Jules Laforgue  

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December 11 1891 at the Théâtre d'Art of Paul Fort

"Throughout the nineteenth century, refuge in metaphysics was the best antidote for timor mortis, the miseries of the hic et nunc, and the sense of the absurd by which we define ourselves and the world. Then came Jules Laforgue." --"Julios en acción", a short text by Cortázar which cites "Encore à cet astre" by Laforgue

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jules Laforgue (Montevideo, 16 August 1860Paris, 20 August 1887) was a French symbolist poet. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire and Walt Whitman, Laforgue was one of the first French poets to write in free verse. Philosophically, he was an ardent disciple of Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann. His poetry would be one of the major influences on the young T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He is best-known for the posthumously published collection Le sanglot de la terre and the invention of the fictional character Pierrot fumiste.


His parents, Charles-Benoît Laforgue and Pauline Lacollay, met in Uruguay where his father worked first as a teacher and then a bank employee. Jules was the second of eleven children in the family. In 1866 the family moved back to France, to Tarbes, his father's hometown. In 1867 Jules, along with his older brother Émile, was left to be raised with a cousin's family when his mother chose to return to Uruguay alone.

In 1869 Jules's father took the family to Paris. In 1877, his mother died in childbirth, and Jules, never a good student, failed his baccalaureate exams. He failed again in 1878, and then a third time, but on his own began to read the great French authors and visit the museums of Paris.

In 1879 his father became sick and returned to Tarbes, but Jules stayed behind in Paris. He published his first poem in Toulouse. By the end of the year, he had published several poems and was noticed by well-known authors. In 1880 he moved in the literary circles of the capital and became a protégé of Paul Bourget, the editor of the review La vie moderne.

By 1881 his literary career had become so busy that he did not return to Tarbes for his father's funeral. From November of that year until 1886, he lived in Berlin, working as the French reader for the Empress Augusta, a sort of cultural counselor. He was well paid and could pursue his interests very freely. In 1885, he wrote L'Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune, his masterpiece.

In 1886, he returned to France and married Leah Lee, an Englishwoman. He died the next year of tuberculosis, his wife following him shortly thereafter.


  • Stéphane Vassiliew (1881, not published until 1943)
  • Les Complaintes (1885)
  • L'Imitation de Notre Dame de la Lune (1886)
  • Moralités légendaires (1887)
  • Derniers vers (1890)
  • Berlin, la cour et la ville (1922)

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