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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 4
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

It was thus in October 1871, when the relations of the Verlaine ménage were already strained to breaking-point, that this truculent prodigy appeared sulkily in the doorway of the rue Nicolet. Even Verlaine was somewhat disconcerted by his appearance: this large, red-fisted boy, with the filthy hair that hung down lank between his shoulders, the snub nose, and damp fleshy mouth, the insulting manners, the enormous appetite, was a little difficult to fit into a small Paris flat;—a flat, moreover, in which Verlaine himself was but a guest, and one welcomed only because inevitable. Fortunately M. Mauté was absent. Madame Mauté, that charitable being, and Mathilde could be trusted to do what they were asked. Verlaine had explained that the boy was a genius; what matter if he did eat gluttonosly and with a sound of gulp and gasp, if he spoke and behaved like a peasant, and if he insisted after luncheon on sleeping in the courtyard? Madame Mauté and Mathilde agreed that he was obviously a genius, and they even brought themselves to the task of rendering Rimbaud, at least externally, a cleaner and less obnoxious visitor. Rimbaud has celebrated their attentions in a poem, characteristic at once of his skill and of his vicious cynicism:


Quand le front de l'enfant, plein de rouges tourmentes,
Implore l'essaim blanc des rêves indistincts,
Il vient près de son lit deux grandes sœurs charmantes
Avec de frêles doigts aux ongles argentins.

Elles assoient l'enfant auprès d'une croisée
Grande ouverte où l'air bleu baigne un fouillis de fleurs.
Et dans ses lourds cheveux où tombe la rosée,
Promènent leurs doigts fins, terribles et charmeurs.

Il écoute chanter leurs haleines craintives
Qui fleurent de longs miels végétaux et rosés,
Et qu'interrompt parfois un sifflement, salives
Reprises sur la lèvre ou désirs de baisers.

Il intend leurs cils noirs battant sous les silences
Parfumés ; et leurs doigts électriques et doux
Font crépiter parmi ses grises indolences
Sous leurs ongles royaux la mort des petits poux.

Rimbaud had brought with him the manuscript of the Bateau ivre, and its perusal awoke in Verlaine such a flame of admiration as in this world of competition talent has but seldom consented to render to genius. With all his faults, Verlaine had no spark of jealousy or personal ambition, and he flung himself with real generosity into the task of securing for Rimbaud the recognition he deserved.

PAGE 4 OF 21.

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