Théodore De Banville's Cleopâtre

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Written in by Parnassian poet Théodore de Banville, Cléopâtre is an interesting example of a poem commanded by the notion of ‘l’art pour l’art.’ At first, the poem reads as a reflection of contemporary interests in Greco-Roman mythology, having evolved from the Romanticism of the early 19th century. However, at closer inspection, it is possible that Banville has used his 1865 poem to express his ideas on the limitations of religion and simultaneously the effect of beauty. Exploration of religion is a key aspect of Cléopâtre, something that is portrayed primarily through the theme of eternity throughout the poem; this idea is both introduced and fortified in the first two stanzas. The use of vocabulary in, Dans la nuit brûlante où la plainte…show more content…
The consistent use of the present tense throughout the entirety of the poem is, in itself, a way of ensuring that the poem has timelessness about it, as opposed to limiting it to the past tense, or contrarily giving it an uncertainty through a future or conditional. The use of the present tense means that the picture is being created with the reader and this, together with the enjambment employed means that the images merge into one another. In addition to this, Banville uses vocabulary such as, ‘continue,’ ‘fleuve,’ ‘surnaturel’ and finally, ‘éternel,’ itself to create the semantic field of time without end. Given the image of eternity, the fact that the narrator ends this sequence of vocabulary with, “de Dieux,” is of importance because it brings a new idea to the forefront of the reader’s mind: that of the afterlife, giving the poem a fluidity that is mirrored in the structure. More specifically, it is lexis such as, ‘palais,’ ‘effroyable’ and, ‘se dresse,’ that do this, calling on traditional ideas of heaven as a kingdom, and God as an entity to be feared. From a closer perspective, it could even be said that Banville concludes this stanza as an allusion to the Garden of Eden, forming a subtle rhyme between ‘un lit rose où,’ (line 7) and, ‘dort Cleopatre nue,’ the naked Cleopatra perhaps being a representation of Eve. Actually, this idea is developed through the sense of height presented by the narrator in the second stanza, particularly in lines 5 and 6 through depictions of, ‘la blanche lune, au haut de son vol,’ and ‘les escaliers élancés en plein ciel.’ Ironically, though, the change of tone in the last two stanzas contradicts the image of an eternity, perhaps that of the afterlife, that had been created in the first
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