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A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine, Page 1  
by William John Robertson (1895). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

The poet Verlaine has taken up his winter-quarters in the Bichat Hospital (Daily Newspaper: December, 1894).

PAUL VERLAINE, the only son of a military officer and the spoiled darling of an indulgent mother, was left an orphan when very young. Brought up at Batignolles by a poor widow of highly-refined character he received his education at the lycée Bonaparte in Paris, associated himself with the Parnassian group, and wrote his first verses while engaged at work in some municipal office. On the publication of Poèmes saturniens, as little noticed at the time as Coppée's Reliquaire, which was issued on the same day, he made himself known to the discerning few as a new poet of strangely original genius. Sainte-Beuve and Nestor Roqueplan gave him some good counsel, but there is no evidence that he ever took it to heart.

Verlaine had always a nomadic disposition. When he lived in Paris his leisure was spent in Sunday excursions along the Seine and in the country round. After he broke loose from the restraints of civilised society he travelled a good deal in England, Belgium and France; and perhaps no living poet has had a more intimate acquaintance with the seamy side of life. In his nature the elements are unkindly mixed. Too capricious, too excessive and too rebellious to be schooled into the ordered ways of men, he is a creature of impulse and imagination; one who throws himself into the mood of the moment and follows no fixed purpose. With the countenance of a satyr and the instincts of a savage he has lived a vagabond life from his youth upwards, oscillating between the brothel and the cabaret and tossed from prison to hospital. And yet, with all his faults, Verlaine is one of the most fascinating figures in contemporary literature. He is the Villon of the nineteenth century.

Verlaine vaunts Lamartine and Baudelaire as the greatest poets of this age, and, diverse in character as these two singers were, he has an artistic affinity with each. Lamartine's love of nature and large melodious line, Baudelaire's lucid vision and closely-woven harmony, have both had an influence on his poetical style, but he brings into French verse a profound and powerful note of his own.


Sometimes his work is disfigured by conceits and subtleties which are due to the wilful application of a vicious theory of art; too often he has stooped to sing the perversities of passion and to disclose the morbid imaginations of a mind diseased; but, at his best, no living singer can touch him in fervour and sincerity of accent and at times he has a tone of pathos, as rare as it is exquisite, to which there is no parallel in contemporaneous French poetry. He is a master of modulation and rhyme and he handles all the musical elements of verse with consummate craft.

The theory of the artist's impassibility, which was promulgated by Gustave Flaubert and his friend Louis Bouilhet and eloquently preached to the Parnassians by Louis-Xavier de Ricard, is applicable to poetry only in the sense that it is applicable to every other form of art. It is simply Diderot's Paradoxe sur le Comédien in a new guise. Let the poet be ever so cool and deliberate in the carving of verse his ideas, like those of the painter or the composer, must have been conceived in the very heat and fever of the brain. Verlaine seems to imagine that the problem has been solved when he triumphantly exclaims: 'Est-elle en marbre ou non, la Vénus de Milo?' — as if such cold and hard material could be endowed with beauty unless the artist possessed the vision and the faculty divine. And in spite of theory the verse of Paul Verlaine, more often than that of any French poet of his time, thrills with true emotion and records the experience and passion of the man himself. Verlaine is also in the right sense a symbolist and impressionist, that is, he seizes quickly the essential spirit and the characteristic outline of things; and he excels in that vague appeal to the feelings which is the function of music rather than poetry. Observation and reflection have taught him more than individual study, for his classical and romantic lore seems to be derived chiefly from the works of other French poets. Yet he has used his hospital and prison leisure to extend his literary acquaintance and he tells us how he read the whole of Shakespeare's plays in the original, with English and German notes and commentaries, during an imprisonment in Brussels. He professes boundless love and admiration for Shakespeare, but in his heart of hearts he prefers Racine.

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APA Style:
Robertson, WJ (1895). A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page1. Retrieved  
	, from La Nouvelle Décadence Web site: http://webspace

MLA Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page1."   
	La Nouvelle Décadence. 1895.  <
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbiorob01.html >.

Turabian Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page1."    
	La Nouvelle Décadence. Available from
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbiorob01.html. Internet; accessed 

Chicago Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page1." 1895. 
	(accessed ).

AUTHOR: Robertson, William John (1895).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page1".
TITLE OF WEBSITE: La Nouvelle Décadence.
PUBLISHER: Lannie Brockstein.
LAST UPDATED: December 29th, 2009.

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