Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) is probably best known today for his destructive relationship with Arthur Rimbaud. This is a great pity, as he was a very fine poet in his own right. True, he lacked the fierce genius of the younger man, but he was still one of the more interesting poets of the Decadent movement. The turbulent years he spent with Rimbaud, while they nearly destroyed him, produced some of his greatest literature.
It is only in recent years that his most remarkable (read: most purple) works have been published. This is one of my favourites.
A Bad Sleeper
He is a bad sleeper and it is a joy to me
To feel him well when he is the proud prey
And the strong neighbour of the best of sleep
Without false covers – no need – and without awakenings.
So near, so near to me that I believe he inflames me
In some way, with his overwhelming desire, that I feel
In my ravished and trembling body.
If we find ourselves face to face, and if he turns
Close to my side, as lovers are wont to do,
His haunches, deliriously dreamy or not,
Sudden, mutinous, malicious, stubborn, whorish,
In the name-of-God, his cravings, so gentle, will pierce my flesh,
And leave me girdled like a eunuch,
Or if I should turn to him with the wish
To sooth him; or, if peacefully we lie, his quietness,
Brutal and gentle, will suffuse my body in his;
And my spirit, out of happiness, will submerge and overwhelm him,
And prostrate him, infinite in that tack.
Am I happy? Totus in benigno positus!
Translated by Francois Pirou