Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, LANGUOR, by PAUL VERLAINE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

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"Langour" by Paul Verlaine captures a profound sense of ennui and decline, likening the poet's emotional state to the waning years of a once-majestic empire. The poem, woven with an intricate tapestry of emotions and historical allusions, confronts the reader with the paradox of beauty intertwined with decay.

The first stanza establishes an overarching metaphor of the poet as an empire "in the last of its decline," a powerful image that serves to illustrate the weight of weariness and disillusionment. Yet, in a striking juxtaposition, the lines themselves are described as possessing "languid sunshine," as if beauty persists despite impending ruin. This is a reflection of Verlaine's broader stylistic choices, often infusing his verse with musicality and aesthetic charm even when tackling themes of despair or moral corruption.

This sense of decline is not limited to personal experience; it's contextualized by the sight of "tall, fair-haired Barbarians pass[ing]." This image conjures the fall of Rome, sacked by barbarian tribes, a historical echo that amplifies the gravity of the speaker's inner turmoil. It's as though the personal and the historical collapse into one, both marked by a similar, irreversible trajectory toward ruin.

The poem's second stanza addresses the disconnect between the world's chaotic state-suggested by "War's torches bloody shine"-and the poet's lack of will to partake in "brave adventure." The implication is that the speaker is too burdened by "a vile Ennui" to feel the sort of passionate zeal that would make risking one's life in battle a thrilling, perhaps even redemptive, act. This is not the ennui of simple boredom, but a soul-deep fatigue that seeps into one's very will, rendering action almost impossible.

In the final stanza, Verlaine confronts the emptiness that pervades his existence. "Ah, all is drunk--all eaten! Nothing more to say!" he laments. This is the cry of one who feels that life has been emptied of novelty or meaning, echoing the Biblical notion that there is "nothing new under the sun." The experience of art, symbolized by "a vapid verse," and even human connection, represented by "a somewhat thievish slave," fail to inspire or console. The speaker is left with "a vague disgust of all beneath the sun," a nihilistic outlook that transcends mere sadness or disenchantment to arrive at a more profound sense of existential disquiet.

The poem's power resides in its ability to articulate a complex emotional landscape that is at once intensely personal and broadly applicable. Verlaine utilizes rich historical metaphor, haunting imagery, and elegant form to probe the depths of human disillusionment. By linking the personal, the aesthetic, and the historical, "Langour" offers a resonant portrait of despair that is compelling in its intricacy and devastating in its finality.

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