Here is a poem by Paul Verlaine which expresses a level of world-weary angst and existential doubt that is could almost be called nihilistic. It certainly conveys a sense of depression in which the poet denies himself many of the normal consolations and comforts of existence. Appropriately, it is entitled “L’angoisse” or Anxiety. It is a sonnet.
Nature, rien de toi ne m’émeut, ni les champs
Nourriciers, ni l’écho vermeil des pastorales
Siciliennes, ni les pompes aurorales,
Ni la solennité dolente des couchants.
Je ris de l’Art, je ris de l’Homme aussi, des chants,
Des vers, des temples grecs et des tours en spirales
Qu’étirent dans le ciel vide les cathédrales,
Et je vois du même œil les bons et les méchants.
Je ne crois pas en Dieu, j’abjure et je renie
Toute pensée, et quant à la vieille ironie,
L’Amour, je voudrais bien qu’on ne m’en parlât plus.
Lasse de vivre, ayant peur de mourir, pareille
Au brick perdu jouet du flux et du reflux,
Mon âme pour d’affreux naufrages appareille.
The first three stanzas enumerate everything which a “normal”, balanced human being might find pleasure in. First off, it is the contemplation of nature, with its fertile fields, pastoral sounds, lovely dawns and solemn sunsets which fail to inspire the poet.
In th second stanza, the poet mocks Art and the entire creative endeavour of men – music, poetry, Greek temples and cathedral spires, and he makes no difference between good and bad art and presumably between good and bad men. So neither nature or art are of any use to our forlorn poet up to this point.
In the third stanza, the poet rejects religion, intellectual pursuits and love. Hard to think what else could hold no attraction for him – travel perhaps or the pleasures of food and drink. But you can only put so much into a sonnet and we get the idea.
The final stanza turns the focus back directly on to the poet himself – tied of living but fearful of dying, and therefore in a state of limbo with nowhere to turn for consolation. As the final line says, his soul is on course for a dreadful shipwreck.
Or as some would say – get a life, Mr. Verlaine!. Fortunately there are some more cheery poems in his work.
The Poetry Dude