The Songs of Bilitis (Anglais) Broché – 1 juin 1988
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"Pierre Louÿs (December 10, 1870 - June 6, 1925) was a French poet and Romantic writer, most renowned for lesbian and classical themes in some of his writings. He is known as a writer who expressed pagan sensuality with stylistic perfection. Pierre Louÿs was born Pierre Louis on December 10, 1870 in Ghent, Belgium, but moved to France where he would spend the rest of his life. He studied at the Ecole Alsacienne in Paris, and there he developed a close friendship with a future Nobel Prize winner and champion of homosexual rights, André Gide. In the 1890s, he became a friend of the noted English dramatist and homosexual, Oscar Wilde. Although heterosexual, Louys enjoyed entree into homosexual circles.
Louÿs started writing his first erotic texts at the age of 18, at which point he developed an interest in the Parnassian and Symbolist schools of writing.
In 1891, Louÿs helped found a literary review, La Conque, where he proceeded to publish Astarte- an early collection of erotic verse already marked by his distinctive elegance and refinement of style. He followed up in 1894 with another erotic collection in 143 prose poems- Songs of Bilitis (Les Chansons de Bilitis), this time with strong lesbian themes. In 1955, one of the first lesbian organizations in America called itself Daughters of Bilitis, and to this day Louÿs' Songs continues to be an important work for lesbians.
In 1896, Louÿs published his first novel, Aphrodite- Ancient Manners (Aphrodite (mœurs antiques)), a depiction of courtesan life in Alexandria. It is considered a mixture of both literary excess and refinement, and, numbering at 350,000 copies, was the best selling work by any living French author in his day.
Louÿs went on to publish Les Aventures du roi Pausole (The Adventures of King Pausole) in 1901, Pervigilium Mortis in 1916, both of them libertine compositions, and Manuel de Civilité (Manual of Etiquette) in 1917, a parody whose obscenity is almost unparalleled even in the long history of French clandestine publishing.
Even while on his deathbed, Pierre Louÿs continued to write delicately obscene verses." (Quote from wikipedia.org) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché.
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Or so he would have us believe. Les chansons de Bilitis, complete with biographical sketch and an authoritative-looking bibliography, fooled even some experts when it was first published. But it was just a hoax, all of it the product of Louÿs's imagination. Yet what a beautiful hoax it is.
The work consists of 143 short prose poems, divided into three books. In the first book Bilitis, the daughter of a Greek father and Phoenician mother, tells of her youth in Pamphylia, the southern coast of Asia Minor. "Stripped of my clothes, I climbed into a tree..." she begins. She revels both in her pastoral surroundings and in discovering the pleasures of her own body. Louÿs modeled his verses on the forms and themes of the Greek lyric poets, capturing their unique combination of youthful innocence and sensuousness.
In the second book of verses, Bilitis has taken ship to the isle of Lesbos where she meets the famous Sappho and learns the pleasures of lesbian love. She takes a younger girl, Mnasidika, as a lover and devotes many of her verses to describing their love--a love that eventually turns to jealousy when Mnasidika abandons Bilitis. "And, above all, if my despair is a perpetual torture, it is because I know, moment by moment, how she swoons in the arms of another, what she demands of her and what she gives her."
Bilitis journeys finally to Kypros where she becomes a courtesan serving the temple of Astarte. She celebrates her sybaritic life, laughs at the foibles of her friends and lovers, but wistfully recalls her lost love Mnasidika. Finally, approaching 40, Bilitis, with a hint of bitterness, calls out "Child, do not pass without loving me. I am still beautiful in the night; thou shalt see how much warmer my autumn is than the springtime of another.... Thou shalt be my last lover."
This classic work of French Decadence is both refined and sensual, evoking uninhibited pagan passions in beautiful verse and sumptuous imagery.