The latest in a long line of French poet-politicians, this dashing aristocrat is a prolific author with a taste for old-fashioned grandiloquence. He can turn a simple radio interview into a torrent of vivid nouns and dramatic verbs.

   

At his best, de Villepin weaves words into sweeping speeches that dazzle by their romantic audacity. His passionate UN speech against the planned US attack on Iraq in 2003 moved diplomats there to unprecedented applause.

   

"In this temple of the United Nations, we are the guardians of an ideal, of a conscience," he proclaimed to the Security Council. "The weighty responsibility and the immense honour that are ours lead us to give priority to disarmament in peace."

 

France had, he said, "never ceased to stand upright in the face of history and before mankind ... . Faithful to its values, it believes in our ability to build together a better world".

 

Dramatically terse

   

De Villepin can also be dramatically terse, as when he described his hyperactive style with the words: "Responsibility is action. Nothing is worse than not deciding. Deciding is creating."

   

On other days, though, his words seem to run away from him. He once described loyalty - a virtue President Jacques Chirac clearly prizes in him - as "the capacity to give coherence to one's elan and passion".

   

"In this temple of the United Nations, we are the guardians of an ideal, of a conscience"

Dominique de Villepin

"Every time I take the floor, I take a risk," de Villepin has admitted. "Having an emotive temperament, I am more exposed to this than others."

 

Villepin credits his mother for giving him a taste for poetry and his childhood abroad - he was born in Morocco and grew up in Venezuela and the United States - for instilling in him a grand vision of France and its role in the world.

   

"I dreamed of France before I knew her," he likes to say.

   

This grand vision, expressed with a pathos few other French politicians can match, came out in his campaign speeches for the European constitution that voters rejected on Sunday.

   

Since 2001, Villepin has published four books that stood out both for their grand writing style and for the deeply romantic view of France and political life expressed in them.