why did we name a men's fragrance after him, and not Rimbaud?)
Situations have ended sad,
Relationships have all been bad.
Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud.*
-You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Bob Dylan, Blood
on the Tracks, 1975
It's usually pretty hard to remember trains of thought-especially ones
that passed by the nearest synapse station more than 15 years ago. But we
(that would be the royal We) vividly remember the one that led us to
arrive at the name "Baudelaire" for our company.
At the time, we had the working name Rare & Exotic Cosmetics-which
rolls off the tongue with the same stumbling grace as the title of some
Persian Dynastic king (Artaxerxes come immediately to mind, of course.
And, unfortunately, won't go away).
In any event, the more literary of Us (that would be the royal Us) was
instructed to come up with a more catchy name-something that would cause
legions of unsuspecting consumers to storm stores everywhere demanding our
products. Which would have been quite a feat at the time since we had yet
to import our first product line.
Anyway, there we were, driving around the square in our archetypal New
England town, watching the aforementioned trains of thought negotiate
those narrow neural pathways, when the name of a famous bookstore
"Shakespeare & Company" came to mind. Inspired, we switched
to the literary line and, before long, the Bob Dylan lyric (above)
appeared. The following is the exact route of the train of thought that
followed, revealed here in its entirety for the first time!
Could we call the company Verlaine? Huh... How about Rimbaud? Wait.
Who was that other crazy 19th C. French romantic? Oh yeah, Baudelaire.
Beau-beautiful. Aire. Air. Sounds right for a fragrance company [even
though that is not what the name means, by the way.] And what was that
famous book of poetry he wrote? Les Fleurs du Mal? Uh Oh. Flowers of Evil?
Huh...evil might be a bit of a hard sell. But they were sensual poems,
right? Some of which were about fragrance, right? Besides, maybe that Mal
shouldn't have been translated as "evil." "Sadness or
"Trouble" maybe. Good enough for us. Let's name the company
after him. First name, Charles, right?
So that's how we named the company Baudelaire.
And you can certainly click on that link there to find out more about
Charles Baudelaire. But, unfortunately, this essay is about Verlaine...
Fast forward to 2001. We decide to add men's fragrances to our Provence
line. Why? Well, 'cause, as everyone knows, guys don't always smell so
good! And that's in their natural state! You get them slathering on the
latest department-store olfactory vision of what guys should smell like
and you'll wish you had some of Dad's Bay Rum around again. So we asked
our French connection to blend up some real classy and subtle
fragrances-you know, something worthy of splashing on after a hard day
cooking books or fettucine.
The first fragrance we developed was a combination of our ever-popular
citrus-y vervaine with a little linden to soften it up. When asked to come
up with a name, our Significant Other (that would be the royal
"Other") immediately blurted out: "Vervaine! Linden! Call
it Verlaine!!!!" Our second men's fragrance is Green Tea, and we
begged ourselves to call it Rimbaud (pronounced, of course,
"Rambo") but, so far, cooler heads have prevailed.
So here we are, about 500 words into a 250-word essay on Verlaine, and you
still don't have a clue who he was! Well he, like Baudelaire, was an 18th
C. French poet, one of the original French Symbolists who, along with
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme and others formed the group that's
affectionately (and accurately) known as the Decadents. What was he like?
Well, let's turn to our trustworthy (and pithy) Reader's Encyclopedia for
details. (Giving credit where credit is due, ours was edited by William
Rose Benet and published by Crowell in 1948.)
"Verlaine was extremely erratic in personality and behavior,
living a Bohemian life which took him from cafés to hospitals and
prisons, and alternating between sensuality and mysticism. He loved his
wife, but after their separation, he engaged in liaisons of a perverted
nature, the most notorious of which was with Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud is
considered to have had a morally corrupting influence on Verlaine but to
have assisted the older man in developing a new conception of
We, literally, could not have said it better ourselves. Although that
"perverted" thing is a little harsh, in our opinion. After all,
guys just want to have fun.
In any event, Paul was a rather jealous lover and ended up shooting
Rimbaud in the wrist. OK, so they were a little drunk... He was jailed for
two years to chill out which he did, big time, converting to Catholicism
while incarcerated (a very pretty word for it!). When he got out, he tried
unsuccessfully to reconcile with his wife, who had already divorced him,
and Rimbaud who would hear nothing of it. (After all, his wrist was now
permanently limp through no fault of his own).
Anyway, Verlaine moved to England where he continued to write poetry and
lived a rather pious life for a while until his mother and favorite pupil
died which sent him back to drinking and debauching. The rest of his life
was spent between periods of hospital-enforced sobriety and drunkenness.
He died in Paris in 1896. Thousands went to his funeral-because when push
came to shove, which it often did in Verlaine's life, the guy could sure
write. And he is more than worthy of having a male fragrance named after
him, to whit...
Voici des fruits, des fleurs,
des feuilles et des branches
Et puis voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous,
Ne le dechirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches,
Et qu’a vos yeux si beaux l’humble present soit doux
Here are the fruits, the flowers, leaves, and branches
And then here is my heart, that beats only for you
Don’t tear it apart with your two pale hands,
But look upon it with those beautiful eyes as a present—modest and
Translation by us with a
little help from our friends.
As we were about to upload this little biographical extravaganza, our
brother told us that Verlaine was still serving his country 50 years after
he died — thanks to the following poetic fragment.
Les sanglots longs des violins
Blessent mon coeur d'une langeur monotone
The long sobs of the violins of
Wound my heart with a monotonous langor
It seems that a BBC
announcer broadcast the first line (in a bunch of other enigmatic phrases)
on the evening of June 1, 1944, and the second line on the evening of June
5, 1944. That sequence of lines from Verlaine told the French underground
that the invasion was going to start within 48 hours. (see: Cornelius
Ryan, The Longest Day, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1959, pp. 32-33,