Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) was one of those extraordinarily rare individuals who was both an artist and a head of state—albeit briefly! His life closely overlapped Sophie’s: born eleven year after her, he died in Paris only four years after she did. He was also a fellow Burgundian, and his poetry reflected highly Romantic sensibilities, extolling nature and the primacy of human emotions. One of her biographers claims that Sophie had many of his poems—probably his early ones, which were quite devout!—committed to memory. In his later life, Lamartine became a pantheist.
Reading Lamartine’s work is another way of entering into Sophie’s contemporary world. The opening stanza of his “Esprit de Dieu” (“Spirit of God”), written in 1823 as part of a collection Nouvelles Meditations Poétiques, clearly reveals a sensibility at one with Sophie’s—including the imagery of fire!
Le feu divin qui nous consume
Ressemble à ces feux indiscrets
Qu’un pasteur imprudent allume
Aux bord de profondes forêts;
Tant qu’aucun souffle ne l’éveille,
L’humble foyer couve et sommeille ;
ais s’il respire l’aquilon,
Tout à coup la flamme engourdie
S’enfle, déborde; et l’incendie
Embrase un immense horizon !
Rough translation: “The divine fire that consumes us / resembles one of those indiscreet fires set by a careless shepherd / beside a deep forest; / as long as no breath awakens it, / the humble foyer broods and sleeps; / and if it inhales the large north wind / all of a sudden the drowsy flame / expands, overflows; and the fire / sets the immense horizon ablaze!
Lamartine appears as a character in Part 12 (“Barricades”) at the moment just before the Revolution of 1848 explodes. He attends a banquet that King Louis-Philippe has forbidden, and a demonstration ensues. Lamartine, who was a charismatic orator, eventually became a key figure in founding the Second Republic and—briefly!—served as part of a committee that functioned temporarily as the head of state. His bid to be elected President, however, failed. In the painting below, we see him delivering a speech
For more of Lamartine’s poetry (in French), visit http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/alphonse_de_lamartine/alphonse_de_lamartine.html
To read one of his most famous poems (“The Lake”) in English, visit http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.com/2010/04/lamartine-lake-from-french.html
And to hear one of Lamartine’s poems recited in French, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfP9TYGOAtQ Because of Sophie’s affinity for butterflies (seen in Part 2, “Butterfly”), I like to imagine that this is her voice reciting the poem aloud . . .