Baudelaire by Charles Nadar
Turn up the volume ...
Back at the job that pays the rent, I've been working on Charles Baudelaire for a monthly discussion group, 3 Poems By. I've learned a lesson this month, which I should have realized when we did Whitman a couple of months back: a love of the poet doesn't make it any easier to prepare a session on their work, especially when condensed into 3 or 4 "representative" poems.
The challenge, however, always brings new, if hard won, insights, and so I'm grateful that I can be learning big things while working. Baudelaire has been the hardest lesson of all, not the least of reasons being that his works are in translation. The decision to choose among various versions has been agonizing.
But, enough with the whining! While working I stumbled upon something I hadn't run across before. A song by the group Stereolab entitled "Enivrez-vous."
The song is a straightforward, drone-ish version of Baudelaire's famed prose poem of the same same name, which simply translates "Get Drunk (or "Be Drunk"). Here's the original, along with translation:
Il faut tre toujours ivre. Tout est l : c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos paules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trve. Mais de quoi ? De vin, de posie ou de vertu, votre guise.
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d'un palais, sur l'herbe verte d'un foss, dans la solitude morne de votre chambre, vous vous rveillez, l'ivresse dj diminue ou disparue, demandez au vent, la vague, l'toile, l'oiseau, l'horloge, tout ce qui fuit, tout ce qui gmit, tout ce qui roule, tout ce qui chante, tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est ; et le vent, la vague, l'toile, l'oiseau, l'horloge, vous rpondront: "Il est l'heure de s'enivrer ! Pour n'tre pas les esclaves martyriss du Temps, enivrez-vous; enivrez-vous sans cesse ! De vin, de posie ou de vertu, votre guise."Translation:
One should always be drunk. That's all that matters: that's our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time's horrible burden that breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without ceasing. But what with? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose.
But get drunk.
And if, at some time, on the steps of a palace, in the green grass of a ditch, in the bleak solitude of your room, you are waking up when drunkenness has already abated, ask the wind, the wave, a star, the clock, all that which flees, all that which groans, all that which rolls, all that which sings, all that which speaks, ask them what time it is; and the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock will reply: "It is time to get drunk! So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time, get drunk, get drunk, and never pause for rest! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose!"
Baudelaire was one of the first innovators in the prose poem form and this, though it seems rather obvious, is a good example of that form. It has always been a popular poem of Baudelaire's, hence the following recitation by Dustin Hoffman to Jack Nicholson, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Last week, a typo slipped into the featured poem at a critical juncture, for which I apologize. It's been corrected in the original post, but here it is again for those in an anti-click through mood:
The poems are sad and short:
history--beautiful, closed and Greek.
But what I like best
is the blank three-quarters page,
white as a statue's marble eyes- -
a space to write or cry.
This week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review, #89, originally published in 1997. A time or two I've performed this poem in Lilliput readings and it goes over well. Sadly, nearly everywhere on this tiny little blue ball its message remains true.
Lost in the Translation
I'm impotent today she
said, closed the book,
capped her pen. You can't
be impotent or potent, they
laughed. You have no penis.
She listened, and for a long
time, she believed them.
to the old woman
doing laundry, the evening
translated by David G. Lanoue
Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.
Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 105 songs
too many folks of every kind believe they are impotent.
Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil is one of my favorite books to read. You'll have to let us know how your discussion group goes, I'm eager to hear your group's thoughts on Baudelaire.
Wow, PC, I sure will let you know. I didn't imagine you a Baudelaire fan and that's why life (and folks) are so grand.
A surprise around every corner.
Charles: Couldn't be a truer statement ... Don
Excellent! Yes, you should do an entry on your Baudelaire event. I've been reading a lot about Baudelaire recently because I've been interested in his connection to Brautigan: http://talkingwriting.com/?p=19794
Are you familiar with the criticism of Walter Benjamin? Highly recommend Illuminations. Benjamin was a big Baudelaire fan.
It's almost harder for me when I do a project on an author I love: I find myself in fear of failing them.
Thanks for the tips, Theresa. I've read a little Benjamin here and there over the years, but not a collection.
Interesting idea, Brautigan - Baudelaire, might reveal a little more of RB's mysteriousness. Great little article:
"Like the haiku masters Basho and Issa whom he revered, Brautigan knew there was no such thing as ordinariness. Every last thing is holy, and it’s all the more precious because it doesn’t last."
Here's 12 different posts that have touched on RB here over the years.
There were more, but I ran out of words to hypertext ... which is coming dangerously close to RB territory.
I'm a big fan.
Don, Baudelaire still speaks to us from a poetic future the directions to which remain constantly concealed within the itinerary. Or something.
N'importe où hors du monde
Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu'il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre.
Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.
Anywhere Out of the World
This life is a hospital where every patient is possessed with the desire to change beds; one man would like to suffer in front of the stove, and another believes that he would recover his health beside the window.
It always seems to me that I should feel well in the place where I am not, and this question of removal is one which I discuss incessantly with my soul.
Thanks, Don. I want to read through all your Brautigan scribbles. I'm trying to write an essay on his poems. I've loved Brautigan for years and have seen such loneliness and sadness in his work; the way he sees the world is complicated...hard to sort it all out. It has always interested me how he came from such pain and yet he never wrote about it directly. It all gets submerged into these stunning descriptions and observations. I met a fellow at the AC.PC conference who did a paper on Brautigan, tying him to Jack Spicer who was really into Baudelaire and Rimbaud.
read Ianthe Brautigan's : You Can't Catch Death
&, I'm sure that you've read An Unfortunate Woman
another coincidence ... am just now reading Sartre's
("study of") Baudelaire titled : BAUDELAIRE (New Directions, 1950)
then shoot some craps .. in other words: 'gamble'
For a long time I've had a fascination with Baudelaire at kind of a distance. Part of the distance (rather than closeness) I think has to do with my dissatisfaction with most of the translations I've found.
At one point I made an attempt at translating one of the poems titled "Spleen" (the one that begins, approximately, "When the sky low and heavy weighs like a lid..." etc.). It left me continuing to be ambivalent about his poetry.
I periodically go back and try to read him some more. There are are few poets who are that way for me -- whose work I've never felt a great affinity for, though I can recognize the weight of it, even if at a distance. Rilke and Akhmatova are a couple of other examples.
I probably first became curious about Baudelaire when I read Brautigan's The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster, when I was probably 18 years old and had been writing poems four about four years. During the next year or so I tried much too hard to write Brautigan-esque poems, and surely didn't succeed, not having ripened enough yet.
For sometime after that, until I actually read some of Baudelaire, I imagined that he must have written something like Brautigan's poems. It's been years since I've read anything by Brautigan -- from time to time I get an urge to go back and reread Trout Fishing in America. Maybe one day.
Lyle, interesting comment. I'm still trying to penetrate the Baudelaire/Brautigan connection. Brautigan's works get more and more interesting to me as I get older. Ed, I think Ianthe's book is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. She writes with such painful honesty about her relationship with her dad.
I've always thought that one of the more accurate images of the "modern" poet vis-à-vis society was Baudelaire's The Albatross.
That's very helpful, TC, thank you! Beautiful poem. For some reason it put me in the mind of James Wright's fascination with Neruda's poem about the mermaid and the drunk sailors.
Thank you very much for the translation, which is great. Baudelaire I've always loved and still he remains a mystery to me. He seems to strike a chord that resonates in an almost pre-linguistic way.
If that sounds like a contradiction, so be it. It is how I feel. His concept of correspondences is at once so modern yet archetypal, which is where I think he has the new moderns beat.
The Albatross is one of the poems I will be doing with the discussion group I lead. Such a popular poem that all the critics ignore or, at their worst, poke their pipes at.
"Poke their pipes at"--that's funny and true. Baudelaire is a mass of contradictions, which is great. I hope you will talk about the albatross poem here; would really love your feedback.
Actually I've been poking my pipes at Baudelaire's poem for so long and made so many versions of it that in the end it finally got through to me that the majestic creature which the poet uses as a metaphor actually has a specific and independent being of its own. It hasn't heard of poetry, though, of course, it IS poetry. And it is in fact threatened not by unkind sailors, but by all the plastic trash dumped into the oceans by the human race.
That series of belated discoveries and chastened thoughts led in turn to:
Theresa: Spicer, eh, the threads continue ...
Ed, how's the Sartre on Baudelaire working out?
There is an undercurrent of deep despair, I believe, in both poets, Baudelaire and Brautigan, that provides the link. They seem nearly two sides of the same coin, to risk the cliché. Romanticism, and a reaction to it, also runs deep in both.
The Brautigan site is one of the finest author sites on the net. Nearly all the poems are there to be read. The bibliographic scope is great. From the archive:
"The Galilee Hitch-Hiker" Part 1
driving a Model A
He picked up a
Jesus who had
been standing among
a school of fish.
pieces of bread.
"Where are you
into the front
out of this world!"
"I'll go with you
as far as
"I have a
at the carnival
there, and I
Your Albatross is a marvel of condensation. How you manage to fit in Baudelaire, his albatross, your albatross and all is very fine.
I, of course, hadn't even considered the naturalistic approach. My head so high in the Baudelarian clouds I've stumbled in a ditch.
Now whose getting a pipe stuck in his beak?
Roger Shattuck in his chapter The Devine Marquis in
The Flowers of Evil and the Sartre book...
am not an huge fan of any of these writers... or of what into the 20th century they mirrored...
Camus was enough of a wobbly-plinth for me
I much prefer my own ... phantasies ...
less abstractionsasfacts & more harmless naughtynesses
Naughtiness ought never be innocuous, Ed.
The more I think about this majestic creature with the largest wingspan of any living bird, its grandeur in flight and its strange ungainliness when grounded, the better I like Baudelaire's poem, and the more tiresome seems the twenty-first century.
An albatross is not an abstraction (though a poet might be). Let's give its magnificent wingspread a second chance on the runway!
The Albatross (after Baudelaire)
Agree 100% about the undercurrent of despair that links the two "B's"-- "The Galilee Hitch-Hiker" one of the great Brautigan poems, along with "The Boat."
Man, Don, I know what you mean by stumbling into a ditch.
(The word verification for this post is "kings")
And Theresa in some translations of The Albatross it is described as Prince or King of the sky.
As to your beloved coincidences, Ed, last evening I was digging around in my house for some info on early Proust writings (had just read his magnificent prologue to his French translation of Ruskin's "Sesame and Lilies") and found myself paging through a biography on Proust by ... Roger Shattuck.
Tom, I'm loving your passion against abstraction of the albatross and will be sure to mention it in our discussion of The Albatross tomorrow night.
this photo of an albatross with sailers a closer reality to what Baudelaire writes to:
many a sailor thrown overboard with a dead albatross
tied around their neck... not very Romantic, eh?
this photo, it seems to me, close to what Baudelaire had in his 'mind' eye'
one of these days I'm gonna track down that book of CB's Diaries that Sartre edited...
well,, when I have some time maybe in my next life.... suchasitwillbe
now your talking BIGGIES !
Proust ! Ruskin!
can't quite re:call but there was a story about someone
who lived in a rooming house where he did his writing and drinking &
Proust lived in the next room
"that damned Proust is in the next room"
Yes, Ed, that picture looks very much true to the Baudelaire poem.
And, the rooming-house ...
beyond the cork-lined room:
Story about the guy in the next room sounds like it comes right out of the pages of "In Search of Lost Time."
That poem by Celeste Bowman is incredibly powerful. Thanks for posting it. - Mark
Thanks, so glad Celeste's poem didn't get lost in the shuffle. It uses power to disarm the reader in a very poignant way.
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