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Verlaine, Paul (1844-1896)  
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The Final Ten Years

The last ten years of Verlaine's life were also arduous yet productive. He spent this time in and out of hospitals, ever short of money, often dragging his stiff leg from one café to the next, or propped up in a booth, glassy-eyed, an absinthe before him.

His preference for younger men continued, and in 1888 he fell in love with an elegant painter named Frédéric-Auguste Cazals, who left Verlaine when the relationship began to endanger the younger man's reputation.

At the end of his life, Verlaine's sexual and emotional needs were satisfied by two women, Philomène Boudin and Eugénie Krantz.

Verlaine's frequent stays in the hospital, punctuated by visits from loyal friends and devoted young admirers (including Rachilde, J.-K. Huysmans, and André Gide), were not entirely unpleasant. In fact, these incarcerations gave him a place to sleep and favored his productivity.

He published eleven collections of poetry during the last six years of his life, and four more posthumously. These later poems, alternately religious and erotic (evocative of Boudin and Krantz), are little read today.

Verlaine's most notable works during his last years were autobiographical texts that parceled his life into periods of incarceration: Mes hôpitaux (1891) and Mes prisons (1893). In his Confessions, he returned to his youth, tracing his life from birth to his marriage with Mathilde. His prose works often whitewash his sexuality, but in real life Verlaine never abstained from following his pleasures.

Such pleasures and the relationships that provided them are not absent from Verlaine's poetry. Indeed, Viotti, Rimbaud, Létinois, and Cazals, as well as less personal references to gay love, figure in much of his work.

Verlaine and Rimbaud

Inevitably associated with Rimbaud, Verlaine was in fact not only his lover and literary colleague, but also his chronicler and publisher. It was thanks to Verlaine's insistence and vigilance that Rimbaud's unpublished poetry came to light.

The portrait in Poètes maudits reintroduced Rimbaud to a contemporary audience in 1884, and the first edition of the Illuminations, prefaced by Verlaine, followed two years later. Verlaine also prefaced Rimbaud's posthumous Poésies complètes in 1895 and wrote a number of articles on him that helped assure Rimbaud's reputation as one of the most original poets of the century.

Romances sans paroles and Cellulairement are among Verlaine's collections most marked by his partnership with Rimbaud. Although Romances sans paroles does not evoke their relationship explicitly, its poems chart the poets' wanderings in Belgium and England, and show Verlaine coming into his own as an original writer.

Cellulairement (whose poems Verlaine later dispersed in Sagesse, Jadis et naguère, and Parallèlement) contains some of Verlaine's most magnificent poems and evokes his lover in "L'espoir luit" as a fragile sleeper menaced by an intrusive woman. "Vers pour être calomnié," from Jadis et naguère, returns to this tableau, representing the speaker watching anxiously over a young sleeper whose body resembles his own.

The masterpiece of Verlaine's Rimbaud cycle, the long hendecasyllabic "Crimen amoris," although nestled among a series of religious epics, describes a lovely adolescent demon with admiration and tenderness.

Parallèlement is an unapologetic exaltation of the flesh. In addition to the previously published lesbian cycle and some heteroerotic poems, this collection contains two poems entitled "Explication" that refer to his relationship with Rimbaud. "Sur une statue de Ganymède," "Pierrot Gamin," "Ces passions," "Laeti et errabundi," among others, also evoke the author's homosexual desire.

Amour, in contrast, contains a cycle of twenty-five poems dedicated to his "spiritual son," Lucien Létinois, that insists on the purity of Lucien and of Verlaine's relationship with him.

Similarly, the very Catholic Bonheur, composed during Verlaine's relationship with Cazals, includes a prayer to this young friend who arrives, like Christ, to save the speaker from his debauchery (XV: "Mon ami, ma plus belle amitié . . .").


Aside from his contribution to the Album zutique, only in a posthumously published collection did Verlaine give unchecked erotic expressions of his homosexuality. Hombrès (1904) contains fifteen jubilant poems (including the "Sonnet du trou du cul") that praise the male body and gay male love in explicit language.

Although the editor Le Dantec refused to include this collection in the modern critical edition of Verlaine's complete works, it is available both in a French edition edited by J.-P. Corsetti and J.-P. Giusto and in an English translation by Alan Stone.

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