A cool breeze blows through the poems of Paul Verlaine’s first book Poèmes saturniens, to appear together in English for the first time in Karl Kirchwey’s translations next spring by Princeton University Press. As Kirchwey tells us in his affectionate introduction, the twenty-two year old’s langorous irony was both an assertion of a new poetic fusion of thought and sensuality and a rejection of the bourgeois norms of his day. Kirchwey recalls Valéry’s observation of “the dark and powerful mixture of mystical emotion and sensual ardor that develop in Verlaine”; Verlaine himself characterized the work late in life as “these Poèmes saturniens in which the self I was then breaks out, strange and a little fierce” (fantasque et quelque peu farouche).
The setting sun cast its final rays
And the breeze rocked the pale water lilies;
Among the reeds, the huge water
Lilies shone sadly on the calm water.
Me, I wandered alone, walking my wound
Through the willow grove, the length of the pond
Where the vague mist conjured up some vast
Despairing milky ghost
With the voice of teals crying
As they called to each other, beating their wings
Through the willow grove where alone I wandered
Walking my wound; and the thick shroud
Of shadows came to drown the final rays
Of the setting sun in their pale waves
And, among the reeds, the water
Lilies, the huge water lilies on the calm water.
Read more in Little Star 2010.
Hear songs based on the poetry of Verlaine by Debussy, Fauré, and others here