This is my second reading and response for Paul Verlaine (read the first here). The poem I chose to read and respond to was “Wooden Horses” (1874), wherein Verlaine takes aim at using a carousel as symbolic for life. While this could have been his best of the lot, the didacticism of his Victorian mores is as sophomorically simplistic as it is blatant. “Wooden Horses” has all the subtlety of a sixteen-pound sledgehammer wielded by a bridge troll.
He uses gross stereotyping to create a strawman version of hedonistic pleasure, with as much negative imagery as humanly possible. I was particularly annoyed by “… the fattest maid / riding your backs as if in their chamber”, roughly translated into modern English as “the big fat ho / fucking the wooden carousel horse like nobody’s business”. Could he be anymore derisive or crass? I found it offensive in the extreme, what with my modern feminist sensibilities and all. That kind of crap is uncalled for in any time period, though it’s pervasive in the writings of fuckaphobes throughout history.
Fuck you in your dead ass, Paul.
I cannot stress enough how much I disliked reading Verlaine. Trite and unimaginative, puritanical and offensive. These are not the traits I look for in a decent writer, much less a poet. Fortunately, we have moved on through Mallarmé and now we’re on to Chekhov, writers with a bit of sense and perspective.
The poem by Verlaine (again translated by C. F. MacIntyre) and my response in rhyming couplets lies below the fold.
my light-footed bay.
– V. Hugo
Turn, good wooden horses, round
a hundred turns, a thousand turns.
Forever turn till the axles burn,
turn, turn, to the oboes’ sound.
The big soldier and the fattest maid
ride your backs as if in their chamber,
because their masters have also made
an outing today in the Bois de la Cambre.
Turn, turn, horses of their hearts,
while all around your whirling there
are the clever sharpers* at their art;
turn to the cornet’s bragging blare.
It’s as much fun as getting dead
drunk, to ride in this silly ring!
Good for the belly, bad for the head,
a plenty good and a plenty bad thing.
Turn, turn, no need today
of any spurs to make you bound,
galloping around and round,
turn, turn, without hope of hay.
And hurry, horses of their love,
already night is falling here
and the pigeon flies to join the dove,
far from madame, far from the fair.
Turn! Turn! Slow evening comes,
in velvet, buttoned up with stars.
Away the lovers go, in pairs.
Turn to the beat of the joyous dream.
*(note that sharper was a term for pick-pocket)
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Wooden Horses
Perhaps something’s lost in my translation,
Ever a pitfall from nation to nation.
Perhaps it is timing or being pedantic,
But I don’t care much for this damned Romantic.
Spend your time wisely on life’s carousel,
Think briefly of Death and think of her well.
Then listen to Herrick, to Hell with Verlaine,
While carousels spin there’s no time for just pain.
Don’t worry ’bout stopping at the end of the ride,
Have sex on the carousel and don’t even hide.
You only live once so enjoy sight and sound,
Live life to the fullest on the merry-go-round.
From whence came the art:
Those images are titled Piss Off! and Unbrushed, by Lou FCD (me) and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.