“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.
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...
(The entire section is 600 words.)