Edmond-Henri Crisinel (1897-1948)

Edmond-Henri Crisinel was Swiss and one of the influential chroniclers for the daily paper la Revue de Lausanne between the Wars. He was a faithful, close friend of many writers, musicians and artists. He had, however, a melancholic disposition which was reflected in his poetic works.

The Society of Artists

Edmond-Henri Crisinel was born in the Canton de Vaud in 1897. He was brought up a Reformed Protestant and remained a faithful follower. His father died early, so he had to face the difficulties of a “new” family when he was young. It was a stimulating but unsettling environment, and he was deeply affected when he had to leave his home village and the beautiful landscapes that gave him so much pleasure. He was never too far away from them though as he lived mostly in Lausanne and did not travel any farther than Zurich.

In spite of his curiosity and very extensive knowledge, dating from childhood, and in spite of his literary gifts seen by teachers during his adolescence, Crisinel failed the “maturité” (equivalent of A-levels) . He then accepted a post as private tutor with a wealthy family, but soon felt guilty because of his ambivalent feelings for his pupil. This situation, along with the threat of the First World War in the background, drove him mad. Crisinel was admitted to a private psychiatric clinic for the first time. When he was discharged he felt better and became one of the influential chroniclers for the Waldensian daily paper La Revue de Lausanne, which, between the Wars, enabled him to meet a lot of interesting European artists and intellectuals. Among his close friends were Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, Gustave Roud, Albert Béguin, Edmond Jaloux, Edmond Jeanneret, as well as the sculptor Jean Clerc, younger than him and who died at an early age. He had sculpted the bust of the poet. Crisinel’s childhood friend and peer, doctor Ferdinand Cardis, faithfully supported him. This lung specialist was very much involved in the world of culture and art, but also in theology, reading Karl Barth very carefully.

Crisinel’s recurrent anxiety and suicidal thoughts caused by all sorts of events, forced him to be hospitalised again. Most of his poems bear traces of this difficult fight.

He ended his life in 1948.

Highly focused works

Edmond-Henri Crisinel liked to quote Victor Hugo and especially his The Contemplations : ” Je suis triste, et je marche au bord des flots profonds /Courbé comme celui qui songe.. ».  (I feel sad, and I walk along by the deep waters / Bent over as one deep in thought…)” His poetic works are as focused and concise as Hugo’s are flowery. His unanimously praised poem in prose, Alectone , a fragment of his autobiography and written between 1930 and 1932, is considered one of his best. But Nuit de Juin (June Night), Feuillets du sagittaire (Sagittarius ‘Papers), Tezcatlipoca, Elégies de la maison des morts (Elelgies for the House of the Dead) should also be mentioned. Crisinel himself published some of them, and was awarded the Swiss “Fondation Schiller” (Schiller Foundation)_ prize in 1946.

Besides his outstanding mastery of language, attention should be drawn to resonance with the Psalms, as well as overtones of Virgil, Hölderlin and Gérard de Nerval, to name but a few of his kindred spirits.

Miracle d’un seul vers après tant de silence !
Prodige de renaître au monde pour un jour !
Je vois des rayons d’or qu’un archange balance :
Transverbérez mon cœur et qu’il chante l’Amour.

Mais, Seigneur, j’écrirai mes stances sur le sable
Dans l’attente d’une heure où Tu seras tout Bien

(Miracle of a single verse after such silence !
Prodigious revival of the world for one day !
I see golden rays on which an archangel swings :
Let my heart beat so that it praises love

But, Lord, I will write my stanzas on the sand
Expecting the time when Thou art all Good.)
Extract from Veilleur, in œuvres, 1979, p41

The complete works of Edmond-Henri Crisinel were compiled by Edmond Jaloux in 1949. They were published again by l’Age d’Homme in 1979, thanks to Pierre-Paul Clément. The poet and translator Philippe Jacottet paid homage to him.

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