01-08-1896

Paul Verlaine

PAUL VERLAINE, French poet died (b. 1844); Did he or didn’t he? We know that Verlaine wrote eighteen volumes of verse in alternating moods of sensuality and mysticism, that he wandered all over Europe with that strange and perverse young poet, Arthur Rimbaud; we know that he was imprisoned for two years after shooting his lover.

But did he in fact write a poem that is almost certain never to be taught in French 101 – the so-called “Sonnet to an Asshole”? The chances are that he did. Even in English translation, the poem reflects the musical quality that was Verlaine’s hallmark” “Dark and wrinkled like a deep pink,/It breathes, humbly nestled among the moss/Still wet with love…”

Verlaine’s Sonnet To An Asshole

 This is the only poem known to have been composed jointly by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. The Parnassien poet Albert Mérat had published a book of sonnets entitled L’Idole, in which each poem extolled a part of his mistress’ body– with one omission, which the two young iconoclasts proceeded to rectify. This sonnet appeared in the Album Zutique, a book of scabrous parodies by the Parisian literary circle who called themselves Les Zutistes.

 Dark and wrinkled like a violet carnation,

It sighs, humbly nestling in the moss still moist from love

That follows the descent of sweet white cheeks

Down to their edge.

 Filaments like tears of milk

Have wept beneath the cruel south wind

That drives them back across the little clots of russet clay,

And disappeared there where the slope has called them.

 My Dream has often kissed its opening;

My Soul, that envies mortal intercourse

Has chosen this to be its wild and musky nest of sobs.

 It is the swooning olive and the sweet cajoling flute

The tube through which celestial creamy pralines tumble down

Female Promised Land rimmed round with dew!