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Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

II en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!

Does the en in the last verse of this quotation from Au Lecteur refer to the ménagerie infâme in the previous verse? I'm asking this because, upon repeated reading of this fragment, I don't know what other word the en might actually be doubling.

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Before anyone else gets here and says that this is too localized, I will suggest that you edit your post to ask about usage of the preposition en, and then give this as an example - and edit your title accordingly. I think that would reduce any sort of controversy/discussion over this. –  Patrick Sebastien Jul 14 '13 at 16:17
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Theoretically, I know everything about en. Only theoretically, that is. Unfortunately, it's quite difficult to synchronize the theory you know with the actual reality (written or spoken) of the language. Case in point here. No matter how hard I tried to understand what this en doubles, I have failed. So asking about usage of the word would be totally useless. I have my grammar for that. But the reality of the language is much bigger than any grammar can cover. So... do you see my dilemma? –  indoxica Jul 14 '13 at 16:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The word en is one of those little words that has many different meanings.

Here, en is a pronoun. It does not refer to la ménagerie, but rather to nos vices.

I suspect that the biggest difficulty in this sentence is il est. This is a decidedly old-fashioned way of writing il y a. The pronoun il is impersonal, it does not have a referent. This formulation would not be used today, but it is not out of place in 19th century poetry. Hence, il en est means il y en a, i.e. “there is one (vice)”. Also, “Il en est un plus laid […]” is elided from “Il en est un qui est plus laid […]

If read as prose, the sentence construction would be considered slightly awkward. Here is a decidedly non-poetic way to write this sentence:

Nos vices constituent une ménagerie infâme. On peut les comparer à des chacals, […], à des monstres qui glapissent ou qui hurlent ou qui grognent ou qui rampent. Parmi ces vices, l'un d'entre eux est plus laid, plus méchant et plus immonde que les autres.

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Thank you. My curiosity is so ferocious that I simply can't help myself opening all sorts of books that are still technically inaccessible to me. So basically il en est is an archaic way of saying il y en a (which on www.collinsdictionaries.com is translated as there is / there are). I'm already learning so much from all of you. The more I read, the more I know (through my personal study and my asking questions on this site). But this is my method of learning French: learning through reading in French. –  indoxica Jul 14 '13 at 16:44

La construction sous-jacente est « il est [quelque chose] parmi [d'autres] ». Lorsque le il est impersonnel on s'attend à ce que la phrase ait un complément. Tourné autrement, cela peut donner :

Parmi ceux-ci, il est un animal¹ plus laid, méchant,… [que les autres].

On peut aussi utiliser le pronom un directement (comme dans le poème), et il est dans ce cas assorti d'un pronom en, cela donne :

Parmi les animaux, il en est un plus laid,…

La même construction est possible avec le partitif :

Des animaux, il en est un plus laid…

Ce qui explique d'une certaine manière la reprise faite par le pronom en.


1. À remplacer par vice pour ceux qui seraient de l'autre côté de la méthaphore. La construction s'appuie pourtant sur l'énumération.

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Ah non, ce ne sont pas les animaux, ce sont les vices. Les vices sont comparés à des animaux, mais sans implication d'exclusivité — l'ennui est un vice mais pas forcément un animal. –  Gilles Jul 14 '13 at 16:30
    
Hein ? Les animaux c'est juste une métaphore, je comprends « dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices » comme une incise. À quoi sert donc le début de la phrase sinon ? Si tu écris seulement « Dans [blabla], il en est un… » ça ne me parait pas tout à fait français. –  Stéphane Gimenez Jul 14 '13 at 16:32
    
Bien sûr que c'est une métaphore. Il y a des vices qui sont (comparés à) des chacals, et des vices qui sont des lices, etc. En fin de compte, l'ennui est un vice. C'est vices qui est antécédent de en, et pas l'énumération métaphorique ni ménagerie. –  Gilles Jul 14 '13 at 16:36
    
Thank you for your answer. Always grateful for a clear explanation. –  indoxica Jul 14 '13 at 16:46

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