Paul Verlaine, French poet, was a leader of the symbolist movement.
Verlaine was born on March 30, 1844, in Metz, the son of an army officer, and educated at the Lycée Bonaparte in Paris. His early works, including Poèmes saturniens (1866), are characterized by the antiromanticism of the Parnassians with whom Verlaine was then associated; the verse is concerned more with technique than with feeling.
In 1870 Verlaine married, but he left his wife two years later to travel and live with the 17-year-old poet Arthur Rimbaud. Verlaine shot and wounded Rimbaud during a quarrel in 1873 and was imprisoned for the next two years.
The collection Romances sans paroles (Songs Without Words 1874), is based on his life with Rimbaud and was written in prison. Also in prison Verlaine returned to the Roman Catholicism of his childhood; his reconversion is the source of a volume of confessional religious poetry, Sagesse (Wisdom, 1881).
Verlaine taught French in England from 1875 to 1877, then returned to France to teach English for a year. With his student Lucien Létinois, whom he called his adopted son, Verlaine tried unsuccessfully to be a farmer. Létinois died suddenly in 1883; Verlaine's Amour (1888) is primarily about Létinois.
The rest of Verlaine's life consisted of alternating periods of drunken debauchery and ascetic repentance. With the publication of Les poètes maudites (Accursed Poets, 1884), a work of criticism, and of Jadis et Naguère (Long Ago and Not So Long Ago, 1884), a collection of verse, Verlaine emerged as a symbolist poet, concerned with dreams and illusion.
Verlaine thus exerted considerable influence on the French poets who followed him. The sound of his poetry is usually more important than its meaning; it is therefore unusually difficult to translate. He also wrote autobiographical prose, including Mes Hôpitaux (My Hospitals, 1892), Mes prisons (My Prisons, 1893), and Confessions (1895).
Verlaine died on January 8, 1896.