MY VISIT TO LONDON
On the 19th of November last, at nine in the evening, I took the train at
the Gare Saint-Lazare for Dieppe-Newhaven. On reaching Dieppe, I found
the buffet crammed with travellers, who had been kept by the bad weather
from taking the preceding boats. The boat corresponding with my train was
equally unable to put out to sea, on account of a storm which had already
lasted twenty-four hours, and was to last, with redoubled violence, till the next
evening. So there was nothing for it but, in company with a good hundred
people, to spend part of the night on a bench, till the worthy host (to whom
thanks, and thanks again !) made me the offer, not indeed of a room, but of a
sofa in the dining-room of his hotel opposite the station, and I was thus
enabled, if not to sleep with much comfort, at all events to take a little rest, to
the accompaniment of the boom of the sea, which reminded me of the too
Parisian uproar and the cannonade of September, 1870, to January, 1871. All
the next day a diluvian rain fell, and I consumed the time in déjeuners, lunches,
and dinners, apéritifs, coffees, and cigars, at the said buffet. Of Dieppe I saw
no more than the whitish cliffs against an iron-gray sky, across the lances as
of a mass of armed men—
“les lances de l’averse”—
the terrible downpour, under which the sea, gradually calming, growled like
a gorged beast, still terribly, with a ravenous delight, one might have said,
for many fishing-boats, alas ! had gone down, and were still going down, with
all hands on board, in the harbour and out at sea.
At last, on the 20th of November, at nine in the evening, there was some
talk of setting out, and, hobbling along as fast as I could, I managed to
secure half a berth in the second-class cabin. When the bell had sounded for
the last time, and the great white chimney, like a vast phantom in the opaque
night, had uttered its lugubrious shriek, I felt, after some minutes of uneasy
motion in port, a prodigious pitching of the vessel, then a quite sufficient
rolling, stupefying at first by their continuity and their almost rhythmical
regularity, and becoming a literal rocking to sleep, at least as far as I was
120 THE SAVOY
concerned, fatigued as I already was by a sleepless night, or all but, and a day
of interminable boredom. And there was something, too, in the immensity
of the “caress,” not unpleasing to a poet, and I made a little poem about it
not long afterwards, which is to appear some day in an English paper.¹ Any-
way, I slept the sleep of the just during the whole passage, and never opened
my eyes till within sight of Newhaven, when, the sea being now quite calm, the
boat glided along without needing to turn on steam, and the very lull and
comparative silence awoke me as pleasantly as possible. When I reached
London at two in the morning, and had a quarter of an hour’s drive to the
Temple, in the fine moonlight, the wind quite bracing, I felt already the good
effect of what was really one of the best crossings I had ever had. London,
so impressive as one passes its superb buildings from the formidable Thames
towards Westminster, the rich, elegant London between Victoria Station
and the Strand, seemed to me that night exquisite, delicate, almost dainty—
At the Temple awaited me the poet Arthur Symons, who (as, afterwards,
Herbert Home, poet himself, and architect) was to give me a charming hos-
pitality. He had been to look for me three or four times in vain at Victoria
Station, and, imagining after these fruitless errands that I should not come
till night, he had waited up for me, and came to welcome me at the very door
of the house which he inhabits in that vast caravanserai of the Law—and of
Silence. (For how exquisite a corner of London, in which there are so many
exquisite and infamous corners, so few common or vulgar !) My host led me
up into his charming little flat, from which, next day, I was to have one of the
most ravishing and peaceful views, in the exceptionally fine weather, as if
made on purpose for the traveller, which bathed the London sky and the
whole aspect of the immense city of pale rose and pearl gray. Blithe birds,
blackbirds even, on the infinitely twisted branches of those beautiful, immense
English trees ; to the left, in a paved and grassy angle, regular to the point
of being beautiful, in its way, the fountain, which gives its name to the spot
(Fountain Court), with its babbling jet of water. But for the moment I was
hungry, fagged out by those hours of vehement sea ; and Symons, following
my example, ate—while we talked, for two good hours, about everything under
the sun, Paris, poetry, money too (poets think of nothing else . . . and with
reason !), my future lectures—an entire box, one of those long, tall, tin boxes,
of tea-biscuits, “muffins” in English,² washed down with plenty of “gin and
¹ It appeared in the “New Review.”—Ed. “Savoy.”
² They were Osborne biscuits.—Ed. “Savoy.”
PAUL VERLAINE 121
soda,”¹ and perfumed with vague cigarettes. And it was, I assure you, one
of the best and gayest meals I ever had in my life !
But I had not come to London merely as a tourist. The very date of
my arrival is sufficient evidence to the contrary. I had to give two con-
férences, or rather two lectures, as they say, more justly, more simply, and
more modestly, in English : one at London, the other, on the following day,
at Oxford. The London one was to take place next day (or rather the very
day of my archi-matutinal arrival) at 8.30 P.M., at a hall in Holborn, of which
I shall have something to say in a few moments.
Our conversation, much against our will, finally came to an end, in spite
of its twofold interest, intellectual and gastronomic, for “the Sandman,” as
Hoffmann says, “Madame la Poussière,” as they say in my mother’s country,
Arras, to represent sleep, had passed, and a well-deserved repose parted us
until eleven, when the very sympathetic journalist, Mr. Edmund Gosse, came
to take us out to lunch in a sumptuous restaurant near by, where my forces
were sufficiently recuperated to enable me to put the finishing touches to my
causerie for the evening. I say nothing of many other visits, among which I
remember those of William Heinemann, the great publisher, Home, Rothenstein,
whom I had met the summer before, and who had sketched, in the
Hôpital Broussais, a portrait of me which has since appeared in the “Pall
Mall Budget,” Lane, the publisher of “les Jeunes,” and others whose names
The evening came, and our little band, after a dinner à la française, not
less copious than the morning’s lunch, set out, in a confusion of vehicles,
towards the spot where I was to speak of “Contemporary French Poets.” It
was, as I have said, in Holborn, the long, immemorial street of the venerable
capital. I knew London long since, and I remembered to have seen, in
Holborn, almost at the intersection formed by the Viaduct, a row of some
dozen houses, as picturesque as could be, and extremely old, dating from at
least the time of Elizabeth. I was not so very much surprised, guided as I
was by artists and poets, to find myself, after passing through indefinite
corridors, in an extraordinary hall, very ancient, of a sort of rustic Gothic—
there is a little too much Gothic among our neighbours (and yet even their
modern Gothic is so charming !) as, among us, there is an outrageous deal too
much Roman, and what not ! in architecture—but the Gothic of Barnard’s Inn
is sincere, natural, and marvellous in its simplicity. There is some talk of
pulling down this intimate remnant of the end of the Middle Ages. (Barnard’s
¹There was no soda.—Ed. “Savoy.”
122 THE SAVOY
Inn formerly served for corporative meetings and ceremonies.) In our days
the hall is used for private exhibitions, and the artists protest vigorously
against this act of vandalism. If the voice of a humble stranger can be heard
in this most reasonable hue and cry, here is mine, and loudly.
In front of me was a platform, where, behind a bare table of oak, lit by
an old bronze lamp, rose an armchair of oak, also bare, and of colossal
proportions, in which there was room enough for even the ventripotent
syndics of old “merry England.”
I, “chétif trouvère de Paris,” intimidated by the imposing place, and the
rude, majestic furniture, but encouraged by the numerous and very select
audience, installed myself as best I could in the immense chair, at the
immense table, and unfolding a roll of notes, expressed myself much as
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I should be unworthy of the title of poet—of the
glorious, and sorrowful, and thereby the more glorious, name of poet—if I were
to forget that I speak here in the country which is par excellence that of
poetry. Some acquaintance (alas ! but imperfect), with your language, and
necessarily incomplete readings in that language, have taught me modesty,
Frenchman as I am—and modesty is not specially the portion of us
Frenchmen—in regard to this as to many other truths. Thus it is not
without timidity that I ask for the indulgence of this picked audience.
“Nevertheless I shall venture, since I have been so graciously invited, to
attempt here the most difficult of all endeavours, and, asking forgiveness for
not doing it in English, the English which a great writer of ours, Barbey
d’Aurévilly, declared was evidently the idiom spoken at the beginning of the
world by our grandmother Eve, I begin.
“I am not wanting in experience of lectures. Last year I went to
Holland and to Belgium, where I met with some success. Quite lately I
visited Nancy and Lunéville, and I was touched at receiving so warm a
welcome from my compatriots, for I belong to that part of the country,
I was born at Metz, and it was here in London, in 1872, that I declared for
the French nationality.
“But under the present circumstances, I cannot repeat too often, I expe-
rience a quite special kind of emotion, and I would specially ask your kind
“May I merit it !
“I shall speak, too, during these few moments, so flattering and so
formidable for me, of things of which I have some knowledge, for I have
PAUL VERLAINE 123
taken part in them to the best of my ability. I allude to contemporary
“I do not intend, be assured, to recapitulate the whole history of the poetic
evolution of the present time : Romanticism, the Parnasse contemporain,
itself an output of Romanticism, an advanced Romanticism in which thun-
dered the formidable verse of Leconte de Lisle, flickered and tinkled that of
Théodore de Banville, while that of Baudelaire sighed and shone like a corpse-
candle—revered and venerated trinity, from whom, undoubtedly, proceeded
the first works of a generation already ripe, very ripe, too ripe, think and say
some impatient ones among us ; a generation to which I belong, to which
Stéphane Mallarmé belongs, and others also, whose talent has retained the
impress of the past, not without some necessary modifications (doubtless for the
better) which time brings with it in its passing.
“I give here only the name of Mallarmé, who, along with myself, was most
in sympathy with those younger men about whom I intend to speak. It
was about the year 1881 that the various tendencies of the new ‘batch’
of poets began to make themselves felt, tendencies confirmed by a most often
happy audacity, and a true love of letters. I do not always agree with them ;
I should raise many objections to the vers libre, for example, and the rime
libre, preached and practised by these latest friends of mine. But what merits,
already, and rightly, noised abroad, are there not in Jean Moréas in particular,
aonce the courageous, the indefatigable critic, and the protagonist of his work,
still constantly under discussion, so to speak. It was at first pure Romanticism,
without a shadow of resemblance to the Parnasse contemporain, then it adopted
Symbolism, in whose definition of itself he was not slow to recognize the
insufficiency, and which he replaced by the École Romane, gathering about him,
with a well-merited pride, men of such fine talents, original within even
the limits of the accepted poetic discipline, as Ernest Raynaud, Maurice
du Plessys, and, more recently, Raymond de la Tailhède.
“In addition to the ‘Romans,’ for, in spite of all, the name has had to be
recognized, there is an independent pléiade of poets, powerful or charming,
each seeking a way of his own, and the most having found it ; some fervent
adepts, others sceptical partisans, it would seem, of that vers libre which, once
and for all, I am by no means too fond of. Others, again, hold by verse pure
and simple, verse as I have known and used it, with yet others who are
“Undoubtedly the most remarkable among these is Laurent Tailhade,
at once subtle and mystical, and so terribly and so stingingly méchant. It is
124 THE SAVOY
certainly well to be among his friends ; as for his literary enemies, they can be
but the foolish or the ignorant. I am infinitely fond of his books of pure
beauty, but I confess I have a weakness for Au Pays du Mufle, which might
be rendered in English, imperfectly enough, by In the Country of the Snob :
that formidable farrago of violence and of irony, in which the ferocity of the
subject-matter corresponds, in some sort, with a certain ferocity of the form, a
form at once learned and amusing, furiously yet quite intelligibly archaic.
Next follow Paul Vérola ; Henri de Régnier ; Vielé-Griffin, Stuart Merrill,
both of Anglo-Saxon origin, but brought up mainly in France ; Adolphe
Retté ; Edouard Dubus ; George Suzanne ; Dauphin Meunier ; all remark-
able in their different degrees, and of an assured future. I am not mentioning
names at random, be sure, for, if I desired to be interminable, I easily could be,
so many young poets are there in these days of surrounding materialism and
rationalism, whose extent, however, is perhaps somewhat exaggerated. Many
of these will renounce the fray, and honourably re-enter the ordinary intellec-
tual life. As for those I have named, never ! and so much the better for all
“These poets, I repeat, are independent of one another. The ‘Romans,’
of whom I have just spoken, form, on the contrary, a group to themselves,
and, whatever may be the very real originality, on which I have but now
insisted, of one and another among them, taken separately, they follow a
common principle, which is, to go straight back to the origin of the French
language, which, it is well known, comes of Gallo-Roman stock. But is
‘Roman’ really the word ? I doubt it ; indeed, I deny it. The Roman is
still Latin, liturgical Latin, in my opinion, of the time of the Roman
basilicas ; and I do not quite understand, on the part of the poets in question,
the leap from this time to that of Ronsard, whose idiom, whose rhythm,
whose very tricks, are a good deal too much borrowed by these amiable, and,
at their moments, admirable poets. They have science (a little at random,
for they are young) ; they have music, or at least almost all the four who form
the group ; they have faith, and, above all, good faith. They have all that, I
admit willingly, gladly, indeed, on behalf of my art which they honour, my
country which they adorn ; but, but, though that is enough to be or to
become a perfect artist, is it enough to become an incontestable poet ? Perhaps
not ; unkind as it may seem to suggest the doubt.
“But life is hard, as it is essentially uncertain, obscure; indecisive, complex ;
and again charming, smiling, friendly, simple, when it wills. And in order to
be a poet, it seems to me, one must live much, and remember much. Alfred
PAUL VERLAINE 125
de Musset has said that infinitely better than I could possibly say it, and he
has left a living work, the typical living work, though, indeed, he has not put
all of himself into it. He had his reasons, which were, in the main, that he
chose to do as he did ; but he might, perhaps he should, have done more.
In spite of all, he remains a great poet. An artist ? yes, a hundred times, yes.
A perfect artist ? No ; for life, felt and rendered, even well, even admirably
felt and rendered, is not all which that task requires. You must work, you
must work like a labourer ; and that these ‘Roman’ poets undoubtedly do.
“So, it seems to me, the poet should be absolutely sincere, but absolutely
conscientious as a writer ; hiding nothing of himself, but employing, in the
expression of this frankness, all needful dignity, and a care of that dignity
which should manifest itself in, if not the perfection of form, at all events an
invisible, insensible, but effective endeavour after this lofty and severe quality ;
I was about to say, this virtue.
“A poet (alas ! only myself) has essayed this undertaking ; very probably
he has failed, but certainly he has done his best to acquit himself honourably.
“I began, in 1867, with ‘Poèmes Saturniens,’ a youthful affair, marked by-
imitations to right and left : Hugo, Gautier, Baudelaire, Banville. In addition,
thanks to a mistaken taste for Leconte de Lisle, I was an impassible, ‘im-
pas-si-ble,’ as the word was pronounced then in the Passage Choiseul and on
the Boulevard des Batignolles.
‘Pauvre gens ! l’Art n’est pas d’éparpiller son âme :
Est-elle en marbre ou non, la Vénus de Milo ?’
I exclaimed, in an epilogue that I considered for some time as the cream of
æsthetics ; and I added, in a sonnet which was excluded from this first collec-
tion through lack of space rather than lack of taste, that the only just and
great man is he who
‘S’éternise dans un égoisme de marbre.’
This verse, I may remark in parentheses, is one of my first, if not the very
first, in this form. I was to go to much greater lengths in these audacities.
Others outstep me : why should I cry halt to them ? I shall never cease to
say, and to say again and again : I applaud, but for my part I hold back, and I
applaud, even, with reservation. Sometimes I am inclined to reproach myself
with having let loose the storm, but it is too late for me to oppose it now. A
Quos ego on my part would seem ridiculous, and I am now but the old sea-
man, a little weary, but never tired of heroism (‘Comme un buffle se câbre,
aspirant la tempête,’ Stéphane Mallarmé, my old comrade in dangers, has
126 THE SAVOY
written superbly), who assists, just a little sceptical, but imperceptibly, imper-
turbably, at the efforts of younger ‘Jack Tars,’ to whom I wish good luck and
the happiness of seeing them return victorious from the fray.
“Paulo minora canamus. I return to myself and my débuts. At present
the verses quoted above, and the theories attached to them, seem to me
puerile ; decent enough as verse, and thereby the more puerile.
“However, the man who lived beneath the very young, the somewhat
pedantical young man, whom I then was, sometimes, indeed often, lifted the
mask, and expressed himself in various little poems, not without tender-
ness, such as :
‘MON RÊVE FAMILIER
‘Je fais souvent ce rêve étrange et pénétrant
D’une femme inconnue, et que j’aime, et qui m’aime,
Et qui n’est, chaque fois, ni tout à fait la même
Ni tout à fait une autre, et m’aime et me comprend.
‘Car elle me comprend, et mon cœur, transparent
Pour elle seule, hélas ! cesse d’être un problème
Pour elle seule, et les moiteurs de mon front blême
Elle seule les sait rafraîchir, en pleurant.
‘Est-elle brune, blonde ou rousse? —Je l’ignore.
Son nom ? Je me souviens qu’il est doux et sonore
Comme ceux des aimés que la Vie exila.
‘Son regard est pareil au regard des statues,
Et, pour sa voix, lointaine, et calme, et grave, elle a
L’inflexion des voix chères qui se sont tues.’
‘Les sanglots longs
Blessent mon cœur
Et blême quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure ;
PAUL VERLAINE 127
‘Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
De ça, de là,
Pareil à la
“These verses, among many others, gave evidence of a certain inclination
towards a half-sensual, half-dreamy melancholy, confirmed, a year later, more
agreeably, perhaps, in any case with more mastery and more deliberate
intention, by the verses (costumed after the personages of the Italian comedy
and the fancy pieces of Watteau) contained in the little volume, not badly
received from the first, the ‘Fêtes Galantes.’ It is not difficult to find among
these some piquant notes of velvety sharpness and of sly malice.
‘CRÉPUSCULE DU SOIR
‘Les hauts talons luttaient avec les longues jupes,
En sorte que, selon le terrain et le vent,
Parfois luisaient des bas de jambe, trop souvent
Interceptés !—et nous aimions ce jeu de dupes.
‘Parfois aussi le dard d’un insecte jaloux
Inquiétait le col des belles sous les branches,
Et c’étaient des éclairs soudains de nuques blanches
Et ce régal comblait nos jeunes yeux de fous.
‘Le soir tombait, un soir équivoque d’automne :
Les belles, se pendant rêveuses à nos bras
Dirent alors des mots si spécieux, tout bas,
Que notre âme depuis ce temps tremble et s’étonne.”
‘Un vieux faune de terre cuite
Rit au centre des boulingrins,
Présageant sans doute une fuite
Mauvaise à ces instants sereins
‘Qui m’ont conduit et t’ont conduite,
Jusqu’à cette heure dont la fuite
Tournoie au son des tambourins.’
“A quite other music is heard in ‘La Bonne Chanson,’ really a wedding-
present, literally speaking, for the tiny volume appeared on the occasion of a
marriage which was going to take place, and which took place in 1870. The
128 THE SAVOY
author values it as perhaps the most natural of his works. Indeed, it was
Art, violent or delicate, which had affected to reign, almost exclusively, in
his former works, and it was only from then that it was possible to trace in
him true and simple views concerning nature, physical and moral.
‘La lune blanche
Luit dans les bois ;
De chaque branche
Part une voix
Sous la ramée . . .
De saule noir
Où le vent pleure . . .
Rêvons, c’est l’heure.
‘Un vaste et tendre
Que l’astre irise . . .
C’est l’heure exquise.’
“Life had its way, and distress soon came, not without his own fault, to the
household of the poet, who suddenly threw up everything, and went wandering
in search of unsatisfying distractions. On the other hand, I will not say
remorse (he did not experience it, for he repented of nothing), but vexation
and regret, with certain consolations, compensations rather, inspired him in
his third collection, ‘Romances sans Paroles,’ thus named in order to express
the real vagueness and the want of precise meaning which were part of his
‘O triste, triste était mon âme
A cause, à cause d’une femme.
‘Je ne me suis pas consolé’,
Bien que mon cœur s’en soit allé,
‘Bien que mon cœur, bien que mon âme
Eussent fui loin de cette femme.
PAUL VERLAINE 129
‘Je ne me suis pas consolé,
Bien que mon cœur s’en soit allé
‘Et mon cœur, mon cœur trop sensible
Dit à mon âme : Est-il possible,
‘Est-il possible,—le fût-il,—
Ce fier exil, ce triste exil ?
‘Mon âme dit à mon cœur : Sais-je
Moi-même que nous veut ce piège
‘D’être présents bien qu’exilés,
Encore que loin en allés ? ‘
‘ Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches,
Et puis voici mon cœur, qui ne bat que pour vous :
Ne le dechirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches
Et qu’à vos yeux si beaux l’humble présent soit doux.
‘ J’arrive tout couvert encore de rosée
Que le vent du matin vient glacer à mon front.
Souffrez que ma fatigue, à vos pieds reposée,
Rêve des chers instants qui la délasseront.
‘ Sur votre jeune sein laisser rouler ma tête
Toute sonore encor de vos derniers baisers ;
Laissez-la s’apaiser de la bonne tempête,
Et que je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.’
“A serious catastrophe interrupted these factitious pains and pleasures.
He exaggerated it indeed to the point of writing these lines :
‘Un grand sommeil noir
Tombe sur ma vie :
Dormez, tout espoir,
Dormez, toute envie.
‘Je ne sais plus rien,
Je perds la mémoire
Du mal et du bien . . .
O la triste histoire !
‘Je suis un berceau
Qu’une main balance
Au creux d’un caveau :
Silence, silence ! ‘
130 THE SAVOY
“Then a divine resignation (still, to his thinking, divine) came over him,
and inspired in him many mystical poems of the purest Catholicism, such as
this, which marks a new era in poetry, and may stand for the motto of his life
during many years :
‘Beauté des femmes, leur faiblesse, et ces mains pâles
Qui font souvent le bien et peuvent tout le mal,
Et ces yeux, où plus rien ne reste d’animal
Que juste assez pour dire : ‘assez’ aux fureurs mâles,
‘Et toujours, maternelle endormeuses des râles,
Même quand elle ment, cette voix ! Matinal
Appel, ou chant bien doux à vêpre, ou frais signal,
Ou beau sanglot qui va mourir au pli des châles ! . . .
‘Hommes durs ! Vie atroce et laide d’ici-bas !
Ah ! que du moins, loin des baisers et des combats,
Quelque chose demeure un peu sur la montagne,
‘Quelque chose du cœur enfantin et subtil,
Bonté, respect ! Car qu’est-ce qui nous accompagne,
Et vraiment, quand la mort viendra, que reste-t-il ?’
‘Ecoutez la chanson bien douce
Qui ne pleure que pour vous plaire.
Elle est discrète, elle est legère :
Un frisson d’eau sur de la mousse !
‘La voix vous fut connue (et chère ?),
Mais à présent elle est voilée
Comme une veuve désolée,
Pourtant comme elle encore fière ;
‘Et, dans les longs plis de son voile
Qui palpite au brises d’automne,
Cache et montre au cœur qui s’étonne
La verité comme une étoile.
‘Elle dit, la voix reconnue,
Que la bonté c’est notre vie,
Que de la haine et de l’envie
Rien ne reste, la mort venue.
‘Elle parle aussi de la gloire
D’être simple sans plus attendre.
Et de noces d’or et du tendre
Bonheur d’une paix sans victoire.
PAUL VERLAINE 131
‘Accueillez la voix qui persiste
Dans son naif epithalame.
Allez, rien n’est meilleur à l’âme
Que de faire une âme moins triste !
‘Elle est en peine et de passage,
L’âme qui souffre sans colère,
Et comme sa morale est claire ! . . . .
Ecoutez la chanson bien sage.’
“Then, weary of men and women, of their baseness and frailty, and weary
of himself, the poet turned to God :
‘O mon Dieu, vous m’avez blessé d’amour
Et la blessure est encor vibrante,
O mon Dieu, vous m’avez blessé d’amour.
‘O mon Dieu, votre crainte m’a frappé,
Et la brûlure est encor là qui tonne,
O mon Dieu, votre crainte m’a frappé.
‘O mon Dieu, j’ai connu que tout est vil
Et votre gloire en moi s’est installée,
O mon Dieu, j’ai connu que tout est vil.
‘Noyez mon âme aux flots de votre Vin,
Fondez ma vie au Pain de votre table,
Noyez mon cœur aux flots de votre Vin.
‘Voici mon sang que je n’ai pas versé,
Voici ma chair indigne de souffrance,
Voici mon sang que je n’ai pas versé.
‘Voici mon front qui n’a pu que rougir,
Pour l’escabeau de vos pieds adorables,
Voici mon front qui n’a pu que rougir.
‘Voici mes mains qui n’ont pas travaillé,
Pour les charbons ardents et l’encens rare¹
Voici mes mains qui n’ont pas travaillé.
‘Voici mon cceur qui n’a battu qu’en vain,
Pour palpiter aux ronces du Calvaire,
Voici mon cœur qui n’a battu qu’en vain.
‘Voici mes pieds, frivoles voyageurs,
Pour accourir au cri de votre grâce,
Voici mes pieds, frivoles voyageurs.
‘Voici ma voix, bruit maussade et menteur,
Pour les reproches de la Pénitence,
Voici ma voix, bruit maussade et menteur.
¹ “Ascendit fumus aromatum in conspectu Domini de manu angeli.”
132 THE SAVOY
‘Voici mes yeux, luminaires d’erreur,
Pour être éteints aux pleurs de la prière,
Voici mes yeux, luminaires d’erreur.
‘Hélas ! Vous, Dieu d’offrande et de pardon,
Quel est le puits de mon ingratitude,
Hélas ! Vous, Dieu d’offrande et de pardon,
‘Dieu de terreur et Dieu de sainteté,
Hélas ! ce noir abîme de mon crime,
Dieu de terreur et Dieu de sainteté,
‘Vous, Dieu de paix, de joie et de bonheur,
Toutes mes peurs, toutes mes ignorances,
Vous Dieu de paix, de joie et de bonheur,
‘Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela,
Et que je suis plus pauvre que personne,
Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela,
‘Mais ce que j’ai, mon Dieu, je vous le donne.’
“Then, as it was bound to happen, overstrained humanity resumed, or
seemed to resume, its rights, or its fancied rights ; whence a series of volumes,
‘Chansons pour Elle,’ ‘Odes en son Honneur,’ ‘Élégies,’ in which the new
affections were celebrated in appropriate measures. Trouble returned under
other forms : there are so many, and the sharpest of them all is sickness. It
was under this dominion that the poet made a certain return upon himself,
and, putting an end or a pause to his recent lucubrations, resumed at times the
sadness and serenity of ‘Sagesse,’ ‘Amour,’ and ‘Bonheur,’ not without an
echo, but a rigorously diminished echo, of the sinful chants of ‘Parallèlement,’
the most sensual, the most reprehensible, if you will, of his books. Here is a
last poem, which, at all events, will carry me somewhat further back towards
the ‘Fêtes Galantes’ (and then I shall have the honour of thanking you for
your gracious attention), though my next volume, ‘Varia,’ shortly to appear,
will give evidence rather of the philosophic and serious side of what people
are pleased to term my talent :
‘IMPRESSION DE PRINTEMPS
‘II est des jours, avez vous remarqué?
Où l’on se sent plus léger qu’un oiseau,
Plus jeune qu’un enfant, et vrai, plus gai
Que la même gaieté d’un damoiseau.
PAUL VERLAINE 133
‘On se souvient sans bien se rappeler . . .
Evidemment l’on rêve et non pourtant.
L’on semble nager et l’on croirait voler.
L’on aime ardemment sans aimer cependant,
‘Tant est léger le cœur sous le ciel clair
Et tant l’on va, sûr de soi, plein de foi
Dans les autres que l’on trompe avec l’air
D’être plutôt trompé gentiment, soi.
‘La vie est bonne et l’on voudrait mourir
Bien que n’ayant pas peur du lendemain.
Un désir indécis s’en vient fleurir,
Dirait-on, au cœur plus et moins qu’humain.
‘Hélas ! faut-il que meure ce bonheur?
Meurent plutôt la vie et son tourment !
O dieux cléments, gardez-moi du malheur
D’à jamais perdre un moment si charmant.’
“Since the course of my causerie, and the tone of its development, have
led me to end with these lines :
‘O dieux cléments, gardez-moi du malheur
D’à jamais perdre un moment si charmant,’
I take the opportunity of making them the transition to my ‘last word,’ or
rather of ending with them. Thanks, then, once more, ladies and gentlemen,
for the delicious hour in which I have felt your sympathy about me, as I
have spoken of my own country in a country I so greatly love and admire, of
things and men dear and precious to me ; thanks for the attention you have
given to the words of a guest, for whom this evening will remain memorable
and honourable among all the hours of a life which has all been devoted to
the cause of letters.”
The English press, both London and provincial, was, on the whole,
favourable to me, and I would here offer my best “shake-hand” to the staff
of many papers, particularly the “Times,” the “Pall Mall Gazette,” the “Star”
(which, I may add in parentheses, has published a portrait of me in which I
trace more resemblance to my friend the excellent Breton poet, Le Goffic), the
“St. James’s Gazette,” the “Liverpool Post,” the “Manchester Guardian,” the
“Sketch,” etc., to all of which my warmest gratitude is due. Certain articles,
intended to give more precise information, require perhaps a few corrections.
But what difference will any contradictions, any improbablities, on my
account, puzzling to posterity as they are likely to be, what harm will they
134 THE SAVOY
do to my good or bad reputation a thousand years from now? What
real harm ?
Next day I was off to Oxford, where I lunched with my friend
Rothenstein, in company with the distinguished professor, York Powell, and
a French poet, M. Bonnier, long since settled in England, an ideal com-
panion, full of stories and recollections. Then, with the aid of hansoms, we
were able to see some of the town, deliciously dainty, almost rustic, in its
commercial quarters, tiny shops as it were illuminated with cheap confec-
tionaries, and goods of popular sorts, sweets for little people and little purses ;
sweet little houses, little gardens full of rest, trees showing their last red leaves
above the red, comfortable, flat roofs, somewhat like the proper and modest
little streets of Boston, of which I have spoken in another paper ; and
unique in its mediaeval majesty, its buildings, colleges, churches, of the good
period (I refer neither to our century, nor to the two centuries and a half
My lecture took place in a hall, situated at the end of a labyrinth of
rooms crammed with books, an ancient hall, with an arched roof of stone and
wood, severely furnished, where, under the presidency of Professor Powell, I
gave once more, with such change as the place demanded, the lecture which I
had given the previous night, before an audience mainly of students, most of
them in the historic dress of the university, a black robe, short or long,
according to the ” degree,” and completed, out of doors, by the traditional flat
square cap, which gives to them, as to their professors, a half clerical, half
magisterial air, well in keeping with those faces, grave with the majesty of
young or matured learning, and all friendly and welcoming with smile or
On my return to London, I spent a few days in seeing the city which I
once knew so well, and which I found, at all events in its purely “con-
tinental” quarter, much changed, and much to its advantage, from the point of
view, somewhat narrow perhaps, of an old Parisian ; and all this did but
increase my long and profoundly felt sympathy for a city which I have
praised so often for its force, its splendour, its infinite charm, too, in fine
weather and foul, and which I am forced, in all good faith, to praise now for
its charm of the moment, and a limitless hospitality, the understanding of
tastes, the forgiveness of shortcomings, the appreciation of merits, of defects
even : I do but speak, be sure, of elegant, respectable defects.
Early in December I set out for Manchester, leaving by the admirable
station of St. Pancras, all brick, marble, pointed arches and bell-towers, which
PAUL VERLAINE 135
was in course of building at the time of my first visit to London in 1873 :
1873 to 1894, a good age for an “old dog !”
This town, proverbially a business town, black and splendid, a larger
Lyons, struck me as being all swathed in smoke, with open promenades by
the side of a very low-lying river. I only saw Salford, which forms half of
the rival of Liverpool, and my visit, as at Oxford, only lasted twenty-four hours.
I was received by Mr. Theodore C. London, a young clergyman of the
Congregational Church, and by his sister and brother, a lad of eighteen or
nineteen, all more friendly one than another. A friend of Mr. London, a
charming young man, professor at the Grammar School, M. Emile Bally, a
Swiss from Geneva, who, naturally, spoke French as his mother tongue, and
English with absolute perfection, came to see us during the day. Both
were steeped in literature to the finger-tips, and ardent admirers of poetry,
and it was they who looked after the lecture which I had been invited to
give. I had a most sympathetic audience for my speechifying, which was
similar to those I had already given. I was well aware that Manchester,
apart from its immense industrial importance, formed an important intel-
lectual and artistic centre. If I had had the time, I should have made some
endeavour to get a sight of a large picture which had attracted deserved
attention at the Salon of 1872. The picture was signed Fantin-Latour ;
the title, “Coin de Table”; the persons, Léon Valade, Camille Pelletan,
Ernest d’Hervilly, Jean Aicard, Arthur Rimbaud,—and your humble servant.
Then, all too soon, the time came for me to leave England, and, after
some days of delightful dawdling through a London of theatres (a very fairy-
land !), music-halls (a very paradise !), of good and excellent visits received
and returned ; after having shaken so many really friendly hands, William
Heinemann, William Rothenstein, A. Symons, H. Home, H. Harland,
E. Gosse, Image, Lane, Frank Harris, the sympathetic editor of the “Fort-
nightly,” I embarked once more, this time on a sea as still as glass, happy,
certainly, at the thought of seeing France again, but very happy, too, at the
thought of so agreeable a visit and of such good and enduring memories!
(Translated by Arthur Symons.)
Verlaine, Paul. “My Visit to London.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 119-135. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-verlaine-london/