The expression “poètes maudits” comes from a work of the French poet Paul Marie Verlaine (1844-1896). Les poètes maudits, published in its first edition in 1884, includes, in addition to texts by Verlaine himself, some texts by French poets Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), Tristan Corbière (1845-1875) and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898).
In 1888, an updated edition was published with the works of the French poetess Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859), the French writer Auguste de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (1838-1889) and Pauvre Lelian, pseudonym and anagram of Paul Verlaine. In his work, Verlaine defines them as “cursed poets”, describing them as non-conformists, rebels, innovators, “absolute poets”.
The French poet and writer Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), with his thought and works, including Les Fleurs du Mal, influenced poets after him and is considered one of the precursors of the poètes maudits.
The notion of the cursed poet constitutes the myth of romantic thought and dominates the ideology of poetry in the second half of the nineteenth century; its image defines a condition of discomfort with society, resulting in isolation, the tendency to rebel and provocation. The indiscipline of this way of life is also reflected in a propensity to consume alcohol and drugs, in the search for intense experiences in order to evoke extreme feelings and situations, with a tendency to self-destruction.
Interpretation of the texts
The texts of the cursed poets are often difficult to read and interpret, because the fact of feeling misunderstood leads to the difficulty and impossibility of expressing one’s own being, thus becoming one’s own prison. From the suffering and melancholic soul, tormented by existential suffering and turmoil, tending towards vice and the search for pleasure, the cursed poets are the symbol of human anguish that comes from observing the decadence of the society in which they live. By describing the crude realities of life, they consider poetry as a superior, eternal and infinite reality.
Poetry becomes the means to understand the meaning of reality: through an indiscipline of the senses, the poet becomes a “seer” and gives poetry a magical power, able to penetrate the deep and hidden truths of life and soul, illuminating them. Art is celebrated as a tool to explore the unknown through symbols, to penetrate the human soul, its emotions and unconscious desires.
Arthur Rimbaud, affirms that “the Poet becomes a Seer by a long, immense and reasoned indiscipline of all the senses” and that “only the divine Love gives the keys of the knowledge”.
“I wrote silences, nights, I noticed the inexpressible, I fixed the vertigo” (Arthur Rimbaud)
“It is the greatest pain | not to know why, | without love and without hate, | my heart is so sorry!” (Paul Verlaine)”.
Absinthe, the drink of cursed poets
A favorite drink of cursed poets and artists, absinthe is a very bitter distillate with an aniseed taste and a high alcohol content, derived from the flowers and leaves of grand wormwood, the herbaceous plant from which it takes its name, containing green anise seeds. Its color can vary from pale yellow to emerald green and it is taken by adding sugar or ice. In 1915, in France, absinthe was withdrawn from the market and its production was forbidden. It was during his second Parisian period, in 1901, that the great painter Pablo Picasso created the work “The Girl Who Drinks Absinthe”.
Other cursed artists
The term “cursed” is also used to define artists from different eras who have fueled this myth: French poets François Villon (1431-1463), Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841), Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855), Lautréamont (1846-1870), Petrus Borel (1809-1859), Charles Cros (1842-1888), Germain Nouveau (1851-1920), the English poets Thomas Chatterlon (1752-1770) and John Keats (1795-1821), the American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), the French writer, actor and director Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).
Arthur Rimbaud and Jim Morrison
Arthur Rimbaud represents a cult poet for the rock icon, poet and charismatic leader of The Doors, Jim Morrison: in his music, as well as in his life, you will notice the strong link he has with the cursed poet.
In 1968, Wallace Fowlie, a professor of French literature at Duke University, received a letter from Jim Morrison congratulating him on his translation of Rimbaud’s works. From this event, many years later, an essay entitled “Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. The Rebel as a Poet” was published in 1994. Essay in which Fowlie underlines the similarities between their lives and describes the similarities between Rimbaud’s works and Jim Morrison’s texts and poems, in which Rimbaud’s influence is almost evident.
The Cursed Poets are then plunged into the inner storms of genius and intemperance, because, as Aristotle said, “there is no great genius without a dose of madness”.