I noticed something remarkable about one of Baudelaire's poems that I can't find any mention of on the web. My question is whether anybody has noticed this before, and whether there's some reason why it isn't known better.

The poem is Chant d'automne. In part I, the poet hears the sound of firewood being tossed onto a paved courtyard, and this noise develops in his mind into a scaffold being built, a tower being assaulted by a battering ram, and finally to a coffin being nailed shut. What I noticed was that the rhythm of this bruit mystérieux, as Baudelaire calls it, can be heard fading in and out of the meter of the poem, taking the form of sequences of anapests, punctuated by triple iambs, and culminating in a whole line in iambic hexameter.

Here is part I of the poem, with the syllables stressed by the rhythm marked in bold.

    Chant d'automne

  Charles Baudelaire

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres ;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts !
J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l'hiver va rentrer dans mon être : colère,
Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et for,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon cœur ne sera plus qu'un bloc rouge et glacé.

J'écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe ;
L'échafaud qu'on bâtit n'a pas d'écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

Il me semble, ber par ce choc monotone,
Qu'on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui ? – C'était hier l'é ; voici l'automne !
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.

The rhythm reappears in part II, in lines 4–7, where it seems to represent mortality; although note that in part II, the rhythm requires that one has to read line 6 with stresses on pour and not on même, which might be a more natural reading (so maybe it isn't quite the same rhythm in part II, but I think Baudelaire is certainly doing something with the rhythm in part II).

It seems impossible that in 150 years of scholarly study of Baudelaire, one of the most famous French poets, nobody would have noticed this rhythm. On the other hand, none of the readings of this poem that I found on the internet seem to take any notice of this rhythm; I can find no mention of it whatsoever on the web (although maybe my French googling skills are lacking); and I found one scholar who said that parts I and II of the poem are related only by the themes of mortality and autumn.

I can personally testify that it's actually quite hard to notice this rhythm. Even after I discovered it in part I, it took me quite a long time to realize that it reappears in part II. And maybe somebody who is used to reading English poetry has an easier time hearing the rhythm, as iambic and anapestic meters are common in English poetry and virtually never occur in French.

Another possible reason that this might not be better known is that there may be no good way to read this poem so that the meter gives the impression of falling logs for native French speakers. (I can't really tell; I'd like to hear a native French speaker's opinion on this.) Baudelaire experimented in his poetry a certain amount, and maybe this is one of his experiments that didn't work. But certainly, if you set this poem to music, you could emphasize the rhythm quite easily. And neither of the two musical settings of this poem I found on the internet do so.

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    One of the great things about great authors is that they are inexhaustible, continuously out in front of everyone, inviting new interpretations and insights. Bloom said this about Shakespeare but it's just as true of other great works of world literature: the Bible, the Koran, the Rigveda, etc. Given that, it shouldn't surprise you that you may have found a new insight into Baudelaire. Entire careers are built on less. – DJohnson Apr 3 '18 at 11:42
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    To play devil's advocate: What makes you think this is an intentional rhythm? I looked at few of Baudelaire's other poems, and also some plays by other authors (that are certainly written in alexandrines), and I found the same thing to a greater or lesser extent in every one. This poem, for instance, has two anapests and then three iambs in almost every line by my count. It seems to me that this can occur naturally in an alexandrine. In what way is this rhythm unique to this poem? – b a Jun 12 '18 at 15:10
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    @b a: L'ennemi does not have three iambs in most lines. For example, in French you would probably not put any stress on mon in Qu'il reste en mon jardin, or les in la pelle et les râteaux, the way you would for similar expressions in English poetry. There are indeed some lines that do have three iambs: I count three: bien peu de fruits vermeils, Voilà que j'ai touché and ont fait un tel ravage. – Peter Shor Jun 12 '18 at 16:07
  • @PeterShor This is a nice observation. But, as ba alluded, this poem is a classical alexandrine, a form which Baudelaire wrote a lot, and masterfully, and which strictly speaking leaves little room for prosodic innovation. Also, the scansion follows a different system than you have used; in this type of French poetry, syllables rather than feet are counted. + – SAH Sep 17 '18 at 9:30
  • @PeterShor ...You are correct not to ignore stress, but the stresses that matter and that we expect in a classical alexandrine are the stresses immediately before caesurae and before line breaks. Some lines which you have scanned as though they were English poetry (e.g. "Tout l'hiver va rentrer dans mon être : colère,") in fact follow this form. In the end, I agree with you that something intentional and very artful is being done with the prosody. But this is not at all unusual in Baudelaire or in French Symbolism (including the work of Verlaine, Mallarme, and many others) and I am quite + – SAH Sep 17 '18 at 9:32

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