Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.
One evening I took Beauty in my arms – and I thought her bitter – and I insulted her.
I steeled myself against justice.
I fled. O witches, O misery, O hate, my treasure was left in your care!
I have withered within me all human hope. With the silent leap of a sullen beast, I have downed and strangled every joy.
I have called for executioners; I want to perish chewing on their gun butts. I have called for plagues, to suffocate in sand and blood. Unhappiness has been my god. I have lain down in the mud, and dried myself off in the crime-infested air. I have played the fool to the point of madness.
And springtime brought me the frightful laugh of an idiot.
Now recently, when I found myself ready to croak! I thought to seek the key to the banquet of old, where I might find an appetite again.
That key is Charity. – This idea proves I was dreaming!
“You will stay a hyena, etc…,” shouts the demon who once crowned me with such pretty poppies. “Seek death with all your desires, and all selfishness, and all the Seven Deadly Sins.”
Ah! I’ve taken too much of that: – still, dear Satan, don’t look so annoyed, I beg you! And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.
From my ancestors the Gauls I have pale blue eyes, a narrow brain, and awkwardness in competition. I think my clothes are as barbaric as theirs. But I don’t butter my hair.
The Gauls were the most stupid hide-flayers and hay-burners of their time.
From them, I inherit: idolatry, and love of sacrelige; – oh! all sorts of vice, anger, lechery, – terrific stuff, lechery; – lying, above all, and laziness.
I have a horror of all trades and crafts. Bosses and workers, all of them peasants, and common. The hand that holds the pen is as good as the one that holds the plow. – What a century for hands! – I’ll never learn to use my hands. And then, domesticity goes too far. The propriety of beggary shames me. Criminals are as disgusting as men without balls: I’m intact, and I don’t care.
But! who has made my tongue so treacherous, that until now it has counseled and kept me in idleness? I have not used even my body to get along. Out-idling the sleepy toad, I have lived everywhere. There’s not one family in Europe that I don’t know. – Families, I mean, like mine, who owe their existence to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. – I have known each family’s eldest son!
If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!
But instead, nothing.
I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder: to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.
I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments. – I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. – And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.
Ah! one thing more: I dance the Sabbath in a scarlet clearing, with old women and children.
I don’t remember much beyond this land, and Christianity. I will see myself forever in its past. But always alone; without a family; what language, in fact, did I used to speak? I never see myself in the councils of Christ; nor in the councils of the Lords, – Christ’s representatives.
What was I in the century past: I only find myself today. The vagabonds, the hazy wars are gone. The inferior race has swept over all – the People, as they put it, Reason; Nation and Science.
Ah, Science! Everything is taken from the past. For the body and the soul, – the last sacrament, – we have Medicine and Philosophy, household remedies and folk songs rearrainged. And royal entertainments, and games that kings forbid! Geography, Cosmography, Mechanics, Chemistry!…
Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world moves!… And why shouldn’t it?
We have visions of numbers. We are moving toward the Spirit. What I say is oracular and absolutely right. I understand, and since I cannot express myself except in pagan terms, I would rather keep quiet.
Pagan blood returns! The Spirit is at hand, why does Christ not help me, and grant my soul nobility and freedom. Ah! but the Gospel belongs to the past! The Gospel! The Gospel.
I wait gluttinously for God. I have been of an inferior race for ever and ever.
And now I am on the beaches of Brittany. Let cities light their lamps in the evening. My daytime is done; I am leaving Europe. The air of the sea will burn my lungs; lost climates will turn my skin to leather. To swim, to pulverize grass, to hunt, above all to smoke; to drink strong drinks, as strong as molten ore, – as did those dear ancestors around their fires.
I will come back with limbs of iron, with dark skin, and angry eyes: in this mask, they will think I belong to a strong race. I will have gold: I will be brutal and indolent. Women nurse these ferocious invalids come back from the tropics. I will become involved in politics. Saved.
Now I am accursed, I detest my native land. The best thing is a drunken sleep, stretched out on some strip of shore.
But no one leaves. – Let us set out once more on our native roads, burdened with my vice, that vice that since the age of reason has driven roots of suffering into my side – that towers to heaven, beats me, hurls me down, drags me on.
Ultimate innocence, final timidity. All’s said. Carry no more my loathing and treacheries before the world.
Come on! Marching, burdens, the desert, boredom and anger.
Hire myself to whom? What beasts adore? What sacred images destroy? What hearts shall I break? What lie maintain? – Through what blood wade?
Better to keep away from justice. – A hard life, outright stupor, – with a dried-out fist to lift the coffin lid, lie down, and suffocate. No old age this way, no danger: terror is very un-French.
– Ah! I am so forsaken I will offer at any shrine impulses toward perfection.
Oh my self-denial, my marvelous Charity! my Selfless love! And still here below!
De Profundis Domine, what an ass I am!
When I was still a little child, I admired the hardened convict on whom the prison door will always close; I used to visit the bars and the rented rooms his presence had consecrated; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flower-filled work of the fields; I followed his fatal scent through city streets. He had more strength than the saints, more sense than any explorer – and he, he alone! was witness to his glory and his rightness.
Along the open road on winter nights, homeless, cold, and hungry, one voice gripped my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: you exist, that is strength. You don’t know where you are going or why you are going, go in everywhere, answer everyone. No one will kill you, any more than if you were a corpse.” In the morning my eyes were so vacant and my face so dead, that the people I met may not even have seen me.
In cities, mud went suddenly red and black, like a mirror when a lamp in the next room moves, like treasure in the forest! Good luck, I cried, and I saw a sea of flames and smoke rise to heaven; and left and right, all wealth exploded like a billion thunderbolts.
But orgies and the companionship of women were impossible for me. Not even a friend. I saw myself before an angry mob, facing a firing squad, weeping out sorrows they could not understand, and pardoning! – like Joan of Arc! – “Priests, professors and doctors, you are mistaken in delivering me into the hands of the law. I have never been one of you; I have never been a Christian; I belong to the race that sang on the scaffold; I do not understand your laws; I have no moral sense; I am a brute; you are making a mistake…”
Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am an animal, a nigger. But I can be saved. You are fake niggers; maniacs, savages, misers, all of you. Businessman, you’re a nigger; judge, you’re a nigger; general, you’re a nigger; emperor, old scratch-head, you’re a nigger: you’ve drunk a liquor no one taxes, from Satan’s still. – This nation is inspired by fever and cancer. Invalids and old men are so respectable that they ask to be boiled. – The best thing is to quit this continent where madness prowls, out to supply hostages for these wretches. I will enter the true kingdom of the sons of Cham.
Do I understand nature? Do I understand myself? No more words. I shroud dead men in my stomach…. Shouts, drums, dance, dance, dance! I can’t even imagine the hour when the white men land, and I will fall into nothingness.
Thirst and hunger, shouts, dance, dance, dance!
The white men are landing. Cannons! Now we must be baptized, get dressed, and go to work.
My heart has been stabbed by grace. Ah! I hadn’t thought this would happen!
But I haven’t done anything wrong. My days will be easy, and I will be spared repentance. I will not have had the torments of the soul half-dead to the Good, where austure light rises again like funeral candles. The fate of a first-born son, a premature coffin covered with shining tears. No doubt, perversion is stupid, vice is stupid; rottenness must always be cast away. But the clock must learn to strike more than hours of pure pain! Am I to be carried away like a child, to play in paradise, forgetting all this misery!
Quick! Are there any other lives? – Sleep for the rich is impossible. Wealth has always lived openly. divine love alone confers the keys of knowledge. I see that nature is only a show of kindness. Farewell chimeras, ideals and errors.
The reasonable song of angels rises from the rescue ship: it is divine love. – Two loves! I may die of earthly love, die of devotion. I have left behind creatures whose grief will grow at my going! You choose me from among the castaways, aren’t those who remain my friends?
I am reborn in reason. The world is good. I will bless life. I will love my brothers. There are no longer childhood promises. Nor the hope of escaping old age and death. God is my strength, and I praise God.
Boredom is no longer my love. Rage, perversion, madness, whose every impulse and disaster I know, – my burden is set down entire. Let us appraise with clear heads the extent of my innocence.
I am no longer able to ask for the consolation of a beating. I don’t imagine I’m off on a honeymoon with Jesus Christ as my father-in-law.
I am no prisoner of my own reason. I have said: God. I want freedom within salvation: how shall I go about it? A taste for frivolity has left me. No further need for divine love or for devotion to duty. I do not regret the age of emotion and feeling. To each his own reason, contempt, Charity: I keep my place at the top of the angelic ladder of good sense.
As for settled happiness, domestic or not… no, I can’t. I am too dissipated, too weak. Work makes life blossom, an old idea, not mine; my life doesn’t weigh enough, it drifts off and floats far beyond action, that third pole of the world.
What an old maid I’m turning into, to lack the courage to love death!
If only God would grant me that celestial calm, etherial calm, and prayer, – like the saints of old. – The Saints! They were strong! Anchorites, artists of a kind we no longer need!
Does this farce have no end? My innocence is enough to make me cry. Life is the farce we all must play.
Stop it! this is your punishment. – Forward march!
Ah! my lungs burn, my temples roar! Night rolls in my eyes, beneath this sun! My heart… my arms and legs…
Where are we going? To battle? I am weak! the others go on ahead. Tools, weapons… give me time!…
Fire! Fire at me! Here! or I’ll give myself up. – Cowards! – I’ll kill myself! I’ll throw myself beneath the horses’ hooves!
– I’ll get used to it.
That would be the French way, the path of honor!
Night in Hell
I have just swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison. – Blessed, blessed, blessed the advice I was given! – My guts are on fire. The power of the poison twists my arms and legs, cripples me, drives me to the ground. I die of thirst, I suffocate, I cannot cry. This is Hell, eternal torment! See how the flames rise! I burn as I ought to. Go on, Devil!
I once came close to a conversion to the good and to felicity, salvation. How can I describe my vision, the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! There were millions of delightful creatures in smooth spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions, I don’t know what all?
But I am still alive! – Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am. This is the catechism at work. I am the slave of my baptism. You, my parents, have ruined my life, and your own. Poor child! – Hell is powerless against pagans. – I am still alive! Later on, the delights of damnation will become more profound. A crime, quick, and let me fall to nothingness, condemned by human law.
Shut up, will you shut up!… Everything here is shame and reproach: Satan saying that the fire is worthless, that my anger is ridiculous and silly. – Ah, stop! …those mistakes someone whispered, magic spells, deceptive odors, childish music. – And to think that I possess the truth, that I can have a vision of justice: my judgement is sound and firm, I am prime for perfection… Pride. – My scalp begins to tighten. Have mercy! Lord, I am afraid! Water, I thirst, I thirst! Ah, childhood, grass and rain, the puddle on the paving stones, Moonlight when the clock strikes twelve.… The devil is in the clock tower, right now! Mary! Holy Virgin!… – Horrible stupidity.
Look there, are those not honorable men, who wish me well?…Come on… a pillow over my mouth, they cannot hear me, they are only ghosts. Anyway, no one ever thinks of anyone else. Don’t let them come closer. I must surely stink of burning flesh.
My hallucinations are endless. This is what I’ve always gone through: the end of my faith in history, the neglect of my principles. I shall say no more about this: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I am the richest one of all, a thousand times, and I will hoard it like the sea.
O God – the clock of life stopped but a moment ago. I am no longer within the world. – Theology is accurate; hell is certainly down below – and heaven is up on high. – Ecstacy, nightmare, sleep, in a nest of flames.
How the mind wanders idly in the country… Satan, Ferdinand, blows with the wild seed… Jesus walks on purple thorns but doesn’t bend them… Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. In the light of the lantern we saw him there, all white, with long brown hair, standing in the curve of an emerald wave…
I will tear the veils from every mystery: mysteries of religion or of nature, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, and nothingness. I am a master of phantasmagoria.
Every talent is mine! – There is no one here, and there is someone: I wouldn’t want to waste my treasure. – Shall I give you Afric chants, belly dancers? Shall I disappear, shall I begin an attempt to discover the Ring? Shall I? I will manufacture gold, and medicines.
Put your faith in me, then. Faith comforts, it guides and heals. Come unto me all of you, – even the little children – let me console you, let me pour out my heart for you – my miraculous heart! – Poor men, poor laborers! I do not ask for prayers; give me only your trust, and I will be happy.
– Think of me, now. All this doesn’t make me miss the world much. I’m lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet stupidities, unfortunately.
Bah! I’ll make all the ugly faces I can!
We are out of the world, that’s sure. Not a single sound. My sense of touch is gone. Ah, my château, my Saxony, my willow woods! Evenings and mornings, nights and days… How tired I am!
I ought to have a special hell for my anger, a hell for my pride, – and a hell for sex; a whole symphony of hells!
I am weary, I die. This is the grave and I’m turning into worms, horror of horrors! Satan, you clown, you want to dissolve me with your charms. Well, I want it. I want it! Stab me with a pitchfork, sprinkle me with fire.
Ah! To return to life! To stare at our deformities. And this poison, this eternally accursed embrace! My weakness, and the world’s cruelty! My God, have pity, hide me, I can’t control myself at all! – I am hidden, and I am not.
And as the Damned soul rises, so does the fire.
The Foolish Virgin
Let us hear the confession of an old friend in Hell:
“O Lord, O Celestial Bridegroom, do not turn thy face from the confession of the most pitiful of thy handmaidens. I am lost. I’m drunk. I’m impure. What a life!
“Pardon, Lord in Heaven, pardon! Ah! pardon! All these tears! And all the tears to come later on, I hope!
“Later on, I will meet the Celestial Bridegroom! I was born to be His slave. – That other one can beat me now!
“Right now, it’s the end of the world! Oh, girls… my friends!… no, not my friends… I’ve never gone through anything like this, delerium, torments, anything… It’s so silly.
“Oh! I cry, I’m suffering. I really am suffering. And still I’ve got a right to do whatever I want, now that I am covered with contempt by the most contemptible hearts.
“Well, let me make my confession anyway, though I may have to repeat it twenty times again, – so dull, and so insignificant!
“I am a slave of the Infernal Bridegroom, the one who seduced the foolish virgins. That’s exactly the devil he is. He’s no phantom, he’s no ghost. But I, who have lost my wits, damned and dead to the world, – no one will be able to kill me! – How can I describe him to you! I can’t even talk anymore. I’m all dressed in mourning, I’m crying, I’m afraid. Please, dear Lord, a little fresh air, if you don’t mind, please!
“I am a widow… – I used to be a widow… – oh, yes, I used to be very serious in those days, I wasn’t born to become a skeleton!… He was a child or almost… His delicate, mysterious ways enchanted me. I forgot all my duties in order to follow him. What a life we lead! True life is lacking. We are exiles from this world, really – I go where he goes, I have to. And lots of times he gets mad at me, at me, poor sinner. That Devil! He really is a Devil, you know, and not a man.
“He says: “I don’t love women. Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else goes out the window: all they have left is cold disdain, that’s what marriages live on nowadays. Sometimes I see women who ought to be happy, with whom I could have found companionship, already swallowed up by brutes with as much feeling as an old log…”
“I listen to him turn infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. “I belong to an ancient race: my ancestors were Norsemen: they slashed their own bodies, drank their own blood. – I’ll slash my body all over, I’ll tattoo myself, I want to be as ugly as a Mongol: you’ll see, I’ll scream in the streets. I want to get really mad with anger. Don’t show me jewels; I’ll get down on all fours and writhe on the carpet. I want my wealth stained all over with blood. I will never do any work… “Several times, at night, his demon seized me, and we rolled about wrestling! – Sometimes at night when he’s drunk he hangs around street corners or behind doors, to scare me to death. – I’ll get my throat cut for sure; won’t that be disgusting.” And, oh! those days when he wants to go around pretending he’s a criminal!
“Sometimes he talks, in his backcountry words, full of emotion, about death, and how it makes us repent, and how surely there are miserable people in the world, about exhausting work, and about saying goodbye and how it tears your heart. In the dives where we used to get drunk, he would cry when he looked at the people around us – cattle of the slums. He used to pick up drunks in the dark streets. He had the pity of a brutal mother for little children. – He went around with all the sweetness of a little girl on her way to Sunday school. He pretended to know all about everything, business, art, medicine. – And I always went along with him, I had to!
“I used to see clearly all the trappings that he hung up in his imagination; costumes, fabric, furniture… It was I who lent him weapons, and a change of face. I could visualize everything that affected him, exactly as he would have imagined it for himself. Whenever he seemed depressed, I would follow him into strange, complicated adventures, on and on, into good and evil: but I always knew I could never be a part of his world. Beside his dear body, as he slept, I lay awake hour after hour, night after night, trying to imagine why he wanted so much to escape from reality. No man before ever had such a desire. I was aware – without being afraid for him – that he could become a serious menace to society. Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself, he was only looking for them. But of course, his charity is under a spell, and I am its prisoner. No one else could have the strength – the strength of despair! – to stand it, to stand being cared for and loved by him. Besides, I could never imagine him with anybody else: we all have eyes for our own Dark Angel, never other people’s Angels, – at least I think so. I lived in his soul as if it were a palace that had been cleared out so that the most unworthy person in it would be you: that’s all. Ah! really I used to depend on him terribly. But what did he want with my dull, my cowardly existence? He couldn’t improve me, though he never managed to kill me! I get so sad and disappointed; sometimes I say to him: “I understand you.” He just shrugs his shoulders.
“And so my heartaches kept growing and growing, and I saw myself going more and more to pieces – and everyone else would have seen it, too, if I hadn’t been so miserable that no one even looked at me anymore! and still more and more I craved his affection… His kisses and his friendly arms around me were just like heaven – a dark heaven, that I could go into, and where I wanted only to be left – poor, deaf, dumb, and blind. Already, I was getting to depend on it. And I used to imagine that we were two happy children free to wander in a Paradise of sadness. We were in absolute harmony. Deeply moved, we labored side by side. But then, after a piercing embrace, he would say : “How funny it will all seem, all you’ve gone through, when I’m not here anymore. When you no longer feel my arms around your shoulders, nor my heart beneath you, nor this mouth on your eyes. Because I will have to go away someday, far away. Besides, I’ve got to help out others too: that’s what I’m here for. although I won’t really like it… dear heart…” And in that instant I could feel myself, with him gone, dizzy with fear, sinking down into the most horrible blackness: into death. I made him promise that he would never leave me. And he promised, twenty times; promised like a lover. It was as meaningless as my saying to him: “I understand you.”
“Oh, I’ve never been jealous of him. He’ll never leave me, I’m sure of it. What will he do? He doesn’t know a soul; he’ll never work. He wants to live like a sleepwalker. Can his kindness and his charity by themselves give him his place in the real world? There are moments when I forget the wretched mess I’ve fallen into: he will give me strength, we’ll travel, we’ll go hunting in the desert, we’ll sleep on the sidewalks of unknown cities, carefree and happy. Or else some day I’ll wake up and – his magic power will have changed all laws and morals, – but the world will still be the same and leave me my desires and my joys and my lack of concern. Oh! that wonderful world of adventures that we found in children’s books, – won’t you give me that world? I’ve suffered so much, I deserve a reward. He can’t. I don’t know what he really wants. He says he has hopes and regrets: but they have nothing to do with me. Does he talk to God? Maybe I should talk to God myself. I am in the depths of an abyss, and I have forgotten how to pray.
“Suppose he did explain his sadness to me, would I understand it any better than his jokes and insults? He attacks me, he spends hours making me ashamed of everything in the world that has ever meant anything to me, and then he gets mad if I cry.
“– Do you see that lovely young man going into that beautiful, peaceful house? His name is Duval, Dufour, Armand, Maurice, whatever you please. There is a woman who has spent her life loving that evil creature: she died. I’m sure she’s a saint in heaven right now. You are going to kill me the way he killed that woman. That’s what’s in store for all of us who have unselfish hearts…” Oh, dear! There were days when all men of action seemed to him like the toys of some grotesque raving: he would laugh, horribly, on and on. – Then he would go back to acting like a young mother, or an older sister. If he were not such a wild thing, we would be saved! But even his sweetness is mortal. I am his slave. – Oh, I’ve lost my mind!
“Some day maybe he’ll just disappear miraculously, but I absolutely must be told about it, I mean if he’s going to go back up into heaven or someplace, so that I can go and watch for just a minute the Assumption of my darling boy!”
One hell of a household!
Alchemy of the Word
My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.
For a long time I boasted that I was master of all possible landscapes and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable.
What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints; old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children’s books, old operas, silly old songs, the nave rhythms of country rimes.
I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents: I used to believe in every kind of magic.
I invented colors for the vowels! – A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. – I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator.
I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.
Far from flocks, from birds and country girls,
What did I drink within that leafy screen
Surrounded by tender hazlenut trees
In the warm green mist of afternoon?
What could I drink from this young Oise
– Toungeless trees, flowerless grass, dark skies! –
Drink from these yellow gourds, far from the hut
I loved? Some golden draught that made me sweat.
I would have made a doubtful sign for an inn.
– Later, toward evening, the sky filled with clouds…
Water from the woods runs out on virgin sands,
And heavenly winds cast ice thick on the ponds;
Then I saw gold, and wept, but could not drink.
At four in the morning, in summertime,
Love’s drowsiness still lasts…
The bushes blow away the odor
Of the night’s feast.
Beyond the bright Hesperides,
Within the western workshop of the Sun,
Carpenters scramble – in shirtsleeves –
Work is begun.
And in desolate, moss-grown isles
They raise their precious panels
Where the city
Will paint a hollow sky
For these charming dabblers in the arts
Who labor for a King in Babylon,
Venus! Leave for a moment
Lovers’ haloed hearts.
O Queen of Shepherds!
Carry the purest eau-de-vie
To these workmen while they rest
And take their bath at noonday, in the sea
The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part in my alchemy of the word.
I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters and mysteries; a vaudeville’s title filled me with awe.
And so I explained my magical sophistries by turning words into visions!
At last, I began to consider my mind’s disorder a sacred thing. I lay about idle, consumed by an oppressive fever: I envied the bliss of animals – caterpillars, who portray the innocence of a second childhood, moles, the slumber of virginity!
My mind turned sour. I said farewell to the world in poems something like ballads:
A Song from the highest Tower
Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love
I have waited so long
That at length I forget;
And leave unto heaven
My fear and regret.
A sick thirst
Darkens my veins.
Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love
So the green field
To oblivion falls,
With incense and weeds
And the cruel noise
Of dirty flies.
Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love
I loved the desert, burnt orchards, tired old shops, warm drinks. I dragged myself through stinking alleys, and with my eyes closed I offered myself to the sun, the god of fire.
“General, if on your ruined ramparts one cannon still remains, shell us with clods of dried-up earth. Shatter the mirrors of expensive shops! And the drawing rooms! Make the city swallow its dust. Turn gargoyles to rust. Stuff boudoirs with rubies’ fiery powder…”
Oh! the little fly drunk at the urinal of a country inn, in love with rotting weeds, a ray of light dissolves him!
I only find within my bones
A taste for eating earth and stones.
When I feed, I feed on air,
Rocks and coals and iron ore.
My hunger, turn. Hunger, feed,
A field of bran.
Gather as you can the bright
Eat the rocks a beggar breaks,
The stones of ancient churches’ walls;
Pebbles, children of the flood,
Loaves left lying in the mud.
Beneath the bush a wolf will howl
Spitting bright feathers
From his feast of fowl:
Like him, I devour myself.
Waiting to be gathered
Fruits and grasses spend their hours;
The spider spinning in the hedge
Eats only flowers.
Let me sleep! Let me boil
On the altars of Solomon;
Let me soak the rusty soil,
And flow into Kendron.
Finally, O reason, O happiness, I cleared from the sky the blue which is darkness, and I lived as a golden spark of this light Nature. In my delight, I made my face look as comic and as wild as I could:
It is recovered.
What? – Eternity.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.
O my eternal soul,
Hold fast to desire
In spite of the night
And the day on fire.
You must set yourself free
From the striving of Man
And the applause of the World
You must fly as you can…
– No hope forever
Science and patience,
The torment is sure.
The fire within you,
Soft silken embers,
Is our whole duty
But no one remembers.
It is recovered.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.
I became a fabulous opera: I saw that everyone in the world was doomed to happiness. Action isn’t life: it’s merely a way of ruining a kind of strength, a means of destroying nerves. Morality is water on the brain.
It seemed to me that everyone should have had several other lives as well. This gentleman doesn’t know what he’s doing: he’s an angel. That family is a litter of puppy dogs. With some men, I often talked out loud with a moment from one of their other lives. – That’s how I happened to love a pig.
Not a single one of the brilliant arguments of madness, – the madness that gets locked up, – did I forget: I could go through them all again, I’ve got the system down by heart.
It affected my health. Terror loomed ahead. I would fall again and again into a heavy sleep, which lasted several days at a time, and when I woke up, my sorrowful dreams continued. I was ripe for fatal harvest, and my weakness led me down dangerous roads to the edge of the world, to the Cimmerian shore, the haven of whirlwinds and darkness.
I had to travel, to dissipate the enchantments that crowded my brain. On the sea, which I loved as if it were to wash away my impurity, I watched the compassionate cross arise. I had been damned by the rainbow. Felicity was my doom, my gnawing remorse, my worm: my life would forever be too large to devote to strength and to beauty.
Felicity! The deadly sweetness of its sting would wake me at cockcrow, – ad matutinum, at the Christus venit, – in the somberest of cities:
O seasons, O chateaus!
Where is the flawless soul?
I learned the magic of
Felicity, it enchants us all.
To Felicity, sing life and praise
Whenever Gaul’s cock crows.
Now all desire has gone:
It has made my life its own.
That spell has caught heart and soul
And scattered every trial.
O seasons, O chateaus!
And, oh! the day it disappears
Will be the day I die.
O seasons, O chateaus!
All that is over. Today, I know how to celebrate beauty.
Ah! My life as a child, the open road in every weather; I was unnaturally abstinent, more detached than the best of beggars, proud to have no country, no friends, what stupidity that was. – And only now I realize it!
– I was right to distrust old men who never lost a chance for a caress, parasites on the health and cleanliness of our women, today when women are so much a race apart from us.
I was right in everything I distrusted: because I am running away!
I am running away!
Even yesterday, I kept sighing: “God! There are enough of us damned down here! I’ve done time enough already in their ranks! I know them all. We always recognize each other; we disgust each other. Charity is unheard of among us. Still, we’re polite; our relations with the world are quite correct.” Is that surprising? The world! Businessmen, and idiots! – there’s no dishonor in being here. – But the company of the elect, how would they receive us? For there are surely people, happy people, the false elect, since we must be bold or humble to aproach them. These are the real elect. No saintly hypocrites, these!
Since I’ve got back two cents’ worth of reason – how quickly it goes! – I can see that my troubles come from not realizing soon enough that this is the Western World. These Western swamps! Not that light has paled, form worn out, or movement been misguided… All right! Now my mind wants absolutely to take on itself all the cruel developments that mind had undergone since the Orient collapsed… My mind demands it!
… And that’s the end of my two cents’ worth of reason! The mind is in control, it insists that I remain in the West. It will have to be silenced if I expect it to end as I always wanted to.
I used to say, to hell with martyrs’ palms, all beacons of art, the inventor’s pride, the plunderer’s frenzy; I expected to return to the Orient and to original, eternal wisdom. But this is evidently a dream of depraved laziness!
And yet I had no intention of trying to escape from modern suffering. I have no high regard for the bastard wisdom of the Koran. – But isn’t there a very real torment in knowing that since the dawn of that scientific discovery, Christianity, Man has been making a fool of himself, proving what is obvious, puffing with pride as he repeats his proofs, and living on that alone! This is a subtle, stupid torment; and this is the source of my spiritual ramblings. Nature may well be bored with it all! Prudhomme was born with Christ.
Isn’t it because we cultivate the fog! We swallow fever with our watery vegetables. And drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And blind faith! – Isn’t this all a bit far from the thought, the wisdom of the Orient, the original fatherland? Why have a modern world, if such poisons are invented!
Priests and preachers will say: Of course. But you are really referring to Eden. There is nothing for you in the past hsitory of Oriental races…. True enough. It was Eden I meant! How can this purity of ancient races affect my dream?
Philosophers will say: the world has no ages. Humanity moves from place to place, that’s all. You are a Western man, but quite free to live in your Orient, as old a one as you want, – and to live in it as you like. Don’t be a defeatist. Philosophers, you are part and parcel of your Western world!
Careful, mind. Don’t rush madly after salvation. Train yourself! – Ah! Science never goes fast enough for us!
– But I see that my mind is asleep.
If it stays wide awake from this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels!… – If it had been wide awake until this moment, I would have never given in to degenerate instincts, long ago!… – If it had always been wide awake, I would be floating in wisdom!…
O Purity! Purity!
In this moment of awakening, I had a vision of purity! Through the mind we go to God!
What a crippling misfortune!
Human labor! That explosion lights up my abyss from time to time.
“Nothing is vanity; on toward knowledge!” cries the modern Ecclesiastes, which is Everyone. And still the bodies of the wicked and the idle fall upon the hearts of all the rest… Ah! quick, quick, quick there; beyond the night… that future reward, that eternal reward… will we escape it?
– What more can I do? Labor I know; and science is too slow. That praying gallops and that light roars… I’m well aware of it. It’s too simple, and the weather’s too hot; you can all do without me. I have my duty; but I will be proud, as others have been, to set it aside.
My life is worn out. Well, let’s pretend, let’s do nothing! oh, pitiful! And we will exist, and amuse ourselves, dreaming of monstrous loves and fantastic worlds, complaining and quarreling with the appearances of the world, acrobat, beggar, artist, bandit, – priest! On my hospital bed, the odor of incense came so strongly back to me; guardian of the holy aromatics, confessor, martyr…
There I recognize my filthy childhood education. Then what!… Turn twenty: I’ll do my twenty years, if everyone else does…
No! No! Now I rise up against death! Labor seems too easy for pride like mine: To betray me to the world would be too slight a punishment. At the last moment I would attack, to the right, to the left…
– Oh! – poor dear soul, eternity then might not be lost!
Hadn’t I once a youth that was lovely, heroic, fabulous, something to write down on pages of gold? – I was too lucky! Through what crime, by what fault did I deserve my present weakness? You who imagine that animals sob with sorrow, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try now to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better than the beggar wth his endless Aves and Pater Nosters. I no longer know how to talk!
And yet, today, I think I have finished this account of my Hell. And it was Hell; the old one, whose gates were opened by the Son of Man.
From the same desert, toward the same dark sky, my tired eyes forever open on the silver star, forever; but the three wise men never stir, the Kings of life, the heart, the soul, the mind. When will we go, over mountains and shores, to hail the birth of new labor, new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, – to be the first to adore! – Christmas on earth!
The song of the heavens, the marching of nations! We are slaves, let us not curse life!
Autumn already! – But why regret the everlasting sun, if we are sworn to a search for divine brightness, – far from those who die as seasons turn.
Autumn. Our boat, risen out of a hanging fog, turns toward poverty’s harbor, the monstrous city, its sky stained with fire and mud. Ah! Those stinking rags, bread soaked with rain, drunkenness, and the thousands of loves who nailed me to the cross! Will there never, ever be an end to that ghoulish queen of a million dead souls and bodies and who will all be judged! I can see myself again, my skin corroded by dirt and disease, hair and armpits crawling with worms, and worms still larger crawling in my heart, stretched out among ageless, heartless, unknown figures… I could easily have died there… What a horrible memory! I detest poverty.
And I dread winter because it’s so cozy!
– Sometimes in the sky I see endless sandy shores covered with white rejoicing nations. A great golden ship, above me, flutters many-colored pennants in the morning breeze. I was the creator of every feast, every triumph, every drama. I tried to invent new flowers, new planets, new flesh, new languages. I thought I had acquired supernatural powers. Ha! I have to bury my imagination and my memories! What an end to a splendid career as an artist and storyteller!
I! I called myself a magician, an angel, free from all moral constraint, I am sent back to the soil to seek some obligation, to wrap gnarled reality in my arms! A peasant!
Am I deceived? Would Charity be the sister of death, for me?
Well, I shall ask forgiveness for having lived on lies. And that’s that.
But not one friendly hand! and where can I look for help?
True, the new era is nothing if not harsh.
For I can say that I have gained a victory; the gnashing of teeth, the hissing of hellfire, the stinking sighs subside. All my monstrous memories are fading. My last longings depart, – jealousy of beggars, bandits, friends of death, all those that the world passed by. – Damned souls, if I were to take vengeance!
One must be absolutely modern.
Never mind hymns of thanksgiving: hold on to a step once taken. A hard night! Dried blood smokes on my face, and nothing lies behind me but that repulsive little tree!… The battle for the soul is as brutal as the battles of men; but the sight of justice is the pleasure of God alone.
Yet this is the watch by night. Let us all accept new strength, and real tenderness. And at dawn, armed with glowing patience, we will enter the cities of glory.
Why did I talk about a friendly hand! My great advantage is that I can laugh at old love affairs full of falsehood, and stamp with shame such deceitful couples, – I went through women’s Hell over there; – and I will be able now to possess the truth within one body and one soul.