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Paul Verlaine

1844–1896

The French poet, Symbolist leader, and Decadent Paul-Marie Verlaine was born in Metz, Northeast France on March 30, 1844. His family moved to Paris in 1851, where he was enrolled in the lycée. In 1862, he received his bachelor's degree, then following the wishes of his father, an infantry captain, entered civil service.

As a young boy Verlaine had read Charles Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal, inspiring him to write. In Paris, he befriended Parnassian poets such as Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, Louis Xavier de Ricard, Catulle Mendès, and François Cippée, and together they frequented ale houses of the Rue Soufflot. Captain Verlaine refused to finance his son's drinking and writing habits. In 1866, Verlaine published his first book of poetry, Poèmes saturniens. As a young boy he had loved Elisa Dehee, an orphan cousin that the Verlaine family had raised, and his second book, Fêtes galantes, was published in 1869 after her death.

Though Verlaine married a young woman in 1870 and had son with her, he abandoned that relationship for another affair. La bonne chanson was written to his wife Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville in 1870, yet one year later Verlaine received a letter from a boy, the poet Arthur Rimbaud. The two began a relationship that was seemingly always unsteady. Their passionate affair, the subject of various books, films, and curiosities, ended July 12, 1873 when a drunken Verlaine shot at Rimbaud and injured him in the wrist. He was jailed for eighteen months. His time in prison was invaluable to his writing career: he studied Shakespeare and Cervantes, and wrote his quintessential Romance sans paroles. He renounced his bohemian life and converted to Catholicism. Following his release from prison, Rimbaud convinced Verlaine to commit blasphemy while drunk. Nonetheless, Verlaine's book Sagesse is full of religious sentiment.

Verlaine tried teaching, and twice attempted to live in the country with his pupil Lucien Létinois; both times they went bankrupt. Lucien died in 1883, and five years later Verlaine wrote the reflective Amour. The last decade of his life Verlaine suffered from alcoholism and multiple physical maladies. He lived in slums and public hospitals, and spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes. Fortunately, the French people's love of the arts was able to resurrect support and bring in an income for Verlaine: his early poetry was rediscovered, his lifestyle and strange behavior in front of crowds attracted admiration, and in 1894 he was elected France's "Prince of Poets" by his peers. He died in Paris at the age of 52 on January 8, 1896.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Po&egrace;mes saturniens (1866)
Fêtes galantes (1869)
La bonne chanson (1870)
Romances sans paroles (1874)
Sagesse (1881)
Jadis et maguère (1884)
Les poètes maudits (1884)
Mémoires d'un veuf (1886)
Amour (1888)
Parallèment (1889)
Dédicaces (1890)
Femmes (1890)
Bonheur (1891)
Les uns et les autres (1891)
Mes hôpitaux (1891)
Chansons pour elle (1892)
Liturgies intime (1892)
Mes prisons (1893)
Quinze jours en Hollande (1893)
Confessions (1895)
Chair (1896)
Invectives (1896)

Paul Verlaine

By This Poet

2

The Young Fools (Les Ingenus)

High-heels were struggling with a full-length dress
So that, between the wind and the terrain,
At times a shining stocking would be seen,
And gone too soon. We liked that foolishness.

Also, at times a jealous insect's dart
Bothered out beauties. Suddenly a white
Nape flashed beneath the branches, and this sight
Was a delicate feast for a young fool's heart.

Evening fell, equivocal, dissembling,
The women who hung dreaming on our arms
Spoke in low voices, words that had such charms
That ever since our stunned soul has been trembling.

Les Ingénus

Les hauts talons luttaient avec les longues jupes,
En sorte que, selon le terrain et le vent,
Parfois luisaient des bas de jambes, trop souvent
Interceptés--et nous aimions ce jeu de dupes.

Parfois aussi le dard d'un insecte jaloux
Inquiétait le col des belles sous les branches,
Et c'était des éclairs soudains de nuques blanches,
Et ce régal comblait nos jeunes yeux de fous.

Le soir tombait, un soir équivoque d'automne:
Les belles, se pendant rêveuses à nos bras,
Dirent alors des mots si spécieux, tout bas,
Que notre âme depuis ce temps tremble et s'étonne.

Chanson d’automne

Les saglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.
 

Autumn Song

translated by Arthur Symons

When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and long

Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.
My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.

And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

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