No one is more frequently mentioned in discussions of modern poetry than Jules Laforgue...
So says William Jay Smith at the very beginning of his Selected Writings of Jules Laforgue, Greenwood Press, 1956. What a wonderful absurdity. Readers more knowledgeable about discussions of modern poetry circa 1956 will please let me know which one of us is wrong. Either way, I will mention him now.
The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon (1886) is a book of poems about clowns who live on the moon. What? You heard me. "Tattooed upon their pure white hearts \ Are the maxims of the Moon." They wear black silk skullcaps and use dandelions as boutonieres.
They feed on little but thin air,
On vegetables also at times,
Rice that is whiter than their costume,
Mandarins, and hard-boiled eggs.
Laforgue describes the moon-clowns, follows them around, eavesdrops on them. They seem to have romantic problems. They hope, as one might expect, to transcend lunar existence and become myth.
Let's see. Those were the moon clowns. What else do we have?
Laforgue rewrote Hamlet, so that the Prince, upon writing his revenge tragedy, becomes bit by the bug of authorship and runs off with the theater troupe. Hilarious, although not the whole story.
He was a deft art critic. Laforgue's articles about Impressionist painters feel entirely up to date. I have seen Laforgue described as an "Impressionist poet," which means that he composed his poems in the open air with newly invented oil paints, and tried to precisely capture fleeting instances of light and life. No, that's not at all what he did, so I have no idea what "Impressionist poet" means.
Poor guy died when he was twenty-seven, of tuberculosis, a couple of years after The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon. He'd just married an English girl he had met in Berlin. She sounds nice. She died a year later. It's all so, so sad.
It comes with the force of a body blow
That the Moon is a place one cannot go.
Descend and bathe my sheet tonight
So I may wash my hands of life!