Aspects of French symbolism in English modernist poetry are numerous. we are going to exhibit them in this article. Charles Baudelaire has largely impacted English modern poets, especially T.S.Eliot. For Baudelaire, poetry is based upon the allegorical meaning, which seeks to make sense of the correspondences between the visible and the invisible. Poetry no longer elevates us to the station of spirituality; it is no longentic_ much more implicated in emotion. In fact, this material world is full of symbols that produce relations and correspondences between Man and God; therefore, poetry comes outside the poet, who allows Nature to produce symbols. 

Introduction about  the aspects of French symbolism

French symbolism has largely impacted the English poets at the very beginning of the 20th century. This influence results in bringing forth a new method for writing poetry; a new generation is going to emerge out of this influence, namely T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Yeats. In this paper, I will focus on T.S.Eliot’s poems as they are epitomizing the tenets of French symbolist poets, especially Charles Baudelaire, whose theory of correspondences booms in relation to poetry during the 19th century. First, Symbolists no longer pay attention to the object, but the effect it produces. For instance, Stéphane Mallarmé stipulates “the effect” generated within the mind by “the thing” as a necessary item to produce real symbolist poetry. Second, French symbolism confirms that “the Myth” is pivotal to the spirit of symbolist poetry as it renders language more universal by transcending words into their effects; in doing so, music and poetry amount to the same thing. Drawing attention to the fact that English symbolists are more in touch with the environment than the French symbolists whom critics label as “poétes intérieurs”.

Symbolism in poetry

In fact, the symbols produced by nature seek to be decoded within the process of synesthesia_ fusions of senses; they can produce only that is earthly; however, romanticism stipulates the physical presence of the poet as a necessary item to provoke what William Wadsworth calls:

“the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (Wadsworth 56).

As a matter of fact, this theory of correspondences provides a mystical vision generated via perfumes, colors, and senses. For example, in Baudelaire’s poem “correspondences,” symbols display the infinite dimension of language. This is to show how the meaning is open to different interpretations created by the effect of the poem:

Nature is a temple in which living pillars 

Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.

Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
In a deep and tenebrous unity,
Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.(6)

The analysis of the two stanzas

The poem has to be laden with plenty of symbols; the latter creates a set of effects in the reader’s mind, not a fixed monopolized meaning. The pivotal role of the poem is to create the effect engendered by the object; therefore, the meaning is replaced by the significance which the poem suggests like to a piece of music.  

The modernist French symbolism utilizes symbols pertaining to evoke and suggest. Romantic poets describe the “object” through their constant touch with the external world. Then, English symbolist poets are content with evoking the effect produced by the “object” within the reader’s mind. In T.S.Eliot’s poem the wasteland, the symbol of water stands for the infertility of the modern world; the latter is averse to produce anything new.

Eliot alludes to the collapse of the poisoned modern world, where there is no hope to plant new seeds for a new civilization. The first section The Burial of the Dead is apocalyptically calling to voyage into a desert waste.

The concept of Flaneur

Eliot becomes like a “flâneur” _ a detached observer_ whom Baudelaire describes as a gentleman stroller of city streets; thus Eliot becomes fascinated with street life through which he could display a harsh, stern critique to the modern life. He asserts that art should change its fabric so that it copes with the new changes brought by the era of capitalism.  Benjamin suggests that the artist_ the poet_ must engage in the city.

From a Marxist point of view, Benjamin portrays the flâneur as a product of modern life; therefore, the latter becomes aware of the complications which he observes while strolling around the outskirts of Paris (London). In the same vein, Baudelaire would call the flaneur l’homme des foules as he is the product of social context;  Benjamin hails the way Baudelaire speaks of the crowd in his prose poem crowds.

The concept of a stranger in Baudelaire’s poetry

Baudelaire admires a lot of the crowds of metropolitan cities because they allow him to interact with strangers. Similarly, T.S.Eliot in his poem the waste land criticizes the new common attitudes characterized by the crowd. Eliot levels against the folks a scathing critique as to how they remain restricted to their daily routine, which kills in them the faculty of contemplating.

Music and poetry: The influence of Baudelaire on T.S.Eliot

There is a strong nexus between music and poem. Through French symbolism, T.SEliot achieves his purpose through the usage of the term ‘suggestiveness’ which he borrows from Richard Wagner. In his opera and drama, Wagner maintains that the role of the artist is to transform that which is conscious into a work of art (21); in .S.Eliot’s third movement, the nature of poem tends to be sophisticated, soft, attractive, and religious by the virtue of the softness suggested by the music.

On the other hand, in the second movement, the music is no longer soft and fragile because it supposes the sketch of an American ragtime hit of 1912. All in all, the impact of Wagnerian music on T.S.Eliot’s poetry is obvious and patent.


We have so far talked about French symbolism and poetry. So, if you would like to have an overview of Amazigh poetry, see this post.

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