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Émile Nelligan (December 24, 1879 – November 18, 1941) was a Francophone poet.

Émile Borbinu Nelligan
Emile Nelligan.JPG
Émile Nelligan as a young man
Born(1879-12-24)24 December 1879
Died18 November 1941(1941-11-18) (aged 61)



Nelligan was born in Montreal on December 24, 1879 at 602, rue de La Gauchetière (Annuaire Lovell's de 1879). He was the first son of David Nelligan, who arrived in Quebec from Dublin, Ireland at the age of 12. His mother was Émilie Amanda Hudon, from Rimouski, Quebec. He had two sisters, Béatrice and Gertrude.

A follower of Symbolism, he produced poetry profoundly influenced by Octave Crémazie, Louis Fréchette, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Georges Rodenbach, Maurice Rollinat and Edgar Allan Poe. A precocious talent like Arthur Rimbaud, he published his first poems in Montreal at the age of 16.

In 1899, Nelligan began to exhibit odd behavior. He was said to have loudly recited poetry to passing strangers and slept in chapels. He was also experiencing hallucinations and he attempted suicide. He was committed to a mental hospital at the request of his parents. There he was diagnosed with dementia praecox (now more commonly referred to as schizophrenia). He did not write any poetry after being hospitalized.[1]

At the time, rumor and speculation suggested that he went insane because of the vast cultural and language differences between his mother and father. In recent years, however, a number of literary critics have postulated that Nelligan was gay.[2] Some of these sources suggest that he became mentally ill due to inner conflict between his sexuality and his religious upbringing, while others suggest that he never went insane at all, but was involuntarily committed to the asylum by his family for homophobic reasons.[3] No biographical sources published during Nelligan's lifetime contain any confirmed record of Nelligan having had any sexual or romantic relationships with either men or women,[4] although some posthumous sources have suggested that he may have been the lover of poet Arthur de Bussières.[3] Within the École littéraire de Montréal circle with which both Nelligan and Bussières were associated, it was widely believed that Nelligan was confined to the asylum because his mother discovered him and Bussières in bed together,[3] although this claim was not widely publicized until the late 20th century and remains unconfirmed. Conversely, the 1991 biographical film Nelligan depicts Nelligan as a celibate bisexual, portraying him as sexually ambivalent in the face of romantic attractions to both Bussières and feminist activist Idola Saint-Jean, and implying that his mother attempted to commit incest with him.[5]

In 1903, his collected poems were published to great acclaim in Canada. He may not have been aware that he was counted among French Canada's greatest poets.

On his death in 1941, Nelligan was interred in the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal, Quebec. Following his death, the public became increasingly interested in Nelligan. His incomplete work spawned a kind of romantic legend. He was first translated into English in 1960 by P.F. Widdows. In 1983, Fred Cogswell translated all his poems in The Complete Poems of Émile Nelligan. In the fall of 2017, Montreal's Vehicle Press will be releasing Marc di Saverio's English translations of Nelligan, Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Emile Nelligan.

Nelligan is considered one of the greatest poets of French Canada. Several schools and libraries in Quebec are named after him, and Hotel Nelligan is a four-star hotel in Old Montreal at the corner of Rue St. Paul and Rue St. Sulpice.

In her 2013 book Le Naufragé du Vaisseau d'or, Yvette Francoli claimed that Louis Dantin, the publisher of Nelligan's poems, was in fact their real author.[6] This claim was also previously advanced by Claude-Henri Grignon in his 1936 essay Les Pamphlets de Valdombre,[3] although Dantin himself denied having had anything more than an editing role in the poems' creation. In 2016, the University of Ottawa's literary journal Analyses published an article by Annette Hayward and Christian Vandendorpe which rejected the claim, based on textual comparisons of the poetry credited to Nelligan with the writings of Dantin.[7]

Le Vaisseau d'Or Edit

Émile Nelligan bust, Saint-Louis Square, Montreal

Ce fut un grand Vaisseau taillé dans l'or massif:
Ses mâts touchaient l'azur, sur des mers inconnues;
La Cyprine d'amour, cheveux épars, chairs nues,
S'étalait à sa proue, au soleil excessif.

Mais il vint une nuit frapper le grand écueil
Dans l'Océan trompeur où chantait la Sirène,
Et le naufrage horrible inclina sa carène
Aux profondeurs du Gouffre, immuable cercueil.

Ce fut un Vaisseau d'Or, dont les flancs diaphanes
Révélaient des trésors que les marins profanes,
Dégoût, Haine et Névrose, entre eux ont disputés.

Que reste-t-il de lui dans sa tempête brève?
Qu'est devenu mon coeur, navire déserté?
Hélas! Il a sombré dans l'abîme du Rêve!

Christ en CroixEdit

Je remarquais toujours ce grand Jésus de plâtre
Dressé comme un pardon au seuil du vieux couvent,
Échafaud solennel à geste noir, devant
Lequel je me courbais, saintement idolâtre.

Or, l'autre soir, à l'heure où le cri-cri folâtre,
Par les prés assombris, le regard bleu rêvant,
Récitant Eloa, les cheveux dans le vent,
Comme il sied à l'Éphèbe esthétique et bellâtre,

J'aperçus, adjoignant des débris de parois,
Un gigantesque amas de lourde vieille croix
Et de plâtre écroulé parmi les primevères;

Et je restai là, morne, avec les yeux pensifs,
Et j'entendais en moi des marteaux convulsifs
Renfoncer les clous noirs des intimes Calvaires!

Translation by Konrad Bongard

The gypsum Jesus always stalled me in my steps
Like a curse at the old convent door;
Crouching meekly, I bend to exalt an idol
Whose forgiveness I do not implore.

Not long ago, at the crickets' hour, I roamed dim
Meadows in a restful reverie
Reciting 'Eloa', with my hair worn by the wind
And no audience save for the trees.

But now, as I lie with knees bent beneath Christ's scaffold,
I see his crumbling mortar cross
With its plaster buried in the roses, and am saddened -

For if I listen close enough, I can almost hear
The sound of coal-black nails being wrung in
To his wrists, the savage piercing of Longinus' spear.


Nelligan monument in Quebec City

Several schools and libraries of Quebec bear the name of Émile Nelligan. Since 1979 the Prix Émile-Nelligan has rewarded the authors of a French-language poetry book written by a young poet in North America.

On June 7, 2005, the Fondation Émile-Nelligan and the City of Montreal inaugurated a bust to his memory in the Carré Saint-Louis. Another monument to his memory stands in Quebec City.

The poetry of Nelligan inspired numerous music composers:

  • André Gagnon. Nelligan, Toronto: Disques SRC, 2005, 2 disks (Concert recorded at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of the Place des Arts in Montréal, on February 18 and 19 2005)
  • Gilbert Patenaude. Compagnons des Amériques : poètes québécois mis en musique, Montréal: Disques XXI, 2005, 1 disk
  • Jean Chatillon. Clair de lune sur les eaux du rêve, Bécancour: Éditions de l'Écureuil noir, 2001 (1 disk)
  • Jacques Hétu. Le tombeau de Nelligan : mouvement symphonique opus 52, Saint-Nicolas: Doberman-Yppan, 1995 (1 partition: 44 pages)
  • John Craton. Jardin sentimental : Cinq poèmes d'Émile Nelligan, Bedford, Ind: Wolfhead Music, 2004, 18 pages.
  • André Gagnon and Claude Léveillée. Monique Leyrac chante Emile Nelligan, Verdun: Disques Mérite, 1991, 1 disk
  • André Gagnon. Nelligan : livret d'opéra, Montréal: Leméac, 1990, 90 pages (text by Michel Tremblay)
  • Jacques Hétu. Les abîmes du rêve : opus 36, Montréal: Sociéte nouvelle d'enregistrement, 1987, duration 30:21
  • Richard G. Boucher. Anges maudits, veuillez m'aider! : cantate dramatique sur des poèmes d'Émile Nelligan, Montréal: Radio Canada international, 1981, duration 38 min.
  • Omer Létourneau. Violon de villanelle : choeur pour voix de femmes, Québec: Procure générale de musique enr., 1940 (1 partition: 8 pages)
  • Matthew de Lacey Davidson • QUATRE MÉLODIES QUÉBÉCOISES : Music set to four poems by three Québécois authors: Albert Lozeau (1878-1924), Blanche Lamontagne-Beauregard (1889-1958), and Émile Nelligan (1879-1941), 2012 (1 partition: 44 pages, available from the Canadian Music Centre, The American Composers Alliance, and SOUNZ - The New Zealand Music Centre).

Selected bibliographyEdit


  • 1903 - Émile Nelligan et son œuvre, Montréal: Beauchemin (Louis Dantin) online
  • 1952 - Poésies complètes : 1896-1899, Montréal: Fides (Luc Lacourcière)
  • 1966 - Poèmes choisis, Montréal: Fides (Eloi de Grandmont)
  • 1980 - Poèmes choisis, Montréal: Fides (Roger Chamberland)
  • 1982 - 31 Poèmes autographes : 2 carnets d'hôpital, 1938, Trois-Rivières: Forges
  • 1991 - Le Récital des anges : 50 poèmes d'Émile Nelligan, Trois-Rivières: Forges (Claude Beausoleil)
  • 1991 - Oeuvres complètes, Montréal: Fides, 2 volumes (Réjean Robidoux and Paul Wyczynski)
  • 1991 - Poèmes autographes, Montréal: Fides, 1991, (Paul Wyczynski)
  • 1995 - Poésie en version originale, Montréal: Triptyque (André Marquis)
  • 1997 - Poèmes choisis : le récital de l'ange, Saint-Hippolyte: Noroît (Jocelyne Felx)
  • 1998 - Poésies complètes, La Table Ronde: Paris, 1998
  • 2004 - Poésies complètes, 1896-1941, Montréal: Fides (text established, annotated and presented by Réjean Robidoux and Paul Wyczynski)
  • 2006 - Oeuvres complètes, Montréal: Bibliothèque québécoise (critical edition by Jacques Michon, reviewed, corrected and augmented by André Gervais in collaboration with Jacques Michon)

In translationEdit

  • Selected Poems - 1960 (translated by P. F. Widdows)
  • The Complete Poems of Emile Nelligan - 1982 (translated by Fred Cogswell)
  • Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Emile Nelligan - 2017 (translated by Marc di Saverio)


  1. ^ "Nelligan, Emile | Representative Poetry Online". Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  2. ^ "Émile Nelligan, interné parce que gai?" Désautels, January 14, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d Gaëtan Dostie, "Nelligan et de Bussières créés par Dantin ?". Le Patriote. Republished by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montreal, July 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Émile J. Talbot, Reading Nelligan. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. ISBN 0773523189.
  5. ^ "A revisionist adjusts the halo: Emile Nelligan; Rather than placing Quebec's beloved tragic poet on a pedestal, director Robert Favreau portrays his subject as a rather gloomy adolescent". The Globe and Mail, October 26, 1991.
  6. ^ "L’imposture Nelligan". L'actualité, November 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Annette Hayward; Christian Vandendorpe (2016). "Dantin et Nelligan au piège de la fiction: Le naufragé du Vaisseau d'or d'Yvette Francoli". @nalyses. pp. 232–327. ISSN 1715-9261.

In EnglishEdit

  • Jacques Michon. "Émile Nelligan Biography (1879–1941)", in Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern Fiction, 2009
  • Nina Milner. "Émile Nelligan (1879-1941)", in Canadian Poetry Archive, November 28, 2003
  • Talbot, Emile (2002). Reading Nelligan, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 221 p. ISBN 0-7735-2318-9
  • Fred Cogswell (1983). The Complete Poems of Émile Nelligan, Montréal: Harvest House, 120 p. ISBN 0-88772-218-0
  • P.F. Widdows (1960). Selected Poems by Émile Nelligan, Toronto: Ryerson, 39 p.

In FrenchEdit

On his work and life

  • Sui Caedere, "Thrène" (2009). Music album is a tribute to Quebec's damned poet Émile Nelligan, a man who saw beyond the dream, beyond the paradox of life. Contains 9 haunting tracks.
  • Lemieux, Pierre Hervé (2004). Nelligan et Françoise : l'intrigue amoureuse la plus singulière de la fin du 19e siècle québécois : biographie reconstituée à l'occasion du centième anniversiare de la publication du recueil de poésie d'Émile Nelligan, 1904-2004, Lévis: Fondation littéraire Fleur de lys, 537 p. ISBN 2-89612-025-4
  • Wyczynski, Paul (2002). Album Nelligan : une biographie en images, Saint-Laurent: Fides, 2002, 435 pages ISBN 2-7621-2191-4
  • Wyczynski, Paul (1999). Émile Nelligan : biographie, Saint-Laurent: Bibliothèque Québécoise, 1999, 345 p. ISBN 2-89406-150-1 (édition originale : Nelligan, 1879-1941, Montréal: Fides, 1987)
  • Beausoleil, Claude. "Émile Nelligan et le temps", in Nuit blanche, numero 74, Spring 1999
  • Beaudoin, Réjean (1997). Une Étude des Poésies d'Émile Nelligan, Montréal: Boréal, 106 p.
  • Vanasse, André (1996). Émile Nelligan, le spasme de vivre, Montréal: XYZ, 201 p. ISBN 2-89261-179-2 (biographie romancée)
  • Lemieux, Pierre H. "La nouvelle édition critique de Nelligan", in Lettres québécoises, numero 66, Summer 1992
  • Whitfield, Agnès (1988). "Nelligan, de l'homme à l'œuvre", in Lettres québécoises, numéro 49, Spring 1988
  • Bertrand, Réal (1980). Émile Nelligan, Montréal: Lidec, 62 p. ISBN 2-7608-3249-X
  • Wyczynski, Paul (1973). Bibliographie descriptive et critique d'Emile Nelligan, Ottawa : Editions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 319 p. ISBN 0-7766-3951-X
  • Wyczynski, Paul (1965). Poésie et symbole : perspectives du symbolisme : Emile Nelligan, Saint-Denys Garneau, Anne Hébert : le langage des arbres, Montréal: Librairie Déom, 252 p.
  • Wyczynski, Paul (1960). Émile Nelligan : sources et originalité de son oeuvre, Ottawa: Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 349 p.

Musical adaptationsEdit

American classical composer John Craton utilized five of Nelligan's poems in the song cycle Jardin sentimental (2004).

External linksEdit