Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day, Judy Collins, Baudelaire, James Merrill and All That

Every Bastille Day, the first thing I do is put on the album (or tape or, today, cd) In My Life by Judy Collins that contains the song "Marat/Sade" from the Peter Weiss play "The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade" or, as it is more succinctly known, "Marat/Sade." Here's the lyric, composed and written by Adrian Mitchell and Richard Peaslee, that perfectly captures the hope, pain, and ultimate failure of all political folly. It resonated throughout the 60's when it was first produced, simultaneously prophetic and mirroring the true insanity that one felt living through those marvelous, horrible times.

Did I say hope? Yeah, hope.

Via snail mail, correspondent Charles L. suggested some insightful connections (or, at least, synaptic crackling) between Stéphane Mallarmé's "Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire (The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire)" and David Chorlton's "Paginnini," which was previously posted here. So, here's the Mallarmé for comparison. He takes the connections even further with James Merrill's "Lorelei:"


The stones of kin and friend
Stretch off into a trembling, sweatlike haze.

They many not after all be stepping-stones
But you have followed them. Each strands you, then

Does not. Not yet. Not here.
Is it a crossing? Is there no way back?

Soft gleams lap the base of the one behind you
On which a black girl sings and combs her hair.

It's she who some day (when your stone is in place)
Will see that much further into the golden vagueness

Forever about to clear. Love with his chisel
Deepens the lines begun upon your face.

The Mallarmé is a bit of a muddle for me; I read three translations of this and couldn't really put it all together, but I've never really connected with his work. The link is to Anthony Kline's translation and I felt it was the clearest. After 5 or 6 readings, I think the Merrill is outstanding and feel the Chorlton and Mallarmé helped me appreciate it more (oh, yeah, there's some irony there and I've got to say it may touch upon the essence of what poetry really is or can be). Thanks, Charles.

All in all, though, it just feels like Monsieur Baudelaire should have the last word on this:

The Flask

So I, when vanished from man's memory
Deep in some dark and somber chest I lie,
An empty flagon they have cast aside,
Broken and soiled, the dust upon my pride,
Will be your shroud, beloved pestilence!
The witness of your might and virulence,
Sweet poison mixed by angels; bitter cup
Of life and death my heart has drunken up!

Finally, over the weekend I spent a bit of time updating the back issue archive at the Lilliput homepage. There are now sample poems from over 50 issues located there. I've created a section of link backs to the blog (and its former incarnation, Beneath Cherry Blossoms) so the samples in postings may now all be found in one place indexed by issue number.

With all this heady Mallarmé, Baudelaire, and Merrill, it's time to clear the cobwebs. Let's end with The Hut's laconically precise proprietor:

today again
death draws nearer...
the wildflowers

Issa translated by David Lanoue


PS. Looking back at Beneath Cherry Blossoms as I did over the weekend, I realized that July 17th will be the 1 year anniversary of the combined Lilliput blogs. Party time!


Charles Gramlich said...

I really love "Flask." I've tried to write things in the same vein but never quite achieved it.

Greg said...

congrats on the 1 year anniversary!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Baudelaire never fails to amaze and cut through to the present, no matter the translation. I read this one over a couple of times and it really sank in ... like the Merrill. I've been reading so much contemporary crap poems lately that great work just shines.

Thanks, Greg ...


Poet Hound said...

Happy Anniversary Don!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Many thanks ... it has been very instructive and a great deal of fun (besides all the hard work that one hears about).

If I was independently wealthy ... ah, but that's another story.