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  • Writer's pictureAlice Godwin

Muse & Booze - Paul Verlaine & Arthur Rimbaud

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

These two poets careened through the avante-garde Latin Quarter, the artistic district of Paris, during the era of the Fin de siècle. In the absinthe-soaked atmosphere of cafes such as La Nouvelle-Athenes and L'Academie they drank and partied. Hard.

“I like this word decadent; all shimmering and purple and gold.” Verlaine

Verlaine was twenty-seven, with a wife and a substantial poetic reputation, when the sixteen-year-old Arthur Rimbaud wrote to him. Verlaine invited him to Paris, they became lovers, and Verlaine left his wife and baby son.

Arthur Rimbard, the Punk Poet, Leon Valade described him as - "a truly childlike face which might suit a thirteen year old, deep blue eyes, wild rather than timid, this is the lad whose imagination, with its amazing powers and depravity, has been fascinating or frightening all our friends."

Rimbard was notorious with a feral disregard, even disgust, for Parisian decorum; he outraged decent society and fellow poets alike.

“I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.” Rimbaud.

Verlaine abandoned himself to Rimbaud’s audacity. Drink made Verlaine insanely violent. He could not be trusted with absinthe in his system and sharp objects at hand. Or matches: He tried to set his wife’s hair on fire. He threatened his mother with a knife.

One quarrel prompted Rimbaud to say he was leaving Verlaine for good; Verlaine shot him in the wrist. Verlaine was charged and sentenced to two years hard labor.

Rimbaud stopped writing poetry at the age of twenty and set out to travel the world he explored three continents, eventually settling down in Africa where he was a coffee trader, a gun-runner and a Koran scholar. He died in 1891 at the age of 37.

Verlaine’s last years saw him descend further into alcoholism and poverty. He lived in slums and spent his days drinking Absinthe, she forever his muse.

“For me, my glory is a humble, ephemeral Absinthe.”

Slide that slotted spoon over your elegant glass containing the elixir of the Green Fairy. As the iced water drips, drips down through the sugar cube and turns the liquor milky, ponder on the alchemy that is Absinthe.

Viens, les Vins vont aux plages,

Et les flots par millions !

Vois le Bitter sauvage

Rouler du haut des monts !

Gagnons, pèlerins sages,

L'Absinthe aux verts piliers...

"Come on, the wines are going to the beach,

And waves by the millions!

See the wild Bitter rolling

From the mountaintops!

Wise pilgrims, let us reach

The Absinthe with its green pillars..."


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