Art Poétique

Art Poétique
Another translation of the French poet Paul Verlaine. Eli Siegel was responsible for the translation of this poem.

Another translation of the French poet Paul Verlaine. Eli Siegel was responsible for the translation of this poem.

Paul Verlaine
Paul Verlaine
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

About Paul Verlaine

Paul-Marie Verlaine was born on March 30, 1844, in Metz (France). He was one of the poets of the Decadent movement and the Fin de siècle.

Verlaine made fame in the French army at the time of the Third Republic. He was a member of the 160th battalion of the Garde Nationale. He was forced into hiding, after the so-called Bloody Week. He hid in Pas-de-Calais before he could return to Paris in 1871. He fell in love with Arthur Rimbaud and left his wife Mathilde. The two lovers took their domicile in London and Brussels. Verlaine was imprisoned after a fight (that included guns), with Rimbaud in 1873. The reason for this fight was jealousy. He converted to Roman Catholicism, that would cause a definite break with Rimbaud. After his imprisonment, he moved to London. He worked as a teacher for a few years. In 1877, he returned to France. At the school he was a teacher, he fell in love with one of his students, Lucien Létinois. After he died of typhus in 1883, Verlaine was devastated with grief. This caused him to flee into a life of drugs and alcohol. During the last years of his life, he lived in the slums of Paris and spent his days in cafes. After a broader public rediscovered his early work, he was able to receive an income. Still, the heavy drug and alcohol usage, made his health deteriorate. He died at the age of 51 on January 8, 1896.


Art Poétique

Art Poétique


Of music before everything—
And for this like the Odd more—
Vaguer and more melting in air,
Without anything in it which weighs or arrests.


It must also be that you do not go about
Choosing your words without some carelessness:
Nothing dearer than the greyish song
Where the Wavering and Precise are joined.


Something like beautiful eyes behind veils,
Something like the trembling wide day of noon,
Something like (when made gentle by an autumn sky)
The blue jumble of clear stars!


For we desire Nuance yet more—
Not color, nothing but Nuance!
Oh! only nuance brings
Dream to dream and flute to horn!


Keep away from the murderous Sharp Saying,
Cruel Wit and Impure Laugh,
Which make weep the eyes of Blue Space—
And all that garlic of low cooking.


Take eloquence and wring its neck!
You will do well, in energetic mood,
To use Rhyme made wise somewhat.
If it is not watched, where may it not go?


Oh, who can tell the wrong-doings of Rhyme?
What deaf child or mad black man
Has made for us this penny toy,
That sounds hollow and false heard precisely.


Let music be, more of it and always!
Let your verse be the thing in motion
Which one feels who flees from an altering soul,
Towards other skies to other loves.


Let your verse be the happy occurrence,
Somehow within the restless morning wind,
Which goes about smelling of mint and thyme…
And all the rest is literature.


— Paul Verlaine – translation by Eli Siegel


More about Eli Siegel: click here.

Art Poétique
Article Name
Art Poétique
A poem of Paul Verlaine, translated by Eli Siegel.
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs
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