Verlaine

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The guide was quoting Verlaine to me:
in one gesture of easy fine feeling
he swept his hand over Paris,
under the rustle of the thin rain.
The verses are irrecoverable,
they ripple like water lit by stars.
‘The sound of it, sir, is beautiful.’
I nod, I say the sound is beautiful.
Paris forgets. Verlaine in vellum
standing as if by the decree of God
stiff on the book-shelf of the bourgeoisie.
How beautiful it is with gin and lime
in prospect of a good night of sleep,
that short, discreet reading aloud.
Proper to do some honour to Verlaine.
And beautiful?
Beautiful.
But this
as I remember not as you remember
belongs to you and I return you it.
Verlaine afflicted you. I do not know you.
That misfit of your false pieties
inflamed with alcohol-wrong, you remarked.
Am I too hasty? You distort your faces.
Beautiful?
It murdered him by inches.
He was assassinated. Jeers hit at him
from the street-corners. Your kind of
morality consumed him to ashes.
Oh tight drum-bellies drinking to Verlaine!
-these poet-murderers are poet-quoters.

Translated by Peter Levi and Robin Milner-Gulland

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