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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 15
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

An hour later they returned to the hotel, and the scene in the bedroom, with Verlaine's mother flitting nervously between them, was repeated. Again Verlaine sat there sobbing out every plea which his disordered brain could muster. Again Rimbaud stood in the doorway, holding out his red fist for the money, pale, fierce and obdurate. Verlaine's whole world crashed scarlet before him: drawing his revolver from his pocket he fired two shots in Rimbaud's direction. The first bullet lodged in Rimbaud's left wrist; the second buried itself in the floor. In a paroxysm of remorse, Verlaine flung himself at the feet of his victim; his terrified mother tried to bind up the bleeding wrist, and pressing money into Rimbaud's other hand begged him to go, to go, to leave them. Rimbaud remained unperturbed: with a shrug of the shoulders he allowed Verlaine to walk with him as far as the station. On their way there the discussion flamed up again. On reaching the place Rouppe, Verlaine ran a few paces in front, and turning round advanced upon Rimbaud with his hand upon the revolver in his pocket. The latter, in his turn, fled in the direction of some gendarmes, followed closely by Verlaine screaming in his high falsetto and waving his revolver. They were at once arrested.

Such was the conclusion of the saison en enfer.

Rimbaud was taken to the Hospital St. Jean: his wounds were dressed: he was given anti-tenatus serum, and three days later the bullet was extracted. Verlaine was conducted to the police station behind the Hôtel de Ville, and then to the town gaol. which, as a relic of the Spanish occupation, was called by the cordial name of the "Amigo." The next day he was transferred to the Prison de Carmes. At first he was treated as a common felon, but an examination of his effects had disclosed a letter from Victor Hugo. The letter ran as follows:

MY POOR POET—I promise to go and see your charming wife, and I will intercede with her in your favour in the name of your dear little son. Be brave and return to the paths of truth.


The discovery of this letter impressed the magistrate, and at once assured Verlaine better treatment. He was given a cell to himself, and, pending his trial, was permitted to order his meals in from outside. Every day he was for half an hour allowed to walk alone in the enclosed court below his window, and from there he could see the leaves of a poplar swaying in the evening sun, and hear the faint murmur of the life outside. It was thus at the Prison de Carmes, and while awaiting his trail, that Verlaine wrote what is perhaps the best-known of all his poems:

Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
Si bleu, si calme !
Un arbre, par-dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme.

La cloche, dans le ciel qu'on voit,
Doucement tinte.
Un oiseau sur l'arbre qu'on voit
Chante sa plainte.

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là.
Simple et tranquille,
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville !

— Qu'as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse,
Dis, qu'as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse ?

PAGE 15 OF 21.

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