The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Verlaine’

You Should Probably Buy This French Poet’s Gun, and Other News

October 21, 2016 | by

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP.

  • I’ve been keeping a close eye on the collectible handguns of emotionally unstable French poets, and I have a good idea: if you’ve got sixty thousand euros lying around, consider bidding on the pistol that Paul Verlaine used in his attempt to murder Arthur Rimbaud. It’s a handsome gun, soon to be up for auction, and it’s sure to make a great Christmas gift for the one you love. Agence France-Presse explains, “Verlaine bought the 7mm six-shooter in Brussels on the morning of 10 July 1873, determined to put an end to a torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover … It was in a hotel room there at two in the afternoon where, after the lovers had rowed, cried, and got drunk—according to Rimbaud—that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol. ‘Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!’ he shouted, before firing twice at Rimbaud. One bullet hit him in the wrist, while the other bullet struck the wall and ricocheted into the chimney. But, having been bandaged up in hospital, Rimbaud again begged the author of Poèmes saturniens not to leave him. Verlaine, who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life, pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.”
  • Hey, honest question—are you in an online cult? Think about it. The Internet is, in some ways, little more than a cult-delivery mechanism. As Linda Besner writes, “In the 1961 handbook Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, the psychologist Robert Lifton suggests that cults can be identified by, among others, the following traits: the creation of neologisms designed to reshape the adherent’s outlook, separation from family and friends, fostering cognitive dissonance, confessional pressure, and a charismatic leader. In other words, cults are about control … An online ‘cult’ would not need to kidnap you, or bring pamphlets to your door, or go to you at all; instead, you would go to them. Perhaps the greatest difference is how much of a self-starter the average follower needs to be. The onus is on you to indoctrinate yourself.” 

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Branded Man

March 23, 2016 | by

The long tradition of outlaw poets.

From the cover of Merle Haggard’s Branded Man, 1967.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, here.

Early in the first volume of Panegyric—the bad-tempered, ironically self-deprecating eulogy he wrote for himself in the late eighties­—Guy Debord sang the praises of a kind of writer he knew he could never become. “There have always been artists and poets capable of living in violence,” he wrote. “The impatient Marlowe died, knife in hand, arguing over a tavern bill.” Five hundred years earlier, in the picture Debord goes on to imagine, the medieval poet François Villon presided over a cluster of writers who lived raggedly and riskily at the banks of the Seine. These were outlaw poets, “devotees of the dangerous life”­—starved, browbeaten figures for whom pariahdom, persecution, imprisonment and homelessness were both facts of life and the materials out of which they made their art.

Outlaw poets are what certain prison writers become when their term is up—when they’ve been let loose into a world that spurns them and whose values they reject. In some cases, the poetry they write from this position turns out bitter, sour, and defiantly indigestible, full of lines that dare their civilized, comfortable readers to tolerate rude language, unhinged imagery, and wild variations in refinement and shape. In others, it comes off as a seductive, pining lament, a plea for pardon or a performance of rueful self-blame. Some of the great outlaw poets shuffle unpredictably between these two tones. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,” Merle Haggard sang in 1967, less than a decade after the end of his two-year term in San Quentin: “but they won’t let my secret go untold; / I paid the debt I owed ’em, / but they’re still not satisfied; / Now I’m a branded man / out in the cold.” He could write an equally convincing song that placed the fault on precisely the opposite side: “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied; / that leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Read More »

That Old Goat!

September 30, 2015 | by

Robert Walser’s scrupulous art of translation.

Robert Walser

Today is International Translation Day, an occasion of particular piety among the few who observe it. Translation, that glorious service to culture and human understanding!

There are failures, too, though. Some are of the sort that plague most any endeavor in this vale of tears: inadequacy, incompetence, ineptitude. A New Yorker cartoon, beloved in translator circles, shows someone approaching a horror-stricken writer and saying, “Do you not be happy with me as the translator of the book of you?” Read More »

Spring Poems

February 24, 2012 | by

Spring is upon us! Or almost. What poems will get my mind off wintertime?

More than the other seasons, spring is a state of mind. As you know, it can strike in the dead of winter or go AWOL all April and May. It is the season of initiation, of mysteries, when the evening lengthens and spreads out before us and we are filled with irrational hope. Or not, and we feel its absence: spring is no longer for us. “I am a man of fortune greeting heirs; / For it has come that thus I greet the spring.” We all know about April being the cruelest month; Rodgers and Hart put it more succinctly: “Spring is here, / I hear.”

We all have our favorite greatest hits (you can’t call a spring poem a chestnut): Deirdre likes William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All,” e.e. cummings’s poem beginning “in / Just spring,” and Emily Dickinson’s “A Light exists in Spring.” Sadie loves Elizabeth Bishop’s “In Early Spring” and the Dickinson poem that starts “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King” (though she admits it gets “a little odd” as it goes along). Stephen plumps for “Fern Hill,” on the sensible grounds that it concerns “the spring of life.”

The poem that occurs to me is “Les Chercheuses de Poux,” by Arthur Rimbaud. Here it is in Wyatt Mason’s translation, which magically preserves some of the strangeness and sensuality of the original:

Lice Hunters

When the child's forehead full of red torments
Begs the white swarm of vague dreams
To take him, two charming sisters loom
Above his bed, with fragile fingers and silver nails.

They sit him before a window opened wide
Where a jumble of flowers bathes in blue air,
And then, bewitching and terrible, the delicate fingers
Walk through his heavy, dew-matted hair.

He listens to the song of their uneasy breath,
Long earthy blossoms of rose-rich honey
Interrupted now and then by a salivary sucking,
Tongues licking lips, hungry for a kiss.

He hears their black lids bat beneath
The scented silence, their gentle pulsing fingers
Kill little lice beneath royal nails crackling
Sounds resounding through his gray stupor.

But the wine of Sloth is rising in him,
A harmonica's sigh that sets you reeling;
Beneath the slowness of their caresses, the child
Feels an urge to cry, welling and dying, endlessly.

We also polled a few friends from outside the office: the aforementioned Wyatt Mason; Molly Murray, who is lecturing on Shakespeare at Columbia; Jeff Dolven, who happens to be doing the very same thing at Princeton (and has two poems in our last issue); and Kira von Eichel, whose child was falsely accused this week of having lice—and who recruited her mother, Linden von Eichel, in the cause.

Wyatt chose a poem by Frederick Seidel, from issue 194. He writes: “I hope you won’t argue that it isn’t a spring poem. Spring is coupling, so a spring poem must be in couplets. Spring is song, so a spring poem must rhyme. Spring is light, so a spring poem is lit from within. Spring is nice weather, so ‘Nice Weather’ is spring. And don't tell me I’m being tautological. I don’t know what that means.” Read More »


Portfolio: A Moveable Feast

June 24, 2011 | by

Graphic designer Yann Legendre created these portraits of writers who lived and wrote in Paris in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Legendre’s illustrations are excerpted from the anthology Paris au pied de la lettre, by Mathilde Helleu.

Ernest Hemingway.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

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