Occitan poetry  980-2006

by Joan-Frederic Brun


XIX century: toward a renaissance

Medieval poetry: the kingdom of love
XVI-XVIII century: tasty baroque antiliteratures
XIX th century: toward a renaissance
XIX th century (1854-1914):  spreading and sclerosis of the Provençal miracle
XX th century (1920-1965): the anguish of no future
XX th century (1965-1981): "un país que vòl viure" (a coutry that just wants to live)
XX th century (1981-2000): postoccitanisme
XXI th century: just a living literature among many other ones? 


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Fabre d'Olivet

Alfred Moquin-Tandon


At the beginning of the XIXth century, French nationalism is at its top. Enthusiastic (and pitiless!) troops of French soldiers invade all European countries except England, in order to disseminate the new revolutionary ideas. Napoleon's imperial adventure will even enhance this. Poor Occitan language under the shining sun of this worldwide triumph of French culture is of course in a bad situation. A famous theoretician of the French Revolution, Grégoire, demonstrates that there is a strong need to eradicate all those vernacular languages other than French. Because French is the language of Progress, Freedom, and Thought, while those languages represent the opposite, the shamy gloom of ignorance.

This represents the beginning of an intense effort for suppressing all languages other than French all over the territory. Occitan is of course one of the major targets of this repressive policy.


Despite all efforts and hopes of its enemies, poor occitan language survived. Even more, it will remain the most usual spoken idiom of Occitan populations until the 1920s. Despite the fact that it was banned from the public life and severely forbidden at school, it will actually largely survive until the 1980s.

Actually, as soon as the 1810s, a new generation of Occitan writers arises, promoting a tasty "antiliterature" written in "patois", ie a corrupted Occitan written with the rules of French spelling. While most of them enjoy this mixed language, some have a more noble idea of Occitan, taking in mind that it was many centuries ago the language of a glorious literature. Fabre d'Olivet was surely the most ambitious of them. He wrote a grammar and a dictionary of Occitan, really wanting to restore it as a literary language. Unfortunately, this work remained manuscript until it was published in 1980... And Fabre d'Olivet was alone. His pioneering works aiming at restoring the Hebraïc language, by contrast, contributed to the revival of Hebrew that has now become again, after a 2,000 yr gap, the official language of a nation.

Notwithstanding, some writers of this period are quite nice poets: Auguste and Cyrille Rigaud, Auguste Tandon...

Little by little, others are attracted by this adventure: a space of language and thought on the edge of the official culture.

Peyrottes finds here an opportunity to express the mind of poor handcrafters like himself. La Fare-Alès tries to describe in a rich language the landscape and legends of the Cévennes. Balthazar Floret translates old greek poets and mostly Anacreon. Victor Gelu creates a powerful universe of popular life in the wildest language of Marseilles, that he calls 'diabolic', despite the great pleasure he obviously finds to use it... A sound that disappears, says Gelu. We know that this prophecy was wrong. On this ground, poets like Hipolyte Bigot in Nîmes and Jacque Boé aka Jasmin in Agen can write while being more or less aware that heir language is not a shamy deformation of French (as they were told at school!), but a true literary tongue, and their books reach some success among Occitan middle classes around 1850.

Beside these numerous writers fascinated by that wild popular language, there is a progressive improvement in academic studies on Occitan, its grammar, its history and its literature. Medieval poets are rediscovered by enthusiastic investigators: Rochegude, Raynouard... One of their young followers, a genial autodidact who was initially a postman, Camille Chabaneau, will become a professor at the University of Montpellier. Despite, as one can easily imagine, a quite strong opposition from scholars from both Paris and even from Occitania...

All this bulk of knowledge results in new experiments. At first, there are scholars that start writing in old occitan: a kind of joke, most of the time, as the "Carya Magalonensis" written by Alfred Moquin-Tandon and published as if it were a true medieval text... Or a passionate effort to rediscover beyond its poor modern status the glorous language of troubadours still alive, as did Frederic Roqueferrier, a lawyer, composing a wide "philosophic epic" named "Los Atges de l'Umanitat" ("The ages of mankind") in occitan of the XIIth century...

Balthazar Floret

Auguste Tandon

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