* * *
Long ago, if my memory serves, life was a feast where every heart was open, where every wine flowed.
One night, I sat Beauty on my knee. —And I found her bitter. —And I hurt her.
I took arms against justice.
I fled, entrusting my treasure to you, o witches, o misery, o hate.
I snuffed any hint of human hope from my consciousness. I made the muffled leap of a wild beast onto any hint of joy, to strangle it.
Dying, I called my executioners over so I could bite the butts of their rifles. I called plagues to suffocate me with sand, blood. Misfortune was my god. I lay in the mud. I withered in criminal air. And I even tricked madness more than once.
And spring left me with an idiot’s unbearable laughter.
Just now, having nearly reached death’s door, I thought about seeking the key to the old feast, through which, perhaps, I might regain my appetite.
Charity is the key. —Such an inspiration proves I was dreaming!
“A hyena you’ll remain, etc.…” cries the demon that crowns me with merry poppies. “Make for death with every appetite intact, with your egotism, and every capital sin.”
Ah. It seems I have too many already: —But, dear Satan, I beg you not to look at me that way, and while you await a few belated cowardices—you who so delight in a writer’s inability to describe or inform—watch me tear a few terrible leaves from my book of the damned.
My Gallic forebears gave me pale blue eyes, a narrow skull, and bad reflexes in a fight. I dress as barbarically as they. But I don’t butter my hair.
The Gauls were the most inept animal-skinners and grass-burners of their day.
They gave me: idolatry, a love of sacrilege, and every vice: anger, lust—glorious lust—but above all, deceit and sloth.
I find even the thought of work unbearable. Masters and workers both are peasants. There’s no difference between a hand holding a pen and a hand pushing a plow. An age of hands! —I’ll have no part in it. Domesticity goes too far too fast. Begging—despite its inherent decency—pains me. Criminals are as bad as eunuchs: so what if I’m whole.
But. Who made my tongue so truthless that it has shepherded and safeguarded my sloth this far? Lazier than a toad, I’ve gotten by without lifting a finger: I’ve lived everywhere. There isn’t a family in Europe I don’t know. —Which is to say families like mine which owe everything to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. —I’ve known every young man of means.
If only I had one predecessor in French history!
But no, none.
It’s clear to me that I belong to a lesser race. I have no concept of rebellion. The only time my race ever rose up was to pillage: like wolves on carcasses they didn’t even kill.
I know French history, know the Church’s eldest daughter. Had I been born a boor, I would have journeyed to the holy land; in my head are roads through Swabian plains, views of Byzantium, ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary and of pity on the cross comingle amidst a thousand profane visions.
—I sit like a leper on broken pots and nettles, at the foot of walls eaten away by sun. —Later, I would have been a mercenary bivouacking beneath German nights.
But there’s more! I dance on the sabbath, in a red clearing with old women and children.
I don’t remember anything prior to this earth and this Christianity. I don’t see myself anywhere but in that past. And always alone; without family, speaking what language? I never see myself in Christ’s councils; nor in the councils of Lords—Christ’s delegates.
What was I last century? I only see myself now. No more vagabonds or nebulous wars. The inferior race has spread, everywhere—people or, as we
now say, reason: nationality and science.
Oh, science! We’ve remade the world. For body and soul—as viaticum—we have medicine and philosophy—home remedies and cover-versions of popular songs. Princely amusements and the games they forbade. Geography, cosmography, mechanics, chemistry…!
Science, the new nobility. Progress. The world turns. Why wouldn’t it?
Numerical visions. We close in upon the Animus . What I say is irrefutable, oracular. I understand, and not knowing how to explain myself except in pagan words, I’m better off shutting my mouth.
Pagan blood returns! The Animus nears, why won’t Christ help me, grace my soul with nobility and liberty. But the Gospel is gone. The Gospel! The Gospel.
I await God, hungrily. I am an eternal member of an inferior race.
There I am on the beaches of Brittany. Cities blaze in the night. My day is done: I’m leaving Europe. The marine air will burn my lungs; unknown climates will tan my skin. To swim, trample grass, hunt, and above all, smoke; drink liquors as strong as molten metal—like our cherished ancestors around their fires.
I’ll return with iron limbs, dark skin, an imperious gaze: my mask will mark me as member of a powerful race. I’ll have gold: be lazy and merciless. Women pamper fierce invalids returned from hot countries. I’ll enter politics. Saved.
Now, though, I’m cursed: I can’t stand my country. The best I can hope for is drunken sleep, by the shore.
But we don’t leave. —We take the same roads, burdened with my vice, vice that since the age of reason has sunk its roots right into my side—climbing skyward, beating me, toppling me, dragging me along.
The final innocence and the final humility. That does it. I won’t hump my disgusts and deceits across the world.
We’re off! The march, the burden, the desert, the boredom, the anger.
What flag will I bear? What beast worship? What shrine besiege? What hearts break? What lies tell? —And walk through whose blood?
Better yet: steer well clear of Justice. —The hard life, simple brutishness
—lift the coffin’s lid with a withered fist, sit inside, suffocate. Neither old age, nor danger: fear isn’t French.
I feel so forsaken I orient my instinct for perfection on any sacred image.
O self-sacrifice; o magnanimous charity! All for me, of course! De profundis Domine —what a fool I am!
When I was very young, I admired hardened criminals locked behind prison doors; I visited inns and taverns they frequented; with their eyes , I saw the blue sky and the blossoming work of the fields; I tracked their scent through cities. They were more powerful than saints, more prudent than explorers—and they, they alone, were witnesses to glory and reason!
On the roads, through winter nights, without a home, without habits, without bread, a voice strangled my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: Those are your options, so strength it is. You know neither where you’re going, nor why you’re going, entering anywhere, answering anyone. You’re no more likely to be killed than a corpse.” By morning, I had developed such a lost, dead expression that those I met may not have even seen me .
In cities, mud suddenly seemed red and black, like a mirror when a lamp is moved through an adjoining room, like treasure found in a forest. Good luck, I cried, and I saw a sky flooded with smoke and flame; and to my left, to my right, all the world’s riches burned like a billion thunderbolts.
But orgies and womanly companionship were denied me. Not one friend. I saw myself in front of an angry mob, facing a firing squad, weeping incomprehensible sorrows and forgiving them, like Joan of Arc: “Priests, professors, masters: you falter bringing me to justice. I was never one of you; I was never Christian; my race sang upon the rack; I don’t understand your laws; I have no moral compass, I’m a beast: you falter …”
Yes, my eyes are shut to your light. I’m an animal, a nigger. But I can be saved. You’re all fake niggers, you brutal, greedy maniacs. Merchant? No: nigger. Magistrate? Nigger. General? Nigger. Emperor—you itchy old scab—nigger. You drank Satan’s duty-free booze. —Fever and cancer thrill you. Cripples and codgers are so decent they ask to be boiled. —The wisest move would be to leave this continent, creeping with madness, a madness that seeks hostages for lost souls. I set out in search of the true kingdom of the children of Ham.
Do I really know nature? Do I know myself?— No more words . I bury the dead in my belly. Shouts, drums, dance, dance, dance, dance! I can’t imagine a moment when whites will arrive and I’ll tumble into the void. Hunger, thirst, shouts, dance, dance, dance, dance!
Whites arrive. A cannon! I submit to baptism, dress, work.
My heart is struck by grace. And I never saw it coming!
I’ve done nothing wrong. My days bring no burden, I’ll be spared repentance. I won’t have to suffer the torments of a soul dead to decency, whose harsh light rises as if from funeral tapers. The fate of the favorite son:
an early grave, blanketed with limpid tears. Of course debauchery is as stupid as vice. Cast rot aside. But no clock will ever do more than merely mark our hours of purest pain! Will I be carried off, like a child, to play in paradise, forgetting all my misfortune!
Quick: are there other lives? —It’s impossible to sleep surrounded by riches. Riches are supremely public. Only divine love grants the keys to science. I see that nature is only a spectacle of goodness. Farewell chimeras, ideals, mistakes.
The angels’ prudent songs rise from the ship of souls: divine love. —Two loves! I may die of earthly love, or of devotion. I’ve left souls behind whose suffering will swell with my departure! You pluck me from the shipwreck; are those who remain not my friends?
Reason is born within me. The world is good. I bless life. I will love my brothers. These are no longer idle promises of youth, nor a hope of evading old age and death. God is my strength. I praise God.
Boredom is no longer my bride. I know these passions and disasters too well
—the rages, the debauches, the madness—my burden lifts. Let us soberly consider the depth of my innocence.
I can no longer find consolation in being beaten. There is no chance of a honeymoon when Jesus Christ is your father-in-law.
I’m no prisoner of reason. I said: God. I want salvation to bring freedom: what do I do? I’ve lost my taste for frivolity. Nor do I need devotion or divine love. I don’t repent the age of sensitive hearts. Contempt and charity have their place: I reserve mine for the top of this angelic ladder of common sense.
As for pre-existing happiness, whether domestic or not … no: I just can’t. I’m too exhausted, too weak. Life blossoms with work, an old truth: my life isn’t sufficiently substantial, it flies away, floats far above the bustle, over the focal point of the world.
What an old maid I’m becoming, not even courageous enough to love death!
If only God gave me heavenly, aerial calm, and the power of prayer—like ancient saints. —Saints! What strength! The anchorites were artists abandoned by the world.
Unending farce! My innocence leaves me in tears. Life is the farce we lead.
Enough! Here’s punishment! — March!
Ah! How my lungs burn, how my temples stew! Night rolls in my eyes from all this sun! The heart … The limbs…
Where are we going? To war? I’m weak! The troops advance. Tools, weapons … Time…!
Shoot! Shoot me! I’m over here! Or I’ll surrender…—Cowards! —I’ll kill myself! I’ll throw myself under a horse!
—I’ll get used to it.
That’s the French thing to do. That’s the path of honor.
NIGHT IN HELL
I swallowed a gollup of poison. —May the advice I received be thrice blessed! —My gut burned. The violence of the venom wracked my limbs, left me deformed, threw me to the ground. I die of thirst, suffocate, can’t even cry out. It’s hell: eternal suffering! The flames rise! I burn, as you’d expect. Demon, do your worst!
I once got a glimpse of conversion to goodness and happiness, of salvation. Can I describe what I saw, here in this hymn-deaf hell? There were millions of enchanting creatures, harmonious spiritual song, peace and power, noble ambitions: what else can I say?
Yet, I’m still here, still alive. So what if damnation is eternal! Any man who would destroy himself is damned, isn’t he? I believe I’m in hell, therefore I am. Catechism in action. I’m the slave of my baptism. O parents, you guaranteed my suffering and you guaranteed your own. Poor innocent! —Hell has no purchase on pagans. —Still alive! Later, the delights of damnation deepen. Crime, quick: so I can fall into the void, as human law assures.
Shut up! Just shut up! It’s all just shame and blame, look: Satan himself says that fire is vulgar, that anger is pathetic, absurd. —Enough…! Enough of errors whispered my way, of magics, fake perfumes, childish music! —And to think I already possess the truth, that I can discern justice: my judgment is sound and sure, I’m prepared for perfection … Pride. —The skin on my scalp dries to dust. Pity! I’m afraid, O Lord! I thirst; such thirst! Ah: Childhood, grass, rain, the stony lake, moonlight when the clock strikes twelve… the hour when the devil waits at the belfry. Mary! Holy Virgin! —
The shame of my stupidity.
Up above, are there no honest souls who wish me well …? Come … There’s a pillow pressed to my lips, they can’t hear me, these ghosts. And no one ever thinks of anyone else. Better they steer clear. Surely I smell like I’m burning.
Hallucinations come, are without number. As before: I have no faith in history, no memory of principles. But I’ll shut up about all this: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I’m a thousand times richer, and I’ll be miserly as the sea. Look—life’s clock just stopped. I’m no longer of this earth. —Theology is serious business: hell is absolutely down below —and heaven on high. —Ecstasy, nightmare, sleep in a nest of flame.
Nature’s attentions only bring mischief … Satan and Ferdinand run through wild wheat … Jesus walks on crimson thorns that do not bend beneath him … Jesus once walked on troubled waters. The lamp showed him
standing before us, white, with brown hair, by an emerald wave…
I will unveil every mystery: whether religious or natural, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, the void. I have mastered phantasmagoria.
I possess every talent! —No one is here, and yet someone is: I won’t squander my treasure. Shall I offer you African chants? Houri dances? Shall I disappear? Make my plunge in search of the ring? Shall I? I’ll forge gold, and cures.
Then put your faith in me; faith relieves; directs; cures. Everyone, come—even the littlest children—let me console you, let the heart spread wide—the miraculous heart!—Poor mankind, a race of laborers! I don’t ask for prayers; your faith is my reward.
—And think of me. It’s worth the loss of the world. I’m lucky to see my suffering ended. Alas: my life was little more than a few mild madnesses.
Fine. Make any face you want.
Unquestionably, we are beyond the world. Not a single sound. My sense of touch is gone. My château, my Saxony, my willow grove. Evenings, mornings, nights, days … How weary I am!
There should be a hell for my anger, a hell for my pride—and a hell for every caress: a satanic symphony.
I die of weariness. Here is my tomb, I join the worms—horror of horrors! Satan, you joker: you would see me consumed by your charms. I protest! I protest! Give me the pitchfork’s sting, the fire’s flame.
Ah, to rise back to life! To look once again upon our deformities. And this poison, this kiss countlessly cursed! My weakness; worldly cruelty! O God have pity, hide me, I am wicked!—I am hidden and I am not.
Flames rise again, bearing the damned.
Hear a hellmate’s confession:
“O heavenly Husband, O Lord, do not refuse this confession from the saddest of your servants. I am lost. I am drunk. I am impure. O this life!
“Forgive, heavenly Lord, forgive! Ah! Forgive. Too many tears! And, I hope, too many tears to come.
“Later, I’ll meet my heavenly Husband. I was born beneath His yoke. But now, I’m someone else’s whipping boy!
“Now I’m at the bottom of the world. O the women I call my friends … No, not my friends … I’ve never known such delirium and torture … It’s ridiculous!
“How I suffer, how I scream: I truly suffer. There’s nothing I wouldn’t contemplate doing now, burdened as I am with the contempt of the most contemptible of hearts.
“So enough, let’s confess, even if it means repeating it twenty times over—however dreary and insignificant.
“I am the slave of a hellish Husband, to him who undid foolish virgins. There’s no doubt he’s the same demon. He’s no ghost, no phantom. But I, whose wisdom has been squandered, who is damned and dead to the world—I won’t be killed! —How can I explain all of this? I barely know how to talk anymore. I’m in mourning; I weep; I’m afraid. A breath of fresh air, O Lord, if you would, if you would please!
“I am widowed…—I was widowed … but yes, I was, once, very proper, and I wasn’t born simply to become bones! —He was very nearly a child … His mysterious ways seduced me. I forgot all my earthly duties in order to follow him. O this life! Real life is elsewhere. We aren’t of this earth. I go where he goes, how can’t I? And yet he blows up at me all the time, me—poor soul . That demon! —He’s doubtless a demon, for he is certainly not a man .
“He says: ‘I don’t like women. Love must be reinvented, that much is clear. Women want security. And once they get it, goodness and beauty are out the window: cold disdain is the meat of marriage. Or I’ll see women who seem happy, who even I could befriend, and I see them devoured by brutes as sensitive as butchers …’
“I listen to him turning infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. ‘I am a member of a long-lost race: my forefathers were Scandinavian: they pierced their own sides, drank their own blood. —I’ll gash myself everywhere, tattoo myself, make myself as grotesque as a Mongol: you’ll see: I’ll be screaming in the streets. I want to go mad with rage. Don’t show me jewels; I’ll cringe and writhe on the rug. I’d stain any wealth that came my way with blood. I’ll never work …’ Many nights, this demon would grab me, and we would wrestle and fight! —Nights, usually drunk, he’d wait in the street or a house, waiting to frighten me to death. —‘You’ll see: I’ll get my throat cut. It’ll be disgusting.’ By day, he struts around like he’s some sort of criminal!
“And then, occasionally, he’d speak a tender kind of talk, about remorse engendered by death; about miserable wretches who are everywhere; about backbreaking toil; about farewells that break hearts. In the dives where we’d drink, he’d cry while watching the people around us: misery’s cattle. He’d prop up drunks in dark streets. He had compassion for the little children of mean mothers. —He’d conduct himself with all the kindness of a girl going to Sunday school. He’d pretend to be enlightened about everything—business, art, medicine. —I followed him, how couldn’t I?
“I learned the spiritual landscape he surrounded himself with: clothes, drapes, furniture: I lent him weapons … and a second face. I saw everything that moved him, exactly as he did. Whenever he grew dissipated, I followed him nonetheless, me, executing strange tasks, far away, good or bad: I knew I would never really become a part of his world. Next to his sweetly sleeping body, I spent so many sleepless hours trying to figure out why he wanted to escape from reality. No man before him had wished for such a thing. I was aware —without being afraid of him—that he could be a menace to society. Maybe he had found a way to change life as we know it? No, he was only searching, or so he said. His charity is bewitching, and I am its prisoner. No other soul was strong enough—the strength of despair! —to have withstood his protection and love. And anyway, I couldn’t imagine him with anyone else: we know only the Angel we’re given, never another, or so I believe. I inhabited his heart as one might a palace: it was empty, precisely so no one would learn that a person as ignoble as you were there: and there it is. Alas! I needed him. But what did he want with me, drab and lifeless as I was? He didn’t make me a better person, and he didn’t manage to kill me! Sad, angry, I would occasionally say, ‘I understand you.’ He’d just shrug his shoulders.
“And so my sorrow was endlessly renewed, and seeing myself drifting further out to sea—as anyone would have noticed, had I not already been condemned to be forgotten by everyone —I grew more and more hungry for some measure of kindness from him. His kisses and his warm embraces were a heaven, a dark heaven, into which I had entered, and where I would have preferred to have remained: poor, deaf, mute, blind. I got used to it. I saw us as two good children, free to stroll through Heavenly sadness. We got along perfectly. We worked side by side, filled with emotion. But, after a penetrating caress, he said: ‘How ridiculous all you’ve been through will seem when I’m no longer here. When you no longer have my arms beneath your neck, nor my heart to lie upon, nor my mouth upon your eyes. Because one day, I’ll go far away. I must make myself useful to others, too: it’s my duty. However unsavory this seems … dear heart …’ Immediately, in the wake of his absence, I felt both gripped by vertigo and thrown into the most unbearable darkness: death. I made him swear he wouldn’t leave me. He swore a lover’s promise twenty times over. It was as meaningless as when I said, ‘I understand you.’
“Oh, but I was never jealous of him! I don’t think he’ll ever really leave me. What would become of him? He hasn’t a friend in the world: and he won’t take a job. He wants to live the life of a sleepwalker. Can goodness and charity by themselves find him a place in the world? From time to time, I forget my pitiful circumstances and think: he’ll make me strong, we’ll explore together, we’ll hunt in deserts, we’ll sleep on the sidewalks of unknown cities, without worries, without sorrow. Or I’ll awake and find that his magical powers will have transformed all laws and customs, leaving the world intact; I’ll be left with my desires, joys, insouciance. Oh, give me this life of innocent adventure in return for the suffering I’ve endured. But he won’t. I can’t appreciate his ideals. He told me he has regrets, hopes: but they don’t concern me. Does he speak of God? Perhaps I should. I’m at the very bottom of the abyss, and I’ve forgotten how to pray.
“Were he to explain his sorrows, would I understand them better than his derision? He attacks me, spending hours making me feel guilty for everything that has ever meant anything to me in this life, and yet, he takes umbrage when I cry.
“ ‘—Do you see that dapper fellow, going into that lovely, little house: his name is Duval, Dufour, Armand, Maurice, something. And inside, some woman has devoted her life to loving that idiot: she’s probably dead, doubtless a saint in heaven. You’ll kill me as surely as he killed that woman. That’s what happens to people like us, we who are kind-hearted …’ Alas! There were days when he believed all mankind’s motions were dictated by some wholesale, grotesque delirium: and he’d laugh wretchedly, at length. —Then, like some sweet sister, his maternal impulses would return. Were he less of a savage, we’d be saved! But even his sweetness is mortal. Surrendered, I follow. —I’m insane!
“Perhaps one day he’ll miraculously disappear; but were he returned to heaven, I would need to know that I might glimpse my darling’s assumption.”
One strange couple.
ALCHEMY OF THE WORD
My turn. A tale of one of my follies.
For some time, I’d boasted a mastery of every arena, and had found famous painters and poets ridiculous.
I preferred bad paintings: hanging above doors, on sets or carnival backdrops, billboards, cheap prints; and unfashionable literature, church Latin, barely literate erotica, novels beloved by grannies, fairy tales, children’s books, old operas, silly songs, simple scansions.
I dreamed crusades, unimagined journeys of discovery, invisible republics, failed religious wars, moral revolutions, racial and continental drift: I believed in every enchantment.
I invented colors for vowels! —Black A , white E , red I , blue O , green U .
—I regulated the shape and movement of every consonant, and, based on an inner scansion, flattered myself with the belief I had invented a poetic language that, one day or another, would be understood by everyone, and that I alone would translate.
It started out as an exercise. I wrote silences; nights; I recorded the unnameable. I found the still point of the turning Earth.
Far from birds, herds, and village girls,
What did I drink, on my knees, in this heath
Surrounded by delicate hazelnut trees,
And warm green afternoon mist!
What of this budding brook could I have drunk,
—Voiceless elms, flowerless grass, cloudy sky!—
Drunk from these yellow gourds, far from my beloved
Cabin? A golden liquor that makes you sweat.
I made a suspect sign for an inn.
A storm came, chased the sky. At night,
Water from forests disappeared on virgin sands,
Godly wind tossed ice upon ponds;
Crying, I saw gold—but could not drink.—
At four in the morning, in summer,
Love’s sleep lives.
Beneath the bowers, dawn stirs
The scent of evening’s celebrations.
But there, under the great oak
Near the Hesperidean sun,
Carpenters in shirtsleeves
Are already busy
In their mossy Desert, peacefully,
They prepare precious woodwork
On which the town
Will paint fake skies.
O Venus! For these charming workers’ sakes
Subjects of some Babylonian king
Leave these Lovers be
Leave their souls entwined.
O Queen of Shepherds,
Bring drink to these workmen,
So their vigor is restored
While waiting to swim in the noontime sea.
Worn-out poetical fashions played a healthy part in my alchemy of the word.
I settled into run-of-the-mill hallucinations: I very clearly saw a mosque in place of a factory, a group of drummers consisting of angels, carriages on the heavenly highways, a sitting room at the bottom of a lake; monsters, mysteries; the title of a vaudeville could conjure anything.
Then, I explained my magical sophisms with hallucinations of words!
I ended up believing my spiritual disorder sacred. I was lazy, proof of my fever: I envied the happiness of animals—caterpillars, symbolic of the innocence of limbo; moles, virginity’s sleep!
I grew bitter. I said farewell to the world in a ballad:
SONG FROM THE TALLEST TOWER
May it come, may it come,
The age when we’ll be one.
I’ve been so patient
I nearly forgot.
Fear and suffering
Have taken wing.
Stains my veins.
May it come, may it come,
The age when we’ll be one.
So the meadow
Lush and blossoming
With incense and weeds,
And the fierce buzzing
Of filthy flies.
May it come, may it come,
The age when we’ll be one.
I loved desert, scorched orchards, sun-bleached shops, warm drinks. I dragged myself through stinking streets and, eyes closed, offered myself to the sun, god of fire.
“General, if upon your ruined ramparts a single cannon yet remains, bombard us with clods of earth. Strike shop mirrors! Sitting rooms! Feed our cities dust. Coat gargoyles in rust. Fill boudoirs with fiery, ruby ash …”
Oh! The drunken gnat in the urinal of an inn, smitten with borage, dissolved by a shaft of light!
If I have taste, it’s for
Earth and stone,
I feast on air,
Rock, iron, coal.
Turn, my hungers. Graze
A field of sounds.
Sample bindwood’s poison;
It merrily abounds.
Eat rocks we crack,
Old church stones,
Pebbles floods attack
Loaves in valleys sown.
The wolf howls beneath the leaves
While spitting out pretty plumes
From his feast of fowl:
I, like him, myself consume.
Salad and fruit
Are waiting to be picked;
But the spider in the hedge
Eats only violets.
Let me sleep! Let me boil
On Solomon’s altars.
The brew bubbles up and spills
Merging with the Kidron.
O happiness, o reason: I finally chased the blue from the sky, this blue that’s really black; and I lived, a golden spark, forged from natural light.
Full of joy, I expressed myself as ridiculously and strangely as possible.
Sea and sun
My eternal soul,
Heed you vow
Despite empty night
And fiery day.
From earthly approval,
And common urges!
And soar, accordingly…
Knowledge through patience,
Suffering is certain.
No more tomorrow,
Your silken embers,
Sea and sun
I became opera: I saw that all living things were doomed, to bliss: that’s not living; it’s just a way to waste what we have, a drain. Morality is a weakness of mind.
It seemed to me we were owed other lives. One fellow knows not what he does: he’s an angel. Another family is a litter of puppies. I argued with countless men, using examples drawn from their other lives. —That’s how I fell in love with a pig.
Madness—the kind you lock away—breeds sophistries, and I haven’t missed a single one. I could list them all: I’ve got them down.
My health suffered. Terror struck. I’d sleep for days, and, risen, such sad dreams would stay with me. I was ripe for death, and down a dangerous road my weakness drew me to the edges of the earth and on to Cimmeria, that dark country of winds.
I sought voyages, to disperse enchantments that had colonized my mind. Above a sea I came to love as if it were rinsing me of stain, I watched a consoling cross rise. Damnation, in the shape of a rainbow.
Bliss was my undoing, my remorse, my worm: my life would always be too ungovernable to devote to strength and beauty. Bliss! Her tooth, sweet as death, bit, every time a cock crowed in the darkest cities— ad matutinum , when Christus venit:
O seasons, o châteaux!
Who possesses a perfect soul?
I made a magical study
Of inescapable bliss
Think of Bliss each time you hear
The rooster’s call, far or near.
Bliss has finally set me free
From desire’s tyranny.
Its spell took soul and shape
Letting every goal escape.
O seasons, o châteaux!
When Bliss departs at last
Death takes us each, alas.
O seasons, o châteaux!
But that’s over with. Now I know how to greet beauty.
My high youth! The great roads in every weather, a supernatural sobriety, a disinterest matched only by the most accomplished beggars, and such pride at having no country, no friends—what idiocy that all was! And I’m only realizing it now!
—I was right to scorn men who never miss a kiss, parasites on the propriety and health of our women who, as a result, have been left so little in common with us.
All my disdain was on the mark: after all, I’m still leaving.
Let me explain.
Even yesterday, I sighed: “For God’s sake! I think there are enough damned souls down here! I’ve had plenty: I know them all. We always recognize each other; and drive each other nuts. We see charity as a foreign concept. But we’re polite about it; our interactions with the world exhibit every propriety.” Is this so shocking? The world: businessmen and simpletons! —We’re hardly embarrassing ourselves.
But how will the elect receive us? Many of them are insincere, given, to approach them, we muster stores of courage or humility. But they’re all we have. So count your blessings!
Since I seem to have rediscovered my two cents’ worth of reason—it doesn’t go far! —I see that my discomfort comes from not having realized sooner that we’re in the West. Western swamps! Not that I believe that all light has been spoiled, all forms exhausted, all movements misdirected … It’s nonetheless clear that my animus has every desire to adopt the latest advances in cruelty, developed since the East fell. Every desire indeed!
Well … that about does it for my two cents! The soul knows best, wants me to head East. I’ll have to shut it up if I want to end up as I’d hoped.
I cursed the hands of saints, and with them any glimmers of art, pride of inventors, enthusiasm of pillorers; I returned to the East and to its early, eternal wisdom. —However, it seems now it too has been a fetid, vulgar dream!
Nonetheless, I never really let myself dream of the joy of escaping modernity’s tortures. I never had the Koran’s bastard wisdom in mind. —Isn’t it torture to realize that since the advent of science and Christianity, man has been playing with himself , proving facts, puffing with pride every time he repeats his proofs, and acting like this is some sort of life! What subtle, idiotic torture; and the source of my spiritual wanderings. Perhaps even nature grows tired of itself! M. Prudhomme was born at Christ’s side.
We’re brewing all this fog! We eat fever with our watery vegetables. Drunkenness! Tobacco! Ignorance! Worship! —What does it have to do with the thinking and wisdom of the East, that primitive homeland? Why bother with a modern world, if the same poisons spread?
Men of the Church say: Understood. But you mean to say Eden. There’s nothing to learn in the history of the Eastern peoples. —True enough; I was dreaming of Eden! What does the purity of ancient races have to do with my dream!
Philosophers: The world is ageless. Humanity moves where it will. You’re in the West, but free to live in an East of your imagining, however ancient as fits your needs—and to live well there. Be not among the defeated. Philosophers, you’re from your West!
Take heed, soul. Don’t fall prey to sudden salvation. Get ready! Science never moves fast enough for us!
—But it seems my soul sleeps.
Were it truly awake from this moment forward, we would be approaching a truth that, even now, may be encircling us with her weeping angels! —Had it been awake, I wouldn’t have succumbed to injurious instincts, to an immemorial age…! —If it had never been awakened, I would be drifting through purest wisdom…!
This instant of awakening has conjured a vision of purity! The spirit leads us to God!
Man’s labors! Explosions that, from time to time, illuminate my abyss.
“Nothing is vanity; to knowledge, and beyond!” cries the modern Ecclesiastes, which is to say Everyone . And yet, the cadavers of the wicked and idle fall upon the hearts of everyone else … Oh hurry up, hurry up; below, beyond the night, will we miss the eternal rewards that await …?
—What can I do? I know work: and science is too slow. How prayer gallops, how light rumbles … I see it all. It’s too clear, too hot; you’ll make do without me. I have my task, and I’ll be as proud as anyone else, when I set it aside.
My life has been worn away. So come! Let’s pretend, let’s sit idly by … O how pitiful! And we’ll go on living our lives of simple amusement, dreaming of grotesque loves and fantastic worlds, complaining and arguing over the shape and appearance of the earth, acrobat, beggar, artist, bandit—priest! In my hospital bed, the stench of incense suddenly returned; guardian of sacred scents, confessor, martyr…
Then and there, I admitted my filthy upbringing. Who cares! Twenty years is plenty, if it’s plenty for everyone else…
No! No! Now is too soon: to hell with death! My pride won’t settle for something as insubstantial as work: my betrayal of the world is too brief a torture. At the last possible moment, I’ll lash out to the right … to the left…!
And then—oh my soul—we’ll have lost any hope of eternity!
Once upon a time , wasn’t my childhood pleasant, heroic, fabulous, worthy of being written on golden leaves—what luck! What crime or error left me deserving my present weakness? Those of you who believe that animals cry tears of sorrow, that the sick suffer, that the dead have nightmares, try to explain my fall, and my sleep. I can now no longer explain myself any better than a beggar mumbling his Pater and Ave Maria. I no longer know how to speak!
And yet, today, I believe I’ve finished speaking of my hell. It was truly hell; the real thing, whose doors were swung open by the son of man.
Out of the same desert, on the same night, my weary eyes forever stare at—a silver star, but without setting life’s Kings in motion, the three magi—heart, soul, spirit. When, beyond mountains and rivers, will we embrace the birth of new endeavors, new wisdom, the departure of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, and be the first to worship Christmas all across the earth!
The song of heaven, the progress of nations! Slaves, curse not this life.
Autumn already! —But if we’re seeking divine clarity there’s no point in bemoaning an everlasting sun, far from those who die with the seasons.
Autumn. Our boat, risen through the moveless fogs, turns towards misery’s port, an enormous city whose sky is stained with fire and mud. Ah … the rotting rags, rain-soaked bread, drunkenness, a thousand crucifying loves! This ghoulish queen will never relent, queen of millions of dead souls and bodies that will be judged! And there I see myself again, skin eaten away by mud and plague, my hair full of worms, my armpits too, and my heart full of fatter worms, just lying there beside ageless, loveless unknowns … I could have died there … Unbearable. I hate poverty.
And I fear winter, the season of comfort!
—Sometimes, I’ll see endless beaches in the skies above, filled with pale rejoicing nations. A great golden vessel, high above me, flutters varicolored flags in the morning breeze. I invented every celebration, every victory, every drama. I tried to invent new flowers, new stars, new flesh, new tongues. I thought I had acquired supernatural powers. Well then! The time has come to bury my imagination and my memories! A fitting end for an artist and teller of tales!
Free from all morality, I who called himself magus and angel, surrender to the earth in search of duty, ready to embrace life’s rough road. Peasant!
Am I wrong? Will charity be a sister of death?
Finally, I ask forgiveness for feeding on lies. Okay: let’s go.
And not even one friendly hand! And where can help be found?
Yes: the dawn is harsh, to say the least.
But victory is mine: everything moderates, the grinding teeth, the hissing fires, the putrid sighs. The filthy memories are wiped away. My final regrets flee—my jealousy of beggars, brigands, friends of death, rejects of every stripe. Were I to enact vengeance against all the damned!
One must be absolutely modern.
No more hymns: remain on the road you’ve chosen. Brutal night! Dried blood burns on my face, and nothing is near me, only that unbearable bush … Spiritual combat is as brutal as battle between men; but the vision of justice is God’s pleasure alone.
Nonetheless, the eve is here. We welcome an infusion of true strength, and affection. And at dawn, armed with fiery patience, we’ll at last enter glorious cities.
Why was I seeking a friendly hand? I have an advantage now: I can laugh off truthless loves, and strike down duplicitous couples with shame —down below, I experienced a hell women know well—and now I’ll be able to possess truth in a single body and soul .
Poetry And Prose
Translated And Edited by Wyatt Mason
2003 Modern Library Paperback Edition