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Short biography - Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) remains in the pantheon of 19th century French poets, as one of the most remarkable both for his work imbued with musicality, and for his destiny marked by the seal of passion and tragedy. His existence will be lastingly marked by his meeting with Rimbaud, with whom he will enter into a sulphurous and alcoholic relationship. His work will express the dualism of an existence made of the search for a quiet happiness and a flight into morbid pleasures.
Verlaine before Rimbaud
Born in Metz on March 30, 1844, Verlaine is the only son of wealthy bourgeois. His parents, and in particular his officer father, brought him up in the Catholic tradition. Young Paul discovers his homosexual attractions early on, for a time relegated to second place by his love for Élisa Moncomble, his cousin, eight years older, whom Paul's parents are raising.
After his baccalaureate, Verlaine becomes a modest employee in the City of Paris, an existence which he fills the void, through his artistic activity. Writing poems since high school, from 1865 he frequented poets such as Théodore de Banville and François Coppée, and was a fervent admirer of Charles Baudelaire. In 1866 he contributed to the first Contemporary Parnassus, a collective work of poems.
Although his work bears witness to the influence of Parnassian poetry, Verlaine already demonstrated a very personal formal and musical research, combining verses with an odd number of syllables with a less rich, freer versification than that practiced at the time. . He still shows originality by skillfully combining the description of a picturesque and light outside world (as in the Fêtes Galantes) and that of a much more melancholy individual feeling, echoing Baudelaire themes.
Verlaine and Rimbaud, the cursed poets
In 1869, Verlaine fell in love with Mathilde Mauté, a young bourgeois of sixteen to whom he dedicated several poems:The gallant festivals, full of a melancholy charm and betraying his need for purity. 1870 sees the married couple. Their happiness, however, will be short-lived. Verlaine first pays his communard commitment and loses his job at the town hall. Shortly after, he receives a letter from a young stranger who admires his poetry and introduces him to his, Arthur Rimbaud.
Impressed by the young man’s work, Verlaine welcomed him into his home. Their friendship soon turns into carnal passion. The resulting threesome is marked by the alcoholism of the two lovers, as well as by often poorly contained violence.
During the summer of 1872, Verlaine abandoned his wife and fled with Rimbaud. Their journey takes them to England and Belgium, where his diverse experiences inspire him among his finest works (Romances sans parole in particular). The adventure is short-lived. In yet another scene, Verlaine fires a revolver at Rimbaud, which he slightly wounds. The young man files a complaint. Verlaine is sentenced to two years in prison.
The decline of a convert
Deprived of his freedom, subjected to repetitive work, Verlaine discovers reassuring certainties in his confinement. Thus he converted to a Catholicism imbued with mysticism, which inspired his famous collectionWisdom (1880). In 1884 he publishedLong ago and Long ago which includes the famous Poetic art.
Released from prison, Verlaine leads a simple life as a teacher in England and then in France. He especially bonded with one of his students, Lucien Létinois, who died early, thus providing the material for new works imbued with great sadness.
The last years of his life, which saw him ill and destitute, although recognized for his talent (was he not then the “Prince of poets”?) Were hardly conducive to his work, the quality of which was withering away. gradually. He died at the age of 51 on January 8, 1896, worn out by a life divided between the excesses of passion and an unfulfilled quest for wisdom.
- Complete poetic works of Paul Verlaine by Paul Verlaine. Laffont, 1992.
- Verlaine or the lowlands of the sublime by Christophe Dauphin. 2006.