Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499
“My God Said to Me” (also translated as “’Son, Thou Must Love Me See’—My Saviour Said”) shows interesting variations on earlier Verlaine themes. Many poems in Romances Without Words are in the form of a plea, the speaker begging an imagined listener for some favor, some tenderness. In Verlaine’s sequence of ten religious sonnets, of which “My God Said to Me” is the first, appearing in Sagesse (1881; the volume following Romances Without Words), it is God who is doing the praying. Jesus Christ is begging the listener, who is presumably Verlaine, since he claimed that these poems marked his religious conversion, to love Him.
Another daring departure from Verlaine’s customary style found in this poem is that the emotion felt is presented in a blunt, raw way, which contrasts markedly with the ineffability of emotion that reigns in most of his pieces. It is as if, where Verlaine finds humans to be inexhaustibly vague in their moods, he is compelled to portray God as knowing His own mind. Thus, in the first line, Jesus states forthrightly, “Il faut m’aimer” (“It is necessary to love Me”—addressing the listener).
In keeping with Verlaine’s emphasis on sensation over thought, what God brings forth to motivate the listener to become a Christian are not reasons but wounds. Jesus stands, as it were, in front of the poet as He did before Doubting Thomas and has him examine His pierced side and torn heart.
There is, however, more than show-and-tell to this poem. It is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with five rhythmic units per line. Sonnets have been known for compressed arguments that lead to something of a twist in the concluding thought. Verlaine accepts this tradition, though the argument that he presents is rather startling. He has Jesus pass beyond listing His afflictions to state that the world is primarily a place of the flesh and that, therefore, suffering is what counts above all things. It is the type of argument that would certainly strike a sensualist such as Verlaine. The poem’s ending twist is that, to drive the argument’s point home, Jesus says that His own sufferings are very much like Verlaine’s own. He tells the poet, “N’ai-je pas sangloté ton angoisse suprême?” (“Have not I sobbed in your supreme anguish?”) The line can be taken to indicate either that Jesus’ tortures have been as bad as the poet’s or that Jesus has somehow been suffering Verlaine’s troubles in His own flesh.
Certainly, in one sense the ending smacks of the writer’s self-importance, as if God had to prove that He had suffered as much as Verlaine. Yet in the context of the whole poem, that is only one example of the poem’s most remarkable feature: the intimacy of the appeal from Jesus to a sinner. The Son of God frames His pleas to the bent of the listener and loses no dignity in so doing.
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