The seventy-five persons interred in the French Pantheon include Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo and Malraux. None is there for poetry. (Victor Hugo was honored for his political attainments.) There is now a movement afoot to transfer the remains of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine from their “unworthy” resting places to the Pantheon.
”Rimbaud and Verlaine: France agonises over digging up gay poets”: The BBC journalist’s vulgar title is misleading.
Gayness is not the bone of contention. The controversy in France is about whether two revered poets who had a gay affair would even want their carcasses re-planted in a “patriotic Valhalla.” Opponents contend that to “pantheonize” Rimbaud and Verlaine would be a co-opting of the two artists by the society they disdained, making a mockery of what they actually stood for.
Everything about their lives, everything about their work shows them turning their back on society,” writer Étienne de Montety said in French newspaper Le Figaro. “They were passionate for liberty, to the point of making transgression an art form.”
Vive la France! The nation refreshes foremost for exalting poets as national treasures, but also for its ability to argue over which honorable distinction these particular two should symbolize: rebelliousness, or diversity of sexual orientation.
(Hugh Schofield, “Rimbaud and Verlaine: France agonises over digging up gay poets,” BBC News, Paris, 9-25-20)
(c) 2020 JMN