Nobel Prize in Literature - 1901 - Sully Prudhomme

Paul Chabas:Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907) 1895

René François Armand (Sully) Prudhomme (16 March 1839 – 6 September 1907) was a French poet and essayist, winner of the first Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1901.

Rene Francois Armand Prudhomme (1839-1907) was the son of a French shopkeeper. He wanted to become an engineer, but an eye disease terminated his training at a polytechnic institute. He studied literature, and after a brief and unsuccessful interlude in industry, he took up law, though without much conviction, and worked in a solicitor's office. Sully Prudhomme was a member of the «Conference La Bruyère», a distinguished student society, and the favourable reception that his fellow members gave to his juvenilia encouraged him to go on writing poetry. His first volume, Stances et Poèmes (1865) [Stanzas and Poems], was well reviewed by Sainte-Beuve and established his reputation. Sully Prudhomme combined a Parnassian regard for formal perfection and elegance with philosophic and scientific interests, which are revealed, for instance, in his translation of the first book of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (1878-79). Some of his other poetic works are: Croquis Italiens (1866-68) [Italian Notebook]; Solitudes (1869); Impressions de la guerre (1870) [Impressions of War]; Les Destins (1872) [Destinies]; La Révolte des fleurs (1872) [Revolt of the Flowers ]; La France (1874); Les Vaines Tendresses (1875) [Vain Endearments]; La Justice (1878); and Le Bonheur (1888) [Happiness]. Les Epaves (1908) [Flotsam], published posthumously, was a collection of miscellaneous poems. A collected edition of his writings in five volumes appeared in 1900-01. He also wrote essays and a book on Pascal, La Vraie Religion selon Pascal (1905) [Pascal on true Religion]. Sully Prudhomme was a member of the French Academy from 1881 until his death in 1907.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

The Broken Vase 

The vase where this verbena’s dying
Was cracked by a lady’s fan’s soft blow.
It must have been the merest grazing:
We heard no sound. The fissure grew.

The little wound spread while we slept,
Pried deep in the crystal, bit by bit.
A long, slow marching line, it crept
From spreading base to curving lip.

The water oozed out drop by drop,
Bled from the line we’d not seen etched.
The flowers drained out all their sap.
The vase is broken: do not touch.

The quick, sleek hand of one we love
Can tap us with a fan’s soft blow,
And we will break, as surely riven
As that cracked vase. And no one knows.

The world sees just the hard, curved surface
Of a vase a lady’s fan once grazed,
That slowly drips and bleeds with sadness.
Do not touch the broken vase.

("Le Vase Brisé" by René François Armand Sully-Prudhomme (1839-1907). Translation from French to English © 2009 by Robert Archambeau.

Fauré: Au bord de l'eau. Poème : Sully Prudhomme


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