The poems Verlaine published up to 1886 contain very frequent references to song, and many references to the nation. But only three poems refer to both; and in all three cases, the relationship between song and the nation is presented as necessarily archaic, belonging to a lost monarchic time. For Verlaine, in his own time, the poet must keep song and the nation strictly separate. Song must be a transnational ideal, always identified with the pure azure of the sky, always already beyond the nation. This ideal song is divorced from the real, audible popular songs that Verlaine knew, sang, and occasionally evokes in his poetry. Those popular songs are national in the sense that they are in a specific national language. Precisely for that reason, he refuses to dignify them with the title of song, ‘chanson’ or ‘chant’. Verlaine’s transnational idealism, expressed in his concept of wordless, transnational song, turns out to be inseparable from his violent misogyny. He wanted to see his wife as pure song, as pure as the azure of the sky; when she turned out to have a voice in a national language, his love turned to violent revenge.
|Proceedings of the British Academy
|Oxford University Press