Aesthetic Realism Online Library Poetry


Autumn Song, By Paul Verlaine
     Translation by Eli Siegel 

The long sighs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Hurt my heart
With a languor
Of sameness.

All stifling
And pale, when
The hour sounds,
I remember
Days of once
And I weep.

And I let myself go
With the evil wind
Which carries me
Here, beyond,
Like the leaf
Which has died.


Autumn Song, By Paul Verlaine. 1966. The winds of autumn have affected many people sadly: the October wail in space made for restless mournfulness in many hearts or personalities. What Verlaine does in this poem is to make the unboundaried grieving of autumn air in motion neat, trim, architectural, self-contained. It seems that the purpose of autumn sighs is to come to one mind, become that mind, stay with that mind, while there seems to be some kind of movement. In the first trim stanza, the winds become violins—which already causes intimacy. The heart receives the autumn sighs and is appropriately affected with a grieving conservatism. And the sighs of autumn make one remember when one was sad before. In the third stanza, a person decides to go along with the wind and be like a leaf, be like a leaf which has died. When the poem is looked at carefully, it appears pretty much like a sad tempest or something, in a strictly personal teapot. This is where the power of the poem is, however. Something in motion is made equivalent to a mind which is only itself and in grief. The simplicity of the language furthers strongly the becoming by autumn wind of the equivalent of a grieving heart. It is necessary that this simplicity not be gone away from, for if it is, there will be a discrepancy between the sigh of autumn and the feeling of one man. In the last stanza, while going about is affirmed, air and autumn and oneself are closely alike. Unless vague grief is seen as trimness, I think the intent of Verlaine has not succeeded. The poem has the finger of autumn mournfulness touching a human finger and becoming like it.

From Hail, American Development (Definition Press)
© 1968 by Eli Siegel

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