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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

The Poetry of André Frénaud Michael Cayley

MODERN FRENCH poetry is in the doldrums in this country. A current of fashion has brought translations of an increasing number of east European poets, who are seen (to quote from Ted Hughes's introduction to translations of János Pilinszky, reviewed elsewhere in this issue) as speaking 'from the disaster-centre of the modern world'. A few West German poets have filtered through. But contemporary France, boasting student risings instead of a takeover by Russian tanks, lacks the charisma of a disaster-centre, and the major poetry being produced there has raised scarcely a ripple this side of the Channel. The work of André Frénaud is but one example of what is being missed.

Born in 1907, Frénaud did not start writing poetry until he was over thirty. By that time he had rejected the Roman Catholic faith in which he had been reared, but that rejection did not lead to a spurning of all religious experience. Rather, it resulted in an agonized questioning of man's place in a meaningless cosmos and to despair at the absence of any real answer. This questioning and despair are at the heart of Frénaud's best poetry and impart to it a feeling that is, in the deepest sense, religious even when the subject-matter is ostensibly secular. His is above all a poetry of permanent spiritual crisis.

One of the dominant themes in the poetry is that of the traveller. Montaigne wrote, 'when I am asked why I travel, I usually reply ...


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