Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Saint-John Perse (pseudonym of Alexis Leger) (May 31, 1887 – September 20, 1975) was a French poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960 "for the soaring flight and evocative imagery of his poetry."
He was born in Pointe-â-Pitre, Guadeloupe. His father, a lawyer, had lived in Guadeloupe since 1815. The family divided their time between the two family plantations, one a coffee plantation and the other a sugar plantation.
In 1897, Hégésippe Légitimus , the first native Guadeloupan president of the General Council, was elected and promised a vindictive stance towards the colonists. The Leger family returned to France and settled in Pau. The young Alexis felt as if he were in exile. However, he did spend much of his time in sports, hiking, fencing, horseback riding, and sailing.
In 1904, he received his baccalaureate with honors and began his law studies in Bordeaux. In the cultural circles that he frequented, he met Paul Claudel and Odilon Redon. His first publication was a translation of Robinson Crusoe, and he also undertook a translation of Pindar.
He had to interrupt his studies in 1907 because of the change in the family's financial situtation after the death of his father. He did, however, receive his degree in 1910, the same year he published Eloges.
In 1921, he participated in a conference on disarmament in Washington DC and was noticed by Aristide Briand, who made him his assistant. In Paris, he was involved in the literary circles of André Gide and Paul Valéry, as well as the musical circles of Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, and les Six.
In 1924, he published Anabase, using the pseudonym of Saint-John Perse for the first time.
Even after the death of Brian, he continued to occupy important posts in the government. From 1933 to 1940, he was general secretary of the Foreign Ministry, despite great instability in the government. At the Conference of Munich in 1938, he opposed the cession of Czechoslovakia to Germany in vain.
He was removed from his post in 1940 and left France, crossing to the United States by way of England. The Vichy government removed him from the French Legion of Honor and revoked his French citizenship. He passed some time in financial difficulties until Archibald MacLeish, Director of the Library of Congress and himself a poet, offered him a post. Lilita Abreu joined him in Washington. He refused a teaching position at Harvard University to concentrate on his work.
He remained in America long after the war, traveling extensively. In 1957, he was offered a villa in Provence, and from that time on, he divided his time between France and the United States. In 1958, he married Dorothy Milburn Russell, a rich American.
In 1960, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He died in his villa in Provence and was buried in Giens.
- About Saint-John Perse
- Saint-John Perse, le poète aux masques, site (in French) devoted to the author
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