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Studies in Modern Poetry: Paul Verlaine, Page 2  
by Federico Olivero (1921). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

His lines appear spontaneous and free; the poet seems to say: 'The song is a self-revelation; only let the soul sing by itself.' Yet he works with a stern artistic conscience, shrinking from no labour, with a scrupulous and deliberate selection in subject and phrase, discriminating subtly in the analysis of his sensations and emotions. These 'romances' are variations on the same feverish, tired mood; we seem to overhear them, as mere echoes of the inner song.

'The piano, kissed by a frail hand, gleams vaguely in the rose and grey evening, while, with a light rustle of wings, a very old, feeble and charming air roams discreetly, almost scared, in the boudoir perfumed by her. — What do you wish from me, sweet, playful song? What have you wished from me, fine, uncertain refrain going soon to die towards the window ajar on the little garden?'

But a keen poignancy is obtained by sharpening vague sorrows and griefs; and in the landscapes, by a temperance of expression, by omitting certain outlines and tints, by fusing the personal element with the external. Therefore, in spite of their apparent artificiality we realise that these little water-colours were done after nature. He obtains rare effects through careful limitations; he seems vague and reticent because his form is always fluttering on the edge of the inexpressible; he chooses only the 'curiosities' of landscape and feeling; yet with essential art he sums up in these short lyrics a way of looking at life.

In Fêtes galantes he evoked the parks of Lenôtre, their tall hedges of clipped box-trees, their rustling draperies of ivy, their avenues peopled with the languid figures of Watteau. Fountains are sobbing in the moonlight, statues dreaming in the violet distance, while among honey-tinted roses and mauve azaleas he leads his frivolous 'bergeries', his ladies dressed as shepherdesses, his masquerades, Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine, foolish and tragic, with a smile of strange despair.


Here too, where the personages of the 'commedia dell'arte' rise to be the actors of a passionate inward drama, we have a kind of symbolism; an attitude of the soul is translated into the scene of a pantomime. And keen is our interest in the trifling drama that is being played by the maskers, because it is an image of our interior tragedy. We descry secret tears in the oblique eyes behind the mask, and weary, bitter smile on their farded lips, the tragic smile of Watteau's L'Indifférent.

As in Schumann's Carnival, the artist is weaving beautiful patterns of sound not only to convey the charm of his psychological state, the grace of a refined weariness, but to breathe his very soul into the quaint, many-coloured shapes. And he is mainly concerned with 'nuances' of feeling; we have not Love, but the Shadow of Love and its mystery. They are dancing, singing, playing, in bright fanciful disguises; but 'although they sing a victorious love and their luck in everything they do, they do not seem to believe in their happiness; — and their songs mingle with the moonlight — with the calm, sad, beautiful moonlight, that sets the birds dreaming in the trees and makes the fountain-jets — the tall, slender fountain-jets among the statues — sob with ecstasy'. They follow Colombine in her queer dance; 'o prophetic stars, tell me: toward what sombre or cruel disaster is the implacable child leading her flock of dupes?' They are whiling away the hours in idle talk; but the phrases uttered by the ladies fall sometimes strangely on the heart of the frivolous listeners. 'The evening was falling, an equivocal autumn evening; then they said in a very low tone words so strange that since then our soul struck with amazement'. There is a kind of indefinable anguish in their vain love; — 'drive away for ever all purpose from your heart asleep; let us be persuaded to a supreme indifference by the lulling sweet breath of the breeze that wrinkles into russet waves the dying grass at your feet; and when, solemn, the evening falls from the black oaks, the nightingale will sing, voice of our despair'. And, at last, only the ruins of love are strewn on their path. — 'In the old, lonely and bleak park two Shadows are recalling the past. — 'Do you remember our ancient ecstasy?' 'Why should I?' — 'Does your heart always throb at the mere mention of my name? Do you always see my soul in your dreams?' 'No'. — 'How blue was the sky, how great our hope!' 'Hope has fled away, vanquished, toward a black sky'. — Thus they walked in the weeds of the path forlorn, and only the night heard their words'.

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AUTHOR: Olivero, Federico (1921).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "Studies in Modern Poetry: Paul Verlaine:Page2".
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