This post is about four French artists — two painters, a composer, and a poet. Let’s start with the composer, Claude Debussy (shown at right in a portrait by Marcel Baschet). Debussy (1862-1918) composed one of the world’s most beloved and beautiful pieces of music — the sublime “Clair de Lune” (Light of the Moon). 

I wanted to write this post because I had one of those lucky moments yesterday — turning on the radio in my car just as “Clair de Lune” started to play on KUSC-FM (listen to the rendition by pianist Ivan Moravec here).

Debussy was inspired to write “Clair de Lune” after reading Paul Verlaine‘s 1869 poem of the same name. (Verlaine’s portrait below is by Gustave Courbet.)



by Paul Verlaine

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.


Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
Of being sad in their fantastic trim.
The while they celebrate in minor strain
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,—
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,
The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white rock
The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.

So, there you have it — music, art, and poetry, all inspired by a lucky click of the radio in the underground parking lot at Ralph’s Supermarket in L.A.