Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600
“Green,” written in the period of Verlaine’s escapades with Rimbaud, can be read as the recording of an impulse toward reconciliation with his wife. It is a complex piece of three four-line stanzas, in which each phrase both fills in more details of the speaker’s immediate relation to the woman being addressed and, simultaneously, shrouds further in mystery the couple’s ultimate connection.
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The poem can also be read, in terms of literary history, as an interesting play with the tradition of the harsh mistress. The male Romantic poets, following a convention dating to the Middle Ages, often portrayed unnaturally cruel lovers, who remorselessly broke the hearts of the tortured but loyal lyricists. Verlaine unveils two variations on this motif. First, while the traditional poet’s torments as he described them were undeserved, the speaker in “Green” seems to have some unspecified trespass on his conscience and, so, cannot avoid his sense that rejection by the addressed woman would be richly merited. Second, there is no evidence in the poem, as there would be in the typical Romantic lament, that the addressee is actually disdainful. It is only that the poet, possibly misled by guilt, anticipates that she will be. Thus, in the poem’s opening, the speaker offers her a beautiful plait of flowers, fruits, and sprays (including, as an afterthought, his heart); he then pleads that she not break the offering and cast it aside: “Ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches” (“Do not break it with your two white hands”). Such cruelty, however, seems more in the poet’s mind than in reality, since, as it happens, she does not spurn the peace offering and will allow even greater liberties later.
In the first stanza, all that is clear is that the speaker has come in from the garden. The second quatrain suggests that the speaker has been on a long journey, which, complexly, can be seen as endearing him to the woman, as he is weary and pitiably cold with the morning dew; but it may also estrange him somewhat from the listening woman, whom he may have deserted in some sense. Whatever the mix of these elements, he has advanced enough in her estimation—each stanza notes the speaker’s greater physical proximity to the woman—to request that he might lay himself at her feet.
In the last stanza, their bodies move still closer. Verlaine confesses to the reader that she has kissed him, as if in her joy at his recovery from absence, and then, trading on this intimacy, begs that he might lay his head on her breast.
Two interesting points about relationships appear at the end. The speaker remains a pleader. No matter what ground he has crossed in reviving their old feelings, he is still as unsure and abject as he had been at the outset. Verlaine’s view of the game of love seems to be that every conquest of a degree of intimacy leads the conqueror merely to another field with a new series of hurdles blocking communion. The second point is that the ending reveals that the speaker’s desired haven is rest on a maternal bosom. The loved woman, who is young, merges back toward the mother and does so very naturally since the connection suggested up until the end has been loving but not erotic. Without negating the originally portrayed situation between adult man and woman, this return delicately indicates how such scenes, whether of reconciliation or tidy closeness, may be lit from within by evergreen reminiscences of childhood passions.