In my last question regarding E caduc in French poetry, here it turns out I just scratched the surface and after reading La Jeune Parque it turns out I have some more questions. First, I just want to make sure that the 'e' in words ending with 'que' is not an exception. It almost certain is not as seen in these verses. (I use the _ to indicate an E caduc and the | to indicate a césur.)

Also the following lines do not appear in this order:

Souffle au masque_ la pourpre | imprégnant le refus
Chaque_ baiser présage | une_ neuve agonie
Jusque_ sur cette_ rive a ramené ta vie.
Presque_ tombeau vivant | dans mes appartements,

Now for words ending in 'es', again I'm 99% certain that you pronounce the final 'e' if the word ends in 'es' and is following by a word beginning with a consonant but I want to be 100% certain:

Mes pauses,_ sur le pied | portant la rêverie,
Car l'œil spirituel | sur ses plages_ de soie
Osera-t-il, le Temps, | de mes diverses_ tombes,
Ou toi. de cils tissue | et de fluides_ fûts,

Now for words ending with 'ent'. Here though I'm not certain if the 'e' should be pronounced nasalized or not.

Portent_ pieusement | à leurs fantasques_ fronts,
La semence,_ le lait, | le sang coulent_ toujours?
Tous les corps radieux | tremblent_ dans mon essence!

It seems that verbs ending in 'aient' followed by a word beginning with a consonant only the 'ai' is pronounced not also the 'en'. Here, an ø indicates that the final 'en' is not pronounced. E.g.:

Que mes retours sur moi | reconnaissaientø la leur,
Mes transports, cette_ nuit, | pensaientø briser ta chaîne,
De mouvements si prompts | mes vœux étaientø remplis

In the following I just want to make sure that 'nuit' is pronounced as one syllable and in the following 3 cases Valery treats it as such:

Mes transports, cette_ nuit, | pensaientø briser ta chaîne,
De mon sein, dans les nuits, mordre les rocs charmants,
Qu’es-tu, près de ma nuit* d’éternelle_ longueur?

However, this video, although made by an anglophone treats as either two syllables or a diphthong:

how to pronounced 'nuit'

but cambridge

and the more authoritative

how to pronounce upside down h

say that it is one syllable if the IPA /nɥi/ is considered one syllable.

Finally, we have an ambiguous case:

Glisse! Barque funèbre. | Et moi vive,_ debout,

Either 'glisse' has a pronounced 'e' or 'barque' does. I'm guessing that if a sentence ends with an e caduc and the next sentence begins with a consonant then the 'e' is not pronounced.

  • Your last sentence, Glisse! Barque funèbre. | Et moi, vive, debout is not ambiguous. Both glisse and barque have pronounced e caducs, but funèbre does not, since it's followed by a word starting with a vowel. The fact that there's an end of a sentence and a caesura there doesn't give you permission to pronounce funèbre with three syllables, even though at the end of a sentence, you might pronounce it in non-poetic speech. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 2:56
  • Got it, thanks for the tip.
    – bobsmith76
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 2:59

2 Answers 2


I have not taken time to read all your questions but I can solve the four first lines and give you the principle of "e caduc" in French poetry.

This is my guide to scanning the first four lines:

  • brackets ( ): e caduc
  • e bold: e pronounced ;
  • || césure after 6 syllables

Souffl(e) au masque la pourpr(e) || imprégnant le refus (6+6>12)

Chaque baiser présag(e) || une neuv(e) agoni(e) (6+6=12)

Jusque sur cette riv(e) || a ramené ta vi(e). (6+6=12)

Presque tombeau vivant || dans mes appartements, (6+6=12)

4 Principles given to my pupils:

  • an alexandrin is a verse 12 syllables long divided in 2 hémistiches 6 syllables long
  • the e final is always pronounced before a consonant and a h aspiré (le héros)
  • the e final is never pronounced before a vowel, at the end of the verse or before an h muet (l'histoire, note that the apostrophe helps naturally to do it)
  • the purpose: find 6 syllables to the first hémistiche, place the césure, then find 6 syllables to the second hémistiche and you have your alexandrin (12 syllables).

2 pieces of advice:

  • read the small and excellent book by Jean Mazalérat, Éléments de métrique française
  • hear some alexandrins read by a French actor on youtube and read the text in the same time.
  • Except note that it seems to me that half the people who read poetry on youtube don't actually follow the classical rules of the alexandrines. I think the poems still sound perfectly good in most cases, but then I'm not a native French speaker so maybe you shouldn't trust my judgment. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 11:47
  • You are right, Peter, actors often read alexandrines freely for expressive reasons. But try Victor Hugo's Les Contemplations (1/4), the AudioBook read by Denys Podalydès and, especially, Michael Lonsdale (at 1h42mn30s): their pronunciation is almost always perfect. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 13:34
  • @Pierre, it's good to know that some actors out there are willing to do it correctly. I think the poetry sounds much better when you pause after 6 syllables, it causes an intoxicating rhythm. also, i've recited the whole 'la jeune parque' and made a recording of it, would you be interested in listening to a part of it and give me a critique?
    – bobsmith76
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 1:05
  • Also, thanks for the tips on Jean Mazalerat's book, because currently there isn't much info on the metrics of french poetry on the web.
    – bobsmith76
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 1:06
  • @Pierre, they have other readings by Podalydes on youtube but for this reading it doesn't say who the author is, do you know who it's by youtube.com/watch?v=ZjtTbnDBR18
    – bobsmith76
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 5:30

In addition to Pierre's good answer:

  • A final S very rarely pronounced and never if it marks a plural unless a liaison is involved (it is pronounced like a Z in that case).

  • Present participle endings (e.g. parlant) are always nasalized but verbal forms in -ent are never. Il parle and Ils parlent are always pronounced identically.

  • Verbal forms in -aient (third person plural) are always pronounced like third person singular: Il parlait = Ils parlaient.

  • Diphthong rules are complex. Their vowels are pronounced separately or not depending on the case. You can guess it by counting the syllables and keep the choice where the verse is a proper alexandrine.

  • Present participle endings (e.g. parlant) are always nasalized but verbal forms in -ent are never. Il parle and Ils parlent are always pronounced identically. --- are you sure about that? in order to get to 12 syllables V clearly intends the ent ending to be pronounced
    – bobsmith76
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 1:01

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