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Paul-Marie Verlaine ( ; 30 March 1844 - 8 January 1896) was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry.

Biography

Early life

Born in Metzmarker, he was educated at the Lycée impérial Bonaparte (now the Lycée Condorcetmarker) in Paris and then took up a post in the civil service. He began writing poetry at an early age, and was initially influenced by the Parnassien movement and its leader, Leconte de Lisle. Verlaine's first published poem was published in 1863 in La Revue du progrès, a publication founded by poet Louis-Xavier de Ricard. Verlaine was a frequenter of the salon of the Marquise de Ricard (Louis-Xavier de Ricard's mother) at 10 Boulevard des Batignolles and other social venues, where he rubbed shoulders with prominent artistic figures of the day: Anatole France, Emmanuel Chabrier, inventor-poet and humorist Charles Cros, the cynical anti-bourgeois idealist Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Theodore de Banville, Francois Coppee, Jose-Maria de Heredia, Leconte de Lisle, Catulle Mendes, etc.. Verlaine's first published collection, Poèmes saturniens (1866), though adversely commented upon by Sainte-Beuve, established him as a poet of promise and originality.

Marriage and military service

Verlaine's private life spills over into his work, beginning with his love for Mathilde Mauté. Mauté became Verlaine's wife in 1870. At the proclamation of the Third Republic in the same year, Verlaine joined the 160th battalion of the Garde nationale, turning Communard on 18 March 1871.

He became head of the press bureau of the Central Committee of the Paris Commune. Verlaine escaped the deadly street fighting known as the Bloody Week, or Semaine Sanglante, and went into hiding in the Pas-de-Calais.

Relationships with Rimbaud and Létinois

Verlaine returned to Paris in August 1871, and, in September, he received the first letter from Arthur Rimbaud. By 1872, he had lost interest in Mathilde, and effectively abandoned her and their son, preferring the company of his new lover. Rimbaud and Verlaine's stormy affair took them to London in 1872. In July 1873 in a drunken, jealous rage, he fired two shots with a pistol at Rimbaud, wounding his left wrist, though not seriously injuring the poet. As an indirect result of this incident, Verlaine was arrested and imprisoned at Monsmarker, where he underwent a conversion to Roman Catholicism, which again influenced his work and provoked Rimbaud's sharp criticism.

The poems collected in Romances sans paroles (1874) were written between 1872 and 1873, inspired by Verlaine's nostalgically colored recollections of his life with Mathilde on the one hand and impressionistic sketches of his on-again off-again year-long escapade with Rimbaud on the other. Romances sans paroles was published while Verlaine was imprisoned. Following his release from prison, Verlaine again traveled to England, where he worked for some years as a teacher and produced another successful collection, Sagesse. He returned to France in 1877 and, while teaching English at a school in Rethelmarker, fell in love with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois and who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. Verlaine was devastated when Létinois died of typhus in 1883.

Final years

Verlaine's last years saw his descent into drug addiction, alcoholism, and poverty. He lived in slums and public hospitals, and spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes. Fortunately, the French people's love of the arts was able to resurrect support and bring in an income for Verlaine: his early poetry was rediscovered, his lifestyle and strange behavior in front of crowds attracted admiration, and in 1894 he was elected France's "Prince of Poets" by his peers.

His poetry was admired and recognized as ground-breaking, serving as a source of inspiration to composers such as Gabriel Fauré, who set many of his poems to music, including La bonne chanson, and Claude Debussy, who set six of the Fêtes galantes poems to music, forming part of the mélodie collection known as the Recueil Vasnier. The Belgian-British composer Poldowski (daughter of Henryk Wieniawski) set 21 of Verlaine's poems.

Paul Verlaine died in Paris at the age of 51 on 8 January 1896; he was buried in the Cimetière des Batignollesmarker.

Style

Verlaine in a café
Much of the French poetry produced during the fin de siècle was characterized as "decadent" for its lurid content or moral vision. In a similar vein, Verlaine used the expression poète maudit ("accursed poet") in 1884 to refer to a number of poets like Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud who had fought against poetic conventions and suffered social rebuke or were ignored by the critics. But with the publication of Jean Moréas' Symbolist Manifesto in 1886, it was the term symbolism which was most often applied to the new literary environment. Along with Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Paul Valéry, Albert Samain and many others began to be referred to as "Symbolists". These poets would often share themes that parallel Schopenhauer's aesthetics and notions of will, fatality and unconscious forces, and used themes of sex (such as prostitutes), the city, irrational phenomena (delirium, dreams, narcotics, alcohol), and sometimes a vaguely medieval setting.

In poetry, the symbolist procedure - as typified by Verlaine - was to use subtle suggestion instead of precise statement (rhetoric was banned) and to evoke moods and feelings through the magic of words and repeated sounds and the cadence of verse (musicality) and metrical innovation.

Portrayals

Numerous artists painted Verlaine's portrait. Among the most illustrious were Henri Fantin-Latour, Antonio de la Gándara, Eugène Carrière, Gustave Courbet, Frédéric Cazalis, and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen.

The time Verlaine and Rimbaud spent together was the subject of the 1995 film Total Eclipse, directed by Agnieszka Holland and with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on his play. Verlaine was portrayed by David Thewlis.

File:Paul Verlaine-Edouard Chantalat mg 9502.jpg|by Edouard Chantalat, 1898File:Paul Verlaine-Edmond Aman-Jean mg 9503.jpg|by Edmond Aman-JeanFile:Courbet - Paul Verlaine.jpg|by CourbetFile:CarrierePortraitVerlain.jpg|by Eugène Carrière, 1890

Works

Verlaine's Complete Works are available in critical editions from the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.



References

  • Paul Verlaine, (edited and annotated by Michael Pakenham). Paris : Fayard, 2005. 16 x 24 cm. 1,122 pages. ISBN 2-213-61950-6


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