The true pompous nature of the French Foreign Minister exposed and fisked.
From The Telegraph U.K.
A rhyme for cheese-eating?
By Susannah Herbert
In the same Dominique de Villepin, the foreign minister, aristocrat and homme de lettres who has done so much to redefine French diplomacy as the art of inducing frothing fits of rage in your most powerful allies, is a brave man. This Friday, he publishes his magnum opus Eloge des voleurs de feu ("Tribute to the fire-stealers") - a remarkable 800-page analysis of the poets and the poetry that have shaped his world-view.
Now, statesmen who love poetry are two a penny. Unlike, say, the triple-decker novel or the five-act play, a poem is economical, the perfect literary form for a busy man embroiled in the cares of state. It is expected to be memorable rather than lengthy. It can be produced on scraps of paper in the most trying of conditions - during long-drawn-out negotiations, or while preparing an ambush or a battle-campaign. Lorenzo de Medici wrote poetry, as did Ho Chi Minh.
Vaclav Havel, the father of Czech freedom, has long been hailed as a genuine poet, and so, more comically, has the American Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld - whose podium riffs on the subjects of war, mortality and the limitations of human knowledge become a great deal more illuminating when laid out on the page a la e e cummings. Even the Queen, we learnt this week from her late mother's guest book, delights in the occasional lapse into verse. "To leafy Balmoral/ We're now on our way/ But our hearts will remain/ At the Castle of Mey."
But de Villepin is different. Not content with dashing off the odd alexandrine - he has published four collections of poetry - he now attempts, in this new book, to establish himself up as the heir to a highly-specific poetic and political tradition. Not for him the rueful crumpled wisdom of a W H Auden: "Poetry makes nothing happen." Instead, de Villepin sets himself squarely in the outsider school of the tortured and feverish Promethean rebel, damned by genius to perpetual spiritual agony.
His book "listens to the seed of the terrible voice which cleaves our consciences and feeds our imagination. It affirms its confidence in words, which force open the doors of mystery and give it movement and brightness". He put the final touches to the manuscript during the negotiations over the second UN resolution on Iraq. There is nothing, note, about the power of words to, er, communicate.
De Villepin cites as his ideal hero-poet Arthur Rimbaud - the patron saint of misunderstood adolescents in bed-sits around the world. His potted biography gives the general flavour - drugs, drink, doomed homosexual passion, gun-running in Africa, early death from syphilis. Villepin also names Franois Villon, mediaeval murderer on the run. And speaks highly of Gerard de Nerval, the proto-Surrealist and founder member of the Club des Hachichins, who hanged himself from a window-grating in drug-addled despair at the condition of the world.
Villepin also admires the certified madman Antonin Artaud, whose late work, characterised by delusions, hallucinations, glossolalia and violent anti-American tantrums, has been described as "a heretic's scatalogical tirade at the extreme of the linguistic lunatic fringe". According to de Villepin, both de Nerval and Artaud have been misunderstood: "They were not mad, but prophets. They saw what others did not see, their cries were luminous."
De Villepin's pronounced preference for luminous cries from the outer frontiers of intelligibility should come as no surprise to students of his political oratory - he is given to pronouncements like "I believe in the power of the truth of language" and "If there is no indignation behind the State, it doesn't work" - but it does much to explain the conduct of French foreign policy over recent months. Jacques Chirac is a bulldozer, one of the President's political friends told the Wall Street Journal recently. "And when a bulldozer is driven by a poet, the result is bound to be catastrophic."
spirit, we may laugh at the Queen's attempts at rhyme, but we should also be profoundly grateful for the banality of the dominant poetical influences on our head of state: a dash of A A Milne, a hint of William McGonagall, a flavour of Patience Strong. They may sit lower than Rimbaud, de Nerval and indeed, M de Villepin, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus - but at least they're not nuts.