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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 12
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

Verlaine and Rimbaud had by then settled into rooms at No. 34 Howland Street. Rimbaud with his customary energy set about learning English, and endeavoured to obtain through the merchants in the City some appointment in the East. He cut his hair, if not short, at least within reasonable limits, and he bought a top hat. Verlaine in a more desultory fashion also began to learn English, and through it all they were both busy writing: Rimbaud those beautiful, but quite incomprehensible, poems in prose which, after his death, were published under the title of Les Illuminations, and Verlaine those occasional pieces collected in his volume Romances sans paroles. As time went on Verlaine began to reconcile himself to the prospect of a legal separation. With his curiously buoyant optimism he appears never to have realised that his departure under such peculiar circumstances would for ever render impossible a reconciliation with a person of Mathilde's limited intelligence. As we know, she was a "sotte qui tourna pire"; and poor thing, how could she, a child of but nineteen, forget the blows of a drunken husband or his desertion at the supreme moment of a young wife's experience? Verlaine appears quite sincerely to have ignored the gravity of his behaviour: again and again during the years which were to follow he endeavoured to induce Mathilde to come back to him, and her constant refusal always filled his anew with surprised and injured indignation. For the moment, however, he stilled his anxiety with the milk of human optimism. Verlaine liked London—the grim, gritty London of 1872. He liked the docks, and the noise and the little boot-blacks outside Charing Cross. He liked the Thames, "that whirlwind of mud." He even liked the English. "Their absurdities," he wrote, "are not really objectionable." At first he did not like the public-houses: he found them uncomfortable, unwelcoming and rather furtive; he missed the frank and expansive gaiety of the Parisian café; he objected to the smell of stale beer, the comparative absence of seats, and the ground glass in the windows. But in the end he liked them also, and even too well; and, after all, in a world of gin and hurdy-gurdies, of flaring gas-jets, and flower girls dancing in Soho alleys, one could live, one could laugh, and above all one could forget:


J'aimais surtout ses jolis yeux,
Plus clairs que l'étoile des cieux,
J'aimais ses yeux malicieux.
Dansons la gigue !

Elle avait des façons vraiment
De désoler un pauvre amant,
Que c'en était vraiment charmant
Dansons la gigue !

Je me souviens, je me souviens
Des heures et des entretiens,
Et c'est le meilleur de mes biens.
Dansons la gigue !

Verlaine was able also to renew acquaintance with his old Communist friends, those of them who had escaped the 24th of May, and were now living precariously in London. And then he was writing: "I have never," he says in a letter to Lepelletier, "written more than I am now doing." Of all this energy, little remains beyond the scattered verses of the Romances sans paroles, and some of the better pieces of Jadis et naguère.

PAGE 12 OF 21.

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