La Fontaine Poet and Counterpoet
. Rutgers University Press . New Brunswick, N.J. ,
Jean de La Fontaine
PQ1808.G8 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
Jean de La Fontaine
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This is an appealing book. Written for the general audience, it translates all the poetry of La Fontaine that it presents. It does not presume knowledge of the language, history, or literature surrounding La Fontaine's work but takes the reader into those areas. A first chapter offers a careful examination of the artistry of FC. The second chapter seems to me, after my cursory introduction to this book, to be a key: The Fable Fiction. Guiton finds La Fontaine both poet and counterpoet. Let me suggest what is for her involved in these two realms. Poetry deals with the myth of man the hero; it is inherently fictional. This is an idealized, at least magnified, version of ourselves (16). Poetry is of course thus lies even if they are Aesop's lies. La Fontaine wanted to revive the heroic style that was dead in late seventeenth-century French poetry. In the fables, La Fontaine fuses this style with counterpoetry, reality, nature, man as animal and a fairly insigificant one at that in the big picture of things. Prose fable early carried this realistic view of man, but La Fontaine will write poetic fables. This realistic vision is comic rather than heroic, arising out of our recognition of two different and contradictory aspects of an identical situation (27). These conflicts concern appearance and reality, promise and performance, what we are intended to see and what we, sometimes perversely, see for ourselves (27). These two points of view -- the single vision of imaginative poetry and the double vision of comedy -- are constantly displacing each other in La Fontaine's fables (26). She finds that his whole vision, bringing together counterpoetry and poetry, became deeper, broader, more assured and closely integrated as he gradually developed his art (29). In the epilogue to the eleventh book of fables, he defined his objective retrospectively: to translate 'the voice of nature,' as exressed by all living things, into 'the language of the gods,' or poetry (29). The next two chapters deal with fable language and verse form. The Fable as Counterpoetry encompasses the poetic comedy, the social comedy, and the human comedy. The Fable as Poetry encompasses such chapters as Words and Actions, The Voice of Nature, and The Language of the Gods. A final chapter speaks of La Fontaine as A Citizen of the Universe. I so look forward to the next time that I will teach La Fontaine!