Paul Verlaine: His Absinthe Tinted Song, Page 5
by Bergen Applegate (1916).
Neither in Sagesse nor Parallèlement is Verlaine immortal.
Paul Verlaine has erroneously been likened to a number of other writers. On the side of his character he has been compared with Villon and Poe. There are points of resemblance to each. But as a writer he is unique, and comparison fails. Of northern French ancestry, he had a penchant for the North — for Belgium and England. He learned English and read Shakespeare. He even wrote some sober, dignified prose articles for certain English magazines, his style conforming with the solidity and gravity of these reviews.
During the last years of his life, Verlaine furnished much good natured amusement for tout Paris. But these were years of misery and suffering for the poet, reduced to pauperism by his dissipated habits and impractical temperament. In proportion, however, as his misery and illness were augmented, his fame grew. "Verlaine is back to the hospital," printed as a news item in the daily press, was the signal for a fresh batch of anecdotes concerning his strange career.
Edgar Saltus writing of the poet says: "After his discharge from prison, I had the signal honor of meeting him, and I can see him now, Socrates and Anacreon in one, hiccoughing down the laurel lanes, paying with enigmatic songs the food which young poets provided, distilling a mysterious music from the absinthe offered by them, and presenting at last a spectacle unique in literature, that of a singer applauded in a charity bed and rising from it to become one of the glories of France — though not of the French Academy."
It was George Moore who first brought Verlaine to the notice of the English public. Moore's visit to the poet and related in his book Impressions and Opinions is illuminating: "In a dark corner, at the end of a narrow passage situated at the top of the last flight of stairs, we discovered a door. We knocked. A voice made itself heard. We entered and saw Verlaine. The terrible forehead, bald and prominent, was half covered by a filthy nightcap, and a night shirt full of the grease of the bed covered his shoulders; a stained and discolored pair of trousers was hitched up somehow about his waist. He was drinking wine at sixteen sous the litre. He told us that he had just come out of the hospital; that his leg was better, but it still gave him a great deal of pain. He pointed to it. We looked away."
The poet's tempestuous liaisons with various women during his latter days serve to strengthen the conclusion of Lombroso that genius is a degenerative psychosis of the epileptoid order. These women were beings of the commonest clay, most of them from the underworld. They alternately beat, robbed and betrayed him. Yet one of them wiped the moisture of death from his forehead, and another wept at his tomb when all others had gone.
• • • • •Dearest Décadent, to read the sixth page of this article,
The poet's will, written in bitter jest, is a document to muse upon. It is the epitome of a misspent life:
I give nothing to the poor, because I am poor myself.
I believe in God.
Codicil. — As regards my obsequies, I desire to be conducted to the place of final repose in a Lesage cart (dust cart) and that my remains be deposited in the crypt of the Odeon.
As my fame has never prevented any one from sleeping, the choirs can sing, during the sad ceremony, to an air of Gossec's, the celebrated ode "La France a perdus son Morphée"
Made in Paris, June, 1885.
Verlaine never learned that the senses can only be exhausted, not satisfied. But in this he was not alone. It is thus with many men of genius. Their moral sight seems blinded by the rays of that superintelligence with which the god of Chance has endowed them, and they fall to chasing the butterflies of passion, rather than giving heed to the more responsible duties of life. Like meteors out of the night of Time do such personalities appear to our astonished vision, and long after their astral bodies have flashed below the horizon do their lights persist.
And it is to them we owe so much — the perfect statue, the matchless painting, and the deathless song.
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