Rimbaud and Verlaine: France Agonises over Digging up Gay PoetsBreaking News
tags: poetry, French history, literature, LGBTQ history, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine
President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to strike a blow for sexual diversity by ordering the "Pantheonisation" - interment at the national mausoleum in Paris - of two of France's best-loved poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.
A petition signed by 10 former culture ministers, as well as a long list of artists and intellectuals, says the two poets - who had an intense but ultimately violent affair in the early 1870s - "were symbols of diversity".
They suffered the harsh homophobia of their time. They are the French Oscar Wildes.
"It is a question of simple justice to have them enter jointly into the Pantheon alongside other great literary figures like Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo and Malraux," the petition reads.
Current Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, while not signing the petition, nevertheless said she agreed. "Bringing these two poets and lovers into the Pantheon would have a significance that is not just historical and literary, but profoundly relevant today," she said.
The call, however, has triggered an angry backlash, with opponents saying the poets are being made the victims of a 21st Century cultural power-grab, and that absolutely nothing in their lives or work suggests suitability for a patriotic Valhalla.
Rimbaud and Verlaine are certainly among the most revered of French poets - and it is also true that of the 75 residents of the Pantheon, none is there for poetry. Victor Hugo was transferred for his political achievement.
Supporters say there are both literary and moral reasons for their re-interment.
Not only has "their genius nourished for more than a century our literary and poetic imagination", but also their current burial places - in Charleville-Mezieres, Ardennes for Rimbaud, in a cemetery off the Paris ring road for Verlaine - are "unworthy".
There is also the homophobic persecution which Verlaine above all had to endure.
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