Saint-John Perse

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Perse, Saint-John


(pen name of Alexis Léger). Born May 31, 1887, on the island of Guadeloupe; died Sept. 20, 1975, in Giens, department of Var. French poet and diplomat.

Perse came from a family of colonists who settled in Guadeloupe in the 17th century. He was educated in Bordeaux and Paris. In 1916 he entered the diplomatic service.

Perse’s attraction to epic and national traditions and to the unchanging values of the civilizations of the East gave him a special place in modern French culture. His images for Crusoe (1909) avoided complex modernist imagery. Perse used P. Claudel’s poetic form, the prose verset, inspired by biblical verse. He based his own verset not on free verse (vers libre) but on traditional French metrics. Perse’s poem Anabasis (1924) celebrated nature and the eternal values of the spirit, which he contrasted to the bourgeois reality of the Third Republic.

During the fascist German occupation of France (1940–44), Perse was dismissed from office and deprived of his citizenship by the Pétain government; his unpublished narrative poems written between 1924 and 1940 were destroyed. Fleeing by way of England to the USA, he helped inspire the Resistance with the cycles Exile (1942) and Winds (1946), which are permeated with the spirit of national freedom. His works written during this period, despite their abstract political ideas and obscure poetic vocabulary, made him one of France’s national poets. Perse expressed the progressive idea of restoring the homeland’s greatness in the narrative poems Seamarks (1957), Chronicle (1960), and Birds (1963), He was awarded the Nobel Prize (1960).


Oeuvre poétique[vols.] 1–2. Paris, 1960.
Pour Dante. [Paris, 1965.]
In Russian translation:
In la pishu tvoe imia, Svoboda. Moscow, 1968.


Balashov, N. I. “Sen-Zhon Pers.” In Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 4. Moscow, 1963.
Polianskii, N. N. “O strukture stikha Sen-Zhon Persa.” Nauahnye doklady vysshei shkoly: Filologicheskie nauki, 1968, no. 1.
Caillois, R. Poétique de Saint-John Perse. Paris, 1962.
Bosquet, A. Saint-John Perse. Paris, 1964.
Honneur à Saint-John Perse: Hommages et témoignages littéraires. Paris, 1965.
Knodel, A. Saint-John Perse. Edinburgh [1966].
Racine, D. La Fortune de Saint-John Perse en Amérique jusqu’en 1970. [Lille] 1973. (Contains bibliography.)
Little, R. Saint-John Perse. [London, 1973.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.