Nature's witness: Allegory and sensation in Leconte de Lisle's animal poems

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This article offers the first ecocritical approach to Leconte de Lisle's body of animal poems in the Poèmes babares and the Poèmes tragiques. I argue for a reassessment of this Parnassian poet that acknowledges the novelty and biocentrism of his animal poems. These contribute to modern 'wilderness' mythology, but also avoid its pitfalls (the romanticization of the human encounter with wilderness) by radically erasing any human witness from the scene. Leconte de Lisle's animals cease to present allegories of human types or autobiographical projections of the artist's temperament; instead, the creatures and landscapes in these poems exist on their own, and attain an expressivity not indexed to any human structures of meaning. An alien subjectivity emerges in place of human consciousness that, while irreducible to the animal's unknowable perceptions, builds on the vigilant 'attentiveness' manifested in various ways by the vast array of living forms embedded in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-227
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Music
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Anthropocentrism
  • Antimodern
  • Autobiography
  • Biocentrism
  • Consciousness
  • Expression
  • Fables
  • Interiority
  • Misanthropy
  • Modernity
  • Nostalgia
  • Parnassianism
  • Poetry
  • Romanticism
  • Silence
  • Transformism
  • Violence
  • Vision
  • Wilderness
  • Witness


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