French Romantic poet, born (as Gérard Labrunie) 1808, died 1855.
Translator of numerous German classics into French, including Goethe's "Faust" and works by Heinrich Heine, as well as Klopstock and Schiller.
Tormented by unrequited passion for the actress Jenny Colon, de Nerval worked out his emotions in his travelogue "Le Voyage en Orient" (1852) as well as in the short story "Sylvie" (1853).
A fascination with the irrational and the occult, particularly in Emanuel Swedenborg's works, can be traced in de Nerval's sonnets "Chimères" (1854) as well as in "Aurelia" (1855).
Towards the end of his life, de Nerval more and more frequently sought help from psychiatric institutions, and he was notorious for having walked a lobster on a leash through the gardens of the Palais Royal, an act he defended with the words:
"Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog....or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad."
-quoted in T. Gautier: "Portraits et Souvenirs Littéraires" (1875),
translated by Richard Holmes in T. Gautier: "My Phantoms" (1976), p. 149
Perhaps the most famous of poems by de Nerval is "El Desdichado", in the collection of sonnets titled "Chimères", with its memorable lines:
"Je suis le ténébreux - le veuf, - l'inconsolé
Le prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la mèlancholie".
("I am the darkly shaded, the bereaved, the inconsolate,
The prince of Aquitaine, with the blasted tower.
My only star is dead, and my star-strewn lute
Carries on it the black sun of melancholy.")