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A word about intertextuality

How may two poems 'speak' to each other? Lead Educator Patrick Thom discusses this phenomenon of the potential for dialogue between two texts.
The perspective of a writer and that of a reader are quite different. Normally-speaking, of course, all writers are also readers, and their work will be informed, even at a subconscious level, by what they have read. On occasions, writers may opt to refer more explicitly to another writer’s work, setting up a sort of dialogue between two pieces of writing from which a new truth emerges.

This phenomenon, while fascinating, lies outside the scope of this course. What we do find, however, is that from the reader’s perspective, one poem may not infrequently remind us of another. The most obvious example of this that we have encountered on this course is the contrast between Christophe Plantin’s ‘Le bonheur de ce monde’ and Victor Hugo’s ‘On vit, on parle’, both poems being on the subject of life and death.

There is no connection by authorial design between the two works, but it is entirely legitimate for the reader to reflect on the thematic connection that is clearly there, and to use one poem to help with the approach to another. Put simply, it is a frequent and normal reaction when reading poetry to say “This reminds me of…”, and that starting point can lead us down some very illuminating paths, as well as some dead ends.

Can you think of any other such links, thematic or stylistic, between the poems that we have considered on this course?

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How to Read French Poetry

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