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Difference between Parnasianism and symbolism

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The parnasianism was a literary movement, specifically in poetry, characterized by its interest in the form, structure and beauty of the verse, the search for objectivity, the suppression of the author's personality, was inspired by the classical Greco-Latin imaginary, and proclaimed the idea of "Art for art's sake". This movement originated in France in the second half of the 19th century and was opposed to the subjectivism and sentimental charge of romanticism.

The symbolism It is a literary movement that also originates in France, in the third part of the 19th century, emerging as a response to naturalism and realism. This movement was characterized by considering that poetry could not be constructed rationally, and that the word functioned as a way to discover a reality underlying the evident, so he made use of symbols, metaphorical language and rhetorical figures that mixed the sensations and the senses.

In addition, the symbolism differed from Parnassianism by not giving so much importance to the poetic structure, focusing more on the rhythm and musicality of the word.

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It is a French literary movement of the second part of the nineteenth century that opted for the form and structure of the poem, rejected romantic subjectivism and proposed art for art's sake.

It is a literary movement born in France in the last third of the 19th century that saw in poetry a way to reveal a ideal world, underlying the real one, making use of symbols and metaphors, where musicality and rhythm prevailed over shape.


  • Promulgate the idea of ​​art for art's sake.
  • It is opposed to the excesses of romanticism.
  • It is inspired by Greco-Latin, ancient and exotic elements.
  • The shape and meter of the poem are very important.
  • His poetic style is highly descriptive, inspired by the plastic arts.
  • It gives importance to the objectivity and impersonality of the poem.
  • Promulgate the idea of ​​art for art's sake.
  • It is opposed to the naturalism, realism and positivism of the time.
  • It favors the musicality of the verse and the stanza.
  • He rejects excessive formality, seeking greater poetic freedom.
  • It proposes the existence of a reality beyond the observable one.
  • It is subjective.
  • Use symbols and figures of speech to enhance the senses and sensitivity.
Main managers Théophile Gautier, Leconte de Lisle, Charles Baudelaire, José María de Heredia y Girard, François Coppée. Stéphane Mallarmé, Jean Moréas, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Charles de Baudelaire.

What is Parnassianism?

Parnassianism is a literary trend, mainly poetic, from the middle of the 19th century that began in France, who cared about aesthetic formality and opposed sentimental subjectivism Romantic. As a poetic movement after romanticism, Parnassianism influenced, along with symbolism, the rise of modernism.

Its main exponents would be the French poets Charles-Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894) and Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), the latter being the one who promulgated the idea of ​​the art for art's sake.

The noun Parnassus comes from the homonym Parnassus, a character from Greek mythology, who founded the oracle of Delphi, where the Muses lived. For this reason, the region where this oracle was located was known as the meeting place of poets.

The meaning of Parnassus, then, later came to refer to the grouping of poets and / or an anthological repertoire of literary works.

Thus, it was with the anthology published in the French magazine Contemporary Parnassus (Le Parnasse contemporain) in 1866 that the Parnassian movement would acquire his name. This magazine would have several editions, containing poetry written by different authors.

Characteristics of Parnassianism

  • It was a movement inscribed mainly in poetry.
  • It takes inspiration from classical Greco-Roman poetics.
  • The aesthetic form is of great importance, particularly the description of beauty.
  • Poetic meter is very important.
  • It is impersonal, the poem and poetry are more important than the presence of the author.
  • It is opposed to romantic subjectivism.
  • He is interested in the exotic.
  • He proposes the idea of ​​art for art's sake.

Interest in the form

In Parnassianism, the poet tried to master the meter and the poem at an aesthetic level, avoiding falling into sentimentality. The form was very important, so poetry had to present beauty in its structure.

In addition, his poetic style is descriptive, and makes use of careful meter, for example, Alexandrian verses and sonnets.

Distancing from romanticism

Parnassianism as a poetic movement opposed romanticism in its style and subjectivism in which romantic poems fell, particularly when personalizing poetry with the presence of the poet. In addition, with its stance of art for art's sake, Parnassianism sought to free itself from the chaining of poetry and art to interpretations of a political nature.

Use of Greco-Latin elements and interest in the exotic

The influence of Greek and Latin art and culture was great on Parnassianism. There was a rejection of the use of the contemporary context of the 19th century in poetic works. The exotic and the ancient style were considered as elements of beauty that could be expressed in Parnassian poems.

Guardians of the pure contour;
Taking of Syracuse
The bronze in which he firmly
The proud and charming trait;
With a delicate hand
Search a vein
The profile of Apollo.
Painter, run away from watercolor,
And fix the color
Too fragile
In the enameler's oven.
Do the blue mermaids
Twisting in a hundred ways
The tails of her,
The monsters of the blazons,
In its trilobed nimbus
The Virgin and hers, her child, her Jesus,
With the balloon
And the cross on top.

Excerpt from the poem The art, by Théophile Gautier (translation by Monserrat Tárres).

In the extract of this poem by Théophile Gautier it is possible to appreciate the influence of Greek and mythical elements, as well as Christian religiosity.

Importance of description

The description was very important to visually trace, through words, exotic worlds and beings, in such a way that poetry would be a form of plastic art. Thus, Parnassian poems would convey the image in the same way as a painting or sculpture.

The big-bellied hippo
It lives in the jungles of Java,
Where they rumble, deep in the caves,
Monsters that cannot be dreamed of.
The boa that glides whistling,
The tiger expresses his roar,
The buffalo with rage roaring;
He just sleeps or always lies quiet.

Excerpt from the poem The hippoby Théophile Gautier.

In this issue, you can see a search for the strange and exotic (for a 19th century Frenchman) and how Gautier describes those beings that inhabit hidden places in the jungle, without using elaborate language to provoke emotions.

Along with symbolism, Parnassianism was important in the development of modernism in Spanish America, which may can be seen in the work of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), who even dedicated one of his sonnets to Leconte from Lisle:

Of the eternal muses the sovereign kingdom
You travel under a breath of eternal inspiration,
Like a superb rajah than in his Indian elephant
Through its dominions it passes from rough wind to sound.
You have in your song like echoes of the Ocean;
The jungle and the lion are seen in your poetry;
Wild light radiates the lyre that in your hand
Pour out its sonorous, robust vibration.
You of the fakir know secrets and avatars;
To your soul the East gave secular mysteries,
Legendary visions and oriental spirit.
Your verse is nourished with sap from the earth;
Ramayanas glow your living stanza encloses,
And you sing in the language of the colossal forest.

Ruben Dario, Leconte de Lisle.

The characteristics that mark the movement of which Leconte de Lisle was one of the main promoters and authors can be seen in this poem.

the art for the art

The idea of ​​art for art's sake assumes that artistic work and artwork they must not have a purposespecific, outside the aesthetic admiration of the work itself. This lack of purpose implies that artistic creation is a work of the artist as an individual, without the need to be subject to his social context, nor a pragmatic need for it.

The basis for this perspective can be found in the proposal of the German philosopher Inmanuel Kant (1724-1804) on aesthetic judgment. In Kant, art is divorced from all representation and has no meaning. This is because aesthetic contemplation is disinterested and has no purpose.

It is worth mentioning that this stance of art for art's sake was criticized by Soviet authors and thinkers and Marxist-Leninists, seeing it as a way of making bourgeois art that considers art as free from all ideology.

Some of the main exponents of Parnassianism:

  • Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), French writer and poet.
  • Charles-Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894), French poet and greatest exponent of this movement.
  • Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French writer and poet, was related to both Parnassianism and symbolism.
  • François Coppée (1842-1908), French writer.
  • José María de Heredia and Girard (1842-1905), Cuban poet.
  • Ruben Dario (1867-1916), Nicaraguan poet and journalist (modernist with Parnassian influence).

What is symbolism?

Symbolism is a literary movement of the nineteenth century, whose origin was in France, mainly hand in hand with writers such as Stéphane de Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Charles de Baudelaire. It is characterized by giving importance to the use of metaphors and images in writing, since these help to discover a reality that is hidden under the obvious reality.

The beginning of the movement occurs around the year 1886, partly in opposition to the naturalism and realism of the time. For symbolism there is a dual reality, an ideal world that underlies an ideal world. For this reason, he uses metaphors, sensations and the use of the senses, to stimulate the imagination, establishing a parallel between dreams and the ideal world.

Like Parnassianism, there was no interest in using poetry and artistic creation as a means of political expression or social movement, adopting the idea of ​​art for art's sake.

Characteristics of symbolism

  • This movement confronts the naturalism and realism of the 19th century.
  • Seek inspiration in the fantastic and spiritual.
  • Interest in that poetry provokes the senses.
  • An essentially idealistic movement that resorts to the imaginary.
  • He is more interested in the expressive freedom of the poem and less in the form, unlike Parnassianism.
  • It rejects the form and beauty of the verse, in favor of a greater freedom of its structure.
  • It is humanistic and subjective movement.
  • He adopted the precept of art for art's sake, distancing himself from political positions.
  • There is a sensible or real world and an ideal world that poetry helps to discover.
  • Interest in musicality and emotion.

Bases of the symbolist movement

The French poets Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) and Jean Moréas (1856-1910) lay the foundations of the Symbolist movement.

In Mallarmé, aesthetics in symbolist writing avoids referring directly to an idea or concept, using, instead, the own rhythm and the images that the poet integrates in the poem to manifest or express said idea. For this reason, the appeal to the senses and synesthesia are common elements to suggest that reality, avoiding description.

In the case of Moréas, in the Symbolism Manifesto (1986) establishes that this movement is contrary to false sensitivity and objective description, where “symbolist poetry seeks to dress the Idea in a sensible way” (“…la poésie symbolique cherche à vêtir l'Idée d'une forme sensible”).

Thus, the intention is not that poetry is a description or definition of what there is or is the real world, but rather that it expresses it through sensations, without the poem ever being an end or object in itself.

Discovery of an ideal world

In symbolism there is a reality underlying objective reality, being important to use a poetic language that transcends the description of things. The world is there to be discovered, hence the symbols and the mystical help the poet to transcend in poetry to that other reality.

Search for musicality and poetic freedom

Unlike Parnassianism, in symbolism the interest of the poet is focused on the musicality of the poem, without much concern for the form of the verse. In this case, the poem does not have to be beautiful in a formal sense, so the poet enjoys more freedom in composing it.

In this way, free verse is imposed on the careful and formalized meter, present in Parnassianism (for example, in the continuous use of the sonnet), in such a way that the symbolist verse gives great importance to the musicality of the word.

The poet, that prince of the clouds, who lives
free in the storm, it is quite similar;
exiled on earth, among the vulgar that screams,
his giant wings prevent him from walking.

Excerpt from Albatrossby Charles de Baudelaire.

In the poem Albatross, which is part of The flowers of EvilBaudelaire compares the free poet with the bird in flight, which is limited when he is walking. The poet says that in mid-flight they are like kings of the air, while, being caught and walking on the decks of ships, they move awkwardly.

This poem works as a metaphor for the free poet in front of a society that tries to withdraw him from his natural element, in this case the air. Poetry made under the prevailing social norms is like an albatross that walks awkwardly.

Opposition to rationalism in poetry

Symbolism is an anti-positivist movement. This is opposed to the idea of ​​rationalizing poetry, as if it were a medium that makes reality intelligible. That is why symbolism places emphasis on the images that words can produce and not descriptions or explanations about the functioning of reality.

Using synesthesia to heighten the senses

A rhetorical figure frequently used by symbolists was synesthesia, which is based on relating sensations belonging to different senses. Thus, various sensations are intermingled and a parallel sensitivity to the experience of the senses is sought:

A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
I will one day say your latent births.
Black A, hairy doublet of hungry flies
that buzz in the cruel lethal stenches.
E, candor of mists, of shops, of reals
glacier spears fierce and shuddering
of umbrellas; I, the purple ones, the bloody spit,
the laughter from the furious and sensual lips.
U, divine tremors of the immense and green sea.
Peace of stool. Peace with which alchemy bites
the wise forehead and leaves more wrinkles than anger.
O, supreme clarion of deep stridor,
silences disturbed by angels and worlds.
Oh, the Omega, violet reflection of her eyes!

Arthur Rimbaud, Vowels (translation by Mauricio Baricasse).

The poem Vowels Rimbaud's is an ode to poetic synesthesia. Here, words acquire attributes, they are lived according to how the senses experience them. Each vowel thus has special qualities, an evocation to see reality, through poetry, in a different way.

Cursed poets

The accursed poets are a group of French writers of the late nineteenth century, closely related to poetic symbolism and characterized by rejecting romanticism, naturalism and realism, having an attitude that faced the moral and social formalism of his time, in addition to a tumultuous life and even self-destructive.

The designation of "accursed poets" was taken from the title of the book I poete them maudits (The cursed poets, 1888) by Paul Verlaine. In this book, Verlaine presents a series of essays dedicated to six poets who were characterized by their poetic style and way of life: Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Tristan Corbière, Auguste Villiers de L'Isle-Adam and Paul Verlaine himself (under the anagram of Pauvre Lelian).

In the aesthetic language of these authors, following the symbolist movement, he distanced himself from the rationality of the time, seeing modernity as an expression of decadence. Poetry was the way in which the true reality could be observed, avoiding the cold description and opting for the game with the senses and writings full of metaphors.

Main representatives of symbolism

  • Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) French literary critic and poet.
  • Jean Moréas (1856-1910), Greek poet
  • Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French writer and poet, was closely related to this movement and to Parnassianism.
  • Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), French poet.
  • Paul Marie Verlaine (1844-1896), French poet.

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