, which also characterizes his poetry, with the intention of working against the common sense. The irrationalism, which is expressed in the creation of passionate, exalted characters, is in the aristocratic dandy Rolla in the eponymous story from 1833, the contemporary spirit of Ennui, so the weariness, represented accordingly. This tale made the author famous in his day.

At the beginning of his work, Musset's works were characterized by the themes of love, passion, jealousy, pain, melancholy, memory and the relationship between love and artistry, and were thus dominated by romantic emotional literature.

Musset later distanced himself from the principles of the romantic school, which he found to be too doctrinal. In his aesthetic libertinism, Musset finally rejected the social and humanitarian sense of responsibility of Alphonse de Lamartine, Victor Hugo and Alfred de Vigny and approached the classical taste in art, such as in the Lettres de Dupuis et Cotonet, at.

Musset also lamented the “prosaic” decadence of bourgeois ideals that went along with the Restoration and the July Revolution of 1830. The meeting of romantic and classical, individualistic and traditional traits contributes to a contradicting image of Musset to this day. With his view of history and his rebellion against contemporary art tastes, Musset questioned the bourgeois guiding principles of his epoch (cf. Hölz ​​1989: 2068 f.).

3. Les Nuits - embedding the Nuit de mai in the overall work

La nuit de mai is one of the poems from Les Nuits, a cycle of poems by Alfred de Musset, who wrote the poems La nuit de mai (1835), La nuit de décembre (1835), La nuit d´août (1837) and La nuit d'octobre (1837) includes.

The four Nuits - Poems were first published individually in the Revue des Deux Mondes published because they were not originally intended as a cycle. In 1840 they appeared in Mussets Poésies nouvelles.

Except the Nuit - This collection also contains the poems Lettre à Lamartine from 1836 as well L'espoir en Dieu and souvenir, Poems written between 1835 and 1840.

The Nuits - Poems are Musset's first poetic productions after his break with George Sand. The romantic journey to Venice undertaken with the poet brought Musset on the one hand a time of intense passion and painful disappointment, on the other hand the inalienable gain of deepening his lyrical expressiveness.

However, Musset's brother Paul already pointed out that not all thoughts and feelings in this series of poems are related to the memory of George Sand.

The Nuits, in which night-time dialogue with the poetic muse is held in alternating chants, thematize the conflict between life and poetry and thus a basic experience of the romantics. This tension seems to be overcome only "in the poetic perpetuation of shadowy, fragile happiness or the evocation of a pure fantasy world" (Luscher 1991: 132).

The cycle of poems gives an insight into Musset's thoughts on love, religion, poetry and fame and summarizes them poetically.

The Nuit de May According to Musset's brother Paul, it was written down in "two days and one night in a frenzy of poetic enthusiasm" (Luscher 1991: 133) (cf. Luscher 1991: 132 f.)

In this first poem, the poet is in dialogue with his muse, who asks him to overcome the suffering caused by love through new poetic creation, albeit without success.

In the second poem, the Nuit de décembre Instead of the muse, a man dressed in black appears to the poet who will accompany him all his life. This is the personified loneliness, the poet's symbolic double.

On the third night, the Nuit d´août, the muse accuses the poet of his poetic silence and the love experiences that the poet engages in. The poet then declares that he is indifferent to all consideration for his poetry, he wants primarily to experience both love and pain, whereby love is in the foreground, because the poet wants to renew himself through it.

Only in the last of the four poems, the Nuit d'octobre, the poet believes that he has recovered and that he has overcome his pain. He accuses his unfaithful lover, but the Muse exhorts him to forgive. Now the poet is healed, he has a new lover and feels able to write poetry again, and immediately communicates it to the muse. He and you experience rebirth at the first ray of sunshine, just as it is in nature.

The Nuit d'octobre is here as a counterpart to Nuit de May to understand: the rebirth through the poetry that is in the Nuit de May still seemed impossible, is in the Nuit d'octobre, the last of the four poems, possible and the circle closes (cf. Spitzer 1961: 115 f.).

4. La nuit de mai - An interpretation

First of all, it should be noted that the Nuit de May is a dialogue between a poet and his muse. This becomes clear even without an intensive reading of the poem, since the respective speech acts are marked with "La Muse" or "Le Poète".

The muse itself begins the dialogue, she and the poet speak alternately, with the muse’s speech clearly predominating, even becoming ever more extensive. If your first speech is only six lines long, the second speech has ten and twelve in the third. Your fourth speech is 72 lines long, only to be reduced to 53 lines in the fifth and final speech.

The proportion of speech the poet makes can be described as being fairly constant. His first speech is seven lines, the second and third ten lines each, and the fourth and fifth speeches eleven lines each.

Whether and how these unbalanced speech proportions relate to the content of the poem remains to be investigated.

After a first reading, the content of the poem can be roughly summarized as follows: A poet is in dialogue with his muse. She asks him to forget his love pain through poetry, but he is not yet able to express himself poetically about what he has experienced, for this moment only silence remains, until the end all efforts of the muse are in vain.

Let us now come to the analysis of the individual stanzas. As mentioned earlier, it is the muse who marks the beginning of the poem. In her first speech she asks the poet to take his lute and give her a kiss ("Poète, prends ton luth, et me donne un baiser", v. 1), whereby this amounts to a reversal of roles, one speaks but from the kiss of the muse, and not from the poet who is supposed to kiss the muse.

Also noticeable at this point is the construction "et me donne un baiser", which represents a request from the muse to the poet and should correctly be called "donne-moi un baiser", that is, requires an imperative. Leo Spitzer comments on this as follows:

"This verse [V. 1] is very interesting linguistically. It appears in most of the historical syntaxes of French as the last emanation of an Old French expression. In Old French this verse would

be shaped like this: “Poète, prends ton luth si me donne un baiser.” Old French has two conjunctions, “et”, as in New French, and its own “si”, from “sic” = so, and the latter stands when the action of the second verb expresses a logical consequence or an accompanying circumstance of the first.

This is our case: “Prends ton luth et me donne un baiser”: one goes together with the other. It is a fact that "et" does not change the order of the word in Old French; in old French it says: “et donne moi” exactly as it means “donne-moi!”; the “et” has no tonal power of its own.

It is different with "si"; the "si" = sic has a very strong tone and attracts the unstressed pronoun after the imperative. Hence in Old French: "et donne-moi un baiser", but: "si me donne un baiser." Now "si" disappears in the course of French language history, and "et" sometimes takes over in the time when the "si" comes from the language disappears, at least the position that was usual for "si"; so “et me donne” instead of “et donne-moi”. [...]. Why does Musset use this archaism? Apparently, in order to use a more sophisticated language, that of the XVII. Century, to imitate. ”(Spitzer 1961: 120).

Before the muse asks the poet again in the first stanza - her first speech - to take his lute and give her a kiss, as she will do five more times in the course of the poem, she describes the awakening of spring, perhaps also a kind of call to the poet, who is also supposed to wake up from his sleep of poetic inactivity. This speech is still very manageable with six lines, the muse does not yet seem to know that it will take more words to attract the poet's attention.


[1] See: http://www.frankreich-experte.de/fr/6/lit/musset.html (as of: 02/20/10)

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