La mort du fossoyeur ("The death of the gravedigger") by Carlos Schwabe is a visual compendium of Symbolist motifs. Death and angels, pristine snow, and the dramatic poses of the characters all express Symbolist longings for transfiguration "anywhere, out of the world."
Symbolism was a late nineteenth century art movement of French and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts.
" 1 Precursors and origins
" 2 Movement
o 2.1 The Symbolist Manifesto
o 2.2 Techniques
o 2.3 Paul Verlaine and the po?tes maudits
o 2.4 Philosophy
o 2.5 Literary world
" 3 In other media
o 3.1 In the visual arts
o 3.2 Music
o 3.3 Prose fiction
o 3.4 Theatre
" 4 Aftermath
" 5 Symbolists
o 5.1 Precursors
o 5.2 Authors
o 5.3 Influence in English literature
o 5.4 Symbolist painters
" 6 External links
" 7 References
Precursors and origins
French Symbolism was in large part a reaction against Naturalism and Realism, movements which attempted to capture reality in its particularity. These movements invited a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams; the path to Symbolism begins with that reaction. Some writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans, began as naturalists before moving in the direction of Symbolism; for Huysmans, this change reflected his awakening interest in religion and spirituality.
The Symbolist movement in literature has its roots in Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire. The esthetic was developed by Stephane Mallarm? and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 70s. During the 1880s, the esthetic was articulated through a series of manifestoes and attracted a generation of writers. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire greatly admired and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images.
Distinct from the Symbolist movement in literature, Symbolism in art represents an outgrowth of the more gothic and darker sides of Romanticism; but where Romanticism was impetuous and rebellious, Symbolist art was static and hieratic.
The Symbolist Manifesto
Symbolists believed that art should aim to capture more absolute truths which could only be accessed by indirect methods. Thus, they wrote in a highly metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. The Symbolist manifesto ('Le Symbolisme', Le Figaro, 18 Sept 1886) was published in 1886 by Jean Mor?as. Mor?as announced that Symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description," and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal":
In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.
The Symbolist poets wished to liberate techniques of versification in order to allow greater room for "fluidity", and as such were aligned with the movement towards free verse, a direction very much in evidence in the poems of Gustave Kahn. Symbolist poems sought to evoke, rather than to describe; symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet's soul. Synesthesia was a prized experience; poets sought to identify and confound the separate senses of scent, sound, and colour. In Baudelaire's poem Correspondences which also speaks tellingly of for?ts de symboles - forests of symbols -
Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
- Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.
(There are perfumes that are fresh like babies' skins,
sweet like oboes, green like meadows
- And others, corrupt, rich, and triumphant,
having the expansiveness of infinite things,
like amber, musc, benjamin, and incense,
which sing of the raptures of the mind and senses.)
and Rimbaud's poem Voyelles:
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles. . .
(A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels. . .)
- both poets seek to identify one sense experience with another, although it seems that neither of them actually experienced synesthesia (see famous synesthetes).
Paul Verlaine and the po?tes maudits
But perhaps of the several attempts at defining the essence of Symbolism, none was more influential than Paul Verlaine's 1884 publication of a series of essays on Tristan Corbi?re, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stephane Mallarm?, each of whom Verl aine numbered among the po?tes maudits, "accursed poets."
Verlaine argued that in their individual and very different ways, each of these hitherto neglected poets found genius a curse; it isolated them from their contemporaries, and as a result these poets were not at all concerned to avoid hermeticism and idiosyncratic writing styles. In this conception of genius and the role of the poet, Verlaine referred obliquely to the aesthetics of Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher of pessimism, who held that the purpose of art was to provide a temporary refuge from the world of blind strife of the will.
Schopenhauer's aesthetics reflected shared concerns with the Symbolist programme; they both tended to look to Art as a contemplative refuge from the world of strife and Will. From this desire for an artistic refuge from the world, the Symbolists took characteristic themes of mysticism and otherworldliness, a keen sense of mortality, and a sense of the malign power of sexuality. Mallarm?'s poem Les fen?tres () expresses all of these themes clearly. A dying man in a hospital bed, seeking escape from the pain and dreariness of his physical surroundings, turns toward his window; turns away in disgust from:
. . . . l'homme ? l'?me dure
Vautr? dans le bonheur, o? ses seuls app xE9;tits
Mangent, et qui s'ent?te ? chercher cette ordure
Pour l'offrir ? la femme allaitant ses petits,
("the hard-souled man, wallowing in happiness, where only his appetites feed, and who insists on seeking out this filth to o ffer to the wife suckling his children")