France To Exhume 2 Poets? Poetry News September 28th

We begin the week here on My Poetic Side with a look at the petition in France to change the final resting place of two great French poets.

France Contemplates Digging up Gay Poets

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, is coming under increasing pressure to act for sexual diversity. He is being asked to order the “Pantheonisation” – the internment of a person in the Pantheon (the national mausoleum) which is located in Paris – of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, two of the best-loved poets of France.

A Petition has been signed by a long list of intellectuals and artists as well as 10 of the countries former culture ministers. The petition states that whilst the two poets we involved in an intense but rather violent affair during the 1870’s they should be considered to be symbols of diversity.

The poets were both subjected to harsh homophobia during their lives in much the same way as Oscar Wilde was. Verlaine’s body is buried in a cemetery near to the Paris ring road whilst Rimbaud’s is buried in Charleville, Lorraine.

The petition states that it is simply a question of justice that two poets’ bodies should be placed together in the Pantheon, alongside the bodies of other literary greats including Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Andre Malraux.

Whilst the signature of the current Culture Minister is notably absent from the petition she has said that she is in agreement with what is says and that not only would this be a significant historical and literary move but it would also be highly relevant in today’s more tolerant society. There is, of course, a backlash of anger at the petition with those who are opposed to the move suggesting that it is simply a move by the political correctness brigade to makes them a symbol and that neither their work nor lives warrant such a gesture.

Both Verlaine and Rimbaud are amongst the most loved of the French poets and whilst there are 75 bodies in the Pantheon none are true poets, they were more well known for some other work or achievement.

The pair had a rather dramatic relationship which ended in 1873 when Verlaine wounded Rimbaud in Brussels by shooting him. Rimbaud didn’t press charges but the Belgian police did, and the police report makes it clear that they found the relationship between the poets to be distasteful. Verlaine spent 18 months in jail.

Those in opposition to the “Pantheonisation” suggest that such a move would in fact be a mockery of what both poets believed in. They were all about rebellion, liberty, and a refusal to bow down to the cultural zeitgeist, they did not like membership of what they saw as the French establishment. They were also not very supportive of the country of their birth; during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Rimbaud suggested that he would in fact welcome a victory by the Prussians.

On the subject of the Pantheon he also once referred to it as an “official acropolis which takes modern barbarity to new extremes”.

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