A selection from the legendary French poet Paul Verlaine’s first four books translated with irreverence and musicality by Keith Waldrop and K.A. Hays.
Before he became an icon of fin de siècle French poetry and a major influence on the Symbolist and Decadent movements, before he met Arthur Rimbaud and published his best-known collection, Sagesse (Wisdom, 1880), Paul Verlaine wrote four books of poetry: Saturnine Poems (1866), Wild Parties (1869), The Good Song (1870), and Wordless Romances (1874). This volume presents selections from those books, presenting Verlaine's lesser-known early work, in translations that Cole Swensen has dubbed "a real tour de force" and Michael Palmer calls "remarkable versions."
Poetry. LGBTQIA+ Studies.
"Waldrop’s subtle sonic modulations and ease of diction bring Verlaine—in all of his beauty and absurdity—to life in English. Many exquisite, non-dramatic passages haunt me ('Mild ringing of rain / On pavement, on tile.') and the sudden deflations crack me up ('Does my name still make your heartbeat go? / Is my soul permanent in your dreams? — No.'). The contrast between Waldrop and Verlaine's personalities only makes the poems more vivid." — Ben Lerner
"Waldrop and Hays have opened the shutters, pulled back the embroidered curtains, yanked the sheets off the furniture, and lifted the curse from the “curséd poet.” This is sunlit syncopated American rhythm for the famous French sonorities, as though Verlaine’s contemporary, Gustave Fauré, was being played by Duke Ellington." — Eliot Weinberger
"How to approach the work of a poet whose first known poem is titled 'Death,' and his last, 'Dead'? Waldrop and Hays pull it off with aplomb ... splendid, often daring choices that maintain Verlaine’s famous soundscapes through a brilliant balance of the play of atmosphere and emotion so distinctive in his poems ... The introduction is a masterpiece in itself, distinguished by the well-known Waldropian wit and framing the whole both temperamentally and historically. All together, a real tour de force." — Cole Swensen
"Verlaine’s subtly innovative prosodic skill and his singularly French lyric sensibility present significant, even daunting, challenges to would-be translators. Here melos—the music—is at once the ultimate and the most fugitive poetic goal. These remarkable versions offer a much-welcome window into the range of his art: his erotic fixations, his chimeras, his alternating exaltation and despair." — Michael Palmer