Lucien Létinois, Paul Verlaine’s secret lover

The whole world knows about the steamy gay love affair between Verlaine and the rambunctious seventeen year old genius, Rimbaud.  But Rimbaud was neither the first nor the last of Verlaine’s lovers. In 1878, at the age of 34, three years after his last meeting with Rimbaud, the poet fell in love with another seventeen year old. This time it was with a peasant boy from Coulomme in the Ardennes, a student at the College de Notre Dame at Rethel where Verlaine was teaching:

Je connus cet enfant, mon amère douceur,
Dans un pieux collège où j’étais professeur.
Ses dix-sept ans mutins et maigres, sa réelle
Intelligence, et la pureté vraiment belle
Que disaient et ses yeux et son geste et sa voix,
Captivèrent mon cœur et dictèrent mon choix
De lui pour fils, puisque, mon vrai fils, mes entrailles.
On me le cache en manière de représailles
Pour je ne sais quels torts charnels et surtout pour
Un fier départ à la recherche de l’amour
Loin d’une vie aux platitudes résignée !

He treated the boy as a son, viewing their love as a kind of adoption, the bond between them increasingly intimate but chaste. Unashamed of their pure love the two were openly affectionate, leading the whole village to gossip about them. At the end of the following year Verlaine was fired from his teaching job and Létinois was expelled, both for “inappropriate behavior.” Verlaine moved in with the youth and his parents on a farm bought with his mother’s money, and tried to make a living working the land. The venture was a financial disaster. They were hindered by their common ignorance of the trade, and by Verlaine’s laziness and renewed drinking.

Having failed at farm life, the two moved to Paris. Lucien was drafted to do his military service, and Verlaine would travel out to the country to be with him at Châlons, delighting in watching his beloved at parade, or to take long walks with him through the countryside. Upon Lucien’s return to civilian life later that year Verlaine arranged a job with a family in London for him, tutoring the daughters in exchange for room and board. From Lucien’s letters, initially candid but soon increasingly remote and stilted, it soon became apparent that something else was going on. Verlaine pressed, Lucien confessed, he was doing more than just tutoring. Verlaine quickly joined his friend in London, where on Christmas day it appears that their love took a more physical turn which they both immediately regretted:

Ô l’odieuse obscurité
Du jour le plus gai de l’année
Dans la monstrueuse cité
Où se fit notre destinée !
Au lieu du bonheur attendu,
Quel deuil profond, quelles ténèbres !
J’en étais comme un mort, et tu
Flottais en des pensers funèbres.
La nuit croissait avec le jour
Sur notre vitre et sur notre âme,
Tel un pur, un sublime amour
Qu’eût étreint la luxure infâme ;
Et l’affreux brouillard refluait
Jusqu’en la chambre où la bougie
Semblait un reproche muet
Pour quelque lendemain d’orgie,
Un remords de péché mortel
Serrait notre cœur solitaire…

Verlaine and them Lucien returned to France in short order. They lived in Paris, Lucien with his parents and Verlaine on his own, rebuilding his literary career, and looking forward to a tranquil old age by the side of his beloved adopted son, whom he hoped to see married and with a family.

In April of 1883 Lucien took ill with typhoid fever. By the time Verlaine reached his bedside he was delirious. He died shortly thereafter. Verlaine eulogized Lucien in his collection of poems ”Amour.” He had his mother purchase the farm where he had lived with Lucien and moved there with her, abandoning his life and literary success in Paris. The death of the youth marked the beginning of Verlaine’s mental and physical decline. His love for Lucien was to be his last real relationship, and the poems in his memory his last work of note:

Mon fils est mort. J’adore, ô mon Dieu, votre loi. —
Je vous offre les pleurs d’un cœur presque parjure ,
Vous châtiez bien fort et parferez la foi
Qu’alanguissait l’amour pour une créature.
Vous châtiez bien fort. Mon fils est mort, hélas !
Vous me l’aviez donné, voici que votre droite
Me le reprend à l’heure où mes pauvres pieds las
Réclamaient ce cher guide en cette route étroite.
Vous me l’aviez donné, vous me le reprenez :
Gloire à vous ! J’oubliais beaucoup trop votre gloire
Dans la langueur d’aimer mieux les trésors donnés
Que le Munificent de toute cette histoire.
Vous me l’aviez donné, je vous le rends très pur,
Tout pétri de vertu, d’amour et de simplesse.
C’est pourquoi, pardonnez, Terrible, à celui sur
Le cœur de qui, Dieu fort, sévit cette faiblesse.
Et laissez-moi pleurer et faites-moi bénir
L’élu dont vous voudrez certes que la prière
Rapproche un peu l’instant si bon de revenir
À lui dans Vous, Jésus, après ma mort, dernière.

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  • Costals

    Un poème d’une précision, d’une virtuosité dure et secrète, d’une sensibilité – extraordinaires.

  • Gustavo

    Difficult life but taken with fortitude and trying to have everything, whatever the price. Very nice reading blog this one…

  • http://cockshowcase.com/ AlexCSC

    Great story

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