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The Broken Vase

November 21, 2016

Broken Vase (Prudhomme)

Where the viburnum’s dry, that vase
Is broken; a lady’s fan just clipped it
With barely a caress—no noise—
It didn’t fall, and we all missed it:

The creeping, hairline rivulet
Along the fluted edge unstitched
The arched crystal night by night
Silently as a stolen march.

A vein of water droplets seeped
Through the cleft and dried up so
Clock-hand slow, as flowers drooped
No one guessed. Don’t touch it now.

That vase is broken. A subtle hand
Of one we love may just caress
The skin and thinly, finely wound
The heart down to the fragile base.

On the surface, no one notices
The flowers dying, the weeping crease.
But it would surely fall to pieces.
Do not touch the broken vase.

Sully Prudhomme, 1889

COMMENTARY: Sully Prudhomme won the first ever Nobel Prize in literature back in 1901. A member of the so-called Parnassus School, he advocated strict form, exactness of language, and close correspondence between style and substance. These qualities are apparent in this, his most well-known poem. Not only is the comparison between heart and vase deployed so cunningly that (to put it one way) the pieces of the metaphor fit exactly together but the form mimics the message. The end rhymes of the poem are all slant, grazing rhymes (vase/noise etc) which, though not rhyming at the end of the lines, often rhyme with words internally: i.e., “march” formally paired with “unstitched,” rhymes more fully with “arched.” This alternation of off rhyme and internal rhyme suggests both the grazing blow of the lady’s fan and the subtle crease forking and branching down the side of the vase. The crack in the rhyme structure “seeps” through the form of the poem until, in the last stanza, it seems to break wide open with the surprising full-rhymes of “crease” and pieces”– “base” and (in the American pronunciation anyway) “vase.”

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One Comment
  1. richibi permalink

    wow – Richard

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