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In his ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound begins his short list of nineteenth-century French poets to be studied with Théophile Gautier. Widely esteemed by figures as diverse as Charles Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, Gustave Flaubert, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and T. S. Eliot, Gautier was one of the nineteenth century’s most prominent French writers, famous for his virtuosity, his inventive textures, and his motto “Art for art’s sake.” His work is often considered a crucial hinge between High Romanticism—idealistic, sentimental, grandiloquent—and the beginnings of “Parnasse,” with its emotional detachment, plasticity, and irresistible surfaces.
His large body of verse, however, is little known outside France. This generous sampling, anchored by the complete Émaux et Camées, perhaps Gautier’s supreme poetic achievement, and including poems from the vigorously exotic España and several early collections, not only succeeds in bringing these poems into English but also rediscovers them, renewing them in the process of translation. Norman Shapiro’s translations have been widely praised for their formal integrity, sonic acuity, tonal sensitivities, and overall poetic qualities, and he employs all these gifts in this collection. Mining one of the crucial treasures of the French tradition, Shapiro makes a major contribution to world letters.Author: Theophile Gautier