“Sentimental Stroll,” by Paul Verlaine, translated by Karl Kirchwey

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

Karl Kirchwey was just named Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome (read more here). He is on leave as Professor of the Arts and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College, and for many years he served as the director of the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York.

His own books include  A Wandering Island, Those I Guard, The Engrafted Word, At the Palace of Jove, The Happiness of This World: Poetry and Prose. Portions of his long poem in progress, Mutabor, will appear in Little Star 2011. A sixth volume of poems, Mt. Lebanon, will be published next spring.

Read poems by Karl Kirchwey in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The New Criterion

Hear Karl Kirchwey read “Fireflies” and “Wissahickon Schist” on Slate

Read LS’s Mary Jo Salter on Kirchwey here, and Kirchwey on LS’s Derek Walcott here.