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This article is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Jules Laforgue’s Pierrot Gareth Reeves
To Laforgue ‘I owe more than to any one poet in any language’. That claim by T.S. Eliot was, many years ago, my way into the French poet, as it was for many others. Not that, back then, I pursued the way very far. I knew Eliot had written about ‘the use’ of irony (as by Jules Laforgue) to ‘express a dédoublement of the personality against which the subject struggles’. I knew the critical consensus about the importance of Laforgue to Eliot’s earlier poetry, in particular A.D. Moody’s account of Laforguean dédoublement in relation to that acutely self-conscious and stage-managed poem ‘La Figlia Che Piange’: ‘the poet assumes a double presence, being at once the actor and the consciousness of his action.’ But after trying to tackle the tricky French of a few of Laforgue’s poems, I gave up; I couldn’t feel the influence on my pulse. Then the penny began to drop when I read Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917, edited by Christopher Ricks and containing poems written by Eliot in an early notebook. One of the poems was originally published in The Harvard Advocate with the title ‘Humoresque (After J. Laforgue)’, of which the first line, ‘One of my marionettes is dead’, loudly echoes ‘Another of my pierrots dead’ (‘Encore un de mes pierrots mort’), the fifth line of no. XII of Laforgue’s sequence Locutions des Pierrots. (All translations are from my versions of Laforgue.)

Eliot’s word ‘After’ does not intimate that ‘Humoresque’ is a translation, version, adaptation or whatever, of a particular poem in ...

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