The Human Connection and Poetry

One of the most prominent concepts I take away from this piece is the separation between romance, desire, platonic connection, and human empathy. Are these various connections that are defined under the umbrella of “love” independent from each other, or are they melanged in a blend of raw human emotion? In the end, Jeff sacrifices himself for – and cares deeply for Rachael. Not because he loves her romantically or sexually. But because beneath any criminal, beneath any monster there always seems to be an underlying current of love. Those who are most hardened by life are not forced to grapple with and reveal this tenderness until dire circumstances are imposed. Or sometimes they never have the chance at all …

An interesting detail I picked up on was the character of Verlaine. Last year I was rifling through the cabinets in the French classroom, and I took home this book of poetry. Verlaine’s work is synonymous with the beauty and elegance of words. His poems weave words together in a truly artistic way. Saunders’s must’ve intentionally known this when naming one of his characters Verlaine. The most prominent connect I draw is between Verlaine’s (the poet, not the character) poetry and the drug Verbaluce. In Escape from Spiderhead, the drug Verbaluce inflicted by Abnesti and Verlaine (the character, not the poet) causes its recipients to describe experiences in great poetic detail with vivid imagery. When Jeff is induced by Verbaluce his description and perception of a garden meanders from simplistic, mundane, and childlike to one of great detail and literary skill:

“The garden still looked nice. It was like the bushes were so tight-seeming and the sun made everything stand out? It was like any moment you expected some Victorians to wander in with their cups of tea. It was as if the garden had become a sort of embodiment of the domestic dreams forever intrinsic to human consciousness. It was as if I could suddenly discern, in this contemporary vignette, the ancient corollary through which Plato and some of his contemporaries might have strolled; to wit, I was sensing the eternal in the ephemeral” (46).

Jeff continues these poetic descriptions when recalling his experiences with the girl’s he is artificially induced to love and desire. Every time they make love under the influence of Verbaluce, Jeff verbalizes the mental images of places he has never seen in great detail, “… a certain pine packed valley in high white mountains, a chalet-type house in a cul-de-sac, a yard of which was overgrown with wide, stunted Seussian trees” (50). These mental images appear regardless of the girl Jeff is with. This imagery reminds me of the way Verlaine composes his poems.

A view from my workspace of a book of Verlaine’s poetry
What kinds of unique books does the library have? Are there any handcrafted  books like the livre d'artiste? – Booked Solid
One of Verlaine’s poems in an illustrated edition of one of his books.Paul Verlaine, Parallèlement  Lithographs by Pierre Bonnard (Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1900)
Considered to be the originator of the livre d’artiste, dealer Ambroise Vollard commissioned Pierre Bonnard to create lithographs to illustrate Parallèlement, poems by Paul Verlaine. The work was published in Paris in 1900.

2 thoughts on “The Human Connection and Poetry

  1. Willa S

    Hi Zoe 0_0

    I find your connection between the two Verlaine’s very interesting. The character Verlaine is a very strange and complex character. He complies with everything that Abnesti does, and although horrified, willingly assists in what he knows will kill someone. However, Jeff seems to like him, and he seems to be at least slightly against their murder of the two women. Your connection between them is interesting because of this. Verlaine the character might be a good person, but does horrific things in the name of science. Verlaine the poet seems to be, from what you have described, eloquent and romantic. Those qualities are reflected in the vocabulary that George Saunders chooses to use, but not necessarily in the character Verlaine. I wonder what Saunder’s meaning was, and if he meant the connection at all.


  2. Elijah J

    I swear, only you would be able to pick out a detail like this. I didn’t dwell much on the character of Verlaine, but now that you’ve drawn this parallel, there’s suddenly a whole new dimension to this story. Also, I really like the specific detail of him describing the garden, nice choice. It’s amazing watching the gradient of language flow from mundane to complex in a matter of sentences.


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