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,
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
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
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 poetry."
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
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
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 d'automne
Blessent mon coeur d'une langeur monotone
The long sobs of the violins of autumn
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, 96-97).