The Poems and Aphorisms of Maurice Chapelan

This book, prefaced by the French novelist and essayist, Jeanne Cressanges, focuses on Maurice Chapelan’s poetry and aphorisms, which are an integral part of his œuvre.

His poems encompass the whole essence of the man, his very heart and soul, whereas the aphorisms express his philosophy. Chapelan is a master of the prose poem—le poème en prose—a creator of concise poetic pieces full of rich imagery and musicality. His aphorisms, too, are often poetic, and most of his work, in every genre, contains verse and philosophy. Above all, Chapelan was a moralist and a fine practitioner of l’humour noir, which he defines as la conjuration de l’horreur par le rire. He called himself un humoraliste.

Although Maurice Chapelan died in 1992 most of his books are still in print and he is remembered with affection, admiration and gratitude by those who used to relish his witty Divertissements grammaticaux in Le Figaro littéraire. He had been resident chroniqueur du langage at Le Figaro since 1961, his earlier articles appearing under the more sober heading, Usage et grammaire. He continued to write his chroniques until shortly before his death.


Mary Munro-Hill holds BA degrees in French and Latin, as well as an MA and a PhD in French. She also holds a BD and an MTh in Theology. Her career has been spent principally in teaching languages and theology in universities, colleges and schools. In retirement, she has served as a Chaplain at the University of Hull, where she was a Visiting Tutor in French Language from 1995 to 2017 and is now an Honorary Fellow in the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures. Dr Munro-Hill is a lay minister in the Church of England (Reader) and holds the Archbishops’ Award in Church Music of the Guild of Church Musicians.

"D’abord à propos de la traduction de Lorca puis d’Hölderlin, notamment le poème « An die Parzen ». L’auteure consacre une bonne partie de cette étude aux Robaï d’Omar Khayyâm, soulignant le caractère poétique de ses traductions. Mary Munro-Hill insiste sur la multiplicité des talents de Maurice Chapelan, tant en vers qu’en prose, notamment son amour pour le rythme, la rime et le mètre qui le fait écrire, même en vers libre, de façon savante. Mais il laisse à son lecteur la liberté pour décider du genre. Et de façon intelligente et gentiment ironique Mary Munro-Hill transpose elle-même en vers libre un extrait de prose du poète. Elle nous fait découvrir ses pensées, leur caractère, leur brièveté de poème en prose du fait du « petit espace blanc » de la lecture entre les lignes et de la liquide musicalité des phrases qu’elle appelle justement « aphoristic prose poem ». Choisissons l’une d’elles : « La chair et l’esprit ne sont conciliables que par le cœur ». On poursuit naturellement cette étude avec cette fois, une gageure, la poésie dans les aphorismes d’Aristide : « Dans une prière, comme en poésie, la musique des mots devrait toujours accompagner celle de la pensée ». L’auteure y souligne le travail de l’artisan combiné avec l’intelligence et l’humour (souvent noir). Ce n’est pas le moindre des mérites de Mary Munro-Hill que de nous faire découvrir un de nos grands poètes. Car elle sait que cette trilogie n’est pas accessible au plus grand nombre : il y a bien sûr le barrage de la langue ; il y a aussi cette édition de Cambridge Scholars, somme toute assez luxueuse. Quelle leçon de modestie d’avoir tant travaillé sur cette œuvre et de l’offrir ainsi, gratuitement (je veux dire pour la seule gloire de celui qu’elle étudie) à tout un chacun. J’imagine que tous les Français ne lisent pas l’anglais… bien que notre langue ne manque pas de mots venus d’outre-Manche et d’outre-Atlantique. Deux solutions alors : soit se procurer ces livres parce que toutes les citations sont en français, soit se procurer et lire les œuvres de Maurice Chapelan dans les librairies. First it turns to Lorca and then to Hölderlin, notably to the poem To the Fates. The author devotes a good portion of her study to the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, emphasising the poetic features of Chapelan’s translation. Mary Munro-Hill stresses the multiplicity of Maurice Chapelan’s talents, in poetry as in prose, especially his love of rhythm, rhyme and meter, which makes him write in scholarly fashion, even in his free verse. But he leaves to his readers the liberty of determining the genre for themselves. And with intelligence and kindly irony, Mary Munro-Hill converts to free verse an extract of the poet’s prose. She opens up for us his thoughts, their character, the concise nature of their expression in his prose poems, established through the “little white space” — when we read between the lines — and the musical flow of his sentences, which she rightly terms “aphoristic prose poem”. Let us look at one of these: « La chair et l’esprit ne sont conciliables que par le cœur » — “Body and soul can be reconciled only by the heart”. As we work our way through this book we come across a challenge: poetry in Aristide’s aphorisms, for example: “In a prayer, as in a poem, the music of the words should always accompany the music of the thought”. The author here emphasises the craft of the artisan combined with his intelligence and humour (often dark). It is not the least of Mary Munro-Hill’s merits to have introduced one of our own great poets to us, for she knows that her three books are not accessible to the majority of French people: the language barrier is one reason and then there is the cost of these rather sumptuous Cambridge Scholars publications. What a lesson in modesty it is that someone should work so hard on these writings and then offer her books freely (I mean for the sole glory of the man she has studied) to whoever will read them. I imagine that not all French people can read English, although our language contains not a few English and American words. There are two possible solutions: either buy these books, since all the quotations are in French, or find and read the works of Maurice Chapelan in bookshops."

- Bernard Fournier

"À travers l’étude pertinente des différents textes de Maurice Chapelan, Mary Munro-Hill dresse un portrait authentique de l’homme autant que de l’écrivain. Elle montre tout le côté sensible du poète qu’aucun critique n’a relevé de son vivant. Ce qu’elle montre aussi très bien c’est la diversité de la chose écrite dans laquelle il a œuvré avec grand talent : poésie, essai, journal intime, aphorisme, roman, journalisme littéraire, soucieux d’y témoigner partout et toujours, son souci du style parfait afin de coller au plus près de sa sensibilité et de sa pensée. Mary Munro-Hill montre donc les divers aspects de cette sensibilité et de cette pensée qu’il soit grammairien, philosophe, poète—j’ose dire : romantique—ou coquin, romancier érotique, critique. Ce qu’elle nous dit, c’est que cet écrivain d’aujourd’hui peut l’être de demain car il est inclassable comme les Grands du XVIIIème qu’il admirait tant."

- Jeanne Cressanges, Novelist, essayist and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres

"Through her judicious study of the various works of Maurice Chapelan, Mary Munro-Hill has painted an authentic portrait not only of the writer but of the man. She reveals the poet’s sensitive side, which no critic identified during Chapelan’s lifetime. She also shows us clearly the entirety of his life’s labour in all its diverse genres, each of which is composed with the same great talent: poems, essays, diaries, aphorisms, novels, or literary articles in the press. Always and everywhere he is anxious to produce writing of stylistic perfection, to match the quality of his sensitivity and thought. Mary Munro-Hill succeeds in showing the many aspects of this sensitivity and thought, whether Chapelan is writing as a grammarian, as a philosopher, or as a racy poet—dare I say romantic—or penning erotic novels or literary criticism. What she tells us is that this timeless writer, in common with the Giants of the eighteenth century, whom he so admired, defies all classification and may thus belong as much to the future as to the present."

- Jeanne Cressanges, Novelist, essayist and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-5275-6067-8

ISBN13: 978-1-5275-6067-3

Release Date: 2nd December 2020

Pages: 211

Price: £61.99

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