Fort, Paul 1872–1960
Fort, Paul 1872–1960
PERSONAL: Born February 1, 1872, in Rheims, France; died April 20, 1960, near Montlhery, France; married three times. Education: Attended Lycée Loisle-Grand (Paris, France).
CAREER: Lecturer, poet, and playwright. Théâtre de l'Art, founder and actor, beginning 1891; Livre d'Art (magazine), cofounder; Vers et Prose (magazine), founder and editor, 1905–14; lectured abroad on French literature, late 1910s; fruit farmer, Montlhéry, France, 1921–60. Military service: French Army; served during World War I.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Lasserre, 1936; Grand Prix de Littérature, City of Paris, 1956; named chevalier, French Légion d'Honneur.
IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
La petite bête (one-act play), Librairie de l'Art Indépendant (Paris, France), 1890.
Premières lueurs sur la colline (poems), Librairie de l'Art Indépendant (Paris, France), 1893.
Plusieurs choses (poems), 1894.
Il y a là des cris (poems), 1895.
Ballades françaises, 1894–1896 (poems), three volumes, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 1897–1914.
Île de France (poems), privately printed (Paris, France), 1908.
Saint-Jean-au-Bois (poems), 1908.
Coucy-le-Château (poems), 1908.
Vivre en dieu suivi de Naissance du printemps à La Ferté-Milton: et de L'aventure éternelle, E. Figuiè (Paris, France), 1912.
Poèmes de France, bulletin lyrique de la guerre (1914–1915), Payot et cie (Lausanne, France), 1916.
La Lanterne de Priollet; ou, L'epopée de Luxembourg (poems), 1918.
Les enchanteurs (poems), 1919.
Barbe-bleue, Jeanne d'Arc et mes amours (poems), 1919.
Chansons à la Gauloise (poems), 1919.
Poèmes au Danois (poems), 1920.
Pontoise; ou, La folle journée (poems), 1920.
Hélène en fleur et Charlemagne (poems), Mercure de France (Paris, France), 1921.
Au pas des moulins (poems), 1921.
La ronde autour de monde, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.
Florilège des ballades françaises, Imprimerie L. Pichon (Paris, France), 1922.
L'arbre à poèmes, J. Povolozky (Paris, France), 1922.
Louis XI, curieux homme; chronique de France (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.
Ballades françaises, Flammarion (Paris, Frances), 1922.
Éditions définitive des ballades françaises et chroniques de France (collected works), forty volumes, 1922–58.
L'amour et l'aventure (title means "Love and Adventure"), Flammarion (Paris, Fance), 1923.
Fantômes en Guirlande, Fayard (Paris, France), 1923.
Les étoiles du romantisme: Lamartine, Vigny, Musset …, Cercle de la librairie (Paris, France), 1923.
La France à travers les ballades françaises, Reims, couclier de la France, François Bernouard (Paris, France), 1923.
Les compères du roi Louis: chronique de France (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1924.
Jeanne d'Arc, François Bernouard (Paris, France), 1924.
Ysabeau: chronique de France (five-act play; first produced in Paris, France, at Théâtre de l'Odéon, 1924), Imprimerie de l'Illustration (Paris, France), 1924.
Fantômes de chaque jour (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1925.
Île-de-France: Portrait dessiné, G. Crès (Paris, France), 1925.
Paris la grande ville, François Bernouard (Paris, France), 1925.
La touragelle, preface by Camille Mauclair, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1925.
Les fleurs de lys, preface by Maurice Renard, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1926.
Guillaume le bâtard (poems), 1926.
(With Louis Mandin) Histoire de la poésie française depuis 1850 (title means "The History of French Poetry since 1850"), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1926.
Le camp de drap d'or (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1926.
Les ballades françaises, montagnes, forêt, plaine, mer, illustrated by François-Louis Schmied, Cercle Lyonnais de Livre (Lyon, France), 1927.
L'or, Ruggieri: chronique de France en trois actes suivi de Ruggieri, chronique de France en un acte (plays), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1927.
L'Île-de-France et ses entours, Korijous de France (Paris, France), 1927.
Toute la France (title means "All of France"), preface by Paul Valéry, F. Bernouard (Paris, France), 1927.
Chansons d'amour, F. Fernouard (Paris, France), 1927.
Le rire français, F. Fernouard (Paris, France), 1928.
Quartier Latin, F. Fernouard (Paris, France), 1929.
L'amour, enfant de Bohème, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1930.
La poésie de Paris, Éditions de la Marjolaine (Paris, France), 1930.
Rois de France, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1931.
Contes de ma soeur l'oie, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1931.
L'homme tombédu paradis: petit roman gaulois, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1932.
La conquête de l'Angleterre (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1933.
L'arche de Noé, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1934.
Chants du malheur et chansons du bonheur, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1935.
L'Arlequin de plomb (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1936.
Naufrage sous l'arc-en-ciel, A.J. Klein (Paris, France), 1937.
Joies désolées et tristesses consolées (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1937.
Expo 57 suivi de Raymonde aux veux verts, peit roman lyrique et parisien, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1938.
Le livre des visions, introduction by Paul Valéry, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1941.
L'arbre des fées, introduction by Maurice Maeterlinck, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1942.
Un jardinier du jardin de France (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1943.
Mes mémoirs, toute la vie duun poée, 1872–1943 (memoirs), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1944.
Bol d'air, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1946.
La bille de verre: trente gouaches sur l'Île de France, illustrated by Daniel Rouvière, Horizons de France (Paris, France), 1947.
On loge à pied et à cheval (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1947.
Contes de ma soeur l'oioe et de mon frère le jars, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1947.
Le pèlerin de la France, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1948.
Vive Patrie!, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1949.
Mon grands pays; ou, l'ombre du trouvère s'etand sur la France (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1950.
Empire de France (poems), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1953.
Ferveur française, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1954.
Si tout l'amour m'était conté …, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1958.
Ballades françaises, choix 1897–1960, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1963.
Ronde: 80 poésies pour la jeunesse, choisies parmi les ballades françaises, Éditions Bourrelier (Paris, France), 1964.
Ballades en faveur de la fantaisie, Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1974.
Ballades inédites, J. Grassin Éditeur (Paris, France), 1980.
Ballades du beau hazard; poèmes inédits et autre poèmes, Farnier Flammarion (Paris, France), 1985.
Also author of lecture collection À travers la librairie: dix causeries françaises. Works have been included in Hands around the World, Crown (New York, NY), 1986, and Ronde, Bourrelier (Paris, France), 1973. Contributor to periodicals, including Mercure de France and L'Ermitage. Contributor to sound recordings Songs of France. Program No. 400: Songs of the Devil, French Broadcasting System in North America (New York, NY), 1957; and Songs of France. Program Bo. 472: Poetry for French Song Lyrics, French Broadcasting System in North America, 1958.
ADAPTATIONS: Many of the author's poems have been adapted as song lyrics by various composers.
SIDELIGHTS: Known as the "prince of poets" in the French literary community, Paul Fort modeled his verse on the ballad form of the Middle Ages. His first published volume of poetry was titled Ballades françaises, 1894–1896, and he used the same title for some forty subsequent volumes. Fort is remembered as a self-styled popular poet who published many volumes of verse in his lifetime that were collected under the title Éditions définitive des ballades françaises et chroniques de France. Despite, or perhaps because of, the great quantity of his works, Fort's reputation as a poet has diminished gradually over the years.
Fort intended to pursue a career in the military, but he changed his mind after meeting Pierre Louÿs, who encouraged him to develop his literary interests and with whom he regularly went to the Café Voltaire. There, they met the symbolist poets Jean Moreau, Henri de Régnier, and Paul Verlaine. Fort's enthusiasm seemed boundless. At the age of seventeen, he quit school and founded the Théâtre de l'Art to perform the works of French-language symbolist poets and the plays of the foreign naturalist dramatists. During its almost four-year existence, the theater also performed Fort's one-act comedy La petite bête. Renowned French critic and novelist Remy de Gourmont wrote about Fort's theatrical activities in his multi-volume critical work Promenades littéraires: "It is truly miraculous that Paul Fort, an unknown and without experience, almost without resources, could found and maintain for almost four years a theatrical enterprise, even one as lacking in luxuries as the Théâ tre de l'Art."
While still only in his late teens, Fort also published his first chapbooks of poetry and individual poems in the famous literary and artistic review Mercure de France, which was at first associated with the symbolists but also published works by writers of all schools and nationalities. In these early years, Fort developed the style that became his hallmark: a prose format that uses rhyme, assonance, and rhythm. His subjects typically included nature, folklore, and history.
With the demise of the Théâtre de l'Art, Fort, along with Alfred Jarry, Léon-Paul Fargue, Pierre Louÿs, Charles Guérin, Henri Bataille, and Francis Jammes, established the review Livre de l'Art. Like the Théâtre de l'Art, this review promoted works that, in contrast to the objective, personal, and restrained verse of the Parnassians, were more easily comprehensible to readers in their style and subject matter. In the introduction to Fort's 1896 book of verse, Ballades françaises, 1894–1896, as quoted in Promenades littéraires, Louÿs described the nature of Fort's verse as "short poems in Polymorphous verse or in alexandrines, yet they are set in the form of normal prose that does not have the diction of verse but that of rhymed prose. Sometimes the use of rhyme and assonance are all that distinguish his style from that of lyrical prose."
In Promenades littéraires Gourmont further wrote, "While most poets purposefully employ metaphysical or grandiloquent language, Fort, even in his most lyrical effusions, rarely exceeds the moderate tone of a poet like Alfred de Musset, and his displays of emotion are mixed with irony or the sardonic. These techniques give his ballads a great deal of charm and individuality." So, too, did his simplicity, his enthusiasm, and a sense of humor that ran to puns. "Here is the most interesting of the second generation symbolist poets," asserted Gourmont, "the most ingenious, the most sparkling, the most rich in poetry." Yet Fort's alleged facility also had a downside, which Gourmont summarized: "It has been said that Paul Fort is a genius pure and simple and that means without a doubt that his talent does not come at a high enough a cost, that he lets himself be carried too much by inspiration." Yet, Pierre Béarn noted in a Nouvelle Revue des Deux Mondes article, "It only takes looking at Paul Fort's manuscripts to be convinced that facility is not one of the poet's faults. Nothing is more difficult than simplicity. Paul Fort scribbled incessantly on pieces of paper that quickly became illegible; he only kept what was necessary of this abundance."
In 1905 Fort and AndréSalmon created the review, and the accompanying publishing house, Vers et Prose. Gourmont called attention to this review in Promenades littéraires: "Paul Fort is the most charming of our poets and one of our best prose writers. He is also a man with taste, as evidenced by the review he founded and organized to his taste. Vers et Prose is an admirable anthology that assembles the most sparkling of today's literature." Fort and Paul Valéry directed the review until 1914, publishing works by the most important author of the epoch. Fort was also a member of a group of poets who met regularly at a cafécalled Closerie des Lilas.
In 1912, Fort was named "Prince of Poets" in an election organized by the Comaedia and the Gil Blas. Two years later he was drafted into the French army and worked a desk job throughout World War I. Despite wartime paper shortages, he managed to publish several books of patriotic poems. After the war he gave lectures on French literature in the United States that were later compiled in À travers la librairie: dix causeries françaises.
Fort's conception of his role as a poet and the style he employed remained constant throughout his sixty-five-year career. In 1922 he reiterated his artistic credo. "I wanted to show the primacy of rhythm over versification (prosody)," he explains in the introduction to Louis XI, curieux homme; chronique de France. "I wanted a style that could follow the emotions from verse to prose and back: rhythmic prose provided the transition…. Prose, rhythmic prose, and verse are only a single gradual instrument." According to Béarn, Fort realized his goals. "It is impossible to open a book by Paul Fort without immediately coming upon an image invigorating for its joie de vivre, or a play on words, or a juicy expression, or an outpouring of enthusiasm," Béarn wrote, adding, "His good-naturedness, his frankness, his sly naivete, his tenderness, his bitterness, all the multiple facets of his talent are spontaneous enchantments that make the reader feel young again. Reading the work of Paul Fort … allows the reader to find his youthfulness of soul again, to find his emotional freshness, his marvelous childhood. Upon reading his work, a person refreshes his inner core."
Unfortunately for Fort, after World War II, the public lost interest in much of his verse. Yet, even while the popularity of his verse diminished, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature. Béarn summed up Fort's career this way: "Considering the importance of his work and the fact that we continue to like his first poems seventy-two years after he wrote them, and they have never aged, Paul Fort can affirm that he was in his later life what he had already been in his youth—a great poet."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antonakis, Antoine, and François Fort, Paul Fort à Montlhéry: Le poète est dans le pré, Éditions du Soleil Natal (Etréchy, France), 1990.
Béarn, Pierre, Paul Fort, fifth edition, Seghers (Paris, France), 1975.
Fort, Paul, Louis XI, curieux homme; chronique de France, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.
Gourmont, Remy de, Pormenades littéraires, fourth series, "Paul Fort" de France (Paris, France), 1912.
Masson, G., Paul Fort: son oeuvre, Éditions du Carnet-critique (Paris, France), 1924.
Mégroz-Cochand, Mireille, and Annick Lebreton, Paul Fort à Nantes (exhibition catalog), Musée des beaux-arts (Nantes, France), 1972
Information Litteraire, Volume 26, 1974, "Paul Fort," pp. 48-50.
Nouvelle Revue des Deux Mondes, October, 1972, Pierre Béarn, "Paul Fort, prince des poètes," pp. 122-128.
Nouvelles Litteraires, March, 1972, "Scandaleux," pp. 4-5.
Montlhéry.com, http://montlhery.com/ (May 8, 2002), profile of author in French and samples of poetry.
Rec Music Foundation Web site, http://recmusic.org/ (August 14, 2002), information on author's verse and lyrics.
New York Times, April 22, 1960.