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Leslie Moss
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Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« : 25.02.06 at 01:07 »
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I was half-listening to Radio 4 the other day while in the car and caught an interview with writer Julian Barnes, who is campaigning to save from sale a house in Camden where Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud stayed for three months in 1873. Paul Verlaine is of the course the poet that the girl was reading on the train (even though he was only chosen, Clive assures us, to fit the rhyme).
 
I notice that the annotated version of GOAT does not have any biographical details about Verlaine, so here's a very short note to fill the gap.
 
Paul Verlaine (1844-96) - regarded as one of the greatest French poet. Bisexual, at the age of 27 he fell under the influence of 17-year old charismatic poet Arthur Rimbaud, four years after  his  marriage to 17-year old Mathilde. He abandoned her in 1872 and with Rimbaud spent some time in London before falling out with Rimbaud and returning to France where in a drunken brawl he shot and wounded Rimbaud and was briefly imprisoned. He returned to England for a time after his release. His latter years were characterised by a descent into poverty and alcoholism. His first published collection of  poems was in 1867.
 
Leslie
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Keith Busby
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #1: 25.02.06 at 01:39 »
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The Prof. of French Lit. has to jump in here, if only to add that Brussels was also one of Verlaine-Rimbaud's haunts. I always hear them quarrelling when I have a drink in the Mort Subite, the kind of place they would have been drinking absinthe in. There is a film called Total Eclipse which details their relationship, not all that good, IMHO, but it has a young pretty boy Di Caprio as Rimbaud. Verlaine was a great rhymer and technical versifier, and I suspect Clive admires him for this. Some people find him to be all music and no substance. Now that sounds like a good exam question. Watch out kids. There is also a story (legendary?) that when Eric Cantona was first interviewed the Manchester Evening News, the reporter asked him what his hobbies were. When he replied that he liked to read, said newshound asked what he read. "Rimbaud", he responded. Yes, you got it already. He liked reading about "Rambo". Must stop rimbling, as it were.
 
Keith
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naomi
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #2: 25.02.06 at 02:19 »
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... And the mezzo-chanteuse must jump in here to draw your attention to the superb songs that French composers wrote when they set the beautiful poetry of M Verlaine.
 
I included Claude Debussy's setting of Verlaine's "Il pleure dans mon coeur" in my set of "London Songs" at last autumn's "London day" at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which also, of course, included the "female premiere" of "An Empty Table"- as witnessed by Messrs Birkill and Love.
When the poet wrote "Il pleure dans mon coeur/Comme il pleut sur la ville", he was referring to London - more precisely to Camden Town, where he was living at the time. The pitter-patter of London drizzle is heard in Debussy's piano accompaniment.
 
Am pleased to hear about Julian Barnes's campaign. Simon Callow wrote a very good piece about the house a few weeks ago in "The Times".
 
There's an excellent CD available of settings of Verlaine ("Voices", Vol II)  by various composers, on the Black Box label (Lisa Milne, soprano, and Susan Bickley, mezzo, accompanied by the pianist Iain Burnside). Lovely stuff.
 
Re: "Total Eclipse", I remember it as a powerful TV play by Christopher Hampton screened many years ago.  
 
Naomi H.
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Ian Chippett
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #3: 25.02.06 at 09:07 »
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Naomi wrote:
 
<<There's an excellent CD available of settings of Verlaine ("Voices", Vol II)  by various composers, on the Black Box label (Lisa Milne, soprano, and Susan Bickley, mezzo, accompanied by the pianist Iain Burnside). Lovely stuff. >>
 
Don't forget the late Leo Ferré's settings of Verlaine and Rimbaud also available on CD (I think.) I'm a bit allergic to this type of thing generally, by which I mean French singers who put their all into everything but he does a pretty good job here.  
 
Another of Clive's favourites Apollinaire has been set by Frances Poulenc and is worth a listen.
 
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Ian Chippett
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #4: 25.02.06 at 10:27 »
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<<Another of Clive's favourites Apollinaire has been set by Frances Poulenc and is worth a listen. >>
 
By whom of course I mean Francis Poulenc, not his little-known sister. Apart from his settings of Apollinaire, he did loads of other nice things particularly his chamber music. His "Chansons Paillardes" which are settings of rude popular poems are excellent: classical music for people who don't like classical music.
 
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Keith Busby
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #5: 26.02.06 at 04:29 »
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And Baudelaire, of course, he of L'invitation au voyage, set by Duparc (and others), alluded to in one version of A Man Who's Been Around. I have always found certain of Clive's lines to be Baudelairean, particularly the "refrain" in Between Us There is Nothing ("Outside of this/Away from here are Soho and the far-flung islands/green seas in the west/mangrove deltas") which have B's characteristic yearning for the exotic and contrast with the familiar. And especially, from the same song. "The trainee seagulls contour flying through the swell's long trough and crest". Typical Baudelaire sea imagery. And the grain hulks. In fact, pretty much the whole song reminds me of Baudelaire.
 
As regards "obsolete" Monsieur Verlaine, there is a scene in Total Eclipse where Rimbaud's sister arranges to meet Verlaine in a cafe to try to retrieve her brother's manuscripts (Rimbaud had already left for Abyssinia, as was). V. realizes she only wants to sell them since Arthur had become notorious and they might be worth a franc or two. V. claims he doesn't have them. He also laments that he was considered a good poet until her brother came along and made it impossible for the rest of them. I don't know if this is attested anywhere in V's works, but it is a perceptive remark: Rimbaud was radically innovative and French poetry was never the same after him. Maybe Verlaine himself realized he was obsolete.
 
Yours with professorial apologies for wittering on,
 
Keith
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Ian Chippett
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #6: 01.03.06 at 18:09 »
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Strangely enough, I heard yesterday from a friend that John Greaves, who was a member of Henry Cow, the famous Maoist rock band of the Seventies from Cambridge (Pete-link here) and long-time song-writing partner of Peter Blegvad (another Pete-link as Pete interviewed him in Bath a few years ago about lyric-writing) has just finished an album of Verlaine songs which he's set to music. He spent quite a lot of time (I heard) on getting the accent right as singing a foreign language is a perilous task though he is bilingual having lived in Paris for the last few years.  
 
Another claim to fame is that he actually played with my band at a mutual friend's wedding a few years ago though it's not mentioned on his website for some reason (like shame.) 8-(
 
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Murray McGlew
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #7: 04.03.06 at 04:50 »
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I don't even want to think about how long it would take to get the accent right for being in a famous Maoist rock band.
 
Which reminds me, I was talking to my mother on the 'phone the other day and she happened to have been reading a recent book about Shakespeare. "Did you know that Christopher Marlowe was a spy?" she said. "They recruited him at Cambridge."
 
Some things never change.
 
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Murray McGlew
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #8: 26.03.06 at 01:41 »
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I subsequently managed to pry "In Search of Shakespeare" from my mothers fingers and discovered that in my lame attempt at humour in the previous post I was being completely unfair to Marlowe and Cambridge.
 
He was recruited by the English and seems to have remained approximately on our side, even if Elizabeth's people didn't think so.
 
The book is a rivetting read, although I did wonder while I was reading it whether I should be so rivetted. Was it, in fact,  a good history, or was I being sucked in by a load of fanciful rubbish? What I needed, I thought, was to see a review by someone like Clive James to put me straight.
 
As it turns out, I didn't need to look any further than the front cover. This I eventually did after finishing the book, and found a quote from Clive in the TLS giving the book the thumbs-up. So you really can judge a book by its cover.
 
Murray.
 
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: Obsolete Monsieur Verlaine
« Reply #9: 26.03.06 at 11:13 »
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'Tis said that Marlowe's death in a tavern brawl was no accident, but that the brawl was a cover for his assassination - an early example of conspiracy theory.
 
Some things really do never change....
 
(Oops, this ain't 'arf getting off-topic.)
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