Femme et chatte
Elle jouait avec sa chatte;
Et c’était merveille de voir
La main blanche et la blanche patte
S’ébattre dans l’ombre du soir.
Elle cachait, la scélérate,
Sous ses mitaines de fil noir
Ses meurtriers ongles d’agate,
Coupants et clairs comme un rasoir.
L’autre aussi faisait la sucrée
Et rentrait sa griffe acérée,
Mais le diable n’y perdait rien…
Et dans le boudoir où, sonore,
Tintait son rire aérien,
Brillaient quatre points de phosphore.
Woman and cat
She was playing with her cat
It was a marvelous sight:
The white hand and the white paw that
Played in the shadow of the night
And she hid, the little reprobate,
(Under those black silk mittens she wears)
The deadly claws—agate—
Cutting and razor clear.
The other made great pretense
(Drawing her claws in) of innocence
Ah, but the devil lost nothing there…
In the bedroom where
Her airy laughter was ringing out,
There shone four points—the morning star.
translated by Jack Foley
Verlaine coined the term “poète maudit.” There is a slightly diabolical aspect to this poem—indeed, “le diable” shows up in it. The woman—to whom the word “diable” may refer—is a kind of witch playing with her familiar. The woman and cat are reflections of each other. (The cat is chatte, female.) The two are beautiful but dangerous; just now they are playing, but they can cause pain. The concluding line, literally “shone four points of phosphorus,” seems resonant but unclear. I think Verlaine is referring to the eyes of the woman and the cat—shining as they play. The word “phosphore” isn’t capitalized, but Phosphor or Phosphorus is the Morning Star. The word means “light-bringing” and is the exact Greek equivalent to the Latin “Lucifer.” Even as darkness comes, the woman and the cat—who have just a touch of the “maudit” about them—remind the poet of morning.
Drawing: Claire Palmer