Paul Verlaine’s Oeuvres libres consists of three collections of poems published in 1890 and 1891 – Amies, sonnets in praise of lesbian love; Femmes, homage to Verlaine’s women friends and lovers; and Hommes, inspired by his homosexual experiences. The perfect vehicle for erotic illustration, many illustrated versions have appeared, including this stylish 1950 edition for which no artist details are given.

The sixteen imaginative and well-executed full-colour prints are accompanied by sanguine (red-brown) versions of the coloured plates, together with twenty-three in-text sanguines. Our copy is one of the twenty de luxe boxed copies with an original painting, included at the end.

As well as the Verlaine poem cycles, this edition also includes the Sonnet du trou du cul (Sonnet of the Asshole), the only poem known to have been jointly composed by Verlaine and his friend Arthur Rimbaud. Parnassian poet Albert Mérat had published a book of sonnets called L’idole, in which each poem extolled a part of the body of his mistress – with one omission, which the two young iconoclasts proceeded to rectify. The sonnet first appeared in 1943 in the Album Zutique, a book of scabrous parodies by the radical literary circle who called themselves Les Zutistes.

Sonnet du trou du cul

Obscur et froncé comme un oeillet violet,
Il respire, humblement tapi parmi la mousse
Humide encor d’amour qui suit la fuite douce
Des fesses blanches jusqu’au coeur de son ourlet.

Des filaments pareils à des larmes de lait
Ont pleuré, sous l’autan cruel qui les repousse
A travers de petits caillots de marne rousse,
Pour s’aller perdre où la pente les appelait.

Mon rêve s’aboucha souvent à sa ventouse;
Mon âme, du coït matériel jalouse,
En fit son larmier fauve et son nid de sanglots.

C’est l’olive pâmée, et la flûte caline
C’est le tube où descend la céleste praline:
Chanaan féminin dans les moiteurs enclos!

Sonnet of the Asshole

Dark and wrinkled like a violet carnation,
It sighs, humbly nestling in the moss still moist from love
That follows the descent of sweet white cheeks
Down to their edge.

Filaments like tears of milk
Have wept beneath the cruel south wind
That drives them back across the little clots of russet clay,
And disappeared there where the slope has called them.

My dream has often kissed its opening;
My soul, that envies mortal intercourse
Has chosen this to be its wild and musky nest of sobs.

It is the swooning olive and the sweet cajoling flute
The tube through which celestial creamy pralines tumble down
Female promised land rimmed round with dew!

     (translated by Holly Tannen)

This edition of Verlaine’s Oeuvres libres was published in Paris ‘Aux dépens des Amis du Callibistris’ (at the expense of the Friends of Callibistris), ‘callibistri’ being a French slang term for the external sexual organs of both women and men. 243 numbered copies were produced.