Charles Baudelaire: Une Micro-Histoire
by Raymond P. Poggenburg
This very brief introduction is addressed to the non-reader of French. Such an audience will necessarily be vast and will include many who read neither French nor English. I apologize for perhaps seeming to exclude those persons. However, Baudelaire is a world author, and he has been translated repeatedly into very many languages, even into Braille. Therefore, readers curious enough to seek out Baudelaire on the Internet, if they happen not to read Baudelaire's native language, may find him in translation, or even learn French in order to read him. After all, Stéphane Mallarmé, another great Nineteenth century French poet once wrote: "I learned English so as better to read Edgar Allan Poe." Baudelaire himself might have made such a statement.
Many people have read and responded to Baudelaire's writings. These responses, today reaching well over 50,000, are catalogued in a remarkable critical bibliography, devoted to the poet and housed in the W.T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies Center at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee). This work is updated constantly and affords the serious student an opportunity to see the development of interest in Baudelaire since the middle of the 19th century. A yearly bibliography including publications in all languages on the poet is maintained by the Center and is available in its Bulletin baudelairien. This scholarly journal attracts contributions from all over the world. Its role is to publish basic information of a documentary nature relative to the poet's life and works. Extensive collections of materials of Baudelairian interest are to be found in the Center and form the greatest such resource on record. The Center's unique resources are open to scholars in all fields of enquiry. It is of particular interest to scholars in art criticism and comparative literature.
The place of art criticism in Baudelaire studies is of great interest, particularly as regards the elaboration of the poet's esthetic. He was familiar with the Paris artistic milieu of his day , knew Courbet and Manet, and admired Corot. He defended the work of Delacroix, passionately and unreservedly. Baudelaire's review of the Paris Salon of 1845 was his first serious published work. He followed it in 1846 with another, more ample Salon review. In the two are visible the outlines of his esthetic. In fact it is reasonable to ask whether he did not see the world in a way heavily conditioned by his extreme sensitivity to art. In his lifetime, his writings on art were already considered by his contemporaries to be remarkable. His way of seeing foretold the discovery of the "Impressionist Eye," and in many ways is still the basis of modern art criticism.
Students of comparative literature will find in Baudelaire the remarkable example of a major French poet who devoted the most consistently vigorous efforts of his literary career to the furtherance of the reputation of Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer he never met but who seemed to him a spiritual brother in literary idea and execution. If we were able to measure the time and effort required for Baudelaire to translate and publish Poe we might be astonished at the energy it consumed. It was labor-intensive work, slow, painstaking and handwritten. It was frequently carried out by the poet while he was in difficult circumstances. Scrupulously, he personally saw his Poe translations through the press. Baudelaire spared no effort to make of Poe a "great man for France." This was his ambition. How well he realized that intention still surprises us today. His translations remain the standard text for all French-speaking countries. When one great poet translates another, problems of faithfulness to the text may come up. However, Baudelaire's loyalty to Poe is a model of literary respect. In this case, the translator is rarely if ever a traitor.
Baudelaire published, as well, a French version of Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, a further sign of his openness to English and American literary culture. In the nineteenth century opium, in the form of laudanum, was freely sold in pharmacies and was used medicinally (to treat toothaches, for example). Like Coleridge, Baudelaire was interested in the effects of the drug on the poetic imagination. He was, however, aware of the dangers of addiction and saw in the narcotic a threat to the literary artist's powers of concentration.
It is Baudelaire's personal literary achievement, however, that draws us to him still. At the beginning of the last decade of his life, in 1857, Baudelaire published his most famous work, a book of poems, almost all short, mostly sonnets, all of them mysteriously cohering in an organic whole the exact nature of which has resisted successful critical analysis. Les Fleurs du mal (translated as Flowers of Evil) has been compared to Dante's Divine Comedy and for our age it may well fulfill the function of that great epic of the human spirit. To many these poems seem to define the sensibility of our age as Dante's poem did for his. [You may notice the absence of a translation of the title may not be as easy as it seems.] A critical synthesis explaining the work is as hard to find as that of Dante's poem, and is, like the latter's title, enigmatic, mysterious. Like the Divina commedia, it is simple-sounding and is formed of two disparate parts, each familiar but which, when joined, give an impression of strangeness. What is Baudelaire's "mal"? No single term seems to serve: "Evil" seems somewhat rhetorical, melodramatic, romantically self-centered. "Fleurs" at first appears to contrast with mal, but does it? If we open our minds to the image it may seem to be a rather ordinary combination of the natural and the moral, yet it produces in the reader a puzzling shock of unknown origin. From the oxymoron of its title on, as we read the book, its secret continues to fascinate us, teaching us, surprising us, always drawing us on.
From the moment of the first edition of the verse poems in 1857 until the end of his life, Baudelaire was attracted to the idea of the prose poem. He recognized his debt to Aloysius Bertrand, whose prose poems were well known to his circle of friends. While Baudelaire never brought this literary form the level of perfection necessary to match his ambition for it (at least not to his own satisfaction), he is generally credited with its most successful use in his day. In 1967, interviews I held with a number of practicing French poets revealed that Baudelaire's little poems in prose appealed more strongly to them than did his more formally conservative verse. Today it would be hard to deny that formal verse in poetry (at least in French) has largely given way to a freer, more malleable poetic expression: the prose poem.
There is a French saying "La vie explique l'oeuvre" [The life explains the work]. Today many critics would hold otherwise, saying that the "truth" of a literary work would be the truth of discourse. Yet history, or its handmaiden biography, have long been tools for understanding literature. But one cannot speak of an absolute here, and at the risk of sounding retrograde, it has so far appeared difficult to replace the notion of serial time (the diachronic) with a theory of time as a continuum (the synchronic). Until a conclusion appears to exclude all others, history's small true fact seems to be necessary to our understanding of a text written in the past. And Baudelaire's work itself shows a haunting awareness of the inexorable, fatal ticking of the clock, marking time's devouring of life, forever reminding the poet of the pressure its endless round exerts upon him to create the new. Also, some kinds of writing, especially lyric poetry, seem likely to require an idea of the poet's existence for understanding its subject, at least. It is an individual's vision of his or her inner life which becomes the stuff of the verse. Such poetry is perforce self-referential. Without some idea of the realities of the poet's life, it is extremely hard to imagine how he arrives at an esthetically satisfying expression of its nature. But how can we give form to the immense accumulation of fact that has developed around Baudelaire's life and works? This information is highly various in nature and in reliability. A passionate poet breeds passion in his readers, who either oppose or sympathize with his writings and defend their views vigorously. A full history of Baudelaire criticism would disclose great extremes of opinion on every side of every question concerning him. How to proceed, then?
This book makes an effort to address that problem simply, attempting to collect all the documented knowledge of Baudelaire's existence day-to-day. It tries to avoid speculation based on states of mind, on unsubstantiated reports, on ambiguities of meaning. Subjective statements of its author, unattributed declarations by him and by others about him, may be stated, not debated. Without treating him as a saint, which he certainly was not, or condemning him, it seeks to give him a full, fair and accurate hearing. In short it wishes to avoid all inhumane rhetoric in speaking of his life. It attempts to do so primarily by replying, as clearly as possible, to questions of fact, such as: what happened? when did it happen? who was involved? what is the context of the event?
For an event to be admitted to the chronological series, certain rules must be observed. The source must be cited. Obvious triviality must be left out. Ambiguity and irony are to be banished, left to literature, which is their home.
In a reference work, the non-scholarly reader may be hampered by the absence of general interpretive material. Let us try to ask some non-chronological questions, choosing certain themes that come to light in reading the poet's work.
What did Baudelaire think of women and of love? of friendship? of literary art? of society? of nature and urban life? of religion? of drugs? of travel, of death?
Four women figured most prominently in Baudelaire's life: Caroline, his mother; Jeanne Duval; Apollonie Sabatier; Marie Daubrun. The last three were his lovers; they shared his life and peopled his dreams. He immortalized them in his verse.
Caroline [Baudelaire; born Dufays, and then, by marriage Caroline Aupick]
His relationship with his mother, Caroline, was close, warm and occasionally antagonistic. She was an orphan, well-born but poor, taken in by an upper-class Parisian family as a child, given an education and given a home as an act of semi-charity. She had no prospects in life. On the verge of spinsterhood, she made a marriage of convenience with an older man, Jean-François Baudelaire, a widower. He was a rather distinguished and worldly gentleman who provided her what seems to us to have been a happy life until he died several years later. She gave him a genius for a son. At his death she chose for her mate an ambitious young army officer who himself had been an orphaned child. The two would make their way to the highest levels of society, Aupick becoming a general, an ambassador and finally a senator. Caroline, as his wife, would benefit from the brilliant contacts of his career. It would be silly to say she was a "little woman" as the French phrase has it. She did not have much education but she was well-read for a woman of her day. Her literary son seems to have been able to take pleasure in her company in spite of their many dissimilarities. She was strong minded and he could be difficult. But she loved him, and he loved her, no matter how greatly they exasperated one another at times. He was her only child and she was his only family member. They needed one another. Perhaps that need was the origin of their closeness. In fact, they were the only couple to whom Baudelaire remained entirely faithful.
Caroline was, all his life, an important factor for Baudelaire. (For example, she controlled his money after her son quickly spent a large piece of his father's inheritance). He came constantly to her for funds, he wrote very frequently to her, expressing his most intimate thoughts and feelings. He left enough evidence of their relationship to convince the numerous Freudian critics he would have in his future that their situation was classically oedipal. Very much has been written on that subject and opinions on Caroline have varied widely, especially about her control of his father's bequest. However, it may be that his financial dependency on her helped forge unbreakable links between them, providing for long-term development of a relationship which normally diminishes as the child becomes better able to make his own choices. However, the silver cord was never really severed for Baudelaire and she remained, all his life, a potent force. Her marriage to Jacques Aupick introduced into their life a complication for both of them. After a peaceful childhood where his stepfather was concerned, Baudelaire and Aupick later developed a mutual ill-will that would last all their lives. Aupick and Caroline deplored Baudelaire's determination to have a literary career, Caroline all the while doling out small sums to tide him over his many financial crises, making the cord silver indeed. For Aupick, it must have been impossible to understand a stepson who seemed to be turning into a wastrel instead of the ambitious young fellow their family's advantages would have allowed him to become. That is to say, with loftier aspirations than mere poetry. Eventually, Caroline came to recognize her son's great literary achievement, far though its scene was from that of her own somewhat cushioned existence. Just how much of her approval was due to maternal loyalty might be debated but in later years she was proud of him. Her husband maintained his disapproval until his death which occurred just before the publication of Les Fleurs du mal. We may well conjecture that the spectacle of a family member -- a poet -- subjected to legal condemnation (as Baudelaire would be, for endangering France's morality by his writings), would not have made Aupick more appreciative of Baudelaire's genius. Sometimes death arrives just in time. And so ended the triangle of Caroline, Charles and Aupick. In a letter to Caroline, Baudelaire once compared himself to Hamlet...
Jeanne Duval was a sensual, passionate, devious, fickle, uneducated, exciting, sexy, promiscuous, unpredictable mulatress. Exactly the opposite of Caroline, who detested her. She swam in the Bohemian waters of the Latin quarter like an exotic fish, (a piranha?) existing on whatever money she could get, probably by any means. Today we would call her a survivor. She brought Baudelaire some of the intensest happiness any man could have from a woman. She never understood the slightest thing about him, except perhaps that he was a "Monsieur" who was attracted to her. She inspired his most passionate love poetry. Their lives remained intertwined over long years and, when she was sick and growing old, Baudelaire helped her to survive, saying she had become more like his child than a lover, sharing his meagre funds with her and remaining concerned about her welfare.
Apollonie Sabatier was a woman of the world, a sumptuous and liberated beauty who, born illegitimate, came as a young woman to the Paris demi-monde, where she became the mistress of, probably among others, a well-known sculptor, then of a wealthy Belgian, then of an even wealthier Englishman. Baudelaire developed for her a Platonic affection, writing in her honor, intense but ethereal verse that took no account of her real, rather earthy, nature. She was a friend to several artists and famous men of letters, intelligent, good-natured and artistic. She learned to paint miniatures and had an interesting art collection of her own. She presided over Sunday dinners in her apartment where her guests included Gustave Flaubert and Théophile Gautier, along with Baudelaire and other well-known literary and artistic personalities of her day. No other ladies were invited to these gatherings and the men were encouraged to speak of whatever was on their minds. They did so, unrestrainedly we are told. She was not insensitive to Baudelaire's feelings, responded cordially to his admiration, but found that his attraction to her was more abstract than physical. She then became a warm and faithful friend to him, from all we can tell. She was by all accounts a good and interesting woman of the demi-monde.
Marie Daubrun, an actress, entered Baudelaire's life in his mid-twenties. A Burgundian, she emigrated to Paris, probably at sixteen, and rose through the world of little theaters of Montmartre, to the point where she could be chosen to play the role of Elmire, the female lead in Molière's Tartuffe at the Odéon, one of Paris' great theaters. Along the way she had one great success, La Belle aux cheveux d'or [The Golden-haired Beauty], a dramatic production made up of a series of rather anodyne tableaux that nonetheless became all the rage in Paris. She was a substantial beauty as well. Baudelaire, describing her in a poem, used an image of her as a "jeune éléphant" (a young elephant!) at one point in their tumultuous relationship. They lived together at two separate periods, then she left him for Théodore de Banville, a longtime friend of Baudelaire. Banville was a poet, playwright and theater critic. He supported her career as an actress and composed poetry in her honor. Banville was not the poet Baudelaire was but he was surely easier for Marie to live with. She could arouse jealousy, to judge from a poem "To a Madonna" which she inspired in Baudelaire. It is not hard to imagine a love triangle in which she played one friend against the other, finally choosing Banville over Baudelaire. She had green eyes, too. No correspondence and relatively little personal information exists on her relationship to Baudelaire. On the other hand, he wrote for her some of his most beautiful verse. Perhaps because she had green eyes.
These four women tend to assume almost mythical proportions, as a result of the poetry they inspired in Baudelaire. If one considers them as a set of the several archetypal images of woman, taken together, synoptically as it were, they together embody the multiple images of the mother, the carnal mistress, the pure idol, and the elusive, abstract feminine object of desire. Each seems to bring to Baudelaire's life her special quality and character, each one is different, each one is necessary to him as a man and as a poet.
No one of these three women could incarnate all the qualities of the whole trio. But their combined effect on the poet provided a rich store of imaginative material for him to exploit in his verse. A good deal has been made by critics of the theme of Don Juan in Baudelaire's work, not without reason, we may imagine. At one time in his life, the Chronology suggests, Baudelaire went so far as to be seeing all three at the same time.
The poet's notebooks also contain the names of numerous other ladies (or non-ladies). And he had other, elegant, good friends of the opposite sex. The evidence is that women were attracted to him. That is no surprise for poets but the power to attract usually disappears with the poet. However, when Time magazine, a few years back, asked Jacqueline Kennedy to say which men in history she would most like to have known, she included Charles Baudelaire in her very short list. Similarly, a mature French married lady, one of my friends, at a recent dinner party in Provence, discovered I was interested in Baudelaire. She said, "Ah, he has a wonderful way of talking about women." Apparently his spell is permanent.
Whatever love was for Baudelaire, and it was surely many things, it was never simple, rarely peaceful, taking many forms. The most famous phrase of his on the subject doubtless is the one from his poem: "L'Invitation au voyage" [Invitation to the Journey], where he speaks to Marie, addressing her as "Mon enfant, ma soeur..."
In general, Baudelaire never seemed to write the word "love" easily. He saw it as offering mutual pleasure, of course, but there is frequently a hard edge, a combat involved which condemns the couple to be constantly at war. One thinks of the poems about Marie Daubrun, which sometimes show us a lover in search of peace and tranquillity but which sometimes are ferocious in their tone. With Jeanne passion is frequently almost feral in its intensity. Apollonie is distant, an icon he does not really wish to approach. Each woman in his life produces a different kind of emotion in him; it is almost a specialization of love with a different essence brought to it by each woman.
Jeanne, Apollonie and Marie all show the quality of considerable energy. All three women are vigorous. Apollonie and Marie are what we should today call liberated, seeking life vigorously, making their way outside society's norms. Within her limits, Jeanne is like them. None will accept "belonging" to a man; they all remain their own women. That is a part of their attraction for Baudelaire, and perhaps not the least.
Baudelaire shows considerable interest in lesbians, writing of them with sensitivity and understanding. Old women evoke in him a sense of fellowship and admiration. No attention whatever is paid to the charms of the child / woman. He seems to have detested the jeune fille. If he writes a poem about a young street singer, it is not because she is young but rather that she appears to belong to a distant, Renaissance past. He was horrified by the adolescent tastelessness of Bébé, Apollonie's little sister.
Baudelaire was known for his reluctance to use the familiar form "tu" in French, normally the sign of friendly feeling. He is quoted, accurately but with a strong dash of perversity, as saying "Lots of friends, lots of gloves, for fear of the mange." While this may seem extreme, it is true that glad-handing was surely not his habit. Some found this irritating. For those who were and who would remain his friends and understood him this view was a recognition of a fact of human nature, known to all moralists, that people are prone to follow their self-interest under pressure, rather than their sentimentality. This desire for authenticity in relationships extended even to his art criticism. One of his least favorite types of painter was the one he called "les singes du sentiment" (those who ape in their art a sentiment they do not really experience).
Every real poet, Baudelaire said, is an "incarnation." By this we assume him to mean that the poet is his poetry, his poetry is the poet. Et Verbum erat is, after all, borrowed from Scripture. Art has its own theology, too. There is no division between the life and the work. More than perhaps any lyric poet of the last century and a half, Baudelaire exemplifies this belief. But for him as for Flaubert, "genius is a long patience," and the genius must hammer out the raw gold of inspiration into the shaped jewel of poetry. Baudelaire shared the belief of Poe, for whom the phrase "a long poem" was a contradiction in terms. The musical note Baudelaire sought to get into his poetry always, or almost always, had (like a fine musical composition) the proper number of vibrations. In this respect he was the forerunner of the Symbolist movement, founded on Paul Valéry's idea that these poets came together to try to retrieve what they had lost to music. Except that Baudelaire never belonged to a poetic movement. He did inspire one however, and knew of it before he died. Two of its most famous poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as many lesser Symbolist poets, testify to the power of his example.
Society and the Artist
Baudelaire once wrote that society deliberately sets out to crush genius by pressing down on it with all its weight. The genius must have enough strength to push back and hold off society while he goes about his creative task. After Baudelaire, most artists will find themselves in opposition to the values of the herd. Society's view of life is necessarily a habitual one. The artist is obliged, in creating an original work, to find himself in opposition to the opinions of those blind to its newness. Baudelaire chose, in language no doubt calculated to attract attention, to declare that "The Beautiful is always bizarre." If the artist gives in and plays by society's rules, he will imitate what exists already, showing the world what it knows, perhaps benefitting in the short term by doing so but always losing his wager with literary immortality as a price.
Baudelaire himself was born into a milieu where society's rules were well-understood. The Second Empire in France did not easily countenance what it considered flagrant immorality. Both Flaubert and Baudelaire were tried in court for "immorality" supposedly transmitted to the vast public through its reading of Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary and Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal. These trials both took place in 1857. Flaubert was acquitted; Baudelaire was convicted of "offending public morality." Six of his poems were condemned, and the edition was stripped of them. The poet was also fined. He found this inexplicable, as do we today.
Nature & Urban life
In his early thirties Baudelaire took a public stand on a large subject, the inspiration of countless poets and poetasters of the Romantic ara: nature. He becomes the first to extol the beauty of the artificial in the modern world, product of the present moment, free of the servile obedience to the natural. The Western world in the mid-nineteenth century was moving through a process of urbanization. Cities were undergoing rapid development and country life and its progenitor, nature, was being replaced by an urban existence. All around him, Paris was changing as the constitutional monarchy followed by the Second Empire presided over an unprecedented and lengthy period of commercial and industrial growth. The greenery of the romantic décor was being replaced by the city skyline. But our modern world, he saw, is tinted in thousands of new shades, not all green.We have in our senses all we need to receive the most astonishing blendings imaginable of these sensations. We may now perceive a synthesis of sensory life in which lie the whole world of images, not simply those to be found in nature. It is customary to regard Baudelaire's poetic vision as founded on the phenomenon of synesthesia, an idea of the image as composed of a mixture of simultaneous reports from the several senses. The often beautiful (and bizarre) effect of this procedure was not lost on later poets. Arthur Rimbaud, one of Baudelaire's poetic heirs, would say: "I became a fabulous opera." But of pantheism, that religious product of nature, Baudelaire declared himself unable to believe that the "soul of the Gods lived in plants" and that he found the cities a much better expression of human joy and suffering than were the frightening cathedral-like forests. The modern offered the artist material better than did an "impudent Nature, always renewing itself." In a misogynistic moment he also declared that the trouble with Women was that they are so "natural" (not meant as a compliment). In the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal, he gave form to this feeling and added a magnficent section called "Tableaux parisiens," [Paris Paintings], surely the most beautiful of his mature poetry. One could multiply the examples of this tendency to turn one's back on nature: it lasted all his life.
Baudelaire began and lived his life as a Roman Catholic. A non-conformist in his maturity, at his death, after more than a year of aphasia, he received the last rites of the Roman Catholic church. People occasionally propose that he was not "really" Catholic, whatever that may mean in a country such as France, famous for its lukewarm attachment to the Church's rituals. But he was baptized and died in the faith. We have no information on his habits of observance of this religion into which he was born. He numbered among his great dislikes certain of its representatives. But much ink has flowed intending to prove one or another thesis on this subject. The chronology as we know it shows him to respond esthetically, rather than religiously, to experience. He does, however, make much use of religious imagery, often in profane contexts. For a long period, the Catholic Church took a dim view of his work, then changed bit by bit, as it came to join its century; Catholic officialdom now seems to grant him the grace of honesty, at least, even of true religious feeling. Certainly the greatest gift Baudelaire received from his Catholic background was a firm belief in original sin, which may in fact be, if we like theological explications of poetry, the real sense of the title of Les Fleurs du mal. Nowhere does he say this, so we shall probably have to consider him a kind of spoiled priest crossed with a Bohemian artist, with perhaps a dash of the conservatively-dressed gentleman, whose garments are worn but elegantly cut, shabby but clean.
In our modern life mobility has become a kind of leitmotif, a getting about on the surface of the globe and in the air overhead. One could suppose that the great development of the railroads in France beginning when Baudelaire was an adolescent may have led him to move around more than did his parents. But that is hardly the point here. Consider his greatest (and only) long poem "Le Voyage." It presents our life on earth as a trip on which Earth's vaunted sights turn out to be, after all, banal, no matter how far we travel to see them. Life's end, too, may be seen as the end of the road and it, too, is a journey through boredom. But here we have a surprise awaiting us in this climactic poem. Abruptly, death takes on the aspect of an old captain ready to carry us out onto an ink-black sea, toward what? We do not know. And the life that has glowed in the poem darkens into finality as we realize that we are about to set sail in search of what we have always sought: the answer to the riddle of our life in its own ending. But our search will also be a quest for the new, a voyage on which only Death may guide us, out there in the depths of the unknown, where awaits the Unknown. While this voyage must be our last, it may bring us, finally, to the place where lies the source of creation, of the new, which will at last counter the numbing effect of the familiar, of ennui, of spiritual boredom.
Baudelaire has concluded his book in the mode of the first poem of Les Fleurs du mal: "Au Lecteur" [To the Reader], where that boredom is man's capital offense, his greatest weakness. From "Le Voyage" we learn that, paradoxically, death alone brings us hope of relief from ennui, as we discover in it the new. Baudelaire's place as the great poet of the modern becomes clear. He suggests for us a theology of art, a glorification of the creative act, man's only source of worth. As he wrote in his brilliant evocation of modern man's artistic masterpieces, "Les Phares" [The Lighthouses]
For really it is, Lord, the best of witnesses
That we may bear to our own worthiness
This burning sob that rolls from age to age
To die upon your own eternity's shore!
(Translation of the above and the following three poems) Raymond P. Poggenburg
Following are English versions of three of Baudelaire's poems on the theme of Travel.
Often, just for fun, the members of the crew
Capture an albatross, ocean's giant bird
Who follows, like a traveler's lazy companion,
The ship as it slips over the bitter deeps.
No sooner is he prisoner on the deck
Than that great monarch of the blue, now shamed
And clumsy drops his white and oarlike wings
Pitiably dragging helpless at his sides.
Wingéd voyager, how gauche and weak he is!
Beauty gone, now comic and unsightly! A man's
Pipe pokes his beak, another's limp apes
The cripple who was flying moments back!
The poet is brother to the prince of clouds,
Who lives in storms, and ridicules the archer;
Exile on earth, accompanied by jeering,
His giant pinions will not let him walk.
Invitation to the VoyageMy child, my sister,
Dream on the sweetness
In seeking out there a life of our own
In loving at ease,
Until life has gone,
In that land in the image of you!
The moistened suns
Of those misty skies
Hold for my spirit all of the charm,
Of your faithless eyes
Shining across their tears.
Out there all is order, beauty
Luxury, calm, and sensual joy.
Ancient furnishings aglow
Polished by the years,
There would fill our chamber;
Rarest of all blooms
There would mix their scents
With vaguer scents of amber,
Richest of ceilings
Deepest of mirrors,
Splendor all oriental
These would converse
With the soul in secret
In its sweetly native tongue.
Out there all is order, beauty,
Luxury, calm, and sensual joy.
See, on those canals,
Those somnolent ships
Of vagabond mind;
To satisfy your least desire
They've come from the ends of the earth.
-- The setting suns
Bedeck the fields,
Canals, all the city
In hyacinth and gold
The world drowses off
Into a warm light.
Out there all is order, beauty,
Luxury, calm, amd sensual joy.
For the child, lover of maps and engravings,
The universe equals his vast appetite.
Ah! how great the world when seen by lamplight!
How small when seen through memory's eyes!
One morning we set out our brain aflame.
Our heart swelled up with spite and bitter hopes,
And off we go at the rhythm of the waves,
Cradling our infinite on the sea's finite:
Some of us, happy to flee an infamous home;
Others the horrors of our native land,
Some, astrologers drowning in a woman's eyes,
Tyrannical Circe of the dangerous perfumes.
So, fleeing transformation into beasts they choose
To drink of space and light and fiery skies;
Ice eats their flesh, suns which make them copper and,
Then slowly kill the trace of kisses' touch.
But real voyagers are those alone who leave
For the leaving; light of heart, like balloons,
Never are they divergent from their fate.
Saying always, although not knowing why: "Let's leave!"
But those whose wishes take the form of clouds,
And who dream, as the conscript of the cannon
Of vast delights, changing, unimaginable,
Whose names can never fall on human ears.
We imitate, ô Horror! the top and the ball
In their waltz and their bounce; even asleep
Curiosity torments and tumbles us about
Like a cruel Angel flagellating suns
Strange inheritance with its wandering purpose,
And, being nowhere, may be anywhere,
Wherein Man, whose hopefulness can never flag
To find repose still runs as if insane.
Our soul is a three-master seeking its Icaria;
A voice rings out from the bridge: «Be alert»
A voice from the topmast, ardent and insane, shouts:
«Love... glory... happiness!» Hell! is a rock!
Each island indicated out by the Watch
Suggests an Eldorado sent by Destiny;
Imagination, when its orgy's done,
Finds only a reef revealed in morning's light.
O unlucky lover of fantasy lands!
Shall we put him in chains or drown him at sea,
This drunken seafarer, inventing Americas
Who makes the abyss more bitter with his mirage?
Like the old vagrant, trampling in the mud,
Dreaming up, nose lifted, brilliant heavenly scenes;
Discovering Capua there with his spellbound eye there
Where every lighted candle shows a hovel.
Astonishing travelers! what noble stories
We read in your eyes as deep as the seas!
Show us your rich and treasured memories,
Those marvelous jewels, ethereal and astral.
We wish to travel, not by steam or sail!
Have, so as to conjure the boredom of our prisons,
Displayed upon our minds, stretched like a sail,
Your recollections framed by their horizons.
Tell, what have you seen?
«We have seen stars
And waves. We have seen sands as well as they;
And, despite shocks and unforeseen disasters,
We often have been bored ourselves, as here.
«The glory of the sun on violet seas,
The cities' glory in the setting sun,
Ignited in our hearts an anxious burning
To plunge into a glinting, tempting sky.
«The richest of the cities, greatest landscapes,
Never could contain the mystical pull
Of those that chance constructed with the clouds,
And still desire magnified concerned!
«-- Satisfaction to desire adds more force.
Desire, old tree that pleasure fertilizes,
While your old bark grows great and ever harder,
Your branches want to reach up toward the sun.
`«Will your growth never cease o livelier tree
Than cedar? -- though we have, carefully,
Found some sketches for your hungry album,
Brothers for whom is beautiful everything from afar!
«We bowed low before idols bearing trunks;
Thrones a-glittering with luminous jewels,
Finely wrought palaces whose elfin pomp
Would seem to all your bankers ruinous dreams.
«And costumes which the eye felt like strong drink;
Women with tinted teeth and tinted nails,
Tricksters full of lore caressed by snakes.»
And then what, and then what more?
«Ô childish brains!
Let's not forget the most important thing,
We saw everywhere, and did not have to search,
Ascending every level of life's ladder,
The saddening spectacle of immortal sin:
«Woman, the vile slave, haughty and stupid,
Self-worshipper straight-faced, self-lover unabashed;
Man, the tyrant, greedy, lazy, hard and grasping,
Slave unto a slave and gutter in the sewer;
Hangman likes his job, martyr wracked by sobs;
Feast all seasoned and perfumed by blood;
Power's poison maddening the despote,
People loving whips that brutalize them;
Several faiths resembling our own,
Sscrambling up to Heaven; Saintliness
As on a feather bed a fragile fellow rolls,
Seeking in its horsehair and its nails.
«Talkative Humans, drunken on their genius,
And now as masd as it has ever been,
Crying to God in their final, furious moment
"Oh my likeness, oh my master, I curse you!"
The best of them will dare to love Dementia,
Fleeing the great herd parked by Destiny,
Seeking to hide in opium's great realms.
-- Such is of all the Globe the eternal bulletin .»
Bitter knowledge, one must draw from travel!
The world, monotonous and small, this day,
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our image:
Oasis of Horror, in a desert of boredom!
Should one leave? or stay? If you can stay, stay;
Leave it, if you must. One runs, the other hides
To fool the vigilant, the fatal foe!
Time! Alas it never will give up pursuit.
Like the Wandering Jew, the Apostles of Christ
For whom no ruse would do, nor train nor ship,
Who flee the infamous snare; others there are
Who learn to foil it while they're in the cradle
When finally his foot is on our spine,
We then can hope, then cry out: En avant!
As when in past we set a course for China,
Our eyes on the horizon, hair windblown,
We'll set out then upon the sea of Shadows,
With happy hearts, like youthful passengers.
Hear those voices, charming and funereal
Who sing: «Over here! all you who wish to eat
«The Perfumed Lotus! Here are gathered
Miraculous fruits your heart is hungering for;
Know the inebriation, the strange sweetness
Of this long afternoon which has no end! »
The well-known accent carries on the spectre,
Our Pylades out there extend their arms.
«To cool your hearts, swim out to your Electra! »
Says she whose knees we at one time had kissed.
O Death old captain, it is time! Up anchor!
This country bores us, O Death! Set your sail!
Even if sky and sea are black as ink,
Our hearts you know so well are filled with light!
Pour out your poison, let it give us comfort!
We wish, so does this fire burn our brain,
To plumb the abyss, though it be Hell or Heaven,
To search for the Unknown, find out the New!
[Bibliographical note: The best, most complete work in English translation on Baudelaire is by Claude Pichois, Baudelaire. Additional research by Jean Ziegler. Translated by Graham Robb. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989, 430 pages.]