Printer Friendly

"Ring out the old, ring in the new": the symbolism of bells in nineteenth-century French poetry.

   The bells, which were once part of the holidays, have been dropped from the
   calendar, like the human beings. They are like poor souls that wander
   endlessly, but outside of history.

      --Walter Benjamin

In a now-famous gloss on the furious tintinnabulation in Baudelaire's fourth "Spleen," Walter Benjamin recognized a relation between bell imagery and the "modernist" crisis in memory. His reference to bells being "dropped from the calendar" is somewhat puzzling, if one not does know that the revolutionary calendar altered the liturgical year by modifying how and when parishes could use church bells. As a result, the image of church bells in nineteenth-century French poetry reflected the historical break between pre- and post-revolutionary culture, or between the pastoral nostalgia of Romanticism and the urban alienation of modernists like Baudelaire. After the French Romantics invested the bell with renewed nostalgic significance, Baudelaire reclaimed the Romantic bell as a sign of an epochal crisis in meaning and memory. Moreover, the transformations of bell imagery in nineteenth-century poetry, in effect, reveal how the modern lyric evolved from a descriptive form in which signs are referential to Symbolist poetry with its meaningless tintinnabulation, and from an assured resonant tone in the work of Hugo to a rasping voice like a knell in Baudelaire's poetry.

Social historian Alain Corbin and others have shown that the bell is a "lieu de memoire," (1) the site of nostalgia for the French countryside's "ringing towns." In Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside, Corbin describes how France's "ringing towns" were threatened during the French Revolution, first by the surrendering of bells to make coinage (summer 1791), then by the confiscation of bells to be recast as cannons (Law of July 23, 1793), and finally by a ban on the religious use of church bells (Laws of February 21, 1795 and April 11, 1796). This ban attempted to restrict the influence of the Church on daily life in order to republicanize the identities of the parishioners and their towns. (2) As Corbin argues, bells were markers of a community's spatiotemporal boundaries. Although the right to ring church bells was restored with the Concordat in 1802, parishes did not revert to the Ancien regime of bellringing (Corbin 34-35). The sound environment, which gave villagers a sense of place, had been forever altered. What Corbin refers to as a "revolution in the culture of the senses" had begun and is evident in the evolution of bell imagery from the eighteenth-century pastoral to Baudelaire's tableaux parisiens.

Bells appear in many pastoral poems as mere religious or rustic imagery; as such, they rarely hold our attention on their own. One of the best-known examples is Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which was very popular in France. (3) We remember the elegy as a pastoral work, but its bell imagery, although prominent, remains a picturesque detail on a larger canvas. Bells and belfries are little more than a device that situates the reader within a stylized landscape, as befits the genre of "topographical poetry" in which the description of a landscape gives rise to a set of reflections. Bell imagery thus exemplifies the referential and descriptive quality of eighteenth-century verse. In fact, the meaning of bells as topographical markers goes back to the ancient history of the word "bell." In the Middle Ages in France, the word for bell was signum or sing (meaning "sign") hence the term tocsin. (4) Bells used to be the ultimate referential "sign" indicating the time and place to congregate.

In French Romantic discourse, however, bells increasingly take on figurative meanings and appear less often as referential signs. The new emotional and spiritual significance of bells is evident in Chateaubriand's Le Genie du Christianisme, whose publication on April 14, 1802 coincided with the adoption of the Concordat and the restoration of the right to ring church bells. In his essay on bells in Catholic ritual, Chateaubriand emphasizes the religious emotions and sense of morality elicited by bells, their ability to give birth to a single feeling in a thousand different hearts and the secret moral relations bells orchestrate within us. Yet, his character Rene, overwhelmed by the affective power of bells, gives more weight to their sentimental value than to their religious significance. Rene ponders what the sound of bells can retrieve of the past: "Tout se trouve dans les reveries enchantees ou nous plonge le bruit de la cloche natale: religion, famille, patrie, et le berceau et la tombe, et le passe et l'avenir" (34).

Emulating Rend, Romantic poets would later evoke bells as acoustic symbols of a lost identity. In Lamartine's "La Cloche," for instance, the image of the village bell ushers in memories of the past, especially of childhood and of rustic life:
   Dans le clocher de mon village
   Il est un sonore instrument
   Que j'ecoutais dans mon jeune age
   Comme une voix du firmament.

   Quand, apres une longue absence,
   Je revenais au toit natal,
   J'epiais dans l'air, a distance,
   Les doux sons du pieux metal. (5)

The village bell in the poem, no longer a topographical or referential sign but rather a temporal and emotional one, recalls the pleasure once felt hearing its sound. The poem's regular, predictable rhythm conveys the assurance that verse, like the sonorous instrument it describes, can bring the joyful past alive again. For Lamartine, as for Rene, the sound of bells is celestial, holy, gentle and sweet; hearing them induces a nostalgic pleasure and sweet sorrow for the lost voices and sounds of their birthplace. Indeed, the sound of bells carries the listener back not just to the familiar past, but to childhood, the idyllic past. That may be why a name like "Clochegourde" in Balzac's Le Lys dans la vallee is so appropriate to the home of Felix's surrogate mother, Henriette de Mortsauf. The valley in which church bells resonate connotes a womb-like space--the ultimate "terre natale"--in the Romantic imagination. The bell broadly evokes the pleasure of feeling rooted to the land, "la terre natale," as the bell that strikes identical feelings in the hearts of all the villagers becomes the symbol of the community.

Lamartine's poems use the bell as such a symbol of rootedness. In fact, it is because Lamartine evokes an image of la France profonde, of a France replete with "ringing towns" and solid rural values, that he has been considered a "poete du terroir." (6) The sense of place recollected and recreated in poems about bells is not limited to Lamartine or to poetry; it has a parallel in the paintings of the Barbizon school. Landscape paintings of Corot or Millet such as "Le Beffroi de Douai" or "L'Angelus," immortalize what is commonly recognized as a "typically French" landscape: "un paysage legerement vallonne ou serpente une route, un clocher de village dans le fond, et un pro derriere un rideau d'arbres a demi tire." (7)

Hugo goes further than Lamartine and Chateaubriand in his endeavor to transform the bell into a symbol of the poet's communion with the universe, and models his theory of poetry on the image of the bell. On the one hand, Hugo's comparison of the poet to a bell is cliched. As one of his contemporaries, Henri de Lacretelle, eloquently wrote: "l'ame du poete est pleine de cloches." On the other hand, Hugo uses campanarian imagery in a unique way to help articulate his relation to a larger community. Hugo expands on the idea of the poet's soul as a bell in his theory of the "sonorous echo" put forth in three lyrical collections from the 1830s (Chants du crepuscule, Voix interieures and Les Rayons et les Ombres), and takes it yet further in the 1832 novel Notre-Dame de Paris, in which the cathedral and its belfrey embody the values and history of the premodern city. A similar nostalgia for old-fashioned values informs the poem "Ecrit sur la vitre d'une fenetre flamande" (Les Rayons et les Ombres XVIII) which begins: "J'aime le carillon dans tes cites antiques, / O vieux pays gardien de tes moeurs domestiques." "A Louis B." (Les Chants du crepuscule XXXII) develops a more sustained discourse on the symbolism of bells. (8) In the poem, a bell that passers-by have defiled by writing on it symbolizes the soul of the poet. Despite this defilement, the bell preserves its solemnity and, as the unifying voice of totality, it can absorb, transform and transcend the sullied voices of the multitude:
   Oui, le blaspheme inscrit sur le divin metal
   Dans ce concert sacre perdra son cri fatal;
   Chaque mot qui renie et chaque mot qui doute
   Dans ce torrent d'amour exprimera sa goutte;
   Et, pour faire eclater l'hymne pur et serein,
   Rien ne sera souillure et tout sera l'airain! (775)

The bell symbolizes the poet whose voice is at once the voice of an individual speaker and that of the universe. Like the bell whose functions are multiple, the poet is made "de verre pour gemir, d'airain pour resister." The bell in Hugo's poetry of the 1830s articulates the intimate with the infinite, the personal with the political, to figure poetic creativity as the echo inside the poet of voices outside him. Like the lamp or the wind-harp that M.H. Abrams discusses as analogues of the poetic mind in The Mirror and the Lamp, the bell as metaphor for poetic imagination figures the reciprocation of internal and external. Indeed, the bell, with its clapper surrounded by a resonant dome, gives shape to the relation of inside to outside, of the intimate with the cosmic. In Hugo's poetry, the bell represents poetic voice as resonant, confident and unified, even in its multiplicity. As an echo of God's voice, the poet's voice is assured of its central place in the universe and the poem-as-bell remains the sign of such certainty.

Baudelaire, in contrast, breaks with the connotations of the Romantic bell. In his poems, we find the bell neither as the harmonious bond between individual and community, nor as familiar echo of "la terre natale." Baudelaire displaces the bell as emblem of traditional, rural France by bringing into being the poetry of modern urban life. Significantly, the progressive erosion of the Romantic bell's resonance and significance in Baudelaire is consistent with the evolution of the modern lyric from a unified, descriptive and affirmative form to one that questions the nature of the self and the ability of language to represent the world. Nevertheless, it is helpful to read Baudelaire's poems on bells in the city against their Romantic counterparts, for bells in "La Cloche felee" and "Paysage" remain "lieux de memoire" in keeping with the Romantic tradition. The difference lies in the parameters, since Baudelaire's bells in the city cannot remember what they stand for. They ring out the old, but they cannot yet ring in the new.

As nostalgia turns more acute in the second half of the century, the bell continues to play a key role in the iconography of spleen. Bell imagery pervades the Spleen series (in which I include "La Cloche felee") although it is not especially prevalent elsewhere in Les Fleurs du Mal. (9) Throughout the Spleen poems and "La Cloche felee," bells are personified; following a folkloric tradition that anthropomorphizes bells, Baudelaire endows them with souls, and compares their peals to human sounds of distress. (10) The first Spleen poem (LXXV), for instance, describes the bell echoing the lamentations of the bereaved: "le bourdon se lamente." The bourdon also tolls in general lamentation for the inhabitants of the rainy, dark, morbid city; perhaps, it laments as well for its own fate as death-bell. This lack of a clearly demarcated referent (for whom does the bell toll here?) has the effect of de-regulating the bell, since it is no longer fulfilling its purpose--namely to toll a specific death--but instead it is overrun with emotion. Paolo Budini has even suggested that the bourdon refers not to church bells at all; instead, this rare word was chosen for its onomatopoeic qualities. In this vein, one could add that "bourdon" denotes nothing literally, but rather signifies figuratively: "avoir le bourdon" means "avoir les idles noires." The bourdon joins the rank of other ineffectual and de-literalized objects in the poem, such as the "buche enfumee" that produces smoke but no fire, or the "pendule enhumee," too sick to tell time properly. (11)

Pursuing the combined process of de-literalization and personification, the bells appear once again as figures of human emotion when their peals are compared to "un affreux hurlement" in the fourth "Spleen":
   Des cloches tout a coup sautent avec furie
   Et lancent vers le ciel un affreux hurlement,
   Ainsi que des esprits errants et sans patrie
   Qui se mettent a geindre opiniatrement. (74-75)

Unlike the self-mourning "bourdon," this bell is not associated with pain and loss. As if to make the new meaning of bells more clear, between 1857 and 1861, Baudelaire changed his initial choice of words from "gemissement" to "hurlement." Later poems about bells, like Verlaine's "Angelus du Matin," sometimes use a stronger word, such as "injures." In Laforgue's "La Complainte des cloches," "cloches" rhymes with "reproches." The sound of bells is no longer merely whimpering and annoying, but injuriously loud. Nadar would complain in similarly extreme terms in 1882 in "Le Cas des cloches":
   A toute autre heure du jour et plusieurs fois par
   jour, inopinement, brutalement et sans provocation,
   eclate le vacarme en mineur et en majeur qui tinte, geint, brame,
   beugle ou mugit. Par instants, tous ces airains
   diaboliques semblent se surexciter les uns les autres,
   et, comme enrages, se mettent a hurler ensemble dans le plus
   effrene des tintamarres et en verite comme s'ils
   voulaient nous exasperer au comble
   et par defi. (15)

Such virulent rhetoric is a far cry from Romantic bell imagery, in which bells gently chime (the preferred word is "tinte") and are frequently described as "argentine." For Romantics such as Lamartine, the bell symbolized rootedness and patriotism (or, from another perspective, parochialism and fear of difference--hence, the pejorative expression "l'esprit de clocher"), whereas now the bells are errant and homeless. Baudelaire alludes in the fourth "Spleen" to the way church bells once functioned as spatial markers of the village, thus creating what Corbin describes as an identity bound to the land for those living in range of its sound (95). The "errant" bells symbolize the sense of exile experienced by homeless city-dwellers--clochards and bourdons--who have lost the territorial framework to which they were accustomed in the village. (12) Now the bells are stubborn complainers (as the word "opiniatrement" suggests), their relentless ringing is like griping ("geindre"). This moaning "sans tambours ni musique" is reflected in the rhythm of the fourth "Spleen," so that the poem itself sounds like a funeral bell. Likewise, the strongly accented seventh and twelfth syllables in the first line--"Quand le ciel bas et lourd pEse comme un couvERcle"--weight the line down in imitation of the oppressive atmosphere under the lid, as it were, of a bell jar. In short, the proliferation of bells frames acoustically the disorienting experience of walking in the city, what De Certeau has referred to as a kind of displacement: "L'errance que multiplie et rassemble la ville en fait une immense experience sociale de la privation de lieu" (155).

Bereft of their literal significance, like the "pendule enrhumee" in the first "Spleen," the bells in the fourth "Spleen" are no longer connected to their function of ringing on the hour or for any particular reason. Walter Benjamin calls this removal of purpose "being dropped from the calendar." Such deliteralization as the bells are emptied of their raison d'etre corresponds to the modern lyric's turn away from referential language; in consequence, the evolution of bell imagery in nineteenth-century poetry provides insight into the transformations undergone by modern lyricism. Indeed, Baudelaire's best-known evocation of the bell, "La Cloche felee," is also a superior example of the fragmentation or felure of modern lyric subjectivity, as well as its morbid sensibility and its preoccupation with the loss of an ideal. "La Cloche felee," in effect, plays out a tropology of an existential crisis related to the lost sense of time, routine, or history. The sonnet revolves around an opposition between "La cloche au gosier vigoureux" that sings in the mist ("carillons qui chantent dans la brume") in the quatrains and, in the tercets, the soul of the poet whose voice progressively weakens until silence and paralysis prevail. The healthy voice of the bell in the quatrains is opposed to the "voix affaiblie" and "rale epais" of the poet in the tercets. (13) This parallel structure mimics the peals of bells, alternately on the up--then the downswing, so that the poem itself, like the poetic speaker, becomes bell-like. Furthermore, "La Cloche felee" conveys the affective power of listening--hence the emphasis on the verb "ecouter" in the rejet in line 2--and its bittersweet effect on the listener ("Il est doux et amer ... / D'ecouter"). It speaks to the self-awareness produced by listening, as the poet identifies with a personified cracked bell, his alter-ego, and inscribes this split lyric subjectivity in a knell-like rhythmic structure.

The personification of the bell begins in the first stanza with a reference to the singing carillons, but is carried much further in the second stanza in which it draws on the ways in which identity can be shaped acoustically:
   Bienheureuse la cloche au gosier vigoureux Qui, malgre sa vieillesse,
   alerte et bien portante, lette fidelement son cri religieux Ainsi qu'un
   vieux soldat qui veille sous la tente! (72)

The poem emphasizes that, despite its age, the bell is healthy ("bien portante"), even vigorous; its mental state is happy and alert. "Alerte et bien portante" have a double meaning here, since they are equally characteristics of bells and people; "alerte" may refer to the bell's function as alarm bell and "bien portante" to its carrying power. (14) The bell, indeed, functions as a spatial marker by delimiting the village (if you can hear the bell, you are part of the village); bells would ring in the fog, so that travelers on foot or by sea could orient themselves by following the direction of the sound (hence an additional layer of meaning in the reference to "cloches de brume" in "carillons qui chantent dans la brume"). In any case, the bell knows what its functions are even if we postmodern readers do not. A sense of purpose fills the bell, as it does the soldier on guard duty evoked in the last line of the stanza. "Un vieux soldat qui veille sous la tente" has a counterpart in the sonnet's last tercet, in "le blesse qu'on oublie ... sous un tas de mort." (15) The injured man attempts to attract attention with a rale epais," but the groan is ineffective, unlike the cries of the bell or watchman. In addition, the impression that no one is faithful to this injured man's memory contrasts sharply with the bell's function of remembrance, namely the celebration of the dead and the commemoration of other events. "La Cloche felee," like the Spleen series, relies on bell imagery to figure the felure of the modern subject displaced from meaning and history. Furthermore, the history of bells informs more than this one sonnet, since it refracts the history of the nineteenth-century lyric genre itself, increasingly bent on cracking the codes of expression and representation that once where its mainstay.

"Tableaux parisiens," especially the opening poem "Paysage," also rely on changes in perception of the sensory environment to convey the disorientation produced by the modern city. Rather than represent the modern city realistically, "Paysage" indulges in a fantasy that juxtaposes the urban with the pastoral, the old with the new. (16) Indeed, the point of view in "Paysage" is reminiscent of the detached perspective in the Romantic pastoral, for example in Lamartine's "L'Isolement": "Je promene au hasard mes regards sur la plaine, / Dont le tableau changeant se deroule a mes pieds." (17) The poem thus stands out in the work of anti-naturalist Baudelaire as one of his few "pastorals." (18) In many ways, however, "Paysage" negates the landscape, whether pastoral or urban, in favor of a landscape recreated by the imagination as both idyllic and futuristic; the poet looks into the future ("je verrai," "je reverai") while at the same time nostalgically looking back in time to his childhood ("enfantin").

Since the bell signifies spatial and temporal displacement elsewhere in Baudelaire, reference to les clochers in the first stanza of "Paysage" is far from innocent; bells on the contrary seem key in making sense of the tension in the poem between regression and progression:
   Je veux, pour composer chastement mes eglogues,
   Coucher aupres du soleil, comme les astrologues,
   Et, voisin des clochers, ecouter en revant
   Leurs hymnes solennels emportes par le vent.
   Les deux mains au menton, du haut de ma mansarde,
   Je verrai l'atelier qui chante et qui bavarde;
   Les tuyaux, les clochers, ces mats de la cite,
   Et les grands ciels qui font rever d'eternite. (82)

The solemn hymns of bells, in this poem as in "La Cloche felee," inspire the poet to dream. But what does he dream of? Not of the modern city that he looks out on. Rather, he contemplates a city of dreams, in which the bell towers are the masts of the city-ship. (19) He looks at city smog and haze, but he dreams of seeing "Fleuves de charbon monter au firmament / Et la lune verser son pale enchantement." The sound of bells is inspirational in part because it figures elevation, traditionally a trope of creative fervor, but also a sign of detachment. (20)

The bell-tower image at the beginning of "Paysage" motivates subsequent references to the Idyll. It exemplifies, for instance, the distance and abstraction from history and the urban environment required by the creative poet in "Paysage." Looking out his garret window, he is located at the same height as the belfries, and well above the fray: "L'Emeute, tempetant vainement a ma vitre, / Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre." (21) Bell-towers and the pastoral tradition they embody thus represent the "depoliticized" poet's desire to reject modern urban reality. Bell imagery also motivates later references in the poem to "tout ce que l'Idylle a de plus enfantin," for bells are frequently associated with childhood. (22) Yet, this very tension between old and new may well be the most provocative way of introducing the "Tableaux parisiens."

"Tableaux parisiens," as a whole, describes an "auditory landscape" as well as a visual picture. The most gripping description of the sound environment occurs in "A une passante," which begins: "La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait." The noise level renders any communication difficult, thus making the speaker and the passante's fleeting encounter that much more poignant. "Les Aveugles" also addresses how the sound level in the city has changed the nature of human contact, making the speaker as "hebete" as the blind men who live in eternal silence. Urban sounds are frequently compared to those of animals, as if the city were itself a large beast:
   [...] O cite!
   Pendant qu'autour de nous tu chantes, ris et beugles,
   Eprise du plaisir jusqu'a l'atrocite
   ("Les Aveugles" 92)

   On entend ca et la les cuisines siffler,
   Les theatres glapir, les orchestres ronfler.
   ("Le Crepuscule du soir" 95) (23)

Usually, cattle bellow ("beugler")--not cities--and dogs yelp ("glapir")--not theaters. Noise in the city is so bestial that the poet in "Crepuscule du soir" invites his soul to shut out these roaring sounds ("ferme ton oreille h ce rugissement"). In contrast, "Reve parisien" qualifies the silence of the fantasmagoric city as "terrible nouveaute! / Tout pour l'oeil, rien pour les oreilles!" The sound environment of the city--either stupefying or eerily silent--has been radically altered. Baudelaire's "Tableaux parisiens" attest to what Georg Simmel described in these terms: "Someone who sees without hearing is much more uneasy than someone who hears without seeing. In this there is something characteristic of the sociology of the big city" (Benjamin 37-38). Noise has not only increased to a deafening level, but sounds in the environment no longer make sense--they are just noise. Unlike the church bells of yore that gave rhythm to daily life and defined the community in space and in time, sounds in the city are chaotic and ineffectual. In this way, bells in the city undermine the highly regulated scopic regime of Hausmann's Paris by marking the absence of the rootedness that once shaped the community's spatial identity. Ultimately, the dislocation embodied by bells in the city reflects the larger crisis in poetic representation, since the noisy bell signals an unregulated sign-system freed from its grounding in denotation.

Baudelaire marked the turning point for the modern poetic evocation of bells. The Symbolists, who exploited bell images as markers of a crisis in meaning and memory as Baudelaire had done before them, used the knell to show the depersonalization of lyrical voice, to evoke the poet's alienation vis-a-vis the general community or the past, to signify the Ideal and finally to question further the meaning of poetic representation. Mallarme's 1862 sonnet "Le Sonneur" presents an opposition similar to that in "La Cloche felee" between the strong, clear "angelus parmi la lavande et le thym," and the bell-ringer's own inability to "sonner l'ideal" to make sound of equal clarity. The bell figures the Ideal again in "L'Azur"--"En vain! L'Azur triomphe, et je l'entends qui chante / Dans les cloches"--which ends by imitating the repetition of peals of bells. Adolphe Rette's collection Cloches en la nuit (1889) uses Baudelairean imagery to depict a desolate, ruined city, haunted by the sound of bells tolling: "C'est la ville de pluie, c'est la ville de nuit / La lugubre cite si croulante h l'automne / Des cloches en cadence et par les rues d'ennui / Un morne defile de cercueils monotones" ("Sillages" 15). Even in this short passage, the knell pervades the texture of each line as it halts at the hemistich, as a bell on the upswing, only to slowly bear down at the ending. A sign of the city's--or the poem's splenetic landscape's--general decay is "la cloche [qui] agonise ululante et febrile" (Rette 29). Emile Verhaeren evokes the bell tower as stolid symbol of lost tradition most hauntingly when he describes "lies] tours de mille ans" as "tragiques et muettes, porteuses d'une douleur silencieuse et symboles de la foi ancienne, tendues comme de desespoirs" ("Les Tours"). Georges Rodenbach and Jules Laforgue favored the representation of "le bruit endimanchd [de] cloche[s] tres vieille[s] et valetudinaire[s]," but unlike the bells of yesteryear that rang on Sundays to bring the community together, bells in the fin-de-siecle city, whose tolling are like hiccups, have become meaningless. (24)

Moving from sign to symbol, the bell over the course of the nineteenth-century shed its literal meaning and gained in symbolic resonance. Even the most banal poetic reference to bells at the century's end can hardly help but evoke the bell as a symbol of a modern crisis, both existential and representational. Dropped from the calendar, bells become a timeless cliche, a marker of history's absence rather than a call to participate in its social rituals. At the same time, however, it is in the history of this now vacant sign that we can most readily hear the transformations of the modern lyric.


(1) The belfrey commands its own chapter by Philippe Boutry in Pierre Nora's Lieux de memoire, see Boutry, "Le Clocher," in Lieux de memoire 3:2, 56-89.

(2) Bells rang at the beginning, middle and end of the day, and marked feast days, Sunday offices and rites of passage (baptisms, weddings, funerals). Bells also rang to alert one to the threat of fire, storm or attack, to observe the beginning and end of war, or to celebrate a coronation or royal birth.

(3) Translated as "Le Cimetiere de campagne," Gray's poem attracted much attention among the French and was translated and imitated repeatedly by Mine Necker, Chenier, Kerivalant and Chateaubriand, among others.

(4) In the Middle Ages, bells were referred to as "signum," "pource que leur son servoit de signe a se trouver it l'eglise" (C. Fauchet, 314). This meaning persists in the old French proverb "on ne fait pas les signes sonner."

(5) Lamartine, OEuvres poetiques completes, 799. "La Cloche" originally appeared in the Journal de Saone et Loire in 1835 and, in 1837, was added to the fourth tome of Lamartine's OEuvres completes.

(6) For a portrait of Lamartine as poete du terroir, see an edition such as Poemes du terroir et du coeur edited by Emile Magnier.

(7) Cachin, 435. This landscape also corresponds to Lamartine's "L'Isolement." Moreover, it was this type of image that was used in Petain's 1940 and Mitterand's 1981 campaigns.

(8) Bells in Hugo are also closely tied to "l'airain," the symbol of Napoleonic glory. For more on the myth of bells in Hugo, see Albouy, 158-64.

(9) "La Cloche felee" first appeared under the title "Spleen" in March 1851 in Les Limbes, a collection of eleven poems that also included "Spleen (Pluviose irrite)." Like the Spleen series, "La Cloche felee" addresses the fragmentation or "felure" of the modern subject.

(10) The personification of bells follows a folkloric practice. Blavignac remarks that bells were frequently anthropomorphized; they were baptized, given names and ascribed throats, necks, even souls (448-49). The word "cloche," whose etymology is uncertain, rapidly gained figurative meanings. See La Cloche. Etude sur son histoire ... (1877), 448-49.

(11) In Baudelaire and the Second Republic, Burton comments on these three objects to argue, "`spleen' is in its first instance the collapse of systems of meaning" (see Baudelaire and the Second Republic, 307).

(12) According to the Dictionnaire historique des argots francais, use of "bourdon" as "prostitute" is attested to by 1848 (83). As for "clochard," the word seems to have become more common at the end of the nineteenth century (170).

(13) For more on the dual structure of the poem, see Dorothy Roberts's reading.

(14) Gordon Walters remarks on this double meaning in "A Reading of `La Cloche fe1ee' "(52). Corbin comments on the meaning of the bell's carrying power as well. The range of a bell defined rural sociability by circumscribing a "zone of hearsay" and a "zone of mutual acquaintance."

(15) On the bloody imagery and allusions to 1848 in this final tercet of"La Cloche fe1ee," see Burton, Baudelaire and the Second Republic, 321-22.

(16) The opening poem of "Tableaux parisiens" in the 1861 edition, "Paysage," was first published in 1857 under the title "Paysage parisien." In "Baudelaire and Lyon," Burton has argued that the scene is not of Paris at all, but of Lyon. There remains much uncertainty as to the poem's original date of composition (1840s?), hence the variety of memories that the poem may be based on. On the broader question of reference, see Chambers, "Are Baudelaire's `Tableaux parisiens' about Paris?"

(17) "Paysage" is unlike other poems from "Tableaux parisiens," where the poet is usually in, not above, the city. In this way, the poem adopts the same panoramic viewpoint as Impressionist paintings such as Manet's View of the World's Fair (1867) or Monet's The Garden of the Princess (1867).

(18) If Baudelaire wrote any pastorals or eclogues at all they might be "Moestra et errabunda" and "J'aime le souvenir de ces epoques nues." On this issue, see Leakey, 17-18. Baudelaire defines "pastoral" in 1851 when writing about Pierre Dupont in Reflexions sur quelques-uns de roes contemporains (2: 169-75).

(19) Baudelaire evokes a complex metaphor, combining the image of the city-ship ("les mats de la cite") with the image of the city as nave ("voisin des clochers"). As Fongaro outlines, the metaphor may be motivated by the boat-like shape of l'Ile de la Cite or by the coat of arms of Paris which contained a nave on the waves as well as the motto "Fluctuat nec mergitur" (It Floats But Does Not Sink).

(20) Elevation is a trope for creativity in Baudelaire's "Elevation" or in Rimbaud's "Une matinee couverte" (also known as "Fragment du feuillet 12"), in which the poet exclaims: "J'ai tendu des cordes de clocher a clocher; des guirlandes de fenetre fenetre; des chaines d'or d'etoile a etoile, et je danse" (271).

(21) It is not clear what Emeute (capitalized in the 1861 edition of Les Fleurs du Mai) refers to: it may be the revolution of 1848, the Coup d'etat (December 2, 1851) or, as Burton has argued, the insurrectionary turmoil that Baudelaire witnessed as a boy in Lyon in 1834. Chambers has suggested that Emeute is a literary reference to Gautier's Emaux et Camees: "Sans prendre garde a l'ouragan / Qui fouettait mes vitres fermees, / Moi, j'ai fait Emaux et Camees" (Chambers, "Street Poetry," 254-55).

(22) Baudelaire makes explicit the nostalgic association of bells with childhood in his review of Leon Cladel's Les Martyrs ridicules (Revue Fantaisiste, 1861) (2: 182). Moreover, Burton suggests that childhood memories "subliminally" inform "Paysage," given the similarities between its first version and "La Servante au grand coeur dont vous etiez jalouse" ("Baudelaire and Lyon," 33). Chambers, however, argues that reference to the idyll is ironic and actually condemns any evasion of reality ("Trois paysages urbains," 381).

(23) "Au lecteur": "Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants ..."

(24) Verhaeren refers to "angelus hoquetant" in the last "Chanson du fou" (Campagnes hallucinees, 69) and to "les derniers hoquets d'un angelus" in "La Plaine" (ViNes tentaculaires, 86). Rodenbach's Le Regne du Silence contains a section entitled "Cloches du dimanche" from which the line above is taken (127). Laforgue also describes "les chimeriques cloches / Du joli joli Dimanche" in "Dimanches" (Derniers vers). Stylistically, bell imagery is well suited to the Symbolists' experimentations with rhythm and free verse (Mallarme's translation of Poe's "The Bells" is one prominent example).


Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. 1953. London/New York: Oxford UP, 1971.

Albouy, Pierre. La Creation mythologique chez Victor Hugo. Paris: Jose Corti, 1963.

Balzac, Honore. Le Lys dans la vallde. Ed. Maurice Allem. Paris: Garnier, 1955.

Baudelaire, Charles. OEuvres completes. Ed. Claude Pichois. 2 Vols. Paris: Gallimard, Pleaide, 1975.

Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Age of High Capitalism. Trans. Harry Zohn and Quintin Hoare. London: Verso, 1983

Blavignac. La Cloche. Etude sur son histoire et sur ses rapports avec la societe aux differents ages. Geneva: Grosset et Tremblay, 1877.

Boutry, Philippe. "Le Clocher." Lieux de memoire. Tome 3. Les France. Vol. 2. Ed. Pierre Nora et al. Paris: Gallimard, 1992.56-89.

Budini, Paolo. "Sul `bourdon' del primo Spleen." Studi Francesi (Autumn 1981): 10518.

Burton, Richard. Baudelaire and the Second Republic: Writing and Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

--. "Baudelaire and Lyon: A Reading of Paysage." Nottingham French Studies 28:1 (1989): 26-38.

Cachin, Francoise. "Le Paysage du peintre." Lieux de memoire. Tome 2. La Nation. Vol. 1. Ed. Pierre Nora et al. Paris: Gallimard, 1992. 435-86.

Certeau, Michel de. "Marches dans la ville." L'Invention du quotidien. Vol. 1. Arts de faire. Paris: Gallimard, Folio-Essais, 1990. 139-64.

Chambers, Ross. "Trois Paysages urbains: Les poemes liminaires des Tableaux parisiens." Modern Philology 80:4 (May 1983): 372-89.

--. "Are Baudelaire's `Tableaux parisiens' about Paris?" On Referring in Literature. Ed. Anna Whiteside and Michael Issacharoff. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. 95110.

--. "Baudelaire's Street Poetry." Nineteenth-Century French Studies 13 (1985): 24459.

Chateaubriand, Francois-Rene de. "Des Cloches." Le Genie du Christianisme. OEuvres completes. Paris: Pourrat, 1832. Vol. 12: 259-62.

--. Rene. Ed. J.M. Gautier. Geneva: Droz, 1970.

Corbin, Alain. Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside. Trans. Martin Thom. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Trans. of Les Cloches de la terre. 1994.

Esnault, Gaston. Dictionnaire historique des argots francais. Paris: Larousse, 1965.

Fauchet, C. Declin Maison de Charlemagne. Paris: J. Perier, 1602.

Fongaro, Antoine. "`Les Milts de la cite.' Melanges offerts a Guy Sagnes." Voix de l'ecrivain. Ed. Jean-Louis Cabanas. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1996.73-78.

Hartweg, Jean. "Commentaire compose d'un pomme de Baudelaire: `Paysage' "L'information litteraire 32 (1980): 94-96.

Hugo, Victor. OEuvres completes. Poesie L Ed. Claude Gely. Paris: Robert Laffont, Bouquins, 1985.

Lacretelle, Henri de. Les Cloches. 2nd ed. Paris: Delloye, 1841.

Leakey, F. W. Baudelaire and Nature. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1969.

Laforgue, Jules. OEuvres completes. Vol. 1. PoEsies. Geneva: Slatkine, 1979.

Lamartine, Alphonse de. OEuvres poetiques completes. Ed. Marius-Francois Guyard. Paris: Gallimard, Pleaide, 1963.

--. Poemes du terroir et du coeur. Ed. Emile Magnier. Bourg-en-Bresse: Editions de la Taillanderie, 1996.

Nadar. "Le Cas des Cloches, soumis par Nadar a Monsieur le Ministre des Cultes." Chambery: Menard, c1882.

Rette, Adolphe. Cloches en la nuit. Paris: Leon Vanier, 1889.

Rimbaud, Arthur. OEuvres. Ed. Suzanne Bernard and Andre Guyaux. Paris: Bordas, Classiques Garnier, 1991.

Roberts, Dorothy. "`La Cloche felee': Duality in Image, Structure and Theme." Romance Notes 16 (1975): 312-17.

Rodenbach, Georges. Le Regne du silence. 1891. Paris: Charpentier/Fasquelle, 1911.

Sand, George. La Petite Fadette. Ed. Maurice Toesca. Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1984.

Verlaine, Paul. OEuvres poetiques completes. Ed. Yves-Gerard Le Dantec. Paris: Gallimard, Pleaide, 1948.

Verhaeren, Emile. Les Villes tentaculaires precedees des Campagnes hallucinees. Paris: Mercure de France, 1949.

Walters, Gordon B. "A Reading of `La Cloche felee.'" Romance Notes 11 (1969): 51-56.
Department of Modern Languages
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1540
COPYRIGHT 2002 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Boutin, Aimee
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Previous Article:Pricking the male ego: pins and needles in Flaubert, Maupassant, and Zola.
Next Article:Telling stories in Baudelaire's Spleen de Paris.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters