“Autumn Song” is the most famous poem from the collection of verse known as Poèmes saturniens (Saturnian poems), published when Paul Verlaine was only twenty-two years old. Like most of the French Symbolist poets of his day, Verlaine was enormously focused on the art of poetry for its own sake and often presented the soul of the artist and the creation of art as the only topics worthy of consideration.
Verlaine was singled out among his colleagues for his insistence on the notion that the poem must be musical. His often quoted theory, “De la musique avant toute chose” (“Music first and foremost”), is amply demonstrated in “Autumn Song.” For this reason, many of his alliterations, phrasings, rhymes, and the poem’s rhythm are untranslatable, leaving much of the powerful impact of “Autumn Song” diluted when the poem is not read in the original French.
Verlaine’s genius was appreciated by many around the globe, and his influence on the Hispanic “Generation of ’98” is widely documented. “Autumn Song” is one of the most quoted and most imitated poems of the late nineteenth century. The ennui expressed by the poet is a posture that was to be characteristic of his work for years to come, and the title, “Autumn Song,” immediately marks this poem as one whose time and place do not celebrate vitality. The “song” is a lament of the process of withering. Decay was of great interest to the Symbolist poet,...
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