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A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine, Page 2  
by William John Robertson (1895). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

Poèmes saturniens was the first as it is the freshest and in some respects the finest of Verlaine's volumes of verse. He now affects to regard it with some disdain, as displaying too conspicuously the influence of two great models, Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle. It appeared in 1866 and was followed two years later by Fêtes galantes, an entirely novel collection of tender and sensuous idylls swathed in the sentiment of the seventeenth century. La bonne Chanson (1870) is a pure and joyous song of the one calm period in Verlaine's life, when love led him into a sweeter atmosphere. After his marriage he was mixed up with the Commune. Thereupon he took refuge in England and lived an obscure and chequered existence for about ten years. His Romances sans paroles (1874) are the only poems belonging ostensibly to this period, which was probably one of wasteful excess, for in 1881 he published Sagesse, a volume of pious verse inspired by remorse and filled with a longing for better things than the husks that the swine do eat. Jadis et naguère (in 1884) was a return to his earlier ideals of the poetic art, and Amour (in 1888) renewed the note of Sagesse. His next volume, Parallèlement, was a palinode to this devotional access, and here the poet sang in voluptuous verse the praises of Sapphic passion. In mould and manipulation this work is worthy of Baudelaire. Since then the vitality of Verlaine's creative power has been evinced by a series of poetical effusions named Bonheur, Chansons pour Elle, Liturgies intimes, Odes en Son honneur, Élégies, Invectives, Dédicaces and Dans les Limbes; to be followed by Varia. Though first and always a poet, Paul Verlaine has published several works written in a peculiarly capricious and tormented form of prose, which is often relieved by picturesque description. These have evidently an autobiographical basis: Mes Hépitaux and Mes Prisons expressly so. Louise Leclercq and les Mémoires d'un Veuf are less directly personal. Les Poètes maudits is a plea for several singers who have been left a little in the shade by their contemporaries. 'Pauvre Lelian' himself is in certain senses a poète maudit, and one of those to whom much must be forgiven because he has loved much. Among a thousand broken lights and shapes there are always glimpses of the true in his song. And in spite of all his doubts, his degradation, his despair and the vagaries of his life and language there is much invitation to sympathy in his brief testament, so full of bitter irony: —

My will. I leave nothing to the poor, because I am myself one of the poor. I believe in God.



Nothing is more curious than the attitude of the 'sensible and lucid Latin' critic towards the poetry of Paul Verlaine. Where an English reader sees beauty and hears melody, he avers that he can find only 'a vexatious medley and uncouth dissonances'. Even the verbal examples which he gives of these faults seem to be just the things of which the boldness, the vividness and the felicity would be most admired in a northern poet. Much of the contemporary criticism of France is strangely blind to the beauty of fresh forms of art. Whether the criticism proceeds from formulas established on the methods of the earlier masters of French verse or from the æsthetic ideals developed by the individual its practical result is always the same. Even when captivated by the genius of such a poet as Paul Verlaine the critic is strangely mystified by something novel or abnormal in the mode of expression. Anatole France has faced the problem with characteristic sympathy and pronounces Paul Verlaine the creator of a new art. Jules Lemaître, after a severe and sarcastic censure of the syntax, the sentiments, the symbolism and the spiritual expression of the poet's style is constrained to say that Paul Verlaine is 'a barbarian, a savage, a child . . . only this sick child has music in his soul, and on certain days he hears voices which none ever heard before him'. The truth is that in respect of those essential qualities which are among the highest in poetry Paul Verlaine is incomparably the greatest living master of French verse and perhaps one of the greatest in this century. He has given a new colour to the language of emotion and a new turn to the subtleties of ideal thought. In striving to enfranchise himself from certain narrow moulds of poetical expression he has achieved by sheer instinct the supreme triumph of the art of the nineteenth century — that subordination of conventional forms to the individual vision and voice which was the work of Turner in painting, of Wagner in music and of Carlyle in letters. So far from initiating the decadence of French verse, it is not unlikely that the impassioned and spiritual poetry of Paul Verlaine will usher in a new era and vindicate afresh the indefeasible privilege of genius.

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Robertson, WJ (1895). A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page2. Retrieved  
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MLA Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page2."   
	La Nouvelle Décadence. 1895.  <
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbiorob02.html >.

Turabian Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page2."    
	La Nouvelle Décadence. Available from
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Chicago Style:
Robertson, William John. "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page2." 1895. 
	(accessed ).

AUTHOR: Robertson, William John (1895).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "A Century of French Verse: Paul Verlaine:Page2".
TITLE OF WEBSITE: La Nouvelle Décadence.
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LAST UPDATED: December 29th, 2009.

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