Garneau, Hector de Saint-Denys

Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, poet (b at Montréal 13 June 1912; d at Ste-Catherine-de-Fossambault, Qué 24 Oct 1943). Saint-Denys Garneau's writing marks a turning point in the history of Québec poetry. Great-grandson of the historian François-Xavier GARNEAU and grandson of the poet Alfred Garneau, Saint-Denys Garneau was the son of a comfortable middle-class family and cousin of the poet and novelist Anne HÉBERT.

While taking his classical secondary course at the Jesuit colleges Sainte-Marie, Loyola and Jean de Brébeuf, he also attended art classes at the École des beaux-arts in Montréal, but in 1934 his studies were interrupted by a rheumatic heart condition. Devoting himself to poetry, painting and music, he was associated for the next 3 years with the young Catholic intellectuals responsible for the magazine La Relève. During the 1930s he also kept his Journal (posthumously published in 1954 and translated into English by John Glassco in 1962) and composed the poems to appear in his only collection of verse, Regards et jeux dans l'espace (1937).Disillusioned by the volume's reception, Saint-Denys Garneau withdrew to the seclusion of the family manor house at Ste-Catherine-de-Fossambault near Québec City, where he died in 1943, apparently of a heart attack, while canoeing alone.

Radical in its form, with its unrhymed lines of various lengths, its lack of punctuation and its broken syntax, Saint-Denys Garneau's poetry was equally original in its themes (the spiritual adventure of the poet, the nature of artistic creation, the search for purity) and in its ironic distance. His hermetic poems, his cerebral correspondence and the restless searching of his diary make of Saint-Denys Garneau a unique figure in the intellectual history of Québec and its first truly modern poet.