Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, SUR L'HERBE, by PAUL VERLAINE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

SUR L'HERBE, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

In "Sur l'Herbe," Paul Verlaine crafts a tableau filled with wit, levity, and satire, where figures from the French high society gather in a pastoral setting. Unlike many of Verlaine's poems, which are often infused with a sense of melancholy or intimate passion, this poem is a comedic sketch that plays with the contrasting worlds of the sacred and the profane, the formal and the informal.

The poem starts with a line about the "abbé," a religious figure, rambling, and the "marquis" having his wig "on all awry." Immediately, Verlaine introduces the element of disarray and irony. While both figures signify authority and propriety-one in the realm of religion, the other in the realm of social status-their incongruities provide humor and ridicule.

The poem becomes further lively with the entrance of "Camargo," who could be a reference to the famous 18th-century dancer La Camargo. Her presence introduces an element of sensuality as the marquis claims that her eyes ignite him more than "wine of Cypress," traditionally considered an aphrodisiac. This line cleverly unites spirituality and sensuality, as the wine from Cypress has religious connotations, serving as a stand-in for the idealized, abstract love that religion often advocates. However, here, it is the sensual, personified love that trumps.

The poem also integrates a playful array of voices, punctuated by musical notes ("Do, mi, sol, la, si") that cut through the dialogue. The notes, typically related to formalized expressions of beauty and emotion in song, serve here as interruptions that make the entire scene border on the farcical. They neither contribute to nor clarify the ongoing discussions but instead add a layer of absurdity.

"Abbé, your villainy lies bare." This line hints at the underlying hypocrisy or perhaps hidden agendas within the society. Even as these figures indulge in casual, sensuous banter, they are aware of their societal roles and the masks they wear.

Toward the end of the poem, the Abbé makes an extravagant claim, "I climb up yonder tree / And fetch a star down, I declare." The promise to fetch a star adds a whimsical, if not absurd, promise of grandeur, perhaps mocking the superficial nature of societal interactions where extravagant words often replace meaningful actions.

The concluding lines leave the reader amidst a flurry of random comments, from the longing to be a "lap-dog" to a greeting addressed to the moon. These bits and pieces of conversations, desires, and exclamations capture the tumultuous, often superficial nature of social gatherings, where meaningful dialogue is lost in a haze of triviality and pretense.

In "Sur l'Herbe," Verlaine takes a swipe at the vacuousness and hypocrisy of high society while wrapping his critique in humor and wit. The poem becomes a microcosm of a society where roles are performed rather than lived, and where appearances always trump substance. This is not a Verlaine tormented by inner emotional strife but a Verlaine who, perhaps with a sly smile, exposes the absurdities of the world he sees.

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