Poe and Baudelaire

The lovely DD’s post over at http://fillingspaces.wordpress.com/ reminded me that January 19th was the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe.  As my blog is titled, “Writing the Victorian Gothic”, it is with some shame that I admit to having missed the important date.

So I thought I’d post a poem by Poe, as well as one by Charles Baudelaire.  For it was largely due to the French poet’s painstaking translations of the former, that the man who died broken was brought to the world’s attention.

The Conquerer Worm by Poe

Lo! ’tis a gala night
   Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight.
   In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
   A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
   The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
   Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
   Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
   That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
   Invisible Woe!

That motley drama- oh, be sure
   It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
   By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
   To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
   And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout
   A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
   The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
   The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
   In human gore imbued.

Out- out are the lights- out all!
   And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
   Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
   Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
   And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

 Dance of Death from “The Seventh Seal”


by: Charles Baudelaire

      ARRYING bouquet, and handkerchief, and gloves,
      Proud of her height as when she lived, she moves
      With all the careless and high-stepping grace,
      And the extravagant courtesan’s thin face.
      Was slimmer waist e’er in a ball-room wooed?
      Her floating robe, in royal amplitude,
      Falls in deep folds around a dry foot, shod
      With a bright flower-like shoe that gems the sod.
      The swarms that hum about her collar-bones
      As the lascivious streams caress the stones,
      Conceal from every scornful jest that flies,
      Her gloomy beauty; and her fathomless eyes
      Are made of shade and void; with flowery sprays
      Her skull is wreathed artistically, and sways,
      Feeble and weak, on her frail vertebrae.
      O charm of nothing decked in folly! they
      Who laugh and name you a Caricature,
      They see not, they whom flesh and blood allure,
      The nameless grace of every bleached, bare bone,
      That is most dear to me, tall skeleton!
      Come you to trouble with your potent sneer
      The feast of Life! or are you driven here,
      To Pleasure’s Sabbath, by dead lusts that stir
      And goad your moving corpse on with a spur?
      Or do you hope, when sing the violins,
      And the pale candle-flame lights up our sins,
      To drive some mocking nightmare far apart,
      And cool the flame hell lighted in your heart?
      Fathomless well of fault and foolishness!
      Eternal alembic of antique distress!
      Still o’er the curved, white trellis of your sides
      The sateless, wandering serpent curls and glides.
      And truth to tell, I fear lest you should find,
      Among us here, no lover to your mind;
      Which of these hearts beat for the smile you gave?
      The charms of horror please none but the brave.
      Your eyes’ black gulf, where awful broodings stir,
      Brings giddiness; the prudent reveller
      Sees, while a horror grips him from beneath,
      The eternal smile of thirty-two white teeth.
      For he who has not folded in his arms
      A skeleton, nor fed on graveyard charms,
      Recks not of furbelow, or paint, or scent,
      When Horror comes the way that Beauty went.
      O irresistible, with fleshless face,
      Say to these dancers in their dazzled race:
      “Proud lovers with the paint above your bones,
      Ye shall taste death, musk scented skeletons!
      Withered Antinoüs, dandies with plump faces,
      Ye varnished cadavers, and grey Lovelaces,
      Ye go to lands unknown and void of breath,
      Drawn by the rumour of the Dance of Death.
      From Seine’s cold quays to Ganges’ burning stream,
      The mortal troupes dance onward in a dream;
      They do not see, within the opened sky,
      The Angel’s sinister trumpet raised on high.
      In every clime and under every sun,
      Death laughs at ye, mad mortals, as ye run;
      And oft perfumes herself with myrrh, like ye
      And mingles with your madness, irony!”
Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm  Comments (12)  
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Charles Baudelaire: The Beautiful and Dark Poet

Charles Baudelaire: French poet.  April 9, 1821- August 31, 1867

“A frenzied passion for art is a canker that devours everything else.”- Charles Baudelaire

    When  Charles Baudelaire was only six, his father passed away.  A year later, his mother wed the future French ambassador, Lieutenant Colonel Jaques Aupick.   While  the sensitive and artistic child was extremely close to his mother, he found himself constantly at odds with his rigid stepfather.   Sent away to a boarding school in Lyons, Charles later described that time as, ” the unease of wretched and abandoned childhood, the hatred of tyrannical schoolfellows, and the solitude of the heart.” 

Upon finishing his education, while his stepfather wished him to enter law, Charles decided to pursue a literary career and began associating with fellow bohemians.  By 1843, he’d become known as a dandy- living off of credit and the goodwill of others.   Around this time he began a lifelong romance with the Hatian-born actress and dancer, Jeanne Duval.   Born of French and black African ancestry, she became his muse, his  “Vénus Noire”.

One of the poems he dedicated to her was The Balcony, in which he declared:

    “MOTHER of memories, mistress of mistresses,
    O thou, my pleasure, thou, all my desire,
    Thou shalt recall the beauty of caresses,
    The charm of evenings by the gentle fire,
    Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses!
    The eves illumined by the burning coal,
    The balcony where veiled rose-vapour clings–
    How soft your breast was then, how sweet your soul!
    Ah, and we said imperishable things,
    Those eves illumined by the burning coal.
    Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,
    And space profound, and strong life’s pulsing flood,
    In bending o’er you, queen of every charm,
    I thought I breathed the perfume in your blood.
    The suns were beauteous in those twilights warm.
    The film of night flowed round and over us,
    And my eyes in the dark did your eyes meet;
    I drank your breath, ah! sweet and poisonous,
    And in my hands fraternal slept your feet–
    Night, like a film, flowed round and over us.
    I can recall those happy days forgot,
    And see, with head bowed on your knees, my past.
    Your languid beauties now would move me not
    Did not your gentle heart and body cast
    The old spell of those happy days forgot.
    Can vows and perfumes, kisses infinite,
    Be reborn from the gulf we cannot sound;
    As rise to heaven suns once again made bright
    After being plunged in deep seas and profound?
    Ah, vows and perfumes, kisses infinite!”
     portrait of Jeanne Duval by Manet 

   Although Baudelaire became a highly respected art and literary critic, his own work did not appear until the publication of Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal) in 1857.   While such lofty figures as Flaubert and Victor Hugo praised the book,  the sexual and macabre themes caused much consternation and Charles, his publisher, and the printer,  were fined for offenses against public morals.

The accusations meant little to Charles.  He wrote to his mother:  “You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people. Moreover, since I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire, I cut out a third from the proofs. They deny me everything, the spirit of invention and even the knowledge of the French language. I don’t care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public, beside the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier and even Byron.”  



 “One should always be drunk.  That’s all that matters… But with what?  With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose.   But get drunk.”

“Always be a poet, even in prose.”

“There is a word, in a verb, something sacred which forbids us from using it recklessly.  To handle a language cunningly is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.”