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Paul Verlaine Biography and List of Works

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French poet and leader of the Symbolist movement in poetry. Verlaine wavered between criminality and mysticism. Alongside Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire he formed the so-called Decadents. Two impressions predominate in Verlains' work: only the self is important, and the function of poetry is to preserve moments of extreme sensation and unique impressions. In spite of the 'vagueness' of his poetry, Verlaine employs a craftsman like care in his compositions, using simple, musical language.

"There is weeping in my heart
Like the rain falling on the city."

(from Romances sans Paroles, 1874)

Verlaine was born in Metz, northeast France. He studied law in Paris, but gave up after two years and joined the civil service. His father refused to finance his life style - drinking and writing. His first book, POÈMES SATURNIENS, appeared in 1866. In 1870 he married Mathilde Mauté, and shared his dwellings with his wife, his inlaws and the younger poet Arthur Rimbaud. The marriage was soon shattered when Verlaine started an affair with Rimbaud. In this impossible situation Verlaine left his family to live a Bohemian life with his friend in London and Brussels. Their relationship ended in 1873 when Verlaine, drunk and desolate, tried to shoot Rimbaud in the wrist after a jealous quarrel. He was jailed for two 18 months and during this time wrote ROMANCES SANS PAROLES (1874). "And here is my heart which beats only for you."

After his release Verlaine was reunited with Rimbaud. However, when Rimbaud discovered that his friend had become a Catholic, he proceeded to get Verlaine drunk and made him blaspheme against his faith. According to one story he then knocked him down with a club. Verlaine moved to England where he taught French before returning to France in 1877. From this period date most of the poems in SAGESSE. It contains verse of religious sentiment that reflects the poet's conversion to Roman Catholicism. He adopted a pupil, Lucien Létinois, and they ran a farm together.

Verlaine's favourite pupil died of typhus in 1883 and his mother died in 1886. Although relapsing into drink, Verlaine was celebrated at the same time as the leading poet of France. He published such critical works as LES POÈTES MAUDITS (1884), short biographical studies of poets, short stories and sacred and profane verse. His poem AMOUR (1888) looked back to Lucien's death. He also spent long periods in hospitals and continued to drink.

In his last years, Verlaine spent whatever royalties he earned on two middle-aged women prostitutes he lived with alternately. He dreamed of Rimbaud every night and frequented a gay man, who was an occasional thief. In 1894 he was elected France's Prince of Poets. Verlaine died in Paris on January 8, 1896. His funeral was a public event, with thousands of Parisians following the casket to the Batignolles cemetery. Despite his fame, Verlaine died in poverty.

GREEN

Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches
Et puis voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous,
Ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches,
Et qu'à vos yeux si beaux l'humble présent soit doux.

J'arrive tout couvert encore de rosée
Que le vent du matin vient glacer à mon front.
Souffrez que ma fatique, à vos pieds reposée,
Réve des chers instants qui la délasseront.

Sur votre jeune sein laissez rouler ma tête
Toute sonore encor de vos derniers baisers;
Laissez-la s'apaiser de la bonne tempête,
Et qure je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.

Décadents: a term applied narrowly to the group of French poets whose leaders were Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Mallarmé. The group became known for their interest in the morbid, perverse and bizarre, their freedom of morals and often-sensational social behaviour, and hyperaesthetic temperaments. In their writings, they place emphasis upon creative self-expression and underline the principle of art for art's sake. Their review Le Décadent, whose title consecrated a label originally coined by hostile critics, was founded in 1886. - See also : Oscar Wilde, the English counterpart to this phenomenon.

For further reading: Paul Verlaine by Stefan Zweig (1913); Paul Verlaine by Harold Nicholson (1921); Paul Verlaine, sa vie, son oeuvre by Edmond Lepelletier (1923); Verlaine: Prince of Poets by Lawrence and Elisabeth Hanson (1958); Verlaine by C. Chadwick (1973); English Interludes by Cecily Mackworth (1974); Paul Verlaine by Stefan Zweig (1980); Paul Verlaine: His Life - His Work by Edmond Lepelletier (1993); Paul Verlaine: Histoire d'un Corps by Alain Buisine (1995); Arthur Rimbaud et Paul Verlaine, ed. by Joon-Oh Lee (1996); Paul Verlaine by Harold G. Nicolson (1997) - Film: Total Eclipse (1995), a hysterical dramatization of the famous literary conjunction, the destructive love affair of Verlaine and Rimbaud, dir. by Agnieszka Holland, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, David Thewlis

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