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  1. #121
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    I haven't gotten to Romances sans paroles, yet, but I enjoyed the poem above--particularly the last three stanzas. Tomorrow I'll read through more of the poems and try to respond to some of the content.
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

  2. #122
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    I think the problem Verlaine had with her is that he was in love with her beauty, not her mind
    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I don't think you can really say that his feelings for Mathilde were more or less superficial than what he felt for Rimbaud. He seems to have been a person ruled by impetuous decisions.
    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Verlaine seems to have been quite complex and conflicted... with opposing desires. On one side he wished for the domestic bliss of a middle class marriage and probably the position in academia. Yet he could not control his wild side... his drinking and endless sexual escapades with women and men. When things would get out of hand, he could turn contrite... even turn to the church and become the most humble of believers... and then run off for wild nights of drink, drugs, and debauchery with Rimbaud across Europe.
    The discussion's taken a pretty biographical turn. I'm curious how people are putting together Verlaine's life. There isn't much in the poem's text that points to his variability--quite the opposite, as he's portrayed as the faithful lover who was betrayed. Is there a biographical introduction to the recent Oxford edition of Verlaine's poems, or is there research afoot?

    Without the biographical context I might be at a disadvantage here, but I'll give a reading anyway. When I first read the poem, what jumped out is the sharp opposition drawn between Verlaine and his love. Each mirrors and inverts the other. Verlaine is the picture of steady will with his permanent attachment to his lover, but he's emotionally unstable to the point that he can imagine himself in three completely different roles in the last three stanzas. His lover, however, is the opposite: fickle in her desire and action, but emotionally stable (she doesn't suffer, apparently, as Verlaine does). When I run across oppositions like these I usually draw a diagram like this:


    All artwork is perfected in MS Paint

    That seems to be how the characters are set up at the moment the poem is being related, but the poem also recounts moment when things were much different for the speaker. Lines like these from the fifth section tell of a past much different from how things end up:

    I see you still. I softly pushed the door—
    As one o'erwhelmed with weariness you lay;
    But O light body love should soon restore,
    You bounded up, tearful at once and gay.

    O what embraces, kisses sweet and wild!
    Myself, from brimming eyes I laughed to you
    Those moments, among all, O lovely child,
    Here, the speaker finds the emotional certainty and enjoyment lacking in the seventh and final section of the poem. This is the past where the former lover's deceit hasn't been recognized (or "understood" as the translation would have it), and the speaker can enjoy the woman sensuously unimpeded. Maybe a more accurate diagram would have both speakers (past and present):


    Seriously, I love Microsoft Paint

    The poem seems to be about the progress Verlaine goes through from blissful ignorance and enjoyment to bleak realization and the resulting emotional turmoil. Yet, this isn't just something that happens once. The "understanding" (comprend) in the first section of the poem is not something that comes all at once, but rather it's something that Verlaine or the speaker (whichever you have it) is still doing--even as the poem is written. Despite the fact that he claims to understand (comprend) why his former-lover never cared for him, he never fully does understand. He blames it on her youth, her indifference, her madness, but he's never able to completely believe in any of these reasons. He never comes to a final conclusion about what happened, or where it all leaves him. The final three stanzas show just how unsure about it all he is:

    VII
    Some moments, I'm the tempest-driven bark
    That runs dismasted mid the hissing spray,
    And seeing not Our Lady through the dark
    Makes ready to be drowned, and kneels to pray.

    Some moments, I'm the sinner at his end,
    That knows his doom if he unshriven go,
    And losing hope of any ghostly friend,
    Sees Hell already gape, and feels it glow.

    Oh, but! Some moments, I've the spirit stout
    Of early Christians in the lion's care,
    That smile to Jesus witnessing, without
    A nerve's revolt, the turning of a hair!
    This is the emotionally unstable speaker, and we see now that his emotional instability is the result of his inability to fashion a full picture of what happened. In one moment, he's elevated by his love to the status of a martyr. In other moments, he feels that none of it meant anything and he's shut off from her forever. I think that's what behind the anaphora of the opening and concluding sections. He's not remembering the relationship once, but instead remembering it again and again in many different ways. It's not just a poem about Verlaine rationalizing his horrible behavior (although there's plenty of that). It also appears to be about the problems he's having putting everything together and knowing where to go from here.
    Last edited by Quark; 07-29-2010 at 11:51 PM.
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

  3. #123
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    Wow thats a great response quark, and yes I have to agree with your diagrams the theory makes sense once pondered.

    Oh and by the by guys if you want you should check out the movie Total Eclipse, it deals with Rimbaud and Verlaine's relationship and it portrays them in a very historically accurate way, giving further insight into their lives and by some token their poesy.

  4. #124
    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    I suppose part of my desire to understand Verlaine as a human being helps to understand his poetry at a deeper contextual level. I find his writing to be very vivid. The images (symbols) communicate his poetic notion.

  5. #125
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Returning to an earlier collection, actually Verlaine's first, Poèmes saturniens, published when the author was 22, I have always been fond of this particular poem:

    CAPRICES

    I. Woman and Cat

    She was playing with her cat,
    and it was marvelous to see
    white hand and white paw, pitty-pat,
    spar in the evening sportively.

    The little wretch hid in her paws,
    those black silk mittens, murderously,
    the deadly agate of her claws,
    keen as a razor's edge can be.

    Her steel drawn in, the other seemed
    all sugar, the sly hypocrite,
    but the devil didn't lose a bit...

    and in the room where, sonorous,
    her airy laughter rang, there gleamed
    four sharp points of phosphorous.

    excerpted from Caprices, tr. C.F. MacIntyre

    Elle jouait avec sa chatte,
    Et c'était merveille de voir
    La main blanche et la blanche patte
    S'ébattre dans l'ombre du soir.

    Elle cachait - la scélérate ! -
    Sous ces mitaines de fil noir
    Ses meurtriers ongles d'agate,
    Coupants et clairs comme un rasoir.

    L'autre aussi faisait la sucrée
    Et rentrait sa griffe acérée,
    Mais le diable n'y perdait rien...

    Et dans le boudoir où, sonore,
    Tintait son rire aérien,
    Brillaient quatre points de phosphore.


    I elected for MacIntyre's translation simply because it was the one on which I first came to know and admire this poem. I had to laugh at the painting chosen to accompany this poem on the site from which I culled the original French:



    A lovely painting, to be sure, but lacking any of the smoldering sense of danger that Verlaine's poem suggests.

    Verlaine was a member of a group of poets known as the Parnassians. The name was taken from the Journal, Le Parnasse contemporain which in itself referred, of course, to the Greek Mount Parnassus. The ideals of the Parnassians were rooted in the writings of Theophile Gautier's l'art pour l'art (art for art's sake)... aesthetic ideals echoed in Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Baudelaire, etc... The Parnassians strove for artistic perfection and faultless craftsmanship. They commonly employed exotic or classical subjects drawn from the world of art, history, and mythology. They treated these subjects with a certain emotional calm or detachment.

    Looking at Verlaine's poem, I do not think of anything so much as Baudelaire:

    Come here kitty- Sheath your claws!
    Lie on my loving heart
    and let me sink into your eyes
    of agate fused with steel.

    When my fingers freely caress
    your head and supple spine
    and my hand thrills to the touch
    of you electric fur,

    My mistress comes to mind- Her gaze-
    cold and deep as yours,
    my pet- is like a stab of pain,

    and from head to heels,
    a subtle scent, a dangerous perfume,
    rises from her brown flesh.

    excerpted from Spleen et Ideal, from Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire, tr. Richard Howard

    Verlaine's poem is almost certainly based upon Baudelaire's... employing the same analogy between his lover and his cat and the danger that lies beneath her beauty... but also even employing some of the same choice of words: agate and steel/razor. Like Baudelaire, Verlaine frames the "romantic" subject within the most classical of format... the sonnet... yet Baudelaire's poem... for all the formalistic perfection and limitation of the structure... is far more emotional... suggestive... even erotic. Verlaine's poem compared to Baudelaire's is far closer to the Renoir painting... far more detached. Still, it is a marvelous poem, and I find the closing image of the four glowing points of phosphorous just as powerful and suggestive as Baudelaire's perfume.
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  6. #126
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    It certainly brings to mind Baudelaire's "Cat," but Verlaine's poem seems to me much less sensual, it's almost misogynistic even in its insistence on the hidden dangers of femininity. It's definitely more distant, Baudelaire's cat is being called to the speaker, while Verlaine's seems to be observing as an outsider. There's also a bit of playfulness in Verlaine's language that is absent in Baudelaire.

    Verlaine's poem seems to me to be more a complaint about aristocratic women. The woman and cat in the poem begin in innocent play, but the cat is a scoundrel (expressed in a sort of mock surprise by the speaker) and her claws are hidden under fine gloves. The cat is acting as a sort of symbol of feminine deceptiveness, the feminine danger is hidden under fine gloves and in the background of the boudoir. I don't think there's as much misogynistic mistrust of women being expressed in Baudelaire's poem, the lover in that poem seems more of a sensual femme fatalle.

    I agree that the image in the final lines is a fine one, the idea of a fine lady sitting in her boudoir laughing while a set of glowing claws looms out from under her chair.

  7. #127
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Good poem to read after "Birds in the Night." Female deception runs high here as well. Yet, it's interesting that in "Birds in the Night" deceptiveness signals a lack of substance. The attachment that the speaker intuited dissolves in her deception. The sensual moments do nothing but remind the speaker of her absence. In "Woman and Cat," however, deceptiveness is full of substance. It's what makes her enticing. It's what causes pain. Verlaine seems to believe in deception (if that's possible) in this poem.
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

  8. #128
    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    Poem’s imagery:
    I found the imagery to be delightful. The images of the lady playing with the cat in the evening light and later the cat attacking her in the bedroom while she laughs is ever so pretty. It is aesthically beautiful.

    Poem’s content:
    The woman is deceptive:

    “She was hiding (sheer wickness)
    Under black-threaded mittens
    Murderous agate nails
    As clear and cutting as razors.”

    Verlaine calls the other (the cat) a hypocrite for claws drawn in.

    One can compare the lady to the cat. Although the cat is the one with the claws, the lady is the one who can cut deeper. There is a mystery to this, an anxiety if you will, about the unpredictable nature of the appearance of the claws followed by the painful swipe. She is deceptive in her game and quite light-hearted about it. If there is a parallel being drawn between the game between the woman and her cat and the mind games between men and women, then I do not think Verlaine is presenting one side of this woman’s nature.

  9. #129
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jersea View Post
    Although the cat is the one with the claws, the lady is the one who can cut deeper.
    I wonder what people think about her cutting, though. "Birds in the Night" referred to the lover's infidelity, but how is the lover in "Woman and Cat" deceptive? How and what does she cut?
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

  10. #130
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quark View Post
    I wonder what people think about her cutting, though. "Birds in the Night" referred to the lover's infidelity, but how is the lover in "Woman and Cat" deceptive? How and what does she cut?
    I don't think it's particularly addressing a way she is deceptive. Rather, the poem associates the woman with the cat, and the cat in turn is associated with bourgeois trappings.

    I'm not a big fan of the translation posted above, I feel it takes away a lot of the playfulness found in the original French. I get a sense from the original that the speaker is amused by the cat's antics, but recognizes that the cat represents hidden danger (looming claws in the boudoir), and the poem deliberately draws attention to the similarities between the cat and the woman.

    I feel the four claws at the end are more suggestive of the danger the woman represents, rather than merely being a description of the cat looming to attack her. Likewise, the third stanza isn't clear about whether the talons are the cats, or the woman's. What I find particularly interesting is the description of both the woman and cat maintaining an outward demeanor of "sweetness" despite being in conflict.

    It seems more like Verlaine is saying something like, "look at those silly bourgeois women and the games they play, they're such hypocrites."
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 08-04-2010 at 01:06 AM.

  11. #131
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I don't think it's particularly addressing a way she is deceptive. Rather, the poem associates the woman with the cat, and the cat in turn is associated with bourgeois trappings.
    Deceptive may be too strong, but what is it that's hidden beneath the paws or mittens? So many poems we've read bring a plaintive undertone to an amorous topic. What's the sadness here? The woman is obviously desirable in some way, but how is she dangerous? What is the hidden danger here?
    Last edited by Quark; 08-04-2010 at 01:19 AM.
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

  12. #132
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quark View Post
    Deceptive may be too strong, but what is it that's hidden beneath the paws or mittens? So many poems we've read bring a plaintive undertone to an amorous topic. What's the sadness here? The woman is obviously desirable in some way, but how is she dangerous? What is the hidden danger here?
    I think deceptive might be the wrong choice of word, she seems to me now more fickle, or just simply untrustworthy. However, the phosphorous, linking the cat back to the devil, and the claws suggest she has the ability to wound. It's not really clear what it is, but I feel there's a fondness for the woman mixed in with a sense of distrust.

    Edit: Back to those mittens too, they're described as being black cloth, but in the previous stanza the cat has white paws. The line between the cat and the woman isn't clear, is it the woman with claws hidden under gloves, or is it just a clever description of a cat's paws. It might also be pertinent that Verlaine uses "ongle" rather than "griffe" in that stanza, which specifically means nails instead of claws.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 08-04-2010 at 01:28 AM.

  13. #133
    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    Thank you for the clarification between the cat and woman concerning the gloves. I was a bit confused myself, Orphan Pip.

    Quark- I believe you are questioning the woman's possibility for deception in the Woman and the Cat. To me the poem was not so much about the woman, but more about Verlaine's amusement or curiosity about this woman and her potential danger toward men. How cruel can this prim lady actually be? What will happen if the gloves are removed? It is like an anxiety or a dislike towards women for baring the ability to act cruelly toward the opposite sex with no concern for apology after the fact. One may see a link between the relationships Verlaine experiences in his biographical life toward women like his mother and his wife when attempting to understand the poem. Mathilda may have like to play games, but could hurt deeply just to maintain the upper hand. This may have been a similar way his mother was and it was hard to deal with from both women
    Last edited by Buh4Bee; 08-04-2010 at 08:24 AM.

  14. #134
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    The title of the section this poem appears in seems relevant, caprice implies impulsiveness or fickle observations. I wonder if the speaker is the capricious one, or is it the woman?

    I think it might be time to move onto another poem, I don't have the collection and I've been working with original French mostly, with occasional recourse to dictionaries.

  15. #135
    Of Subatomic Importance Quark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I think deceptive might be the wrong choice of word, she seems to me now more fickle, or just simply untrustworthy.
    Quote Originally Posted by jersea View Post
    Quark- I believe you are questioning the woman's possibility for deception in the Woman and the Cat. To me the poem was not so much about the woman, but more about Verlaine's amusement or curiosity about this woman and her potential danger toward men.
    Phrase it how you will, I was just wondering about what's behind the "danger" or "untrustworthiness." Considering that the last two poems we've looked at showed various different problems with women and love (whether it's the illusory nature of it all in Fetes Gallantes or the infedelity of the lover in "Birds in the Night"), discovering the problems in this poem might be really illuminating as to it's meaning and effect. Is the woman here a particular woman like in "Birds in the Night"? Does her danger or untrustworthiness refer to an actual instance like in the previous poem we looked at? Or, does the woman just represent a class? Is she dangerous because she's going to run off with another man like in the previous poem? Or, is she dangerous because she toys with men's emotions--like so many of the lovers in a Balzac novel? These are some of the questions that I think the poem raises. I haven't had a chance to give the poems or their context much thought yet, so I thought I'd bring it up on the thread. I'd be willing to move on, too, though.
    "Par instants je suis le Pauvre Navire
    [...] Par instants je meurs la mort du Pecheur
    [...] O mais! par instants"

    --"Birds in the Night" by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Join the discussion here: http://www.online-literature.com/for...5&goto=newpost

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