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Who Were the Cursed Poets?

Can creative genius become a curse? The French poet, Paul Verlaine thought so, and he proved it in 1884, by writing The Cursed Poets, an essay about the life and art of six poets (including himself)

A group of artists who lived a life of torment and incomprehension, apparently in consequence of their talent. The title of “cursed poet” was taken from the poem Blessing, by Charles Baudelaire, this text starts his work, Les Fleurs du Mal.

The poetry of these authors, endowed with beauty and characterized by a Gothic and highly destructive atmosphere, was a stark contrast to the prevailing style of the time, the romanticism. This poet’s way was extremely opposed to logic and reason and gave them bad a bad name in life, only over the years, did the public begin to appreciate and value the works of this group.

Charles Baudelaire

Essayist, art critic, translator, but above all things, poet. His work represented a before and after in the current of the French symbolism, and his writings promoted the stylistic revolution that led to a new way of making poetry.

Arthur Rimbaud

He grew up in poverty but had an undeniable talent for writing. Also, he had a tumultuous relationship with Verlaine, which ended when his partner shot him. Disappointed of life and labeled as homosexual (a label that, more often than not, made you a pariah), he burned his writings and tried to get a job in commerce, without success.

Rimbaud had a particular and extravagant vision of what a poet should be. He firmly believed that challenging his own senses and turning them upside down was the only way to create works of high sensory impact. He only published a book of poems while he was alive and died at age 37, sick and tired of life, all alone in a hospital bed.

Paul Verlaine

He also contributed to the new styles of French poetry within the symbolist and decadent movement. Despite coming from a wealthy family and being compelled by his family to follow the social conveniences of the time and get married, he lived a turbulent life far from conventionalism.

His inclination for literature, excesses and his “forbidden” sexuality led him to undergo through more than unpleasant experiences. After going to jail for attacking Rimbaud, in a radical turn of events, he converted to Catholicism.

Stéphane Mallarmé

He had a tragic family history that deeply touched him, despite that he had a conventional life, focused on the field of literature and intellectual gatherings. He was a forerunner of the avant-garde and one of the greatest exponents of French symbolism. He died abruptly: Had a spasm in his pharynx while writing. Before dying, he demanded his writings were destroyed.

Other poets -modern, and of the time- have been considered part of this select group. Names like: Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Charles Bukowski, and even rockers like Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis, resonate as references of this stylistic current, away from the conformism of the traditional and in open opposition to the society they criticize.

The lives of these geniuses were marked by the fate of tragedy, poverty, contrariety and lack of understanding. They wouldn’t know the success or true appreciation of their work in life, although today their talents and contributions to literature and the collective imaginary of modernity are widely recognized and celebrated.