Asked • 06/21/19

In Baudelaire's "Chant d'automne", why isn't the hidden rhythm better known?

I noticed something remarkable about one of Baudelaire's poems that I can't find any mention of on the web. My question is whether anybody has noticed this before, and whether there's some reason why it isn't known better. The poem is *Chant d'automne.* In part I, the poet hears the sound of firewood being tossed onto a paved courtyard, and this noise develops in his mind into a scaffold being built, a tower being assaulted by a battering ram, and finally to a coffin being nailed shut. What I noticed was that the rhythm of this *bruit mystérieux,* as Baudelaire calls it, can be heard fading in and out of the meter of the poem, taking the form of sequences of anapests, punctuated by triple iambs, and culminating in a whole line in iambic hexameter. Here is part I of the poem, with the syllables stressed by the rhythm marked in bold. > Chant d'automne > Charles Baudelaire > Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres ; Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts ! J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours. > Tout l'hiver va ren**trer** dans mon **êtr**e : co**lèr**e, **Hain**e, fris**sons**, hor**reur**, labeur **dur** et for**cé**, Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire, Mon cœur ne sera plus qu'un bloc rouge et glacé. > J'écoute en frémissant chaque **bûch**e qui **tomb**e ; L'écha**faud** qu'on bâ**tit** n'a **pas** d'é**cho** plus **sourd**. Mon es**prit** est pa**reil** à la **tour** qui suc**comb**e Sous les **coups** du bé**lier** infatigable et lourd. > Il me **sembl**e, ber**cé** par ce **choc** mono**ton**e, Qu'on **cloue** en **grand**e **hât**e un cer**cueil** quelque **part**. Pour **qui** ? – C'é**tait** hi**er** l'é**té** ; voi**ci** l'au**tomn**e ! Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ. The rhythm reappears in part II, in lines 4–7, where it seems to represent mortality; although note that in part II, the rhythm requires that one has to read line 6 with stresses on ***pour*** and not on *même*, which might be a more natural reading. It seems impossible that in 150 years of scholarly study of Baudelaire, one of the most famous French poets, nobody would have noticed this rhythm. On the other hand, none of the readings of this poem that I found on the internet seem to take any notice of this rhythm; I can find no mention of it whatsoever on the web (although maybe my French googling skills are lacking); and I found one scholar who said that parts I and II of the poem are related only by the themes of mortality and autumn. I can personally testify that it's actually quite hard to notice this rhythm. Even after I discovered it in part I, it took me quite a long time to realize that it reappears in part II. And maybe somebody who is used to reading English poetry has an easier time hearing the rhythm, as iambic and anapestic meters are common in English poetry and virtually never occur in French. Another possible reason that this might not be better known is that there may be no good way to read this poem so that the meter gives the impression of falling logs for native French speakers. (I can't really tell; I'd like to hear a native French speaker's opinion on this.) Baudelaire experimented in his poetry a certain amount, and maybe this is one of his experiments that didn't work. But certainly, if you set this poem to music, you could emphasize the rhythm quite easily. And neither of the two musical settings of this poem I found on the internet do so.

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