|"The Drunken Boat, " Illuminations, & A Season in Hell
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) updated 8/22/99 with links to original French texts
On August 28, 1999 we had a Fiction & Film Group event focused on Rimbaud and Verlaine's poetry as well as the film about their tempestuous relationship, Total Eclipse. Below is the material we used.
About Rimbaud: Rimbaud is one of the world's most influential writers. He was a seminal influence on artists as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Jean Cocteau, H.P. Lovecraft, the Surrealists, Federico García Lorca, Hart Crane, Jean Genet, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison & the Doors, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and today's alternative music scene. He wrote all of his masterpieces before the age of 20.
What to Read: "The Drunken Boat" is the visionary piece which first brought Rimbaud to Verlaine's attention. Illuminations contains about three dozen brief prose poems. A Season in Hell is an hallucinatory memoir. I admit that initially I had a lot of trouble reading Rimbaud: so if you don't connect with one of these works, try some of the others. You might also want to peruse these five Verlaine poems. And remember that all points of view are welcome, including critical ones. Feel free to read these or any other translations. If you read French, here are the original texts of Les Illuminations and Une Saison en enfer; also, both Rimbaud and Verlaine's complete works are at Athena: Textes d'auteurs d'expression française.
More Information: In Claude J. Summers' Gay & Lesbian Literary Heritage, see the articles and bibliographies for "Rimbaud," "Verlaine," and "French Literature: Nineteenth Century." There are many resources including additional poems, articles, and photographs at Peter Pullicino's excellent Rimbaud site.
"The Drunken Boat" [Le Bateau ivre] (1871)
As I was floating down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:
gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,
nailing them naked to coloured stakes.
I cared nothing for all my crews,
carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When, along with my haulers, those uproars stopped,
the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.
Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,
more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran!
And the unmoored Peninsulas never
endured more triumphant clamourings.
The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves
which men call the eternal rollers of victims,
for ten nights, without once missing the foolish eye of the harbor lights!
Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pinewood hull
and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains
and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.
And from that time on I bathed in the Poem
of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk,
devouring the green azures where, entranced
in pallid flotsam, a dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down;
where, suddenly dyeing the blueness,
deliriums and slow rhythms under the gleams of the daylight,
stronger than alcohol, vaster than music,
ferment the bitter rednesses of love!
I have come to know the skies splitting with lightning,
and the waterspouts, and the breakers and currents;
I know the evening, and dawn rising up like a flock of doves,
and sometimes I have seen what men have imagined they saw!
I have seen the low-hanging sun speckled with mystic horrors
lighting up long violet coagulations
like the performers in antique dramas;
waves rolling back into the distances their shiverings of venetian blinds!
I have dreamed of the green night of the dazzled snows,
the kiss rising slowly to the eyes of the seas,
the circulation of undreamed-of saps,
and the yellow-blue awakenings of singing phosphorus!
I have followed, for whole months on end,
the swells battering the reefs like hysterical herds of cows,
never dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys
could muzzle by force the snorting Oceans!
I have struck, do you realize, incredible Floridas,
where mingle with flowers the eyes of panthers in human skins!
Rainbows stretched like bridles
under the sea's horizon to glaucous herds!
I have seen the enormous swamps seething,
traps where a whole leviathan rots in the reeds!
Downfalls of waters in the midst of the calm,
and distances cataracting down into abysses!
Glaciers, suns of silver, waves of pearl, skies of red-hot coals!
Hideous wrecks at the bottom of brown gulfs
where the giant snakes, devoured by vermin,
fall from the twisted trees with black odours!
I should have liked to show to children those dolphins
of the blue wave, those golden, those singing fish. --
Foam of flowers rocked my driftings,
and at times ineffable winds would lend me wings.
Sometimes, a martyr weary of poles and zones,
the sea whose sobs sweetened my rollings
lifted my shadow-flowers with their yellow sucking disks toward me,
and I hung there like a kneeling woman...
Resembling an island, tossing on my sides the brawls
and droppings of pale-eyed, clamouring birds.
And I was scudding along when across my frayed ropes
drowned men sank backwards into sleep!...
But now I, a boat lost under the hair of coves,
hurled by the hurricane into the birdless ether;
I, whose wreck, dead-drunk and sodden with water,
neither Monitor nor Hanseatic ships would have fished up;
free, smoking, risen from violet fogs,
I who bored through the wall of the reddening sky which bears
a sweetmeat good poets find delicious:
lichens of sunlight mixed with azure snot;
who ran, speckled with tiny electric moons,
a crazy plank with black sea-horses for escort,
when Julys were crushing with cudgel blows
skies of ultramarine into burning funnels;
I who trembled to feel at fifty leagues off
the groans of Behemoths rutting, and the dense Maelstroms;
eternal spinner of blue immobilities,
I long for Europe with it's age-old parapets!
I have seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
whose delirious skies are open to sea wanderers: --
Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,
O million golden birds, Life Force of the future?
But, truly, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:
sharp love has swollen me up with intoxicating torpor.
O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!
If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the black
cold pool where into the scented twilight
a child squatting full of sadness launches
a boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.
I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,
sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons;
nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants;
nor pull past the horrible eyes of prison hulks.
Back to Top
ILLUMINATIONS [Les Illuminations] (1872)
NOTE: Illuminations is almost exclusively a cycle of prose poems, so Rimbaud rarely uses traditional poetic line breaks. His paragraph structures appear below as in the originals. Also note that Rimbaud did not set a particular order for these poems, i.e., this is only one of many possible arrangements.
He wrote most of these works between the ages of 17 and 19.
Table of Contents for Illuminations
After The Deluge
To A Reason
Morning Of Drunkenness
Scanned in by email@example.com
Arrangement and some processing by Peter Pullicino, 1998
After The Deluge
As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided,
A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flowerbells, and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the spider's web.
Oh! the precious stones that began to hide,-- and the flowers that already looked around.
In the dirty main street, stalls were set up and boats were hauled toward the sea, high tiered as in old prints.
Blood flowed at Blue Beard's,-- through slaughterhouses, in circuses, where the windows were blanched by God's seal. Blood and milk flowed.
Beavers built. "Mazagrans" smoked in the little bars.
In the big glass house, still dripping, children in mourning looked at the marvelous pictures.
A door banged; and in the village square the little boy waved his arms, understood by weather vanes and cocks on steeples everywhere, in the bursting shower.
Madame *** installed a piano in the Alps. Mass and first communions were celebrated at the hundred thousand altars of the cathedral.
Caravans set out. And Hotel Splendid was built in the chaos of ice and of the polar night.
Ever after the moon heard jackals howling across the deserts of thyme, and eclogues in wooden shoes growling in the orchard. Then in the violet and budding forest, Eucharis told me it was spring.
Gush, pond,-- Foam, roll on the bridge and over the woods;-- black palls and organs, lightening and thunder, rise and roll;-- waters and sorrows rise and launch the Floods again.
For since they have been dissipated-- oh! the precious stones being buried and the opened flowers!-- it's unbearable! and the Queen, the Witch who lights her fire in the earthen pot will never tell us what she knows, and what we do not know.
That idol, black eyes and yellow mop, without parents or court, nobler than Mexican and Flemish fables; his domain, insolent azure and verdure, runs over beaches called by the shipless waves, names ferociously Greek, Slav, Celt.
At the border of the forest-- dream flowers tinkle, flash, and flare,-- the girl with orange lips, knees crossed in the clear flood that gushes from the fields, nakedness shaded, traversed, dressed by rainbow, flora, sea.
Ladies who stroll on terraces adjacent to the sea; baby girls and giantesses, superb blacks in the verdigris moss, jewels upright on the rich ground of groves and little thawed gardens,-- young mothers and big sisters with eyes full of pilgrimages, sultanas, princesses tyrannical of costume and carriage, little foreign misses and young ladies gently unhappy.
What boredom, the hour of the "dear body" and "dear heart."
It is she, the little girl, dead behind the rosebushes.
--The young mamma, deceased, comes down the stoop.-- The cousin's carriage creaks on the sand.-- The little brother (he is in India!) there, before the western sky in the meadow of pinks. The old men who have been buried upright in the rampart overgrown with gillyflowers.
Swarms of golden leaves surround the general's house. They are in the south.-- You follow the red road to reach the empty inn. The chateau is for sale; the shutters are coming off. The priest must have taken away the key of the church. Around the park the keepers' cottages are uninhabited. The enclosures are so high that nothing can be seen but the rustling tree tops. Besides, there is nothing to be seen within.
The meadows go up to the hamlets without anvils or cocks. The sluice gate is open. O the Calvaries and the windmills of the desert, the islands and the haystacks!
Magic flowers droned. The slopes cradled him. Beasts of a fabulous elegance moved about. The clouds gathered over the high sea, formed of an eternity of hot tears.
In the woods there is a bird; his song stops you and makes you blush.
There is a clock that never strikes.
There is a hollow with a nest of white beasts.
There is a cathedral that goes down and a lake that goes up.
There is a little carriage abandoned in the copse or that goes running down the road beribboned.
There is a troupe of little actors in costume, glimpsed on the road through the border of the woods.
And then, when you are hungry and thirsty, there is someone who drives you away.
I am the saint at prayer on the terrace like the peaceful beasts that graze down to the sea of Palestine.
I am the scholar of the dark armchair. Branches and rain hurl themselves at the windows of my library.
I am the pedestrian of the highroad by way of the dwarf woods; the roar of the sluices drowns my steps. I can see for a long time the melancholy wash of the setting sun.
I might well be the child abandoned on the jetty on its way to the high seas, the little farm boy following the lane, its forehead touching the sky.
The paths are rough. The hillocks are covered with broom. The air is motionless. How far away are the birds and the springs! It can only be the end of the world ahead.
Let them rent me this whitewashed tomb, at last, with cement lines in relief,-- far down under ground.
I lean my elbows on the table, the lamp shines brightly on these newspapers I am fool enough to read again, these stupid books.
An enormous distance above my subterranean parlor, houses take root, fogs gather. The mud is red or black. Monstrous city, night without end!
Less high are the sewers. At the sides, nothing but the thickness of the globe. Chasms of azure, wells of fire perhaps. Perhaps it is on these levels that moons and comets meet, fables and seas.
In hours of bitterness, I imagine balls of sapphire, of metal. I am master of silence. Why should the semblance of an opening pale under one corner of the vault?
A Prince was vexed at having devoted himself only to the perfection of ordinary generosities. He foresaw astonishing revolutions of love and suspected his women of being able to do better than their habitual acquiescence embellished by heaven and luxury. He wanted to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and gratification. Whether this was an aberration of piety or not, that is what he wanted. Enough worldly power, at least, he had.
All the women who had known him were assassinated; what havoc in the garden of beauty! At the point of the sword they blessed him. He did not order new ones.-- The women reappeared.
He killed all those who followed him, after the hunt or the libations.-- All followed him.
He amused himself cutting the throats of rare animals. He set palaces on fire. He would rush upon people and hack them to pieces.-- The throngs, the gilded roofs, the beautiful animals still remained.
Can one be in ecstasies over destruction and by cruelty rejuvenated! The people did not complain. No one offered him the benefit of his views.
One evening he was proudly galloping. A Genie appeared, of ineffable beauty, unavowable even. In his face and in his bearing shone the promise of a complex and multiple love! of an indescribable happiness, unendurable, even. The Prince and the Genie annihilated each other probably in essential health. How could they have helped dying of it? Together then they died.
But this Prince died in his palace at an ordinary age, the Prince was the Genie, the Genie was the Prince.-- There is no sovereign music for our desire.
Very sturdy rogues. Several have exploited your worlds. With no needs, and in no hurry to make use of their brilliant faculties and their knowledge of your conveniences. What ripe men! Eyes vacant like the summer night, red and black, tricolored, steel studded with gold stars; faces distorted, leaden, blanched, ablaze; burlesque hoarsenesses! The cruel strut of flashy finery! Some are young,-- how would they look on Cherubim?-- endowed with terrifying voices and some dangerous resources. They are sent buggering in the town, tricked out with nauseating _luxury._
O the most violent Paradise of the furious grimace! Not to be compared with your Fakirs and other theatrical buffooneries. In improvised costumes like something out of a bad dream, they enact heroic romances of brigands and of demigods, more inspiriting than history or religions have ever been. Chinese, Hottentots, gypsies, simpletons, hyenas, Molochs, old dementias, sinister demons, they combine popular maternal turns with bestial poses and caresses. They would interpret new plays, "romantic" songs. Master jugglers, they transform place and persons and have recourse to magnetic comedy. Eyes flame, blood sings, bones swell, tears and red trickles flow, Their clowning or their terror lasts a minute or entire months.
I alone have the key to this savage side show.
Gracious son of Pan! Around your forehead crowned with flowerets and with laurel, restlessly roll those precious balls, your eyes. Spotted with brown lees, your cheeks are hollow. Your fangs gleam. Your breast is like a lyre, tinklings circulate through your pale arms. Your heart beats in that belly where sleeps the double sex. Walk through the night, gently moving that thigh, that second thigh, and that left leg.
Against the snow of Being a high-statured Beauty. Whistlings of death and circles of secret music make the adored body, like a specter, rise, expand, and quiver; wounds of black and scarlet burst in the superb flesh.-- Life's own colors darken, dance, and drift around the Visioning the making.-- Shudders rise and rumble, and the delirious savor of these effects clashing with the deadly hissings and the hoarse music that the world, far behind us, hurls at our mother of beauty,-- she recoils, she rears up. Oh, our bones are clothed with an amorous new body.
O the ashy faces, the horsehair emblem, the crystal arms! the cannon on which I am to fall in the melee of trees and of light air!
O the enormous avenues of the Holy Land, the temple terraces! What has become of the Brahman who explained the proverbs to me? Of that time, of that place, I can still see even the old women! I remember silver hours and sunlight by the rivers, the hand of the country on my shoulder and our caresses standing on the spicy plains.-- A flight of scarlet pigeons thunders round my thoughts. An exile here, I once had a stage on which to play all the masterpieces of literature. I would show you unheard-of riches. I note the story of the treasures you discovered. I see the outcome. My wisdom is as scorned as chaos. What is my nothingness to the stupor that awaits you?
I am the inventor more deserving far than all those who have preceded me; a musician, moreover, who has discovered something like the key of love. At present, a country gentleman of a bleak land with a sober sky, I try to rouse myself with the memory of my beggar childhood, my apprenticeship or my arrival in wooden shoes, of polemics, of five or six widowings, and of certain convivialities when my level head kept me from rising to the diapason of my comrades. I do not regret my old portion of divine gaiety: the sober air of this bleak countryside feeds vigorously my dreadful skepticism. But since this skepticism cannot, henceforth be put to use, and since, moreover, I am dedicated to a new torment,-- I expect to become a very vicious madman.
In a loft, where I was shut in when I was twelve, I got to know the world, I illustrated the human comedy. I learned history in a wine cellar. In a northern city, at some nocturnal revel, I met all the women of the old masters. In an old arcade in Paris, I was taught the classical sciences. In a magnificent dwelling encircled by the entire Orient, I accomplished my prodigious work and spent my illustrious retreat. I churned up my blood. My duty has been remitted. I must not even think of that anymore. I am really from beyond the tomb, and no commissions.
Seen enough. The vision was met with in every air.
Had enough. Sounds of cities, in the evening and in the sun and always.
Known enough. Life's halts.-- O Sounds and Visions!
Departure in new affection and new noise.
One fine morning, in a land of very gentle people, a superb man and woman shouted in the public square: "Friends, I want her to be queen!" "I want to be queen!" She laughed and trembled. He spoke to his friends of revelation, of ordeals terminated. They leaned on each other in ecstasy.
They were indeed sovereigns for a whole morning, while all the houses were adorned with crimson hangings, and for an entire afternoon, while they made their way toward the palm gardens.
To A Reason
A rap of your finger on the drum fires all the sounds and starts a new harmony.
A step of yours: the levy of new men and their marching on.
Your head turns away: O the new love! Your head turns back: O the new love!
"Change our lots, confound the plagues, beginning with time," to you these children sing. "Raise no matter where the substance of our fortune and our desires," they beg you.
Arrival of all time, who will go everywhere.
Morning of Drunkenness
O _my_ Good! O _my_ Beautiful! Appalling fanfare where I do not falter. Rack of enchantments! Hurrah for the wonderful work and for the marvelous body, for the first time! It began in the midst of children's laughter, with their laughter will it end. This poison will remain in all our veins even when, the fanfare turning, we shall be given back to the old disharmony. O now may we, so worthy of these tortures!, fervently take up the superhuman promise made to our created body and soul: that promise, that madness! Elegance, science, violence! They promised to bury in darkness the tree of good and evil, to deport tyrannic respectability so that we might bring forth our very pure love. It began with a certain disgust-- and it ends,-- unable to grasp this eternity,-- it ends in a riot of perfumes.
Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, austerity of virgins, loathing of faces and objects here, holy be all of you in memory of this vigil. It began with every sort of boorishness, behold it ends with angels of flame and ice!
Little drunken vigil, holy! if only because of the mask you have bestowed on us. We pronounce you, method! We shall not forget that yesterday you glorified each one of our ages. We have faith in the poison. We know how to give our whole life every day.
Now is the time of the _Assassins._
When the world is reduced to a single dark wood for our four eyes' astonishment,-- a beach for two faithful children,-- a musical house for one pure sympathy,-- I shall find you.
Should there be here below but a single old man, handsome and calm in the midst of incredible luxury, I shall be at your feet.
Should I have realized all your memories,-- should I be the one who can bind you hand and foot,-- I shall strangle you.
* * *
When we are very strong,-- who draws back? very gay,-- who cares for ridicule? When we are very bad,-- what would they do with us?
Deck yourself, dance, laugh. I could never throw Love out of the window.
* * *
My comrade, beggar girl, monster child! O it's all one to you these unhappy women, these wiles and my discomfiture. Bind yourself to us with your impossible voice, your voice! sole soother of this vile despair.
* * *
An overcast morning in July. A taste of ashes flies through the air;-- an odor of sweating wood on the hearth,-- dew-wet flowers-- devastation along the promenades-- the mist of the canals over the fields-- why not incense and toys already?
* * *
I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.
* * *
The upland pond smokes continuously. What witch will rise against the white west sky? What violet flowers are going to fall?
* * *
While public funds evaporate in feasts of fraternity, a bell of rosy fire rings in the clouds.
* * *
Reviving a pleasant taste of India ink, a black powder rains on my vigil. I lower the jets of the chandelier, I throw myself on my bed, and turning my face towards the darkness, I see you, my daughters! my queens!
O that warm February morning! The untimely south came to stir up our absurd paupers' memories, our young distress.
Henrika had on a brown and white checked cotton skirt which must have been worn in the last century, a bonnet with ribbons and a silk scarf. It was much sadder than any mourning. We were taking a stroll in the suburbs. The weather was overcast and that wind from the south excited all the evil odors of the desolate garden and the dried fields.
It did not seem to weary my wife as it did me. In a puddle left by the rains of the preceding month, on a fairly high path, she called my attention to some very little fishes.
The city with its smoke and its factory noises followed us far out along the roads. O other world, habituation blessed by sky and shade! The south brought black miserable memories of my childhood, my summer despairs, the horrible quantity of strength and of knowledge that fate has always kept from me. No! we will not spend the summer in this avaricious country where we shall never be anything but betrothed orphans. I want this hardened arm to stop dragging _a cherished image._
Skies the gray of crystal. A strange design of bridges, some straight, some arched, others descending at oblique angles to the first; and these figures recurring in other lighted circuits of the canal, but all so long and light that the banks, laden with domes, sink and shrink. A few of these bridges are still covered with hovels, others support polls, signals, frail parapets. Minor chords cross each other and disappear; ropes rise from the shore. One can make out a red coat, possibly other costumes and musical instruments. Are these popular tunes, snatches of seigniorial concerts, remnants of public hymns? The water is gray and blue, wide as an arm of the sea. A white ray falling from high in the sky destroys this comedy.
I am an ephemeral and a not too discontented citizen of a metropolis considered modern because all known taste has been evaded in the furnishings and the exterior of the houses as well as in the layout of the city. Here you will fail to detect the least trace of any monument of superstition. Morals and language are reduced to their simplest expression, at last! The way these millions of people, who do not even need to know each other, manage their education, business, and old age is so identical that the course of their lives must be several times less long than that which a mad statistics calculates for the people of the continent. And from my window I see new specters rolling through the thick eternal smoke-- our woodland shade, our summer night!-- new Eumenides in front of my cottage which is my country and all my heart since everything here resembles it,-- Death without tears, our diligent daughter and servant, a desperate Love, and a pretty Crime howling in the mud in the street.
To the right the summer dawn wakes the leaves and the mists and the noises in this corner of the park, and the left-hand banks hold in their violet shadows the thousand swift ruts of the wet road. Wonderland procession! Yes, truly: floats covered with animals of gilded wood, poles and bright bunting, to the furious gallop of twenty dappled circus horses, and children and men on their most fantastic beasts;-- twenty rotund vehicles, decorated with flags and flowers like the coaches of old or in fairy tales, full of children all dressed up for a suburban pastorale. Even coffins under their somber canopies lifting aloft their jet-black plumes, bowling along to the trot of huge mares, blue and black.
What cities! This is a people for whom these Alleghenies and these Lebanons of dream were staged! Chalets of crystal and of wood that move along invisible rails and pulleys. Old craters encircled by colossi and copper palms roar melodiously in the fires. Amorous revels ring over the canals pendent behind the chalets. The hunt of chimes clamors in the gorges. Guilds of giant singers congregate in robes and oriflammes as dazzling as the light on mountain peaks. On platforms amidst the precipices Rolands trumpet their valor. On the footbridges over the abyss and on the roofs of inns, the conflagration of the sky decks the masts with flags. The collapse of apotheoses joins the fields and heights where seraphic centauresses wander among the avalanches. Above the level of the highest peaks, a sea, troubled by the eternal birth of Venus, covered with orpheonic fleets and the murmur of precious conchs and pearls, the sea darkens at times with deadly flashes. On the slopes, harvests of flowers, large as our arms and our goblets, bellow. Processions of Mabs in russet dresses, and opaline, climb the ravines. Up there, with feet in the waterfall and brambles, stags suckle at Diana's breast. Bacchantes of the suburbs sob and the moon burns and bays. Venus enters the caverns of ironsmiths and hermits. Groups of belfries ring out the ideas of people. Out of castles built of bone comes mysterious music. All the legends advance and elks surge through the towns. The paradise of storms collapses. Savages dance ceaselessly in celebration of the night. And, one hour, I went down into the bustle of a boulevard in Baghdad where companies sang the joy of new toil, in a thick breeze, constantly moving about but unable to elude the fabulous phantoms of the heights, where they were to have met again.
What strong arms, what lovely hour will give me back that region whence come my slumbers and my slightest movements?
Pitiful brother! What frightful nights I owed him! "I have not put enough ardor into this enterprise. I have trifled with his infirmity. My fault should we go back to exile, and to slavery." He implied I was unlucky and of a very strange innocence, and would add disquieting reasons.
For reply, I would jeer at this Satanic doctor and, in the end, going over to the window, I would create, beyond the countryside crossed by bands of rare music, phantoms of nocturnal extravagance to come.
After this vaguely hygienic diversion, I would lie down on my pallet and no sooner asleep than, almost every night, the poor brother would rise, his mouth foul, eyes starting from his head,-- just as he had dreamed he looked! and would drag me into the room, howling his dream of imbecilic sorrow.
I had, in truth, pledged myself to restore him to his primitive state of child of the Sun,-- and, nourished by the wine of caverns and the biscuit of the road, we wandered, I impatient to find the place and the formula.
The official acropolis outdoes the most colossal conceptions of modern barbarity: impossible to describe the opaque light produced by the immutable gray sky, the imperial brightness of the buildings, and the eternal snow on the ground. With a singular taste for enormity, all the classical marvels of architecture have been reproduced, and I visit exhibitions of paintings in premises twenty times as vast as Hampton Court. What painting! A Norwegian Nebuchadnezzar built the stairways of the government buildings; even the subordinates I saw were already prouder than ***, and I trembled at the aspect of the guardians of colossi and the building supervisors. By grouping the buildings around squares, courts and enclosed terraces, they have ousted the cabbies. The parks present primitive nature cultivated with superb art, there are parts of the upper town that are inexplicable: the arm of the sea, without boats, rolls its sleet-blue waters between quays covered with giant candelabra. A short bridge leads to a postern directly under the dome of the Sainte-Chapelle. This dome is an artistic structure of steel about fifteen thousand feet in diameter.
From certain points on the copper footbridges, on the platforms, on the stairways that wind around the markets and the pillars, I thought I might form an idea of the depth of the city! This is the prodigy I was unable to discover: what are the levels of the other districts below and above the acropolis? For the stranger of our day exploration is impossible. The business district is a circus in a uniform style with arcaded galleries. No shops are to be seen, but the snow of the roadway is trampled; a few nabobs, as rare as pedestrians on Sunday morning in London, are making their way toward a diamond diligence. A few red velvet divans: polar drinks are served of which the price varies from eight hundred to eight thousand rupees. At the thought of looking for theatres on this circus, I say to myself that the shops must contain dramas quite dismal enough. I suppose there is a police force; but the law must be so strange that I give up trying to imagine what adventures can be like here.
The suburb, as elegant as a beautiful Paris street, is favored with air like light. The democratic element counts a few hundred souls. There, too, the houses do not follow each other; the suburb loses itself queerly in the country, the "County," that fills the eternal west with forests and prodigious plantations where gentlemen savages hunt their news by the
It is a repose in the light, neither fever nor languor, on a bed or on a meadow.
It is the friend neither violent nor weak. The friend.
It is the beloved neither tormenting nor tormented. The beloved.
Air and the world not sought. Life.
--Was it really this?
--And the dream grew cold.
The lighting comes round to the crown post again. From the two extremities of the room-- decorations negligible-- harmonic elevations join. The wall opposite the watcher is a psychological succession of atmospheric sections of friezes, bands, and geological accidents. Intense quick dream of sentimental groups with people of all possible characters amidst all possible appearances.
The lamps and the rugs of the vigil make the noise of waves in the night, along the hull and around the steerage.
The sea of the vigil, like Emily's breasts.
The hangings, halfway up, undergrowth of emerald tinted lace, where dart the vigil doves. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The plaque of the black hearth, real suns of seashores; ah! magic wells; only sight of dawn, this time.
On the slope of the knoll angels whirl their woolen robes in pastures of emerald and steel.
Meadows of flame leap up to the summit of the little hill. At the left, the mold of the ridge is trampled by all the homicides and all the battles, and all the disastrous noises describe their curve. Behind the right-hand ridge, the line of orients and of progress.
And while the band above the picture is composed of the revolving and rushing hum of seashells and of human nights,
The flowering sweetness of the stars and of the night and all the rest descends, opposite the knoll, like a basket,-- against our face, and makes the abyss perfumed and blue below.
I embraced the summer dawn.
Nothing yet stirred on the face of the palaces. The water is dead. The shadows still camped in the woodland road. I walked, waking quick warm breaths; and gems looked on, and wings rose without a sound.
The first venture was, in a path already filled with fresh, pale gleams, a flower who told me her name.
I laughed at the blond waterfall that tousled through the pines: on the silver summit I recognized the goddess.
Then, one by one, I lifted up her veils. In the lane, waving my arms. Across the plain, where I notified the cock. In the city, she fled among the steeples and the domes; and running like a beggar on the marble quays, I chased her.
Above the road near a laurel wood, I wrapped her up in gathered veils, and I felt a little her immense body. Dawn and the child fell down at the edge of the wood.
Waking, it was noon.
From a golden step,-- among silk cords, green velvets, gray gauzes, and crystal disks that turn black as bronze in the sun, I see the digitalis opening on a carpet of silver filigree, of eyes and hair.
Yellow gold-pieces strewn over agate, mahogany columns supporting emerald domes, bouquets of white satin and delicate sprays of rubies, surround the water-rose.
Like a god with huge blue eyes and limbs of snow, the sea and sky lure to the marble terraces the throng of roses, young and strong.
A breath opens operatic breaches in the walls,-- blurs the pivoting of crumbling roofs,-- disperses the boundaries of hearths,-- eclipses the windows.
Along the vine, having rested my foot on a waterspout, I climbed down into this coach, its period indicated clearly enough by the convex panes of glass, the bulging panels, the contorted sofas. Isolated hearse of my sleep, shepherd's house of my insanity, the vehicle veers on the grass of the obliterated highway: and in the defect at the top of the right-hand windowpane revolve pale lunar figures, leaves, and breasts.
--A very deep green and blue invade the picture. Unhitching near a spot of gravel.
--Here will they whistle for the storm, and the Sodoms and Solymas, and the wild beasts and the armies,
(Postilion and animals of dream, will they begin again in the stifling forests to plunge me up to my eyes in the silken spring?)
And, whipped through the splashing of waters and spilled drinks, send us rolling on the barking of bulldogs...
--A breath disperses the boundaries of the hearth.
Chariots of copper and of silver--
Prows of silver and steel--
Thresh upon the foam,--
Upheave the stumps and brambles.
The currents of the heath,
And the enormous ruts of the ebb,
Flow circularly toward the east,
Toward the pillars of the forest,--
Toward the boles of the jetty,
Against whose edge whirlwinds of light collide.
The cascade resounds behind operetta huts. Fireworks prolong, through the orchards and avenues near the Meander,-- the greens and reds of the setting sun. Horace nymphs with First Empire headdresses,-- Siberian rounds and Boucher's Chinese ladies.
Is it possible that She will have me forgiven for ambitions continually crushed,-- that an affluent end will make up for the ages of indigence,-- that a day of success will lull us to sleep on the shame of our fatal incompetence?
(O palms! diamond!-- Love! strength!-- higher than all joys and all fame!-- in any case, everywhere-- demon, god,-- Youth of this being: myself!)
That the accidents of scientific wonders and the movements of social brotherhood will be cherished as the progressive restitution of our original freedom?...
But the Vampire who makes us behave orders us to enjoy ourselves with what she leaves us, or in other words to be more amusing.
Rolled in our wounds through the wearing air and the sea; in torments through the silence of the murderous waters and air; in tortures that laugh in the terrible surge of their silence.
From the indigo straits to Ossian's seas, on pink and orange sands washed by the vinous sky, crystal boulevards have just risen and crossed, immediately occupied by poor young families who get their food at the greengrocers'. Nothing rich.-- The city!
From the bituminous desert, in headlong flight with the sheets of fog spread in frightful bands across the sky, that bends, recedes, descends, formed by the most sinister black smoke that Ocean in mourning can produce, flee helmets, wheels, boats, rumps.-- The battle!
Raise your eyes: that arched wooden bridge; those last truck gardens of Samaria; those faces reddened by the lantern lashed by the cold night; silly Undine in her noisy dress, down by the river; those luminous skulls among the rows of peas,-- and all the other phantasmagoria-- the country.
Roads bordered by walls and iron fences that with difficulty hold back their groves, and frightful flowers probably called loves and doves, Damask damning languorously,-- possessions of magic aristocracies ultra-Rhenish, Japanese, Guaranian, still qualified to receive ancestral music-- and there are inns that now never open anymore,-- there are princesses, and if you are not too overwhelmed, the study of the stars-- the sky.
The morning when with Her you struggled among the glitterings of snow, those green lips, those glaciers, black banners and blue beams, and the purple perfumes of the polar sun.-- Your strength.
Long after the days and the seasons, and people and countries.
The banner of raw meat against the silk of seas and arctic flowers; (they do not exist).
Recovered from the old fanfares of heroism,-- which still attack the heart and head,-- far from the old assassins.
--Oh! the banner of raw meat against the silk of seas and arctic flowers; (they do not exist).--
Live embers raining in gusts of frost.-- Bliss!-- fires in the rain of the wind of diamonds flung out by the earth's heart eternally carbonized for us.-- O world!
(Far from the old retreats and the old flames, still heard, still felt.)
Fire and foam. Magic, veerings of chasms and clash of icicles against the stars.
O bliss, O world, O music! And forms, sweat, eyes and long hair floating there. And white tears boiling,-- O bliss!-- and the feminine voice reaching to the bottom of volcanoes and grottos of the arctic seas.
Golden dawn and shivering evening find our brig lying by opposite this villa and its dependencies which form a promontory as extensive as Epirus and the Peleponnesus, or as the large island of Japan, or as Arabia! Temples lighted up by the return of theories; prodigious views of a modern coast's defenses; dunes illustrated with flaming flowers and bacchanalia; grand canals of Carthage and Embankments of a dubious Venice; Etnas languidly erupting, and crevasses of flowers and of glacier waters; washhouses surrounded by German poplars; strange parks with slopes bowing down the heads of the Tree of Japan; and circular facades of the "Grands" and the "Royals" of Scarborough and of Brooklyn; and their railways flank, cut through, and overhang this hotel whose plan was selected in the history of the most elegant and the most colossal edifices of Italy, America, and Asia, and whose windows and terraces, at the moment full of expensive illumination, drinks and breezes, are open to the fancy of the travelers and the nobles who,-- during the day allow all the tarantellas of the coast,-- and even the ritornels of the illustrious valleys of art, to decorate most wonderfully the facades of Promontory Palace.
Ancient Comedy pursues its harmonies and divides its Idylls:
Raised platforms along the boulevards.
A long wooden pier the length of a rocky field in which the barbarous crowd moves about under the denuded trees.
In corridors of black gauze, following the promenaders with their lanterns and their leaves.
Birds of the mysteries swoop down onto a masonry pontoon, swayed by the sheltered archipelago of spectators' boats.
Operatic scenes with accompaniment of flute and drum look down from slanting recesses contrived below the ceilings around modern club rooms and halls of ancient Orient.
The fairy spectacle maneuvers at the top of an amphitheater crowned with thickets,-- or moves and modulates for the Boeotians in the shade of waving forest trees, on the edge of the cultivated fields.
The opera-comique is divided on a stage at the line of intersection of ten partitions set up between the gallery and the footlights.
On an evening, for example, when the naive tourist has retired from our economic horrors, a master's hand awakens the meadow's harpsichord; they are playing cards at the bottom of the pond, mirror conjuring up favorites and queens; there are saints, veils, threads of harmony, and legendary chromaticisms in the setting sun.
He shudders as the hunts and hordes go by. Comedy drips on the grass stages. And the distress of the poor and of the weak on those stupid planes!
Before his slave's vision, Germany goes scaffolding toward moons; Tartar deserts light up; ancient revolts ferment in the center of the Celestial Empire; over stairways and armchairs of rock, a little world, wan and flat, Africa and Occidents, will be erected. Then a ballet of familiar seas and nights, worthless chemistry and impossible melodies.
The same bourgeois magic wherever the mail-train sets you down. Even the most elementary physicist feels that it is no longer possible to submit to this personal atmosphere, fog of physical remorse, which to acknowledge is already an affliction.
No! The moment of the seething cauldron, of seas removed, of subterranean conflagrations, of the planet swept away, and the consequent exterminations, certitudes indicated with so little malice by the Bible and by the Nornes and for which serious persons should be on the alert. Yet there will be nothing legendary about it.
The swaying motion on the banks of the river falls
The vortex at the sternpost,
The swiftness of the rail,
The vast passage of the current
Conduct through unimaginable lights
And chemical change
The travelers surrounded by waterspouts of the valley
And of the current.
They are the conquerors of the world
Seeking their personal chemical fortune;
Sports and comforts voyage with them;
They carry the education
Of races, classes and of animals, on this ship
Repose and dizziness
To torrential light
To terrible nights of study.
For from the talk among the apparatus, the blood, the flowers, the fire, the gems,
From the excited calculations on this fugitive ship,
--One sees, rolling like a dyke beyond the hydraulic-powered road,
Monstrous, endlessly illuminated,-- their stock of studies;
They driven into harmonic ecstasy,
And the heroism of discovery.
In the morning startling atmospheric accidents,
A youthful couple holds itself aloof on the ark,
--Is it primitive shyness that people pardon?--
And sings and stands guard.
Reality being too thorny for my great personality. --I found myself nevertheless at my lady's, an enormous gray-blue bird soaring toward the moldings of the ceiling and trailing my wings through the shadows of the evening.
At the foot of the canopy supporting her adored gems and her physical masterpieces, I was a great bear with violet gums, fur hoary with sorrow, eyes on the silver and crystal of the consoles.
Everything became shadow and ardent aquarium.
In the morning,-- bellicose dawn of June,-- a donkey, I rushed into the fields, braying and brandishing my grievance, until the Sabine women of the suburbs came and threw themselves on my neck.
Every monstrosity violates the atrocious gestures of Hortense. Erotic mechanics, her solitude; her lassitude, amorous dynamics. Under childhood's guidance she has been, in numerous ages, the passionate hygiene of all races. Her door is open to misery. There, the morality of living beings is disembodied in her passion or her action.-- O terrible shudder of novice loves on the bloody ground and in the transparent hydrogen!-- find Hortense.
To Sister Louise Vanaen de Voringhem:-- Her blue coif turned toward the North Sea.-- For the shipwrecked.
To Sister Leonie Aubois d'Ashby. Baou-- the buzzing, stinking summer grass.-- For the fevers of mother and children.
To Lulu,-- demon-- who has kept a taste for the oratories of the time of _Les Amies_ and her unfinished education. For men!-- To Madame ***.
To the adolescent I was. To that holy old man, hermitage or mission.
To the spirit of the poor. And to a very high clergy.
As well as to all cults in any place of memorial cults and amidst any events to which one must succumb according to the aspirations of the moment or one's own serious vice.
This evening to Circeto of the icy heights, fat as a fish, and painted like the ten months of the red night-- (her heart amber and spunk),-- for my only prayer silent as those nocturnal regions, and preceding fears more violent than this chaos of the poles.
No matter how, no matter where, even in metaphysical journeys.-- But _then_ no more.
"The flag goes with the foul landscape, and our jargon muffles the drum.
"In the great centers we'll nurture the most cynical prostitution. We'll massacre logical revolts.
"In spicy and drenched lands!-- at the service of the most monstrous exploitations, industrial or military.
"Farewell here, no matter where. Conscripts of good will, ours will be a ferocious philosophy; ignorant as to science, rabid for comfort; and let the rest of the world croak. This is the real advance. Marching orders, let's go!"
For Helen, in the virgin shadows and the impassive radiance in astral silence, ornamental saps conspired. Summer's ardor was confided to silent birds and due indolence to a priceless mourning boat through gulfs of dead loves and fallen perfumes.
--After the moment of the woodswomen's song to the rumble of the torrent in the ruin of the wood, of the tinkle of the cowbells to the echo of the vales, and the cries of the steppes.--
For Helen's childhood, furs and shadows trembled, and the breast of the poor and the legends of heaven.
And her eyes and her dance superior even to the precious radiance, to cold influences, to the pleasure of the unique setting and the unique hour.
When a child, certain skies sharpened my vision: all their characters were reflected in my face. The Phenomena were roused.-- At present, the eternal inflection of moments and the infinity of mathematics drives me through this world where I meet with every civil honor, respected by strange children and prodigious affections.-- I dream of a War of right and of might, of unlooked-for logic.
It is as simple as a musical phrase.
He is affection and the present since he has made the house open to foamy winter and to the murmur of summer-- he who has purified food and drink-- he who is the charm of fleeing places and the superhuman delight of stations.-- He is affection and the future, love and strength whom we, standing in our rages and our boredoms, see passing in the stormy sky and banners of ecstasy.
He is love, perfect measure reinvented, marvelous and unlooked-for reason, and eternity: loved instrument of fatal qualities. We all have known the terror of his concession and of ours: O relish of health, the soaring of our faculties, selfish affection and passion for him,-- for him who loves us for his infinite life...
And we remember him and he has gone on a journey... And if Adoration goes, rings, his promise rings: "Away these superstitions, these ancient bodies, these couples, and these ages. It is the epoch that has foundered!"
He will not go away, he will not come down again from any heaven, he will not accomplish the redemption of the angers of women and the gaieties of men or of all this sin: for it is done, he being, and being loved.
O his breaths, his heads, his flights: terrible celerity of the perfection of forms and of action.
O fecundity of the mind and immensity of the universe!
His body! the dreamed-of release, the shattering of grace crossed by new violence! His vision, his vision! all the old kneelings and the pains _raised_ at his passing.
His day! the abolition of all resounding and restless sufferings in intenser music.
His step! migrations more vast than the ancient invasions.
O he and we! Pride more compassionate than the lost charities.
O world and the pure song of new evils!
He has known us all and all of us has loved: Take heed this winter night, from cape to cape, from the tumultuous pole to the castle, from the crowd to the shore, from glance to glance, force and feelings weary, to hail him, to see him and to send him away, and under the tides and high in the deserts of snow, to follow his visions,-- his breaths,-- his body,-- his day.
Problems put by, the inevitable descent of heaven and the visit of memories and the assembly of rhythms occupy the house, the head and the world of the spirit.
--A horse scampers off on the suburban track, and along the tilled fields and woodlands, pervaded by the carbonic plague. A miserable woman of drama, somewhere in the world, sighs for improbable desertions. Desperados pine for strife, drunkenness and wounds.-- Little children stifle their maledictions along the rivers.
Let us resume our study to the noise of the consuming work that is gathering and growing in the masses.
_Man_ of ordinary constitution, was not the flesh a fruit hanging in the orchard; O child days; the body, a treasure to squander; O to love, the peril or the power of Psyche? The earth had slopes fertile in princes and in artists, and lineage and race incited you to crimes and mournings: the world, your fortune and your peril. But now, that labor crowned, you and your calculations,-- you and your impatiences-- are only your dance and your voice, not fixed and not forced, although a reason for the double consequence of invention and of success,-- in fraternal and discreet humanity through an imageless universe;-- might and right reflect your dance and your voice, appreciated only at present.
III. _Twenty Years Old_
Instructive voices exiled... Physical candor bitterly quelled... --Adagio.-- Ah! the infinite egotism of adolescence, the studious optimism: how the world was full of flowers that summer! Airs and forms dying... --A choir to calm impotence and absence! A choir of glasses, of nocturnal melodies... Quickly, indeed, the nerves take up the chase.
You are still at Anthony's temptation. The antics of abated zeal, the grimaces of childish pride, the collapse and the terror.
But you will set yourself at this labor: all harmonic and architectural possibilities will surge around your seat. Perfect beings, never dreamed of, will present themselves for your experiments. The curiosity of ancient crowds and idle wealth will meditatively draw near. Your memory and your senses will be simply the nourishment of your creative impulse. As for the world, when you emerge, what will it have become? In any case, nothing of what it seems at present.
For what the Jews have not sold, what neither nobility nor crime have tasted, what is unknown to monstrous love and to the infernal probity of the masses! what neither time nor science need recognize:
The Voices restored; fraternal awakening of all choral and orchestral energies and their instantaneous application; the opportunity, the only one, for the release of our senses!
For sale Bodies without price, outside any race, any world, any sex, any lineage! Riches gushing at every step! Uncontrolled sale of diamonds!
For sale anarchy for the masses; irrepressible satisfaction for rare connoisseurs; agonizing death for the faithful and for lovers!
For sale colonizations and migrations, sports, fairylands and incomparable comforts, and the noise and the movement and the future they make!
For sale the application of calculations and the incredible leaps of harmony. Discoveries and terms never dreamed of,-- immediate possession.
Wild and infinite flight toward invisible splendors, toward intangible delights-- and its maddening secrets for every vice-- and its terrifying gaiety for the mob.
For sale, the bodies, the voices, the enormous and unquestionable wealth, that which will never be sold. Salesmen are not at the end of their stock! It will be some time before travelers have to turn in their accounts.
Back to Top
A SEASON IN HELL [Une Saison en Enfer] (1873)
NOTE: This work is primarily a cycle of prose poems (which do not use poetic line breaks), but it also includes several passages of traditional metered verse. The structures appear below as in the originals.
Rimbaud wrote this work at the age of 19.
A Season in Hell
"ONCE, IF MY MEMORY SERVES ME WELL"
Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.
One evening I took Beauty in my arms-- and I thought her bitter-- and I insulted her.
I steeled myself against justice.
I fled. O witches, O misery, O hate, my treasure was left in your care...
I have withered within me all human hope. With the silent leap of a sullen beast, I have downed and strangled every joy.
I have called for executioners; I want to perish chewing on their gun butts. I have called for plagues, to suffocate in sand and blood. Unhappiness has been my god. I have lain down in the mud, and dried myself off in the crime-infested air. I have played the fool to the point of madness.
And springtime brought me the frightful laugh of an idiot.
Now recently, when I found myself ready to croak! I thought to seek the key to the banquet of old, where I might find an appetite again.
That key is Charity. (This idea proves I was dreaming!)
"You will stay a hyena, etc....," shouts the demon who once crowned me with such pretty poppies. "Seek death with all your desires, and all selfishness, and all the Seven Deadly Sins."
Ah, I've taken too much of that; still, dear Satan, don't look so annoyed, I beg you! And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.
From my ancestors the Gauls I have pale blue eyes, a narrow brain, and awkwardness in competition. I think my clothes are as barbaric as theirs. But I don't butter my hair.
The Gauls were the most stupid hide-flayers and hay-burners of their time.
From them I inherit: idolatry, and love of sacrilege-- oh, all sorts of vice; anger, lechery-- terrific stuff, lechery-- lying, above all, and laziness.
I have a horror of all trades and crafts. Bosses and workers, all of them peasants, and common. The hand that holds the pen is as good as the one that holds the plow. (What a century for hands!) I'll never learn to use my hands. And then, domesticity goes too far. The propriety of beggary shames me. Criminals are as disgusting as men without balls; I'm intact, and I don't care.
But who has made my tongue so treacherous, that until now it has counseled and kept me in idleness? I have not used even my body to get along. Out-idling the sleepy toad, I have lived everywhere. There's not one family in Europe that I don't know. Families, I mean, like mine, who owe their existence to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I have known each family's eldest son!
If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!
But instead, nothing.
I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder; to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.
I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments-- I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. --And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.
Ah! one thing more: I dance the Sabbath in a scarlet clearing, with old women and children.
I don't remember much beyond this land, and Christianity. I will see myself forever in its past. But always alone, without a family; what language, in fact, did I used to speak? I never see myself in the councils of Christ; nor in the councils of the Lords, Christ's representatives. What was I in the century past? I only find myself today. The vagabonds, the hazy wars are gone. The inferior race has swept over all-- the People (as they put it), Reason; Nation and Science.
Ah, Science! Everything is taken from the past. For the body and the soul-- the last sacrament-- we have Medicine and Philosophy, household remedies and folk songs rearranged. And royal entertainments, and games that kings forbid. Geography, Cosmography, Mechanics, Chemistry!...
Science, the new nobility! Progress! The world moves!... And why shouldn't it?
We have visions of numbers. We are moving toward the Spirit. What I say is oracular and absolutely right. I understand... and since I cannot express myself except in pagan terms, I would rather keep quiet.
Pagan blood returns! The Spirit is at hand... why does Christ not help me, and grant my soul nobility and freedom? Ah, but the Gospel belongs to the past! The Gospel. The Gospel...
I wait gluttinously for God. I have been of an inferior race for ever and ever.
And now I am on the beaches of Brittany.... Let cities light their lamps in the evening; my daytime is done, I am leaving Europe. The air of the sea will burn my lungs; lost climates will turn my skin to leather. To swim, to pulverize grass, to hunt, above all to smoke; to drink strong drinks, as strong as molten ore, as did those dear ancestors around their fires.
I will come back with limbs of iron, with dark skin, and angry eyes; in this mask, they will think I belong to a strong race. I will have gold; I will be brutal and indolent. Women nurse these ferocious invalids come back from the tropics. I will become involved in politics. Saved.
Now I am accursed, I detest my native land. The best thing is a drunken sleep, stretched out on some strip of shore.
But no one leaves. Let us set out once more on our native roads, burdened with my vice-- that vice that since the age of reason has driven roots of suffering into my side-- that towers to heaven, beats me, hurls me down, drags me on.
Ultimate innocence, final timidity. All's said. Carry no more my loathing and treacheries before the world.
Come on! Marching, burdens, the desert, boredom and anger.
Hire myself to whom? What beasts adore? What sacred images destroy? What hearts shall I break? What lie maintain? Through what blood wade?
Better to keep away from justice. A hard life, outright stupor-- with a dried-out fist to lift the coffin lid, lie down, and suffocate. No old age this way-- no danger: terror is very un-French.
--Ah! I am so forsaken I will offer at any shrine impulses toward perfection.
Oh, my self-denial, my marvelous Charity, my Selfless love! And still here below!
De profundis, Dominie... what an ass I am!
When I was still a little child, I admired the hardened convict on whom the prison door will always close; I used to visit the bars and the rented rooms his presence had consecrated; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flower-filled work of the fields; I followed his fatal scent through city streets. He had more strength than the saints, more sense than any explorer-- and he, he alone! was witness to his glory and his rightness.
Along the open road on winter nights, homeless, cold, and hungry, one voice gripped my frozen heart: "Weakness or strength: you exist, that is strength.... You don't know where you are going or why you are going; go in everywhere, answer everyone. No one will kill you, any more than if you were a corpse." In the morning my eyes were so vacant and my face so dead that the people I met may not even have seen me.
In cities, mud went suddenly red and black, like a mirror when a lamp in the next room moves, like treasure in the forest! Good luck, I cried, and I saw a sea of flames and smoke rise to heaven, and left and right all wealth exploded like a billion thunderbolts.
But orgies and the companionship of women were impossible for me. Not even a friend. I saw myself before an angry mob, facing a firing squad, weeping out sorrows they could not understand, and pardoning-- like Joan of Arc!-- "Priests, professors and doctors, you are mistaken in delivering me into the hands of the law. I have never been one of you; I have never been a Christian; I belong to the race that sang on the scaffold; I do not understand your laws; I have no moral sense; I am a brute; you are making a mistake...."
Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am an animal, a nigger. But I can be saved. You are fake niggers; maniacs, savages, misers, all of you. Businessman, you're a nigger; judge, you're a nigger; general, you're a nigger; emperor, old scratch-head, you're a nigger: you've drunk a liquor no one taxes, from Satan's still. This nation is inspired by fever and cancer. Invalids and old men are so respectable that they ask to be boiled. The best thing is to quit this continent where madness prowls, out to supply hostages for these wretches. I will enter the true kingdom of the sons of Ham.
Do I understand nature? Do I understand myself? No more words! I shroud dead men in my stomach.... Shouts, drums, dance, dance, dance! I can't even imagine the hour when the white men land, and I will fall into nothingness.
Thirst and hunger, shouts, dance, dance, dance!
The white men are landing! Cannons! Now we must be baptized, get dressed, and go to work.
My heart has been stabbed by grace. Ah! I hadn't thought this would happen.
But I haven't done anything wrong. My days will be easy, and I will be spared repentance. I will not have had the torments of the soul half-dead to the Good, where austure light rises again like funeral candles. The fate of a first-born son, a premature coffin covered with shining tears. No doubt, perversion is stupid, vice is stupid; rottenness must always be cast away. But the clock must learn to strike more than hours of pure pain! Am I to be carried away like a child, to play in paradise, forgetting all this misery?
Quick! Are there any other lives? Sleep for the rich is impossible. Wealth has always lived openly. Divine love alone confers the keys of knowledge. I see that nature is only a show of kindness. Farewell chimeras, ideals and errors.
The reasonable song of angels rises from the rescue ship: it is divine love. Two loves! I may die of earthly love, die of devotion. I have left behind creatures whose grief will grow at my going. You choose me from among the castaways; aren't those who remain my friends?
I am reborn in reason. The world is good. I will bless life. I will love my brothers. There are no longer childhood promises. Nor the hope of escaping old age and death. God is my strength, and I praise God.
Boredom is no longer my love. Rage, perversion, madness, whose every impulse and disaster I know-- my burden is set down entire. Let us appraise with clear heads the extent of my innocence. I am no longer able to ask for the consolation of a beating. I don't imagine I'm off on a honeymoon with Jesus Christ as my father-in-law.
I am no prisoner of my own reason. I have said: God. I want freedom, within salvation: how shall I go about it? A taste for frivolity has left me. No further need for divine love or for devotion to duty. I do not regret the age of emotion and feeling. To each his own reason, contempt, Charity: I keep my place at the top of the angelic ladder of good sense.
As for settled happiness, domestic or not... no, I can't. I am too dissipated, too weak. Work makes life blossom, an old idea, not mine; my life doesn't weigh enough, it drifts off and floats far beyond action, that third pole of the world.
What an old maid I'm turning into, to lack the courage to love death!
If only God would grant me that celestial calm, etherial calm, and prayer-- like the saints of old. --The Saints! They were strong! Anchorites, artists of a kind we no longer need....
Does this farce have no end? My innocence is enough to make me cry. Life is the farce we all must play.
Stop it! This is your punishment.... Forward march!
Ah! my lungs burn, my temples roar! Night rolls in my eyes, beneath this sun! My heart... my arms and legs....
Where are we going? To battle? I am weak! the others go on ahead... tools, weapons... give me time!
Fire! Fire at me! Here! or I'll give myself up! --Cowards! --I'll kill myself! I'll throw myself beneath the horses' hooves!
--I'll get used to it.
That would be the French way, the path of honor!
NIGHT IN HELL
I have just swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison. --Blessed, blessed, blessed the advice I was given!
--My guts are on fire. The power of the poison twists my arms and legs, cripples me, drives me to the ground. I die of thirst, I suffocate, I cannot cry. This is Hell, eternal torment! See how the flames rise! I burn as I ought to. Go on, Devil!
I once came close to a conversion to the good and to felicity, salvation. How can I describe my vision; the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! There were millions of delightful creatures in smooth spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions, I don't know what all.
But I am still alive! Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn't he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am. This is the catechism at work. I am the slave of my baptism. You, my parents, have ruined my life, and your own. Poor child! --Hell is powerless against pagans. --I am still alive! Later on, the delights of damnation will become more profound. A crime, quick, and let me fall to nothingness, condemned by human law.
Shut up, will you shut up! Everything here is shame and reproach-- Satan saying that the fire is worthless, that my anger is ridiculous and silly. --Ah, stop! ...those mistakes someone whispered-- magic spells, deceptive odors, childish music-- and to think that I possess the truth, that I can have a vision of justice: my judgement is sound and firm, I am prime for perfection.... Pride. --My scalp begins to tighten. Have mercy! Lord, I am afraid! Water, I thirst, I thirst! Ah, childhood, grass and rain, the puddle on the paving stones, Moonlight when the clock strikes twelve.... The devil is in the clock tower, right now! Mary! Holy Virgin!... --Horrible stupidity.
Look there, are those not honorable men, who wish me well? Come on... a pillow over my mouth, they cannot hear me, they are only ghosts. Anyway, no one ever thinks of anyone else. Don't let them come closer. I must surely stink of burning flesh....
My hallucinations are endless. This is what I've always gone through: the end of my faith in history, the neglect of my principles. I shall say no more about this; poets and visionaries would be jealous. I am the richest one of all, a thousand times, and I will hoard it like the sea.
O God-- the clock of life stopped but a moment ago. I am no longer within the world. --Theology is accurate; hell is certainly down below-- and heaven is up on high. Ecstacy, nightmare, sleep, in a nest of flames.
How the mind wanders idly in the country... Satan, Ferdinand, blows with the wild seed. .. Jesus walks on purple thorns but doesn't bend them... Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. In the light of the lantern we saw him there, all white, with long brown hair, standing in the curve of an emerald wave....
I will tear the veils from every mystery-- mysteries of religion or of nature, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, and nothingness. I am a master of phantasmagoria.
Every talent is mine! --There is no one here, and there is someone: I wouldn't want to waste my treasure. --Shall I give you Afric chants, belly dancers? Shall I disappear, shall I begin an attempt to discover the Ring? Shall I? I will manufacture gold, and medicines.
Put your faith in me, then; faith comforts, it guides and heals. Come unto me all of you-- even the little children-- let me console you, let me pour out my heart for you-- my miraculous heart! --Poor men, poor laborers! I do not ask for prayers; give me only your trust, and I will be happy.
Think of me, now. All this doesn't make me miss the world much. I'm lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet stupidities, unfortunately.
Bah! I'll make all the ugly faces I can! We are out of the world, that's sure. Not a single sound. My sense of touch is gone. Ah, my chateau, my Saxony, my willow woods! Evenings and mornings, nights and days.... How tired I am!
I ought to have a special hell for my anger, a hell for my pride-- and a hell for sex; a whole symphony of hells!
I am weary, I die. This is the grave and I'm turning into worms, horror of horrors! Satan, you clown, you want to dissolve me with your charms. Well, I want it. I want it! Stab me with a pitchfork, sprinkle me with fire!
Ah! To return to life! To stare at our deformities. And this poison, this eternally accursed embrace! My weakness, and the world's cruelty! My God, have pity, hide me, I can't control myself at all! I am hidden, and I am not.
And as the Damned soul rises, so does the fire.
FIRST DELIRIUM: THE FOOLISH VIRGIN & THE INFERNAL BRIDEGROOM
Let us hear the confession of an old friend in Hell:
[*COMMENT*: this is spoken from the point of view of Verlaine]
"O Lord, O Celestial Bridegroom, do not turn thy face from the confession of the most pitiful of thy handmaidens. I am lost. I'm drunk. I'm impure. What a life!
"Pardon, Lord in Heaven, pardon! Ah, pardon! All these tears! And all the tears to come later on, I hope!
"Later on, I will meet the Celestial Bridegroom! I was born to be His slave. --That other one can beat me now!
"Right now, it's the end of the world! Oh, girls... my friends... no, not my friends... I've never gone through anything like this; delerium, torments, anything.... It's so silly!
"Oh, I cry, I'm suffering! I really am suffering! And still I've got a right to do whatever I want, now that I am covered with contempt by the most contemptible hearts.
"Well, let me make my confession anyway, though I may have to repeat it twenty times again-- so dull, and so insignificant!
"I am a slave of the Infernal Bridegroom; the one who seduced the foolish virgins. That's exactly the devil he is. He's no phantom, he's no ghost. But I, who have lost my wits, damned and dead to the world-- no one will be able to kill me-- how can I describe him to you? I can't even talk anymore! I'm all dressed in mourning, I'm crying, I'm afraid. Please, dear Lord, a little fresh air, if you don't mind, please!
"I am a widow-- I used to be a widow-- oh, yes, I used to be very serious in those days; I wasn't born to become a skeleton! He was a child-- or almost.... His delicate, mysterious ways enchanted me. I forgot all my duties in order to follow him. What a life we lead! True life is lacking. We are exiles from this world, really-- I go where he goes; I have to. And lots of times he gets mad at me-- at me, poor sinner! That Devil! (He really is a Devil, you know, and not a man.)
"He says: `I don't love women. Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else goes out the window. All they have left is cold disdain; that's what marriages live on nowadays. Sometimes I see women who ought to be happy, with whom I could have found companionship, already swallowed up by brutes with as much feeling as an old log....'
"I listen to him turn infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. `I belong to an ancient race: my ancestors were Norsemen: they slashed their own bodies, drank their own blood. I'll slash my body all over, I'll tattoo myself, I want to be as ugly as a Mongol; you'll see, I'll scream in the streets. I want to get really mad with anger. Don't show me jewels; I'll get down on all fours and writhe on the carpet. I want my wealth stained all over with blood. I will never do any work....' Several times, at night, his demon seized me, and we rolled about wrestling! --Sometimes at night when he's drunk he hangs around street corners or behind doors, to scare me to death. `I'll get my throat cut for sure, won't that be disgusting.' And, oh, those days when he wants to go around pretending he's a criminal!
"Sometimes he talks, in his backcountry words, full of emotion, about death, and how it makes us repent, and how surely there are miserable people in the world, about exhausting work, and about saying goodbye and how it tears your heart. In the dives where we used to get drunk, he would cry when he looked at the people around us-- cattle of the slums. He used to pick up drunks in the dark streets. He had the pity of a brutal mother for little children. He went around with all the sweetness of a little girl on her way to Sunday school. He pretended to know all about everything-- business, art, medicine-- and I always went along with him; I had to!
"I used to see clearly all the trappings that he hung up in his imagination; costumes, fabric, furniture.... It was I who lent him weapons, and a change of face. I could visualize everything that affected him, exactly as he would have imagined it for himself. Whenever he seemed depressed, I would follow him into strange, complicated adventures, on and on, into good and evil; but I always knew I could never be a part of his world. Beside his dear body, as he slept, I lay awake hour after hour, night after night, trying to imagine why he wanted so much to escape from reality. No man before ever had such a desire. I was aware-- without being afraid for him-- that he could become a serious menace to society. Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself, he was only looking for them. But of course, his charity is under a spell, and I am its prisoner. No one else could have the strength-- the strength of despair!-- to stand it, to stand being cared for and loved by him. Besides, I could never imagine him with anybody else-- we all have eyes for our own Dark Angel, never other people's Angels-- at least I think so. I lived in his soul as if it were a palace that had been cleared out so that the most unworthy person in it would be you, that's all. Ah, really, I used to depend on him terribly. But what did he want with my dull, my cowardly existence? He couldn't improve me, though he never managed to kill me! I get so sad and disappointed; sometimes I say to him `I understand you.' He just shrugs his shoulders.
"And so my heartaches kept growing and growing, and I saw myself going more and more to pieces (and everyone else would have seen it, too, if I hadn't been so miserable that no one even looked at me anymore!), and still more and more I craved his affection.... His kisses and his friendly arms around me were just like heaven-- a dark heaven, that I could go into, and where I wanted only to be left-- poor, deaf, dumb, and blind. Already, I was getting to depend on it. And I used to imagine that we were two happy children free to wander in a Paradise of sadness. We were in absolute harmony. Deeply moved, we labored side by side. But then, after a piercing embrace, he would say: `How funny it will all seem, all you've gone through, when I'm not here anymore. When you no longer feel my arms around your shoulders, nor my heart beneath you, nor this mouth on your eyes. Because I will have to go away someday, far away. Besides, I've got to help out others too; that's what I'm here for. Although I won't really like it... dear heart...' And in that instant I could feel myself, with him gone, dizzy with fear, sinking down into the most horrible blackness-- into death. I made him promise that he would never leave me. And he promised, twenty times; promised like a lover. It was as meaningless as my saying to him: `I understand you.'
"Oh, I've never been jealous of him. He'll never leave me, I'm sure of it. What will he do? He doesn't know a soul; he'll never work; he wants to live like a sleepwalker. Can his kindness and his charity by themselves give him his place in the real world? There are moments when I forget the wretched mess I've fallen into.... He will give me strength; we'll travel, we'll go hunting in the desert, we'll sleep on the sidewalks of unknown cities, carefree and happy. Or else some day I'll wake up and his magic power will have changed all laws and morals, but the world will still be the same and leave me my desires and my joys and my lack of concern. Oh, that wonderful world of adventures that we found in children's books-- won't you give me that world? I've suffered so much; I deserve a reward.... He can't. I don't know what he really wants. He says he has hopes and regrets: but they have nothing to do with me. Does he talk to God? Maybe I should talk to God myself. I am in the depths of an abyss, and I have forgotten how to pray.
"Suppose he did explain his sadness to me-- would I understand it any better than his jokes and insults? He attacks me, he spends hours making me ashamed of everything in the world that has ever meant anything to me, and then he gets mad if I cry.
"... `Do you see that lovely young man going into that beautiful, peaceful house? His name is Duval, Dufour; ...Armand, Maurice, whatever you please. There is a woman who has spent her life loving that evil creature; she died. I'm sure she's a saint in heaven right now. You are going to kill me the way he killed that woman. That's what's in store for all of us who have unselfish hearts....' Oh, dear! There were days when all men of action seemed to him like the toys of some grotesque raving. He would laugh, horribly, on and on. Then he would go back to acting like a young mother, or an older sister.... If he were not such a wild thing, we would be saved! But even his sweetness is mortal.... I am his slave....
"Oh, I've lost my mind!
"Some day maybe he'll just disappear miraculously, but I absolutely must be told about it, I mean if he's going to go back up into heaven or someplace, so that I can go and watch for just a minute the Assumption of my darling boy...."
One hell of a couple!
SECOND DELIRIUM: THE ALCHEMY OF THE WORD
My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.
For a long time I boasted that I was master of all possible landscapes-- and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable.
What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints, old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children's books, old operas, silly old songs, the naive rhythms of country rimes.
I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents; I used to believe in every kind of magic.
I invented colors for the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator.
I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.
Far from flocks, from birds and country girls,
What did I drink within that leafy screen
Surrounded by tender hazlenut trees
In the warm green mist of afternoon?
What could I drink from this young Oise
--Toungeless trees, flowerless grass, dark skies--
Drink from these yellow gourds, far from the hut
I loved? Some golden draught that made me sweat.
I would have made a doubtful sign for an inn.
Later, toward evening, the sky filled with clouds...
Water from the woods runs out on virgin sands,
And heavenly winds cast ice thick on the ponds;
Then I saw gold, and wept, but could not drink.
* * *
At four in the morning, in summertime,
Love's drowsiness still lasts...
The bushes blow away the odor
Of the night's feast.
Beyond the bright Hesperides,
Within the western workshop of the Sun,
Carpenters scramble-- in shirtsleeves--
Work is begun.
And in desolate, moss-grown isles
They raise their precious panels
Where the city
Will paint a hollow sky.
For these charming dabblers in the arts
Who labor for a King in Babylon,
Venus! Leave for a moment
Lovers' haloed hearts...
O Queen of Shepherds!
Carry the purest eau-de-vie
To these workmen while they rest
And take their bath at noonday, in the sea.
The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part in my alchemy of the word.
I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters and mysteries. A vaudeville's title filled me with awe.
And so I explained my magical sophistries by turning words into visions!
At last, I began to consider my mind's disorder a sacred thing. I lay about idle, consumed by an oppressive fever: I envied the bliss of animals-- caterpillars, who portray the innocence of a second childhood; moles, the slumber of virginity!
My mind turned sour. I said farewell to the world in poems something like ballads:
A SONG FROM THE HIGHEST TOWER
Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love!
I have waited so long
That at length I forget,
And leave unto heaven
My fear and regret;
A sick thirst
Darkens my veins.
Let it come, let it come,
the season we can love!
So the green field
To oblivion falls,
With incense and weeds.
And the cruel noise
Of dirty flies.
Let it come, let it come,
the season we can love!
I loved the desert, burnt orchards, tired old shops, warm drinks. I dragged myself through stinking alleys, and with my eyes closed I offered myself to the sun, the god of fire.
"General: If on your ruined ramparts one cannon still remains, shell us with clods of dried-up earth. Shatter the mirrors of expensive shops! And the drawing rooms! Make the city swallow its dust! Turn gargoyles to rust. Stuff boudoirs with rubies' fiery powder...."
Oh, the little fly! Drunk at the urinal of a country inn, in love with rotting weeds; a ray of light dissolves him!
I only find within my bones
A taste for eating earth and stones.
When I feed, I feed on air,
Rocks and coals and iron ore.
My hunger, turn. Hunger, feed:
A field of bran.
Gather as you can the bright
Eat the rocks a beggar breaks,
The stones of ancient churches' walls,
Pebbles, children of the flood,
Loaves left lying in the mud.
* * *
Beneath the bush a wolf will howl,
Spitting bright feathers
From his feast of fowl:
Like him, I devour myself.
Waiting to be gathered
Fruits and grasses spend their hours;
The spider spinning in the hedge
Eats only flowers.
Let me sleep! Let me boil
On the altars of Solomon;
Let me soak the rusty soil
And flow into Kendron.
Finally, O reason, O happiness, I cleared from the sky the blue which is darkness, and I lived as a golden spark of this light, Nature. In my delight, I made my face look as comic and as wild as I could:
It is recovered.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.
O my eternal soul,
Hold fast to desire
In spite of the night
And the day on fire.
You must set yourself free
From the striving of Man
And the applause of the World!
You must fly as you can...
No hope, forever;
Science and patience,
The torment is sure.
The fire within you,
Soft silken embers,
Is our whole duty--
But no one remembers.
It is recovered.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.
I became a fabulous opera. I saw that everyone in the world was doomed to happiness. Action isn't life; it's merely a way of ruining a kind of strength, a means of destroying nerves. Morality is water on the brain.
It seemed to me that everyone should have had several other lives as well. This gentleman doesn't know what he's doing; he's an angel. That family is a litter of puppy dogs. With some men, I often talked out loud with a moment from one of their other lives-- that's how I happened to love a pig.
Not a single one of the brilliant arguments of madness-- the madness that gets locked up-- did I forget; I could go through them all again, I've got the system down by heart.
It affected my health. Terror loomed ahead. I would fall again and again into a heavy sleep, which lasted several days at a time, and when I woke up, my sorrowful dreams continued. I was ripe for fatal harvest, and my weakness led me down dangerous roads to the edge of the world, to the Cimmerian shore, the haven of whirlwinds and darkness.
I had to travel, to dissipate the enchantments that crowded my brain. On the sea, which I loved as if it were to wash away my impurity, I watched the compassionate cross arise. I had been damned by the rainbow. Felicity was my doom, my gnawing remorse, my worm. My life would forever be too large to devote to strength and to beauty.
Felicity! The deadly sweetness of its sting would wake me at cockcrow-- ad matutinum, at the Christus venit-- in the somberest of cities.
O seasons, O chateaus!
Where is the flawless soul?
I learned the magic of
Felicity. It enchants us all.
To Felicity, sing life and praise
Whenever Gaul's cock crows.
Now all desire has gone--
It has made my life its own.
That spell has caught heart and soul
And scattered every trial.
O seasons, O chateaus!
And, oh, the day it disappears
Will be the day I die.
O seasons, O chateaus!
All that is over. Today, I know how to celebrate beauty.
Ah! My life as a child, the open road in every weather; I was unnaturally abstinent, more detached than the best of beggars, proud to have no country, no friends-- what stupidity that was!-- and only now I realize it!
I was right to distrust old men who never lost a chance for a caress, parasites on the health and cleanliness of our women-- today when women are so much a race apart from us.
I was right in everything I distrusted... because I am running away!
I am running away!
Even yesterday, I kept sighing: "God! There are enough of us damned down here! I've done time enough already in their ranks. I know them all. We always recognize each other; we disgust each other. Charity is unheard of among us. Still, we're polite; our relations with the world are quite correct." Is that surprising? The world! Businessmen and idiots!-- there's no dishonor in being here-- but the company of the elect; how would they receive us? For there are surely people, happy people, the false elect, since we must be bold or humble to aproach them. These are the real elect. No saintly hypocrites, these!
Since I've got back two cents' worth of reason-- how quickly it goes!-- I can see that my troubles come from not realizing soon enough that this is the Western World. These Western swamps! Not that light has paled, form worn out, or movement been misguided.... All right! Now my mind wants absolutely to take on itself all the cruel developments that mind has undergone since the Orient collapsed.... My mind demands it!
...And that's the end of my two cents' worth of reason! The mind is in control, it insists that I remain in the West. It will have to be silenced if I expect it to end as I always wanted to.
I used to say, to hell with martyrs' palms, all beacons of art, the inventor's pride, the plunderer's frenzy; I expected to return to the Orient and to original, eternal wisdom. But this is evidently a dream of depraved laziness!
And yet I had no intention of trying to escape from modern suffering-- I have no high regard for the bastard wisdom of the Koran. But isn't there a very real torment in knowing that since the dawn of that scientific discovery, Christianity, Man has been making a fool of himself, proving what is obvious, puffing with pride as he repeats his proofs... and living on that alone? This is a subtle, stupid torment-- and this is the source of my spiritual ramblings. Nature may well be bored with it all! Prudhomme was born with Christ.
Isn't it because we cultivate the fog? We swallow fever with our watery vegetables. And drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And blind faith! Isn't this all a bit far from the thought, the wisdom of the Orient, the original fatherland? Why have a modern world, if such poisons are invented?
Priests and preachers will say: Of course. But you are really referring to Eden. There is nothing for you in the past hsitory of Oriental races.... True enough. It was Eden I meant! How can this purity of ancient races affect my dream?
Philosophers will say: The world has no ages; humanity moves from place to place, that's all. You are a Western man, but quite free to live in your Orient, as old a one as you want. .. and to live in it as you like. Don't be a defeatist. Philosophers, you are part and parcel of your Western world!
Careful, mind. Don't rush madly after salvation. Train yourself! Ah, science never goes fast enough for us!
But I see that my mind is asleep.
--If it stays wide awake from this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels!...
--If it had been wide awake until this moment, I would have never given in to degenerate instincts, long ago!...
--If it had always been wide awake, I would be floating in wisdom!...
O Purity! Purity!
In this moment of awakening, I had a vision of purity! Through the mind we go to God!
What a crippling misfortune!
Human labor! That explosion lights up my abyss from time to time.
"Nothing is vanity; on toward knowledge!" cries the modern Ecclesiastes, which is Everyone. And still the bodies of the wicked and the idle fall upon the hearts of all the rest.... Ah, quick, quick, quick! there, beyond the night... that future reward, that eternal reward... will we escape it?
What more can I do? Labor I know, and science is too slow. That praying gallops and that light roars; I'm well aware of it. It's too simple, and the weather's too hot; you can all do without me. I have my duty; but I will be proud, as others have been, to set it aside.
My life is worn out. Well, let's pretend, let's do nothing; oh, pitiful! And we will exist, and amuse ourselves, dreaming of monstrous loves and fantastic worlds, complaining and quarreling with the appearances of the world, acrobat, beggar, artist, bandit-- priest! ...on my hospital bed, the odor of incense came so strongly back to me... guardian of the holy aromatics, confessor, martyr....
There I recognize my filthy childhood education. Then what? ...turn twenty: I'll do my twenty years, if everyone else does.
No! No! Now I rise up against death! Labor seems too easy for pride like mine: To betray me to the world would be too slight a punishment. At the last moment I would attack, to the right, to the left....
Oh! poor dear soul, eternity then might not be lost!
Hadn't I once a youth that was lovely, heroic, fabulous-- something to write down on pages of gold?... I was too lucky! Through what crime, by what fault did I deserve my present weakness? You who imagine that animals sob with sorrow, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try now to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better than the beggar wth his endless Aves and Pater Nosters. I no longer know how to talk!
And yet, today, I think I have finished this account of my Hell. And it was Hell; the old one, whose gates were opened by the Son of Man.
From the same desert, toward the same dark sky, my tired eyes forever open on the silver star, forever; but the three wise men never stir, the Kings of life, the heart, the soul, the mind. When will we go, over mountains and shores, to hail the birth of new labor, new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, to be the first to adore... Christmas on earth!
The song of the heavens, the marching of nations! We are slaves; let us not curse life!
Autumn already!... But why regret the everlasting sun, if we are sworn to a search for divine brightness-- far from those who die as seasons turn....
Autumn. Our boat, risen out of a hanging fog, turns toward poverty's harbor, the monstrous city, its sky stained with fire and mud. Ah! Those stinking rags, bread soaked with rain, drunkenness, and the thousands of loves who nailed me to the cross! Will there never, ever be an end to that ghoulish queen of a million dead souls and bodies and who will all be judged!, I can see myself again, my skin corroded by dirt and disease, hair and armpits crawling with worms, and worms still larger crawling in my heart, stretched out among ageless, heartless, unknown figures.... I could easily have died there.... What a horrible memory! I detest poverty.
And I dread winter because it's so cozy!
--Sometimes in the sky I see endless sandy shores covered with white rejoicing nations. A great golden ship, above me, flutters many-colored pennants in the morning breeze. I was the creator of every feast, every triumph, every drama. I tried to invent new flowers, new planets, new flesh, new languages. I thought I had acquired supernatural powers. Ha! I have to bury my imagination and my memories! What an end to a splendid career as an artist and storyteller!
I! I called myself a magician, an angel, free from all moral constraint.... I am sent back to the soil to seek some obligation, to wrap gnarled reality in my arms. A peasant!
Am I deceived? Would Charity be the sister of death, for me?
Well, I shall ask forgiveness for having lived on lies. And that's that.
But not one friendly hand... and where can I look for help?
True; the new era is nothing if not harsh.
For I can say that I have gained a victory; the gnashing of teeth, the hissing of hellfire, the stinking sighs subside. All my monstrous memories are fading. My last longings depart-- jealousy of beggars, bandits, friends of death, all those that the world passed by-- Damned souls, if I were to take vengance!
One must be absolutely modern.
Never mind hymns of thanksgiving: hold on to a step once taken. A hard night! Dried blood smokes on my face, and nothing lies behind me but that repulsive little tree! The battle for the soul is as brutal as the battles of men; but the sight of justice is the pleasure of God alone.
Yet this is the watch by night. Let us all accept new strength, and real tenderness. And at dawn, armed with glowing patience, we will enter the cities of glory.
Why did I talk about a friendly hand! My great advantage is that I can laugh at old love affairs full of falsehood, and stamp with shame such deceitful couples-- I went through women's Hell over there-- and I will be able now to possess the truth within one body and one soul.
April - August, 1873
Back to Top