de Bruin, Karen

Advisor Department

Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures




french; poetry; existentialis; , philosophy

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.


Thought and Verse: French Poetry in Conversation with French Existentialist Philosophy

Maxwell Edmonds

Faculty Sponsor: Karen de Bruin, French Language & Literature

What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? How can we live authentically and with purpose? How can we conduct our day to day lives, while faced with our own mortality? These are several of the principle themes focused upon within existentialist philosophy, the philosophy of existing as a mortal human being.

I chose to study existentialist philosophy through the lens of one of my other interests: French poetry. This combination has allowed me to approach both the art of poetry and the topic of existentialism from both passive and active standpoints: by reading the literature and writing my own poetry in response. Within existentialism, I have focused upon the perspectives of Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Merleau-Ponty. My study of French poetry has followed a chronological progression throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Romantic, Modernist, and Surrealist periods of poetry and literature. Beginning with Lamartine, Hugo, and Baudelaire, continuing with Apollinaire and Valéry, and concluding with Breton, Eluard, and Aragon, I have studied and engaged with a wide array of poetic styles.

The roots of existentialism began in the late nineteenth century, with the work of philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, and progressed with the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. However, this form of thought truly came into its own with the work of French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who helped in coining the term “existentialism.” Beyond Sartre, the French-Algerian writer, philosopher, and dramaturge, Albert Camus, created a philosophic view very similar to and often included within existentialism, named Absurdism. Other French philosophers including Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have both greatly enhanced and helped define the existentialist tradition.

My study has culminated in a collection of pastiches, my own original poetry, exploring the styles of the poets previously mentioned, and revolving around the philosophies of the four French philosophers named above. To augment my collection, I have also added brief explanations and reflections to assist my readers with understanding the subject matter, the intentions with which I wrote, and to help them appreciate the collection of poetry as a whole. Additionally, I have translated my poetry from the original French to English, in order to share my work with non-Francophone audiences. I hope that readers enjoy and find inspiration in my artistic approach to this challenging yet engaging field of study.