I think that this anthology will give the reader an intelligent understanding of the mind and art of a very great French poet. Charles Baudelaire was one of those who take the downward path which leads to salvation. His poems speak sweetly of decay and death, and whisper their graveyard secrets into the ears of beauty. His men are men whom the moon has touched with her own phantasy: He loves them and does not love; they are cruel and indolent and full of strange perversions; they are perfumed with exotic perfumes; they sleep to the sound of viols, or fan themselves languidly in the shadow, and only he sees that it is the shadow of death.
An art like this, rooted in a so tortured perception of the beauty and ugliness of a world where the spirit is mingled indistinguishably with the flesh, almost inevitably concerns itself with material things, with all the subtle raptures the soul feels, not by abstract contemplation, for that would mean content, but through the gateway of the senses; the lust of the flesh, the delight of the eye.
Sound, colour, odour, form: Charles Baudelaire was born at Paris, April 21st, , in an old turreted house in the Rue Hautefeuille. Failing miserably, he made no second attempt. Then his father died, and his mother married General Aupick, afterwards ambassador to Constantinople, an excellent man in every respect, but quite incapable of sympathising with or even of understanding the love for literature that now began to manifest itself in the mind of his stepson. All possible means were tried to turn him from literature to some more lucrative and more respectable profession.
Family quarrels arose over this all-important question, and young Baudelaire, who seems to have given some real cause for offence to the step-father whose aspirations and profession he despised, was at length sent away upon a long voyage, in the hopes that the sight of strange lands and new faces would perhaps cause him to forget the ambitions his relatives could but consider as foolish and idealistic.
He sailed the Indian Seas; visited the islands of Mauritius, Bourbon, Madagascar, and Ceylon; saw the yellow waters of the sacred Ganges; stored up the memory of tropical sounds and colours and odours for use later on; and returned to[Pg 15] Paris shortly after his twenty-first birthday, more than ever determined to be a man of letters. His parents were in despair; no doubt quite rightly so from their point of view.
The future author of The Flowers of Evil, however, was now his own master and in a position, so far as monetary matters were concerned, to follow out his own whim. I shall return to this question again; there is internal evidence in his writings that shows he made good literary use of these opiate-born[Pg 16] dreams which in the end dragged him into their own abyss. At the same time, he writes better verse, and would not have demanded at Rome the destruction of the Order of Jesuits.
Gautier, in the passage I have already mentioned, emphasises both his reserve and his cynicism: He measured his sentences, using only the most carefully chosen terms, and pronounced certain words in a particular manner, as though he wished to underline them and give them a mysterious importance. He had italics and capital letters in his voice. His rare gestures were slow and sober; he never threw his arms about, for he held southern gesticulation in horror; British coolness seemed to him to be good taste.
One might describe him as a dandy who had strayed into Bohemia; though still preserving his rank, and that cult of self which characterises a man imbued with the principles of Brummel. But all the sea of sadness in my blood Surges, and ebbing, leaves my lip morose [Pg 18]Salt with the memory of the bitter flood. It is a ruin where the jackals rest, And rend and tear and glut themselves and slay! With flame-like eyes that at bright feasts have flared Burn up these tatters that the beasts have spared!
Swinburne, however, is wild where Baudelaire is grave; and where Baudelaire compresses some perverse and morbid image into a single unforgettable line, Mr. Swinburne beats it into a froth of many musical lovely words, until we forget the deep sea in the shining foam. If we call to mind the reception at first given to the black-and-white work of Aubrey Beardsley, it will give some idea of the consternation caused in France by the appearance of the Flowers of Evil.
Beardsley, indeed, resembles Baudelaire in many ways, for he achieved in art what the other achieved in literature: The four or five chapters which alone remain of this incomplete romance stand alone in literature. They are the absolute attainment of what Baudelaire more or less successfully attempted—a testament of sin.
Not the sin of the flesh, the gross faults of the body that are vulgarly known as sin; but sin which is a metaphysical corruption, a depravity of pure intellect, the sin of the fallen angels in hell who cover their anguish with the sound of harps and sweet odours; who are incapable of bodily impurity, and for whom spiritual purity is the only terror. And since mortality, which is the shadow of the immortal, can comprehend spiritual and abstract things only by the analogies and correspondences which exist between them and the far reflections of them that we call reality, both Baudelaire and Beardsley, as indeed all artists who speak with tongues of spiritual truth, choose more or less actual human beings to be the shadows of the divine or satanic beings they would invoke, and make them sin delicate sins of the refined bodily sense that we may get a far-off glimpse of the Evil that is not mortal but immortal, the Spiritual Evil that has set up its black throne beside the throne of Spiritual Good, and has equal share in the shaping of the world and man.
I am not sure that Baudelaire, when he wrote this sinister poetry, had any clear idea that it was his vocation to be a prophet either of good or evil. Certainly he had no thought of founding a school of poetry, and if he made any conscious effort to bring a new method into literature, it was merely because he desired to be one of the famous writers of his country. An inspired thinker, however, whether his inspiration be mighty or small, receives his thought from a profounder source than his own physical reason, and writes to the dictation of beings outside of and greater than himself.
The famous Eliphas[Pg 20] Levi, like all the mystics who came before and after him, from Basilides the Gnostic to Blake the English visionary, taught that the poet and dreamer are the mediums of the Divine Word, and sole instruments through which the gods energise in the world of material things. The writing of a great book is the casting of a pebble into the pool of human thought; it gives rise to ever-widening circles that will reach we know not whither, and begins a chain of circumstances that may end in the destruction of kingdoms and religions and the awakening of new gods.
Prose Poems: Definition & Famous Examples
The change wrought, directly or indirectly, by The Flowers of Evil alone is almost too great to be properly understood. There is perhaps not a man in Europe to-day whose outlook on life would not have been different had The Flowers of Evil never been written. They were by turns morbid, hysterical, foolishly blasphemous, or weakly disgusting, but never anything for long, their one desire being to produce a thrill at any cost. If the hospital failed they went to the brothel, and when even obscenity failed to stimulate the jaded palates of their generation there was still the graveyard left.
That Baudelaire himself was one of their company is not an accusation, for he had genius, which his imitators, English or French, have not; and his book, even apart from the fact that it made straight the way for better things, must be admitted to be a great and subtly-wrought work of art by whosoever reads it with understanding. And, moreover, his morbidness is not at all an affectation; his poems inevitably prove the writer to have been quite sincere in his perversion and in his decadence.
The Symbolist writers of to-day, though they are sprung from him, are greater than he because they are the prophets of a faith who believe in what they preach. They find their defence in the writings of the mystics, and their doctrines are at the root of every religion. They were held by the Gnostics and are in the books of the Kabbalists and the Magi. Blake preached them and Eliphas Levi taught them to his disciples in France, who in turn have misunderstood and perverted them, and formed strange religions and sects of Devil-worshippers.
Colour and sound and perfume and all material and sensible things are but the symbols and far-off reflections of the things that are alone real. Reality is hidden away from us by the five senses and the gates of death; and Reason, the blind and laborious servant of the physical brain, deludes us into believing that we can know anything of truth through the medium of the senses.
It is through the imagination alone that man can obtain spiritual revelation, for imagination is the one window in the prison-house of the flesh through which the soul can see the proud images of eternity. And Blake, who is the authority of all English Symbolist writers, long since formulated their creed in words that have been quoted again and again, and must still be quoted by all who write in defence of modern art: It is the divine bosom into which we shall all go after the death of the vegetated body. This world of imagination is infinite and eternal, whereat the world of generation, or vegetation, is finite and temporal.
There exist in that eternal world the permanent realities of everything which we see reflected in this vegetable glass of nature! He was famous and he was unhappy. Neither glory, nor love, nor friendship—and he knew them all—could minister to the disease of that fierce mind, seeking it knew not what and never finding it; seeking it, unhappily, in the strangest excesses.
He took opium to quieten his nerves when they trembled, for something to do when they did not, and made immoderate use of hashish to produce visions and heighten his phantasy. His life was a haunted weariness.
He remembered his visions and sensations as an eater of drugs and made literary use of them. My senses into one sense flow— Her voice makes perfume when she speaks, Her breath is music faint and low! The eyes pierce Infinity. The ear seizes the most unseizable sounds in the midst of the shrillest noises. External objects take on monstrous appearances and show themselves under forms hitherto unknown…. The most singular equivocations, the most inexplicable transposition of ideas, take place. Sounds are perceived to have a colour, and colour becomes musical.
Baudelaire: His Prose & Poetry 1919 Edition
The mystics of all times have taught that sounds in gross matter produce colour in subtle matter; and all who are subject to any visionary condition know that when in trance colours will produce words of a language whose meaning is forgotten as soon as one awakes to normal life; but I do not think Baudelaire was a visionary. His work shows too precise a method, and a too ordered appreciation of the artificial in beauty. A famous sonnet by Rimbaud on the colour[Pg 25] of the vowels has founded a school of symbolists in France.
I will content myself with quoting that—in the original, since it loses too much, by translation: Always of an extremely neurotic temperament, he began to break down beneath his excesses, and shortly after the publication of The Artificial Paradises, which shows a considerable deterioration in his style, he removed from Paris to Brussels in the hope of building up his health by the change. At Brussels he grew worse. His speech began to fail; he was unable to pronounce certain words and stumbled over others.
It was false news, but prematurely true. Baudelaire lingered on for another three months; motionless and inert, his eyes the only part of him alive; unable to speak or even to write, and so died. He wrote many arguments in favour of the artificial, and elaborated them into a kind of paradoxical philosophy of art. His hatred of nature and purely natural things was but a perverted form of the religious ecstasy that made the old monk pull his cowl about his eyes when he left his cell in the month of May, lest he should see the blossoming trees, and his mind be turned towards the beautiful delusions of the world.
It is the part expression of a theory of art, and if it is paradoxical and far-fetched it is because Baudelaire wrote at a time when French literature, in the words of M. It was written to initiate the profane; to make them think, at least; and not to raise a smile among the initiated. And moreover, it was in a manner a defence of his own work that had met with so much hatred and opposition. He begins by attempting to prove that Nature is innately and fundamentally wrong and wicked. Nature was regarded in those times as the base, source, and type of all possible good and beauty….
If, however, we consent to refer simply to the visible facts,… we see that Nature teaches nothing, or almost nothing. That is to say, she forces man to sleep, to drink, to eat, and to protect himself, well or ill, against[Pg 28] the hostilities of the atmosphere. It is she also who moves him to kill and eat or imprison and torture his kind; for, as soon as we leave the region of necessities and needs to enter into that of luxuries and pleasures, we see that Nature is no better than a counsellor to crime….
Religion commands us to nourish our poor and infirm parents; Nature the voice of our own interest commands us to do away with them. Pass in review, analyse all that is natural, all the actions and desires of the natural man, and you will find nothing but what is horrible. All beautiful and noble things are the result of calculation. Crime, the taste for which the human animal absorbs before birth, is originally natural. Virtue, on the contrary, is artificial, supernatural, since there has been a necessity in all ages and among all nations for gods and prophets to preach virtue to humanity; since man alone would have been unable to discover it.
Evil is done without effort, naturally and by fatality; good is always the product of an art. The result is strange enough. The races that our confused and perverted civilisation, with a fatuity and pride entirely laughable, treats as savages, understand as does the child the high spirituality of the toilet. She is an idol who must adorn herself to be adored. Baudelaire, like many another writer whose business is with verse, pondered so long upon the musical and rhythmical value of words that at times words became meaningless to him.
He thought his own language too simple to express the complexities of poetic reverie, and dreamed of writing his poems in Latin. Love, from his retreat Ambushed and shadowy, bends his fatal bow, And I too well his ancient arrows know: Baudelaire was too deeply in love with the artificial to care overmuch for the symbols he could have found among natural objects. He sought more for bizarre analogies and striking metaphors than for true symbols or correspondences. He offers pity, but no comfort. Sometimes he has a vision of a beauty unmingled with any malevolence; but it is always evoked by sensuous and material things; perfume or music; and always it is a sorrowful loveliness he mourns or praises.
His prose is as distinguished in its manner as his verse. I think it was Professor Saintsbury who first brought The Little Poems in Prose, a selection from which is included in this volume, before the notice of English readers in an essay written many years ago. I am writing this in France, far from the possibility of[Pg 34] consulting any English books, but if my memory serves me rightly he considered the prose of these prose poems to be as perfect as literature can be. From whatever point of view we regard him: His art is like the pearl, a beautiful product of disease, and to blame it is like blaming the pearl.
He looked upon life very much as Poe, whom he so admired, looked upon it: His moments of inspiration are haunted by the consciousness that evil beings, clothed with horror as with a shroud, are ever lingering about the temple of life and awaiting an opportunity to enter. He was like a man who awakens trembling from a nightmare, afraid of the darkness, and unable to believe the dawn may be less hopeless than the midnight.
Perhaps he was haunted, as many artists and all mystics, by a fear of madness and of the unseen world of evil shapes that sanity hides from us and madness reveals. Is there a man, is there a writer, especially, who has not at times been conscious of a vague and terrible fear that the whole world of visible nature is but a comfortable illusion that may fade away in a moment and leave him face to face with the horror that has visited him in dreams? The old occult writers held that the evil thoughts of others beget phantoms in the air that can make themselves, bodies out of our fear, and haunt even our waking moments.
These were the shapes of terror that haunted Baudelaire. Shelley, too, writes of them with as profound a knowledge as the magical writer of the Middle Ages. They come to haunt his Prometheus. There is a passage in the works of Edgar Poe that Baudelaire may well have pondered as he laboured at his translation, for it reveals the secret of his life: The Moon, who is caprice itself, looked in through the window when you lay asleep in your cradle, and said inwardly: Then she laid herself upon you with, the supple tenderness of a mother, and she left her colours upon your face.
That is why your eyes are green and your cheeks extraordinarily pale. It was when you looked at her, that your pupils widened so strangely; and she clasped her arms so tenderly about your throat that ever since you have had the longing for tears. Nevertheless, in the flood of her joy, the Moon filled the room like a phosphoric atmosphere, like a luminous poison; and all this living light thought and said: You shall be beautiful as I am beautiful.
You shall love that which I love and that by which I am loved: You shall be the queen of men who have green eyes, and whose throats I have clasped by night in my caresses; of those that love the sea, the vast tumultuous green sea, formless and multiform water, the place where they are not, the woman whom they know not, the ominous[Pg 40] flowers that are like the censers of an unknown rite, the odours that trouble the will, and the savage and voluptuous beasts that are the emblems of their folly. I knew one Benedicta who filled earth and air with the ideal; and from whose eyes men learnt the desire of greatness, of beauty, of glory, and of all whereby we believe in immortality.
But this miraculous child was too beautiful to live long; and she died only a few days after I had come, to know her, and I buried her with my own hands, one day when Spring shook out her censer in the graveyards. I buried her with my own hands, shut down into a coffin of wood, perfumed and incorruptible like Indian caskets. And as I still gazed at the place where I had laid away my treasure, I saw all at once a little person singularly like the deceased, who trampled on the fresh soil with a strange and hysterical violence, and said, shrieking with laughter: I am the real Benedicta!
And to punish you for your blindness and folly you shall love me just as I am! There is a wonderful country, a country of Cockaigne, they say, which I dreamed of visiting with an old friend. It is a strange country, lost in the mists of our North, and one might call it the East of the West, the China of Europe, so freely does a warm and capricious fancy flourish there, and so patiently and persistently has that fancy illustrated it with a learned and delicate vegetation.
A real country of Cockaigne, where everything is beautiful, rich, quiet, honest; where order is the likeness and the mirror of luxury; where life is fat, and sweet to breathe; where disorder, tumult, and the unexpected are shut out; where happiness is wedded to silence; where even cooking is poetic, rich and highly flavoured at once; where all, dear love, is made in your image. You know that feverish sickness which comes over us in our cold miseries, that nostalgia of unknown lands, that anguish of curiosity?
There is a country made in your image, where all is beautiful, rich, quiet and honest; where fancy has built and decorated a western China, where life is sweet to breathe, where happiness is wedded to silence. It is there that we should live, it is there that we should die! Yes, it is there that we should breathe, dream, and lengthen out the hours by the infinity of sensations. Yes, it is in this atmosphere that it would be good to live; far off, where slower hours contain more thoughts[Pg 42] where clocks strike happiness with a deeper and more significant solemnity.
On shining panels, or on gilded leather of a dark richness, slumbers the discreet life of pictures, deep, calm, and devout as the souls of the pointers who created it. The sunsets which colour so richly the walls of dining-room and drawing-room, are sifted through beautiful hangings or through tall wrought windows leaded into many panes. The pieces of furniture are large, curious, and fantastic, armed with locks and secrets like refined souls. A real country of Cockaigne, I assure you, where all is beautiful, clean, and shining, like a clear conscience, like a bright array of kitchen crockery, like splendid jewellery of gold, like many-coloured jewellery of silver!
All the treasures of the world have found their way there, as to the house of a hard-working man who has put the whole world in his debt. Singular country, excelling others as Art excels Nature, where Nature is refashioned by dreams, where Nature is. Let the alchemists of horticulture seek and seek again, let them set ever further and further back the limits to their happiness! Let them offer prizes of sixty and of a hundred thousand florins to whoever will solve their ambitious problems! Every man carries within himself his natural dose of opium, ceaselessly secreted and renewed, and, from birth to death, how many hours can we reckon of positive pleasure, of successful and decided action?
Shall we ever live in, shall we ever pass into, that picture which my mind has painted, that picture made in your image? These treasures, this furniture, this luxury, this order, these odours, these miraculous flowers, are you. You too are the great rivers and the quiet canals. The vast ships that drift down them, laden with riches, from whose decks comes the sound of the monotonous songs of labouring sailors, are my thoughts which slumber or rise and fall on your breast. You lead them softly towards the sea, which is the infinite, mirroring the depths of the sky in the crystal clearness of your soul; and when, weary of the surge and heavy with the spoils of the East, they return to the port of their birth, it is still my thoughts that come back enriched out of the infinite to you.
It will probably be less easy for you to understand than for me to explain it to you; for you are, I think, the most perfect example of feminine impenetrability that could possibly be found. We had promised one another that we would think the same thoughts and that our two souls should become one soul; a dream which is not original, after all, except that, dreamed by all men, it has been realised by none.
Exactly opposite to us, in the roadway, stood a man of about forty years of age, with a weary face and a greyish beard, holding a little boy by one hand and carrying on the other arm a little fellow too weak to walk. All were in rags.
Prose Poems: Definition & Famous Examples - Video & Lesson Transcript | tevopaleqopi.tk
One would think that all the gold of the poor world had found its way to these walls. But that is a house which only people who are not like[Pg 45] us can enter. Song-writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was right that evening, so far as I was concerned.
Not only was I touched by this family of eyes, but I felt rather ashamed of our glasses and decanters, so much too much for our thirst. I turned to look at you, dear love, that I might read my own thought in you; I gazed deep into your eyes, so beautiful and so strangely sweet, your green eyes that are the home of caprice and under the sovereignty of the Moon; and you said to me: He who looks in through an open window never sees so many things as he who looks at a shut window.
There is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more fertile, more gloomy, or more dazzling, than a window lighted by a candle. What we can see in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind the panes of a window. In that dark or luminous hollow, life lives, life dreams, life suffers.
Across the waves of roofs, I can see a woman of middle age, wrinkled, poor, who is always leaning over something, and who never goes out. If it had been a poor old man, I could have made up his just as easily. And I go to bed, proud of having lived and suffered in others. Perhaps you will say to me: It is not given to every man to take a bath of multitude: He who does not know how to people his solitude, does not know either how to be alone in a busy crowd.
The poet enjoys this incomparable privilege, to be at once himself and others. Like those wandering souls that go about seeking bodies, he enters at will the personality of every man. For him alone, every place is vacant; and if certain places seem to be closed against him, that is because in his eyes they are not worth the trouble of visiting.
The solitary and thoughtful walker derives a singular intoxication from this universal communion. He who[Pg 47] mates easily with the crowd knows feverish joys that must be for ever unknown to the egoist, shut up like a coffer, and to the sluggard, imprisoned like a shell-fish. He adopts for his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that circumstance sets before him. What men call love is small indeed, narrow and weak indeed, compared with this ineffable orgie, this sacred prostitution of the soul which gives itself up wholly poetry and charity! It is good sometimes that the happy of this world should learn, were it only to humble their foolish pride for an instant, that there are higher, wider, and rarer joys than theirs.
The founders of colonies, the shepherds of nations, the missionary priests, exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtless know something of these mysterious intoxications; and, in the midst of the vast family that their genius has raised about them, they must sometimes laugh at the thought of those who pity them for their chaste lives and troubled fortunes.
The landscape in the midst of which I was seated was of an irresistible grandeur and sublimity. Something no doubt at that moment passed from it into my soul. My thoughts fluttered with a lightness like that of the atmosphere; vulgar passions, such as hate and profane love, seemed to me now as far away as the clouds that floated in the gulfs beneath my feet; my soul seemed to me as vast and pure as the dome of the sky that enveloped me; the remembrance of earthly things came as faintly to my heart as the thin tinkle of the[Pg 48] bells of unseen herds, browsing far, far away, on the slope of another mountain.
And I remember that this rare and solemn sensation, caused by a vast and perfectly silent movement, filled me with mingled joy and fear. In a word, thanks to the enrapturing beauty about me, I felt that I was at perfect peace with myself and with the universe; I even believe that, in my complete forgetfulness of all earthly evil, I had come to think the newspapers are right after all, and man was born good; when, incorrigible matter renewing its exigencies, I sought to refresh the fatigue and satisfy the appetite caused by so lengthy a climb.
I took from my pocket a large piece of bread, a leathern cup, and a small bottle of a certain elixir which the chemists at that time sold to tourists, to be mixed, on occasion, with liquid snow. I was quietly cutting my bread when a slight noise made me look up. I saw in front of me a little ragged urchin, dark and dishevelled, whose hollow eyes, wild and supplicating, devoured the piece of bread.
And I heard him gasp, in a low, hoarse voice, the word: Slowly he came up to me, not taking his eyes from the coveted object; then, snatching it out of my hand, he stepped quickly back, as if he feared that my offer was not sincere, or that I had already repented of it. But at the same instant he was knocked over by another little savage, who had sprung from I know not where, and who was so precisely like the first that one might have taken them for twin brothers. They rolled[Pg 49] over on the ground together, struggling for the possession of the precious booty, neither willing to share it with his brother.
The first, exasperated, clutched the second by the hair; and the second seized one of the ears of the first between his teeth, and spat out a little bleeding morsel with a fine oath in dialect. But, heartened by despair, the loser pulled himself together, and sent the victor sprawling with a blow of the head in his stomach. Why describe a hideous fight which indeed lasted longer than their childish strength seemed to promise? The cake travelled from hand to hand, and changed from pocket to pocket, at every moment; but, alas, it changed also in size; and when at length, exhausted, panting and bleeding, they stopped from the sheer impossibility of going on, there was no longer any cause of feud; the slice of bread had disappeared, and lay scattered in crumbs like the grains of sand with which it was mingled.
The sight had darkened the landscape for me, and dispelled the joyous calm in which my soul had lain basking; I remained saddened for quite a long time, saying over and over to myself: The day is over. Nevertheless from the mountain peak there comes to my balcony, through the transparent clouds of evening, a great clamour, made up of a crowd of discordant cries, dulled by distance into a mournful harmony, like that of the rising tide or of a storm brewing. I remember I had two friends whom twilight made quite ill.
One of them lost all sense of social and friendly amenities, and flew at the first-comer like a savage. Evening, harbinger of profound delights, spoilt for him the most succulent things. The other, a prey to disappointed ambition, turned gradually, as the daylight dwindled, sourer, more gloomy, more nettlesome.
Introduction to Prose Poetry
Indulgent and sociable during the day, he was pitiless in the evening; and it was not only on others, but on himself, that he vented the rage of his twilight mania. The former died mad, unable to recognise his wife and child; the latter still keeps the restlessness of a perpetual disquietude; and, if all the honours that republics and princes can confer were heaped upon him, I believe that the twilight would still quicken in him the burning envy[Pg 51] of imaginary distinctions.
Night, which put its own darkness into their minds, brings light to mine; and, though it is by no means rare for the same cause to bring about opposite results, I am always as it were perplexed and alarmed by it.
- Baudelaire: His Prose & Poetry Edition • Bareknuckle Poet?
- The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries.
In the solitude of the plains, in the stony labyrinths of a city, scintillation of stars, outburst of gaslamps, you are the fireworks of the goddess Liberty! Twilight, how gentle you are and how tender! The rosy lights that still linger on the horizon, like the last agony of day under the conquering might of its night; the flaring candle-flames that stain with dull red the last glories of the sunset; the heavy draperies that an invisible hand draws out of the depths of the East, mimic all those complex feelings that war on one another in the heart of man at the solemn moments of life.
Would you not say that it was one of those strange costumes worn by dancers, in which the tempered splendours of a shining skirt show through a dark and transparent gauze, as, through the darkness of the present, pierces the delicious past? And the wavering stars of gold and silver with which it is shot, are they not those fires of fancy which take light never so well as under the deep mourning of the night? Life is a hospital, in which every patient is possessed by the desire of changing his bed.
One would prefer to suffer near the fire, and another is certain that he would get well if he were by the window. It must be very warm there, and you would bask merrily, like a lizard. It is by the sea; they say that it is built of marble, and that the people have such a horror of vegetation that they tear up all the trees. There is a country after your own soul; a country made up of light and mineral, and with liquid to reflect them. Perhaps you would be happy in a country which you have so often admired in pictures. What do you say to Rotterdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships anchored at the doors of houses?
Well, there we shall find the mind of Europe married to tropical beauty. Can my soul be dead? If that be so, let us go to the lands that are made in the likeness of Death. I know exactly the place for us, poor soul! We will book our passage to Torneo. We will go still further, to the last limits of the Baltic; and, if it be possible, further still from life; we will make our abode at the Pole.
There the sun only grazes the earth, and the slow alternations of light and night put out variety and bring in the half of nothingness, monotony. There we can take great baths of darkness, while, from time to time,[Pg 53] for our pleasure, the Aurora Borealis shall scatter its rosy sheaves before us, like reflections of fireworks in hell! Fancioulle was an admirable buffoon, and almost one of the friends of the Prince. But for persons professionally devoted to the comic, serious things have a fatal attraction, and, strange as it may seem that ideas of patriotism and liberty should seize despotically upon the brain of a player, one day Fancioulle joined in a conspiracy formed by some discontented nobles.
There exist everywhere sensible men to denounce those individuals of atrabiliar disposition who seek to depose princes, and, without consulting it, to reconstitute society. The lords in question were arrested, together with Fancioulle, and condemned to death.
I would readily believe that the Prince was almost sorry to find his favourite actor among the rebels. The Prince was neither better nor worse than any other Prince; but an excessive sensibility rendered him, in many cases, more cruel and more despotic than all his fellows. Passionately enamoured of the fine arts, an excellent connoisseur as well, he was truly insatiable of pleasures. The great misfortune of the Prince was that he had no theatre vast enough for his genius.
There are young Neros who are stifled within too narrow limits, and whose names and whose intentions will never be known to future ages. An unforeseeing Providence had given to this man faculties greater than his dominions. On the part of a man so naturally and deliberately eccentric, anything was possible, even virtue, even mercy, especially if he could hope to find in it unexpected pleasures. But to those who, like myself, had succeeded in penetrating further into the depths of this sick and curious soul, it was infinitely more probable that the Prince was wishful to estimate the quality of the scenic talents of a man condemned to death.
He would profit by the occasion to obtain a physiological experience of a capital interest, and to verify to what extent the habitual faculties of an artist would be altered or modified by the extraordinary situation in which he found himself. Beyond this, did there exist in his mind an intention, more or less defined, of mercy? It is a point that has never been solved. At last, the great day having come, the little court displayed all its pomps, and it would be difficult to realise, without having seen it, what splendour the privileged classes of a little state with limited resources can show forth, on a really solemn occasion.
This was a[Pg 55] doubly solemn one, both from the wonder of its display and from the mysterious moral interest attaching to it. The Sieur Fancioulle excelled especially in parts either silent or little burdened with words, such as are often the principal ones in those fairy plays whose object is to represent symbolically the mystery of life. He came upon the stage lightly and with a perfect ease, which in itself lent some support, in the minds of the noble public, to the idea of kindness and forgiveness.
Now, if an actor should succeed in being, in relation to the personage whom he is appointed to express, precisely what the finest statues of antiquity, miraculously animated, living, walking, seeing, would be in relation to the confused general idea of beauty, this would be, undoubtedly, a singular and unheard of case. Fancioulle was, that evening, a perfect idealisation, which it was impossible not to suppose living, possible, real. Fancioulle brought, by I know not what special grace, something divine and supernatural into even the most extravagant buffooneries.
My pen trembles, and the tears of an emotion which I cannot forget rise to my eyes, as I try to describe to you this never-to-be-forgotten evening. Fancioulle proved to me, in a peremptory, an irrefutable way, that the intoxication of Art is surer than all others to veil the terrors of the gulf; that genius can act a comedy on the threshold of the grave with a joy that binders it from seeing the[Pg 56] grave, lost, as it is, in a Paradise shutting out all thought, of the grave and of destruction.
Not a thought was left of death, of mourning, or of punishment. All gave themselves up, without disquietude, to the manifold delights caused by the sight of a masterpiece of living art. Explosions of joy and admiration again and again shook the dome of the edifice with the energy of a continuous thunder.
The Prince himself, in an ecstasy, joined in the applause of his court. Nevertheless, to a discerning eye, his emotion was not unmixed. Did he feel himself conquered in his power as despot? Such suppositions, not exactly justified, but not absolutely unjustifiable, passed through my mind as I contemplated the face of the Prince, on which a new pallor gradually overspread its habitual paleness, as snow overspreads snow.
His lips compressed themselves tighter and tighter, and his eyes lighted up with an inner fire like that of jealousy or of spite, even while he applauded the talents of his old friend, the strange buffoon, who played the buffoon so well in the face of death. At a certain moment, I saw his Highness lean towards a little page, stationed behind him, and whisper in his ear.
A few minutes later a shrill and prolonged hiss interrupted Fancioulle in one of his finest moments, and rent alike every ear and heart. And from the part of the house from whence this unexpected note of disapproval had sounded, a child darted into a corridor with stifled laughter.
Had the hiss, swift as a sword, really frustrated the hangman? Had the Prince himself divined all the homicidal efficacy of his ruse? It is permitted to doubt it. Did he regret his dear and inimitable Fancioulle? It is sweet and legitimate to believe it. The guilty nobles had enjoyed the performance of comedy for the last time. They were effaced from life. Since then, many mimes, justly appreciated in different countries, have played before the court of ——; but none of them have ever been able to recall the marvellous talents of Fancioulle, or to rise to the same favour.
If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually. With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. And if sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually!
Where evil comes up softly like a flower. Thou knowest, O Satan, patron of my pain, Not for vain tears I went up at that hour;. But, like an old sad faithful lecher, fain To drink delight of that enormous trull Whose hellish beauty makes me young again. Whether thou sleep, with heavy vapours full, Sodden with day, or, new apparelled, stand In gold-laced veils of evening beautiful,.
I love thee, infamous city! Harlots and Hunted have pleasures of their own to give, The vulgar herd can never understand. I send you a little work of which it cannot be said, without injustice, that it has neither head nor tail; since all of it, on the contrary, is at once head and tail, alternately and reciprocally. Consider, I pray you, what convenience this arrangement offers to all of us, to you, to me and to the reader. Remove a vertebra, and the two parts of this tortuous fantasy rejoin painlessly.
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Chop it into particles, and you will see that each part can exist by itself. In the hope that some of these segments will be lively enough to please and to amuse you, I venture to dedicate to you the entire serpent. I have a little confession to make. It was while glancing, for at least the twentieth time, through the famous Gaspard de la Nuit, by Aloysius Bertrand a book known to you, to me, and to a few of our friends, has it not the highest right to be called famous?
Which of us has not, in his moments of ambition,[Pg 62] dreamed the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rime, sufficiently supple, sufficiently abrupt, to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul, to the windings and turnings of the fancy, to the sudden starts of the conscience? It is particularly in frequenting great cities, it is from the flux of their innumerable streams of intercourse, that this importunate ideal is born. Have not you yourself, my dear friend, tried to convey in a chanson the strident cry of the glazier, and to express in a lyric prose all the grievous suggestions that cry bears even to the house-tops, through the heaviest mists of the street?
But, to speak truth, I fear that my jealousy has not brought me good fortune. As soon as I had begun the work, I saw that not only was I laboring far, far, from my mysterious and brilliant model, but that I was reaching an accomplishment if it can be called an accomplishment peculiarly different—accident of which all others would doubtless be proud, but which can but profoundly humiliate a mind which considers it the highest honor of the poet to achieve exactly what he has planned. It was the outburst of the New Year: In the midst of this hubbub and tumult, a donkey was trotting along, tormented by a lout with a horsewhip.
As the donkey was about to turn a corner, a fine fellow, gloved, polished, with a merciless cravat, and imprisoned in impeccable garments, bowed ceremoniously before the beast; said to it, removing his hat: The donkey did not see the clever jester, and continued steadily where its duty called. As for me, I was overcome by an inordinate rage against the sublime idiot, who seemed to me to concentrate in himself the wit of France. So even you, unworthy companion of my unhappy life, resemble the public, to whom one must never offer delicate perfumes, which exasperate, but carefully raked-up mire.
And, too, you will not stop your constant flow of needless words: I have so much need! Comfort me thus, caress me so! I shall try to cure you; perhaps we shall find a means, for two cents, in the midst of a fair, not far away. The other monster, he who bawls at the top of his voice, club in his hand, is a husband. See with what voracity perhaps not feigned she tears apart the living rabbits and the cackling fowl her keeper throws her. A good blow to calm her! Did you hear the flesh resound, right through the artificial hair?
Her eyes leap from her head now; she howls more naturally. In her rage she sparkles all over, like smitten iron. This woman is doubtless miserable, though after all, perhaps, the titillating joys of glory are not unknown to her. There are misfortunes less remediable, and with no compensation. But in the world to which she has been thrown, she has never been able to think that woman might deserve a different destiny. Seeing the hells of which the world is made, what would you have me think of your pretty hell, you who rest only on stuffs as soft as your own skin, who eat only cooked viands, for whom a skilled domestic takes care to cut the bites?
And all those affectations learned from books, and that everlasting melancholy, intended to arouse an emotion far other than pity? Indeed, I sometimes feel like teaching you what true misfortune means. If you scorn the log which I am now, you know , beware the stork which will kill, swallow, devour you at its caprice. Everywhere the holiday crowd was parading, spread out, merry making.
It was one of those festivals on which mountebanks, tricksters, animal trainers and itinerant merchants had long been relying, to compensate for the dull seasons of the year. On such days it seems to me the people forget all, sadness and work; they become children. For the little ones, it is a day of leave, the horror of the school put off twenty-four hours.
For the grown-ups, it is an armistice, concluded with the malevolent forces of life, a respite in the universal contention and struggle. The man of the world himself, and even he who is occupied with spiritual tasks, with difficulty escape the influence of this popular jubilee. They absorb, without volition, their part of the atmosphere of devil-may-care. They made, in truth, a formidable gathering: It was a mingling of cries, of blaring of brass and bursting of rockets.
The Hercules, proud of the enormousness of their limbs, without forehead, without cranium, stalked majestically about under fleshings fresh washed for the occasion. The dancers, pretty as fairies or as princesses, leapt and cavorted under the flare of lanterns which filled their skirts with sparkles. All was light, dust, shouting, joy, tumult; some spent, others gained, the one and the other equally joyful.
And spread over all, dominating every odor, was a smell of frying, which was the incense of the festival. At the end, at the extreme end of the row of booths, as if, ashamed, he had exiled himself from all these splendors, I saw an old mountebank, stooped, decrepit, emaciated, a ruin of a man, leaning against one of the pillars of his hut, more wretched than that of the most besotted barbarian, the distress of which two candle ends, guttering and smoking, lighted up only too well.
Here, absolute misery, misery bedecked, to crown the horror, in comic tatters, where necessity, rather than art, produced the contrast. He was not laughing, the wretched one! He was not weeping, he was not dancing, he was not gesticulating, he was not crying. He was singing no song, gay or grievous, he was imploring no one.
He was mute and immobile. He had renounced, he had withdrawn. His destiny was accomplished. But what a deep, unforgettable look he cast over the crowd and the lights, the moving stream of which was[Pg 68] stemmed a few yards from his repulsive wretchedness! I felt my throat clutched by the terrible hand of hysteria, and it seemed as though glances were clouded by rebellious tears that would not fall.
What was to be done? What good was there in asking the unfortunate what curiosity, what marvel had he to show within those barefaced shades, behind that threadbare curtain? In truth, I dared not; and, although the reason for my timidity will make you laugh, I confess that I was afraid of humiliating him. At length, I had resolved to drop a coin while passing his boards, in the hope that he would divine my purpose, when a great backwash of people, produced by I know not what disturbance, carried me far away. And leaving, obsessed by the sight, I sought to analyze my sudden sadness, and I said: The Chinese tell the time in the eyes of cats.
One day a missionary, walking in the suburbs of Nanking, noticed that he had forgotten his watch, and asked a little boy what time it was. The youngster of the heavenly Empire hesitated at first; then, carried away by his thought he answered: As for me, if I turn toward the fair feline, to her so[Pg 69] aptly named, who is at once the honor of her sex, the pride of my heart and the fragrance of my mind, be it by night or by day, in the full light or in the opaque shadows, in the depths of her adorable eyes I always tell the time distinctly, always the same, a vast, a solemn hour, large as space, without division of minutes or of seconds,—an immovable hour which is not marked on the clocks, yet is slight as a sigh, is rapid as the lifting of a lash.
And if some intruder comes to disturb me while my glance rests upon that charming dial, if some rude and intolerant genie, some demon of the evil hour, comes to ask: What are you hunting for in the eyes of that being? Do you see the time there, mortal squanderer and do-nothing? Indeed, I have had so much pleasure in embroidering this pretentious gallantry, that I shall ask you for nothing in exchange.
Let me breathe, long, long, of the odor of your hair, let me plunge my whole face in its depth, as a thirsty man in the waters of a spring, let me flutter it with my hand as a perfumed kerchief, to shake off memories into the air. If you could know all that I see! My soul journeys on perfumes as the souls of other men on music. Your hair meshes a full dream, crowded with sails and masts; it holds great seas on which monsoons bear me toward charming climes, where the skies are bluer and[Pg 70] deeper, where the atmosphere is perfumed with fruits, with leaves, and with the human skin.
In the ocean of your hair I behold a port humming with melancholy chants, with strong men of all nations and with ships of every form carving their delicate, intricate architecture on an enormous sky where lolls eternal heat. In the caresses of your hair, I find again the languor of long hours on a divan, in the cabin of a goodly ship, cradled by the unnoticed undulation of the port, between pots of flowers and refreshing water-jugs. At the glowing hearth-stone of your hair, I breathe the odor of tobacco mixed with opium and sugar; in the night of your hair, I see shine forth the infinite of the tropic sky; on the downy bank-sides of your hair, I grow drunk with the mingled odors of tar and musk, and oil of cocoanut.
Let me bite, long, your thick black hair. When I nibble your springy, rebellious hair, it seems that I am eating memories. I should like to give you an idea for an innocent diversion. There are so few amusements that are not guilty ones! When you go out in the morning for a stroll along the highways, fill your pockets with little penny contrivances—such as the straight merryandrew moved by a single thread, the blacksmiths who strike the anvil, the rider and his horse, with a whistle for a tail—and, along the taverns, at the foot of the trees, make presents of them to the unknown poor children whom you meet.
You will see their eyes grow beyond all measure. At first, they will not dare to take; they will doubt their[Pg 71] good fortune. Then their hands will eagerly seize the gift, and they will flee as do the cats who go far off to eat the bit you have given them, having learned to distrust man.
On a road, behind the rail of a great garden at the foot of which appeared the glitter of a beautiful mansion struck by the sun, stood a pretty, fresh child, clad in those country garments so full of affectation. Luxury, freedom from care, and the habitual spectacle of wealth, make these children so pretty that one would think them formed of other paste than the sons of mediocrity or of poverty. Beside him on the grass lay a splendid toy, fresh as its master, varnished, gilt, clad in a purple robe, covered with plumes and beads of glass. But the child was not occupied with his favored plaything, and this is what he was watching: On the other side of the rail, on the road, among the thistles and the thorns, was another child, puny, dirty, fuliginous, one of those pariah-brats the beauty of which an impartial eye might discover if, as the eye of the connoisseur divines an ideal painting beneath the varnish of the coach-maker, it cleansed him of the repugnant patina of misery.
Across the symbolic bars which separate two worlds, the highway and the mansion, the poor child was showing the rich child his own toy, which the latter examined eagerly, as a rare and unknown object. Now, this toy, which the ragamuffin was provoking, tormenting, tossing in a grilled box, was a live rat! As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75, lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.
Login here for access. Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course. Login or Sign up. Have you ever encountered something that claims to be a poem but looks like prose? For instance, maybe it reads like a lyrical poem, but it's written in paragraph form? If so, you might have come across a prose poem. A prose poem , also known as prose poetry, is an example of a hybrid genre of writing. Prose poems occur when someone writes prose using poetry techniques.
Before we can understand what prose poems are, it's important to understand the genres of prose and poetry independently. Prose is anything written down that does not possess any poetic meter. Well, that's an easy enough definition, but what is meter exactly? Poetic meter is the rhythm of a poem. Whether you've heard any of Shakespeare's famous sonnets or the latest hip-hop song burning up the charts, chances are that you've noticed that many poems or songs have a certain rhythm to them.
This rhythm is based on different factors, including the syllables per line and what syllables are naturally emphasized or stressed if someone were to read the poem out loud. There is more to poetry than poetic meter, of course. Poems are often image-driven and emphasize visual descriptions, including metaphors, while prose tends to focus on aspects such as narrative, characters, and plot arc.
In addition, poems also play with the sound of language using repetition and rhyming. So, what is prose poetry then?
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Prose poetry is anything that combines these elements into a single piece of writing! If you want a stricter definition, prose poetry is poetry that is not written in verse and contains other poetic attributes, such as rhythm and metaphors. Further on, a girl has written, this is my nineteenth operation. She says, sometimes it's easier to write than to talk, and I'm so afraid.
She's offered me a page in the book. My son is sleeping in the room next door. This afternoon, I held my whole weight to his body while a doctor drove needles deep into his leg. My son screamed, Daddy, they're hurting me, don't let them hurt me, make them stop. I want to write, how brave you are, but I need a little courage of my own, so I write, forgive me, I know I let them hurt you, please don't worry. If I have to, I can do it again. The prose poem looks, at first glance, like prose. But unlike prose, it resists conventional narrative or character. The voice of the speaker is never elaborated on except that he is a father.
The poem defies easy interpretation, due to multiple pronouns that are not clarified, in addition to raising the question of whose journal it is. If you read the prose poem out loud, you can hear the rhythm that the prose poem contains. It's not as clear-cut as a traditional poem, since it is a prose poem, but there is clearly a consideration to each word and sentence the writer chose.
Another example of a prose poem is Charles Baudelaire's poem, 'Be Drunk', translated from the original French:.
That's all there is to it--it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk. Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk!
On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish. Once again, this piece has all the characteristics of a prose poem. It is written in paragraphs, it does not have the narrative structure of a prose piece, such as developed characters and a plot, and it is very image-driven. It also contains lots of repetition a common device in poems and has a strong rhythm or poetic meter. Gertrude Stein's book of prose poems, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms , deals with different objects. The book includes her prose poem, 'A Box'. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analyzed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.
Like the other examples, Gertrude Stein's prose poem is written in the style of prose but contains the rhythm, images, and language play commonly found in poems. Examples of the language play at work include repetition of the phrase 'out of. Prose poetry is a hybrid genre of prose and poetry. As a result, it has characteristics of both genres. Prose poetry is written like prose, in paragraphs rather than verse, but contains the characteristics of poetry, such as poetic meter, language play, and a focus on images rather than narrative, plot, and character.
Meter is the rhythm of a poem, including syllables per line and which syllables are emphasized. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level. To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page. Not sure what college you want to attend yet?
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