Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau

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Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau
Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau.jpg
BornJune 13, 1912
DiedOctober 24, 1943 (aged 31)
NationalityCanada Canadian
Notable worksRegards et jeux dans l'espace, Poésies complètes

Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (June 13, 1912 – October 24, 1943) was a French Canadian poet and painter, who "was posthumously hailed as a herald of the Quebec literary renaissance of the 1950s".[1] He has been called Quebec's "first truly modern poet".[2]


Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau was the grandson of the poet Alfred Garneau and great-grandson of the historian Francois-Xavier Garneau. He spent his early years at his family's ancestral manor (which his mother had purchased) in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault (now Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier), Quebec, where his cousin Anne Hébert was born in 1916.[3]

Garneau moved to Montréal with his parents in 1923. There, he studied the classics at three Jesuit colleges: Sainte-Marie, Jean de Brebeuf and Loyola.[4]

In 1925, Garneau studied painting at Montreal's Collège des beaux-arts under Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean Palardy, Marjorie Smith and Jean-Paul Lemieux. He won a bronze medal and second prize for a work of art. In 1934, he exhibited some paintings at the Galerie des Arts in Montréal and, in 1937, he presented his painting "Sky Fall" at the Museum of Fine Arts.[5]

Still in his youth, he founded the monthly journal La relève with his friends Paul Beaulieu, Robert Charbonneau, Robert Élie and Jean Le Moyne.[4][6]

In 1934, Garneau developed a rheumatic heart problem and discontinued his studies. He then devoted his time to writing poems, painting and music. In 1937, Regards et jeux dans l'espace, his collection of poems, was published. "Disillusioned by the volume's reception, he withdrew to the seclusion of the family manor house ... where he died in 1943, apparently of a heart attack, while canoeing alone."[2]


Garneau first achieved some notice as a poet as a boy of 13, when his poem "Le dinosaure" took first prize in a province-wide essay competition. Two years later, he was awarded a prize by the Canadian Authors' Association for his poem "L'automne".[7]

Garneau wrote poetry prolifically between 1934 and 1937; on one day alone (October 22, 1937), he reportedly wrote 13 poems.[8] In his lifetime, though, he published only one slim volume, the 28-poem Regards et jeux dans l'espace, which "deals with his rural childhood, nostalgically evoking a state of grace beyond recall.... The poet's spiritualized landscapes transpose suffering and intermittent ecstasy into images of overgrown pathways, distant birds in flight, or forest fires, or again a snowbound house with shuttered windows, a key symbol of confinement and flawed security."[1]

"Radical in its form, with its unrhymed lines of various lengths, its lack of punctuation and its broken syntax, Saint-Denys Garneau's poetry was equally original in its themes (the spiritual adventure of the poet, the nature of artistic creation, the search for purity) and in its ironic distance."[2]

According to the Quebec poet John Glassco (who translated Garneau's Journal into English), seeing his work in print left Garneau "stricken with horror: he felt he had exposed himself in a manner so much at variance with his natural reserve, his shrinking from all display, that he suffered a nervous breakdown. He had ... the sensation of having actually violated and soiled himself."[9] One story is that he went back to the shops carrying his book, and bought up all 1,000 copies himself. In any case, Garneau "never published again".[9]

After Garneau's death, his unpublished poems were collected by Élie under the title Les Solitudes, and published in 1949 together with Regards... as Poésies complètes: Regards et jeux dans l'espace, Les solitudes.[6] Garneau's "influence only became apparent after the publication of his Poésies complètes in 1949," says the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Since that time the number of studies on his life and work has multiplied considerably.... Perhaps only Emile Nelligan has been the object of so much critical attention" in Quebec.[10] By 1960, Garneau was "considered the major precursor of contemporary French-Canadian poetry."[11]

Garneau's 1935-39 diary was published in Montréal in 1954 under the title Journal, edited by Élie and Le Moyne and with a preface by Gilles Marcotte. Glassco published his translation, The Journal of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, in 1962.[6]

Also in 1962, the Canadian poet F. R. Scott translated ten of Garneau's poems into English for his book, Saint-Denys Garneau and Anne Hebert. Glassco published his translated Complete Poems of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau in 1975.[12] Glassco's book won the Canada Council Award for translation that year.[13]

Garneau's poetry has also been translated into Spanish by Luis Vicente de Aguinaga, and was published in 2007 as Todos y cada uno.[citation needed]

Some of Garneau's poems have been set to music by the Canadian contemporary classical composer Bruce Mather,[citation needed] and by the Quebec folk group Villeray.[14]



  • Maison Henry Morgan (1926)
  • Association des auteurs Canadiens / Canadian Authors Association (1928)
  • Canada Council Award (for English translations) (1975)

Commemorative postage stamp[edit]

On September 8, 2003, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Library of Canada, Canada Post released a special commemorative series, "The Writers of Canada", with a design by Katalina Kovats, featuring two English-Canadian and two French-Canadian stamps. Three million stamps were issued. The two French-Canadian authors chosen were Saint-Denys Garneau and his cousin, Anne Hébert.[15]

Public art[edit]

Saint-Denys Garneau, along with Octave Crémazie and Émile Nelligan, is commemorated by a large ceramic mural by Georges Lauda, Paul Pannier and Gérald Cordeau at Crémazie metro station in Montréal. Entitled Le Poète dans l'univers, the work features an excerpt from his poem "Faction".


  1. ^ a b Roger Cardinal, "Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau", Oxford Companion to French Literature, Answers.com. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c David M. Hayne, "Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau", The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 874.
  3. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Anne Hébert". Books and Writers. Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 26 January 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau", Library and Archives Canada, January 16, 2006, CollectionsCanada.gc.ca. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  5. ^ "Biographie détaillée Archived September 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine", Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau website. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Eva Kushner, "Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau Biography -(1912–43)", Encyclopedia of Literature, JRank.org. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  7. ^ "Biographie détaillée Archived September 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine", Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau website. Retrieved January 31, 2011.
  8. ^ "Garneau, Hector de Saint-Denys", L'Encyclopédie de l'Agora.
  9. ^ a b John Glassco, Introduction to Complete Poems of Saint-Denys Garneau (Oberon, 1975), 5-17.
  10. ^ "Saint-Denys Garneau", Dictionary of Literary Biography par,.1-2, BookRags. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  11. ^ "Biographical Notes: Saint-Denys Garneau (1912-1943)", The Newsletter, Bibliographical Society of Canada, 3:4 (June 1960), 3. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  12. ^ Thomas D. Ryan, "The Textual Presence of the Translator", Concordia University, thesis, 2003. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  13. ^ Brian Busby, "October 1st", The Dusty Bookcase, October 1, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  14. ^ Villeray, "Musique sur Saint Denys Garneau". Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  15. ^ "50th Anniversary of the National Library / Canadian Authors Archived September 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine", Canada Post. Retrieved March 28, 2011.

External links[edit]