Paul Verlaine and the commedia dell’arte

Paul Verlaine


Pierrot, no polite Clitandre,

in the flask leaves no remainder,

and, practical fellow, cuts a pie.

Cassandre down the avenue,

having cast off his nephew,

sheds a teardrop on the sly.

That scoundrel Harlequin designs

the kidnapping of Columbine

and makes four pirouettes with art.

Columbine dreams, surprised to find

she feels a heart along the wind

and hears strange voices in her heart.



Scaramouche has come to plot

with Pulchinella: a bad lot,

they make black shadows on the moon.

The doctor from Bologna picks

herbs to medicine the sick

in the grasses sere and brown.

But his daughter with piquant eye

to the arbor, on the sly,

glides half-naked on a quest

for her fine buccaneer of Spain,

whose anguish cries in the loud pain

the nightingale pours from his breast.



Leandre is simple,

Pierrot with nimble


leaps the brushwood,

Cassandre with hood

on his top,

Harlequin, droll

wag but no fool

and brisk,

is dressed for the show —

and his eyes glow

through his mask.

Do, mi, sol, do!

See everyone go

with a laugh and a ditty;

dancing they whirl

before a bad girl

but pretty,

whose eyes, green

as a cat’s and obscene

(she has cause

to guard her full blown

charms), cry: “Keep down

your paws!”

–Forever they go!

Stars who foreknow,

say, to what

dismally dull

and pitiful


this implacable flirt,

lifting her skirt,

rose in hair,

misleads her troupes,

poor gulls and dupes,




This is no moonstruck dreamer from the play

who jeered at pictures of his dead grandsires;

his light heart, like his candle, has lost its fire —

his thin transparent ghost haunts us today.

See, in the terror of the lightening flash

his pale blouse, on the cold wind, has the shape

of a long winding sheet, his mouth’s agape

and seems to howl while worms gnaw his flesh.

With the sound of wing-flaps of some bird at night,

his white sleeves signal foolishly through space

to someone unknown who does not reply.

His eyes are holes of phosphorescent light,

and the flour makes more awful the bloodless face

with the pointed nose of one about to die.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s