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A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896, Page 1  
by Francis Yvon Eccles (1909). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

HE was born at Metz in Lorraine. His family came from the Belgian Ardennes, but his father was a French captain of engineers. He had a classical education in Paris; was for some time a clerk, first in an insurance office and then in the Civil Service; and as a stripling began to frequent the 'Parnassian' group of poets. He married, unhappily, in 1870, adhered to the Commune, travelled with the youthful Arthur Rimbaud and, at Brussels, was tried and sentenced to two years' imprisonment for shooting his friend in a drunken quarrel. His sincere (if only poetically fruitful) conversion in the gaol at Mons is the most significant event of his life, which is only too well known. Verlaine's improvidence and waywardness and vices — drink was the most disastrous of them — have been probably exaggerated and certainly exploited by friends and enemies. For some time he was an usher in England, and towards the end of his career he gave lectures in Belgium, Holland, the French provinces, England, and contributed to respectable reviews. He spent years, on and off, in the hospitals of Paris; and died in squalid surroundings at the beginning of 1896. Rags and beggary, a reedy will and a tender heart, childish inconsequence and a childlike faith and an unreasonable cheerfulness which seldom deserted him in gaol or tavern or sick ward — these things make of 'Poor Lelian' an almost legendary figure, not unlovable, which falls readily into its place in a subordinate tradition of French literature, the tradition of riming vagabondage begun by Rutebeuf and Villon and carried on from Villon to Mathurin Régnier, from Régnier to Piron and from Piron to more than one singer of our day.

Verlaine's rank as a poet is still hotly disputed. The phrase 'a transitional Parnassian' defines him aptly, at least on the formal side of his art. While immensely influenced from boyhood by Les Fleurs du Mal, he began by accepting the ideal of Leconte de Lisle and his disciples — the exact and impassive record of concrete sensations in metallic, irreproachable verse. Later, an inevitable reaction claimed him: he became emphatically a personal lyrist, and for Verlaine personality was perhaps rather the old romantic egoism, with an added candour, than the waste of evanescent moods which the typical symbolist 'evokes' by obscure and singular associations with the sensible world. Yet he may fairly be said to have first, among French poets, recognised the whole charm of the word half spoken. A real master of expression, who quite evidently thought in verse, he often preferred to suggest merely, and he carried the semblance of a fluid artlessness in discourse to the frontiers of genius and insipidity.


His verse is of very various quality. Much or most of it is not only firm and regular, but rigorous; and when he chooses to be demure, his sober utterance has almost the virtues of Racine's, without the pride of carriage. Racine alone, and possibly Lamartine, can match his natural sensitiveness to the merely sonorous value of words — a gift he presumed on. Not all his experiments with harmony and rhythm (assonance encroaching upon the prerogatives of rime, lines docked of a syllable to disconcert the ear, etc.) are happy. Their common tendency is towards equivocation. But in general his form is respectful of traditions, even when they rely on conventions grown hollow; and he carried the dislocation of the Alexandrine, in particular, no farther really than the stage it had reached before him, in which a new rhythm is still marriageable with the old. Verlaine has often attained an aerial tenderness, and as often sunk to an earthiness and triviality, which are equally characteristic. He had the secret of faltering with grace, and he is less intellectually clear than emotionally simple. Celare artem was his sovereign art.

Principal Works: — Poèmes Saturniens (1866); Les Fêtes Galantes (1869); La Bonne Chanson (1870); Romances sans Paroles (1874, at Sens); Sagesse (1881); Jadis et Naguère (1884); Amour (1888); Parallèlement (1889); Bonheur (1891); Chansons pour Elle (1893); Les Invectives (posthumous); Œuvres Posthumes (1903). In Prose: Les poètes maudits, Louise Ledercq, Mémoires d'un veuf, Mes Hôpitaux, Mes Prisons. The complete works have been published in five volumes (Paris: Librairie Vanier). M. Edmond Lepelletier's book, Paul Verlaine, sa vie, son œuvre (Paris, 1907), has now been translated into English.

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Eccles, FY (1909). A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896:Page1.  
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MLA Style:
Eccles, Francis Yvon. "A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896:Page1."   
	La Nouvelle Décadence. 1909.  <
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbioecc01.html >.

Turabian Style:
Eccles, Francis Yvon. "A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896:Page1."    
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Chicago Style:
Eccles, Francis Yvon. "A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896   
	:Page1." 1909. 
	/verbioecc01.html (accessed ).

AUTHOR: Eccles, Francis Yvon (1909).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "A Century of French Poets: Paul Verlaine 1844-1896:Page1".
TITLE OF WEBSITE: La Nouvelle Décadence.
PUBLISHER: Lannie Brockstein.
LAST UPDATED: December 31st, 2009.

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