Paul Morin

views updated May 29 2018

Paul Morin

Paul Morin (1889-1963) was a French-Canadian poet. Erudite, polished, and widely traveled, he was a brilliant exponent of art for art's sake and gave a sense of perfection to French-Canadian literature, which he raised from its then largely parochial level.

Paul Morin d'Équilly was born in Montreal into a family of professional men. His grandfather had come to Canada as a government geographer. His parents, though French Canadians, sent him first to an English-speaking Protestant school, and then to Jesuit colleges in Montreal and Paris. He went on to study law in Montreal and literature in Paris, where he defended a thesis on Longfellow (1912, published 1913). Meanwhile, he had been traveling in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, cultivating his taste for exotic visual beauty. This and the prevailing Parnassian fashion in poetry were the predominant influences in his first volume of poems, Le Paon d'émail (1911; The Enamel Peacock).

The poems earned him the admiration of Anna de Noailles, whose salon remained the center of Morin's literary world. His Canadian readers acknowledged Morin's artistic perfection and hailed him as their first real master of French language and verse. But his "paganism" aroused enthusiasm in some, hostility and public censure in others. The cult of sensuous beauty, the complete absence of political or moral purpose, and the poet's frequent references to his French soul amounted to a complete rejection of the French-Canadian bucolic tradition. (The importance of the earlier poet, Émile Nelligan, was not yet recognized.) Morin answered criticism of his non-Canadianism with false promises in the poem A ceux de mon pays (To Those of My Country), with high seriousness in "Thalatta" (The Sea), or with irony in "Mississippi."

Morin went on to teach French language and literature in various universities, edited a review, and opened a translation agency. In 1922 he published his second collection, Poèmes de cendre et d'or (Poems of Ashes and Gold), which shows an increase in virtuosity and incisiveness but not in Canadian content or moralizing. He received various honors in the following years but did not publish his third collection, Géronte et son miroir (The Old Man and His Mirror), until 1960. He died in 1963, having lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his work.

Morin does not entirely escape the charge of dilettantism, but his best poems have more than technical brilliance, and his stand for artistic values was a great advance in French-Canadian cultural life.

Further Reading

Morin is discussed in Ian Forbes Fraser, The Spirit of French Canada (1939). □