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French Portraits: An Impression of Paul Verlaine, Page 1  
by Vance Thompson (1900). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

ONE night in the year '84 — upon my word, I am getting old! I shall follow Prince Hal's advice, and, after certain reformations, live cleanly in gray hairs. Well, one can't always be young; and it's a devil of a thing to have been young once. Eh, golden lads? And now I abdicate. My reign of youth is over: to you is the sceptre, my dear fellow, — to you, who are young, a lover of women, a drunkard of rhymes. To me is the twilight, the writing-table, and the fireplace. You shall love and rule and kiss many women; and you shall dream golden, splendid rhymes. I, in the twilight, summon the ghosts of women who were kissed too much, and sing over the old rhymes, threadbare now. On the whole, I think it is quite as pleasant! But it is well to have known the heroic candors and have been ravished by the splendid banalities of youth. One's twilights are less tedious.

One night, in the autumn of '84, I say, certain folk gathered at a sort of Bohemian cercle held in an old house in the Rue de Rennes. In a big naked room on the first floor these folk gathered weekly to drink beer and discuss æsthetics: those who drank absinthe discussed philosophy. Charles Cros, with his crisp, curly hair and face tawn as a Lascar's, was there. Already far gone in drink, he leaned with one elbow on the table, reciting in a hard, dry voice his last monologue, — one Coquelin had just made famous in drawing-rooms. His hands, already senile, trembled with alcoholic fever. I dare say he is dead now, this founder of a shadowy school of poets, this author of the " Coffiret de Santal." The harsh voice ceased. His head fell on the table. From the dozen or more throats came howls of applause. Ah, what a crowd, — this company which now belongs to the twilights of the past! A half-dozen shirts in the crowd were fairly clean. The rest were Verlainesque. And what rhymes were shouted over the wine and beer, — the rhymes of young poets, in whose visions women are always undraped and disport an unusual luxury of seins nacreux and banches opulentes!

Hark! Upon my word, as though it were yesterday I can hear that devil of a Gascon, Fernand Icres, intoning in a barbarous accent: —

Sa chevelure et sa poitrine
Faisaient montcr à ma narine
D'étranges parfums irritants.

Elle avait seize ans; mais son buste,
Tout à la fois souple et robuste,
En portait vingt en verité.


There were women there, too. One I remember vaguely through the smoke of innumerable twilights. This was Marie Krysinka, a Polish Jewess, who pounded melodramatic music out of the piano, and was a poetess whose peculiar passion was corpses and snow. She used to hold "Thursdays" in her little apartment up five pairs of stairs in the Rue Monge. I heard afterward that she married an archaeologist — or was it a manufacturer of wooden toothpicks? Something of the sort.

In the corner Verlaine glowered over his fifth glass of absinthe, whispering to himself.

The Café du Chalet had its day.

Then the young poets of the day, led, if I remember, by Émile Goudeau, migrated to the Café de l'Avenir, in the Place St. Michel. The tavern is now known as the Tavern of the Golden Sun. There were famous Sunday nights in that soussol — ebeu, fugaces, anni labuntur — a decade and more ago. We were all worshippers of Verlaine. We had read "Sagesse." We had lent the poet five-franc pieces, had bought him absinthe, had helped him up the hospital steps when his diseases were too many for him. It is something to be proud of; for in those days it was a distinction to appreciate the greatest of French poets, — this battered, old Verlaine. Anatole France, who since then has written a beautiful fable of which Verlaine is the hero, in those days did not dare to introduce the name in his bourgeois articles. That sombre and vindictive Creole, Leconte de Lisle, had, a few years before, denounced Paul Verlaine as an employee of the Commune, in the gentle hope of getting him shot. Even Coppée, this gentlest of poets, sneered at him. George Moore, who had just gone to London, echoed these sentiments in a book he wrote about that time, — "The Confessions of a Young Man." Mr. Moore has since recanted. You cannot judge the George Moore of to-day by his opinions in that book.

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Chicago Style:
Thompson, Vance. "French Portraits: An Impression of Paul Verlaine:Page1." 1900. 
	(accessed ).

AUTHOR: Thompson, Vance (1900).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "French Portraits: An Impression of Paul Verlaine:Page1".
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LAST UPDATED: December 31st, 2009.

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