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The Cursed Poets and Their Gods

(Original essay by Algis Valiunas at First Things.com...)

"The term poète maudit, or “cursed poet,” was coined by Paul Verlaine. His little book Les poètes maudits (1884) interleaved his own honorific prose with poems by some of the poets he most esteemed but whose very greatness assured that they were known only to the cognoscenti. It was their obscurity—society was indifferent to them because they were hard to understand—that prompted Verlaine to speak of them as cursed. This cultivated sense of neglect, even oppression, at the hands of the bourgeois philistines became the classic pose of the avant-garde.

But the curse seemed to be as much moral and spiritual as social, contributing to the presumption that a true artist must suffer agonies of genius. Verlaine himself happened to be about as cursed as they come: alcoholic, wife beater, child abuser, jailbird, syphilitic, down-and-outer. In no small part because of Verlaine’s own harrowing life, the meaning of maudit has come to include not only the troubles such poets suffer from society but also the troubles nature inflicts on them and the ones they inflict on themselves, body and soul..."

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