Paul Verlaine - Poemes Saturniens

2024-01-22 @Literature

As I further plunge into the deranged world of the French decadents and refine my French in ways hardly practical, Verlaine’s first collection just cried out to be read; especially one bearing this title. And considering I don’t have with me my still far from finished copy of Baudelaire’s epic Fleurs du mal, Verlaine’s output probably makes for the next best thing.

I reread most of this poetry myriads of times. Suffice to say, for my purposes, it rocks and produces chills … almost.

The greater part of the collection divides into cycles, but many poems, including some grand ouvres, follow independently, cycle-less, in the culminating section.

The long Prologue bedazzles with the diligently arranged body of allusions paralleling poetic evolution from the very ancients:

The Melancholia cycle speaks for itself. Memories, nostalgia, immutability; Lassitude: beauty in the lie; Mon Rêve Familier: an abstract female ideal; call for succor; resignation.

Eaux-Fortes: mostly compact meter of considerable musicality. The macabre Effet de Nuit (a sonnet), reminded me somewhat of early Coleridge. Grotesques, appears, at least on the surface, to ridicule certain vagabondage, possibly with a flair for irony. (In poetry especially of this tradition, I usually don’t make heavy effort to read between the lines.)

Paysages Tristes features (again) extensive musicality, refrains, repetition within a surreal framework. Nuit du Walpurgis Classique: a lengthy, evocative reverie; Soleils Couchants, in contrast, an ultra compact metered melodic lyric of notable repetition. Both, beautiful. As mostly everything within this cycle.

Caprices: the satirical portion still not devoid of musical refrains. In a way, these make for the most grotesque of sketches, and not the abundant macabre imagery throughout the entire collection. Jésuitisme stabs at the ecclesiastic hypocrisy; La chanson des Ingénues, at pride and pomp; Une Grande Dame: nearly laughed out loud, a rare occurrence; Monsieur Prudhomme, something from Gogol. Solid.

Then follow the cycle-free poems. I don’t mention all.

Çavitri: not entirely sure, but probably alludes to one of the Indian epics (Ramayana/Mahabharata). I love this one. Makes for an aphorism.

Sub Urbe: the Necropolis. Dark, sentimental. Written in tercets, similar to Dante’s Comedy.

Sérénade: a laud, near ballad, repetitive strophes, musicality.

Il Bacio: a personifying laud au Baiser.

Dans les Bois: the sentimental study of an impressionable mind within the forest.

Nocturne Parisien: epic. Dark, elegiac. An emotion similar to Gray’s Elegy. A testament first of all to the river Seine, then the nocturnal Paris; evokes a whole catalogue of rivers.

La Morte de Philippe II: the longest of the poems, though not the grandest. Sings the death of Philip II (1527-1598), the king of Spain, instigator of the Spanish Armada (1588); whose persona, interestingly, isn’t mentioned or introduced until midway, building up the scenery and setting meanwhile like a theatrical prelude. Also written in terza-ritma (cf Dante). Narrates the clerical rites, the repentance, some allusions to historical events, certain hypocrisy.

Epilogue: grand; a lengthy closing finale worthy of the Prologue. Furthers the ideas of inspiration, nature, muses, the poetic ideal, poetic isolation, the poet’s caprice, the chef-d'ouvre, posterity.

There you have it. A worthy collection in the mood similar to the Baudelairiene. Plenty of esoteric allusions especially to a foreign reader, but largely attainable with some effort. And rarely do I encounter Hinduism across western poetry. Admirable. Much lyrical element, ie word/line/strophe repetition. A whole range of emotions evoked, but saturnine to say the least. Bravo.

Questions, comments? Connect.