À Maxime du Camp
Pour l'enfant, amoureux de cartes et d'estampes,
L'univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes!
Aux yeux du souvenir que le monde est petit!
Un matin nous partons, le cerveau plein de flamme,
Le coeur gros de rancune et de désirs amers,
Et nous allons, suivant le rythme de la lame,
Berçant notre infini sur le fini des mers:
Les uns, joyeux de fuir une patrie infâme;
D'autres, l'horreur de leurs berceaux, et quelques-uns,
Astrologues noyés dans les yeux d'une femme,
La Circé tyrannique aux dangereux parfums.
Pour n'être pas changés en bêtes, ils s'enivrent
D'espace et de lumière et de cieux embrasés;
La glace qui les mord, les soleils qui les cuivrent,
Effacent lentement la marque des baisers.
Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent
Pour partir; coeurs légers, semblables aux ballons,
De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s'écartent,
Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!
Ceux-là dont les désirs ont la forme des nues,
Et qui rêvent, ainsi qu'un conscrit le canon,
De vastes voluptés, changeantes, inconnues,
Et dont l'esprit humain n'a jamais su le nom!
Nous imitons, horreur! la toupie et la boule
Dans leur valse et leurs bonds; même dans nos sommeils
La Curiosité nous tourmente et nous roule
Comme un Ange cruel qui fouette des soleils.
Singulière fortune où le but se déplace,
Et, n'étant nulle part, peut être n'importe où!
Où l'Homme, dont jamais l'espérance n'est lasse,
Pour trouver le repos court toujours comme un fou!
Notre âme est un trois-mâts cherchant son Icarie;
Une voix retentit sur le pont: «Ouvre l'oeil!»
Une voix de la hune, ardente et folle, crie:
«Amour... gloire... bonheur!» Enfer! c'est un écueil!
Chaque îlot signalé par l'homme de vigie
Est un Eldorado promis par le Destin;
L'Imagination qui dresse son orgie
Ne trouve qu'un récif aux clartés du matin.
Ô le pauvre amoureux des pays chimériques!
Faut-il le mettre aux fers, le jeter à la mer,
Ce matelot ivrogne, inventeur d'Amériques
Dont le mirage rend le gouffre plus amer?
Tel le vieux vagabond, piétinant dans la boue,
Rêve, le nez en l'air, de brillants paradis;
Son oeil ensorcelé découvre une Capoue
Partout où la chandelle illumine un taudis.
Etonnants voyageurs! quelles nobles histoires
Nous lisons dans vos yeux profonds comme les mers!
Montrez-nous les écrins de vos riches mémoires,
Ces bijoux merveilleux, faits d'astres et d'éthers.
Nous voulons voyager sans vapeur et sans voile!
Faites, pour égayer l'ennui de nos prisons,
Passer sur nos esprits, tendus comme une toile,
Vos souvenirs avec leurs cadres d'horizons.
Dites, qu'avez-vous vu?
«Nous avons vu des astres
Et des flots, nous avons vu des sables aussi;
Et, malgré bien des chocs et d'imprévus désastres,
Nous nous sommes souvent ennuyés, comme ici.
La gloire du soleil sur la mer violette,
La gloire des cités dans le soleil couchant,
Allumaient dans nos coeurs une ardeur inquiète
De plonger dans un ciel au reflet alléchant.
Les plus riches cités, les plus grands paysages,
Jamais ne contenaient l'attrait mystérieux
De ceux que le hasard fait avec les nuages.
Et toujours le désir nous rendait soucieux!
— La jouissance ajoute au désir de la force.
Désir, vieil arbre à qui le plaisir sert d'engrais,
Cependant que grossit et durcit ton écorce,
Tes branches veulent voir le soleil de plus près!
Grandiras-tu toujours, grand arbre plus vivace
Que le cyprès? — Pourtant nous avons, avec soin,
Cueilli quelques croquis pour votre album vorace
Frères qui trouvez beau tout ce qui vient de loin!
Nous avons salué des idoles à trompe;
Des trônes constellés de joyaux lumineux;
Des palais ouvragés dont la féerique pompe
Serait pour vos banquiers un rêve ruineux;
Des costumes qui sont pour les yeux une ivresse;
Des femmes dont les dents et les ongles sont teints,
Et des jongleurs savants que le serpent caresse.»
Et puis, et puis encore?
«Ô cerveaux enfantins!
Pour ne pas oublier la chose capitale,
Nous avons vu partout, et sans l'avoir cherché,
Du haut jusques en bas de l'échelle fatale,
Le spectacle ennuyeux de l'immortel péché:
La femme, esclave vile, orgueilleuse et stupide,
Sans rire s'adorant et s'aimant sans dégoût;
L'homme, tyran goulu, paillard, dur et cupide,
Esclave de l'esclave et ruisseau dans l'égout;
Le bourreau qui jouit, le martyr qui sanglote;
La fête qu'assaisonne et parfume le sang;
Le poison du pouvoir énervant le despote,
Et le peuple amoureux du fouet abrutissant;
Plusieurs religions semblables à la nôtre,
Toutes escaladant le ciel; la Sainteté,
Comme en un lit de plume un délicat se vautre,
Dans les clous et le crin cherchant la volupté;
L'Humanité bavarde, ivre de son génie,
Et, folle maintenant comme elle était jadis,
Criant à Dieu, dans sa furibonde agonie:
»Ô mon semblable, mon maître, je te maudis!«
Et les moins sots, hardis amants de la Démence,
Fuyant le grand troupeau parqué par le Destin,
Et se réfugiant dans l'opium immense!
— Tel est du globe entier l'éternel bulletin.»
Amer savoir, celui qu'on tire du voyage!
Le monde, monotone et petit, aujourd'hui,
Hier, demain, toujours, nous fait voir notre image:
Une oasis d'horreur dans un désert d'ennui!
Faut-il partir? rester? Si tu peux rester, reste;
Pars, s'il le faut. L'un court, et l'autre se tapit
Pour tromper l'ennemi vigilant et funeste,
Le Temps! Il est, hélas! des coureurs sans répit,
Comme le Juif errant et comme les apôtres,
À qui rien ne suffit, ni wagon ni vaisseau,
Pour fuir ce rétiaire infâme; il en est d'autres
Qui savent le tuer sans quitter leur berceau.
Lorsque enfin il mettra le pied sur notre échine,
Nous pourrons espérer et crier: En avant!
De même qu'autrefois nous partions pour la Chine,
Les yeux fixés au large et les cheveux au vent,
Nous nous embarquerons sur la mer des Ténèbres
Avec le coeur joyeux d'un jeune passager.
Entendez-vous ces voix charmantes et funèbres,
Qui chantent: «Par ici vous qui voulez manger
Le Lotus parfumé! c'est ici qu'on vendange
Les fruits miraculeux dont votre coeur a faim;
Venez vous enivrer de la douceur étrange
De cette après-midi qui n'a jamais de fin!»
À l'accent familier nous devinons le spectre;
Nos Pylades là-bas tendent leurs bras vers nous.
«Pour rafraîchir ton coeur nage vers ton Electre!»
Dit celle dont jadis nous baisions les genoux.
Ô Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps! levons l'ancre!
Ce pays nous ennuie, ô Mort! Appareillons!
Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l'encre,
Nos coeurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons!
Verse-nous ton poison pour qu'il nous réconforte!
Nous voulons, tant ce feu nous brûle le cerveau,
Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu'importe?
Au fond de l'Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau!
— Charles Baudelaire
To Maxime du Camp
To a child who is fond of maps and engravings
The universe is the size of his immense hunger.
Ah! how vast is the world in the light of a lamp!
In memory's eyes how small the world is!
One morning we set out, our brains aflame,
Our hearts full of resentment and bitter desires,
And we go, following the rhythm of the wave,
Lulling our infinite on the finite of the seas:
Some, joyful at fleeing a wretched fatherland;
Others, the horror of their birthplace; a few,
Astrologers drowned in the eyes of some woman,
Some tyrannic Circe with dangerous perfumes.
Not to be changed into beasts, they get drunk
With space, with light, and with fiery skies;
The ice that bites them, the suns that bronze them,
Slowly efface the bruise of the kisses.
But the true voyagers are only those who leave
Just to be leaving; hearts light, like balloons,
They never turn aside from their fatality
And without knowing why they always say: "Let's go!"
Those whose desires have the form of the clouds,
And who, as a raw recruit dreams of the cannon,
Dream of vast voluptuousness, changing and strange,
Whose name the human mind has never known!
Horror! We imitate the top and bowling ball,
Their bounding and their waltz; even in our slumber
Curiosity torments us, rolls us about,
Like a cruel Angel who lashes suns.
Singular destiny where the goal moves about,
And being nowhere can be anywhere!
Toward which Man, whose hope never grows weary,
Is ever running like a madman to find rest!
Our soul's a three-master seeking Icaria;
A voice resounds upon the bridge: "Keep a sharp eye!"
From aloft a voice, ardent and wild, cries:
"Love... glory... happiness!" Damnation! It's a shoal!
Every small island sighted by the man on watch
Is the Eldorado promised by Destiny;
Imagination preparing for her orgy
Finds but a reef in the light of the dawn.
O the poor lover of imaginary lands!
Must he be put in irons, thrown into the sea,
That drunken tar, inventor of Americas,
Whose mirage makes the abyss more bitter?
Thus the old vagabond tramping through the mire
Dreams with his nose in the air of brilliant Edens;
His enchanted eye discovers a Capua
Wherever a candle lights up a hut.
Astonishing voyagers! What splendid stories
We read in your eyes as deep as the seas!
Show us the chest of your rich memories,
Those marvelous jewels, made of ether and stars.
We wish to voyage without steam and without sails!
To brighten the ennui of our prisons,
Make your memories, framed in their horizons,
Pass across our minds stretched like canvasses.
Tell us what you have seen.
"We have seen stars
And waves; we have also seen sandy wastes;
And in spite of many a shock and unforeseen
Disaster, we were often bored, as we are here.
The glory of sunlight upon the purple sea,
The glory of cities against the setting sun,
Kindled in our hearts a troubling desire
To plunge into a sky of alluring colors.
The richest cities, the finest landscapes,
Never contained the mysterious attraction
Of the ones that chance fashions from the clouds
And desire was always making us more avid!
— Enjoyment fortifies desire.
Desire, old tree fertilized by pleasure,
While your bark grows thick and hardens,
Your branches strive to get closer to the sun!
Will you always grow, tall tree more hardy
Than the cypress? — However, we have carefully
Gathered a few sketches for your greedy album,
Brothers who think lovely all that comes from afar!
We have bowed to idols with elephantine trunks;
Thrones studded with luminous jewels;
Palaces so wrought that their fairly-like splendor
Would make your bankers have dreams of ruination;
And costumes that intoxicate the eyes;
Women whose teeth and fingernails are dyed
And clever mountebanks whom the snake caresses."
And then, and then what else?
"O childish minds!
Not to forget the most important thing,
We saw everywhere, without seeking it,
From the foot to the top of the fatal ladder,
The wearisome spectacle of immortal sin:
Woman, a base slave, haughty and stupid,
Adoring herself without laughter or disgust;
Man, a greedy tyrant, ribald, hard and grasping,
A slave of the slave, a gutter in the sewer;
The hangman who feels joy and the martyr who sobs,
The festival that blood flavors and perfumes;
The poison of power making the despot weak,
And the people loving the brutalizing whip;
Several religions similar to our own,
All climbing up to heaven; Saintliness
Like a dilettante who sprawls in a feather bed,
Seeking voluptuousness on horsehair and nails;
Prating humanity, drunken with its genius,
And mad now as it was in former times,
Crying to God in its furious death-struggle:
'O my fellow, O my master, may you be damned!'
The less foolish, bold lovers of Madness,
Fleeing the great flock that Destiny has folded,
Taking refuge in opium's immensity!
— That's the unchanging report of the entire globe."
Bitter is the knowledge one gains from voyaging!
The world, monotonous and small, today,
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our image:
An oasis of horror in a desert of ennui!
Must one depart? Remain? If you can stay, remain;
Leave, if you must. One runs, another hides
To elude the vigilant, fatal enemy,
Time! There are, alas! those who rove without respite,
Like the Wandering Jew and like the Apostles,
Whom nothing suffices, neither coach nor vessel,
To flee this infamous retiary; and others
Who know how to kill him without leaving their cribs.
And when at last he sets his foot upon our spine,
We can hope and cry out: Forward!
Just as in other times we set out for China,
Our eyes fixed on the open sea, hair in the wind,
We shall embark on the sea of Darkness
With the glad heart of a young traveler.
Do you hear those charming, melancholy voices
Singing: "Come this way! You who wish to eat
The perfumed Lotus! It's here you gather
The miraculous fruits for which your heart hungers;
Come and get drunken with the strange sweetness
Of this eternal afternoon?"
By the familiar accent we know the specter;
Our Pylades yonder stretch out their arms towards us.
"To refresh your heart swim to your Electra!"
Cries she whose knees we kissed in other days.
O Death, old captain, it is time! let's weigh anchor!
This country wearies us, O Death! Let us set sail!
Though the sea and the sky are black as ink,
Our hearts which you know well are filled with rays of light
Pour out your poison that it may refresh us!
This fire burns our brains so fiercely, we wish to plunge
To the abyss' depths, Heaven or Hell, does it matter?
To the depths of the Unknown to find something new!"
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
To Maxime du Camp
For children crazed with postcards, prints, and stamps
All space can scarce suffice their appetite.
How vast the world seems by the light of lamps,
But in the eyes of memory how slight!
One morning we set sail, with brains on fire,
And hearts swelled up with rancorous emotion,
Balancing, to the rhythm of its lyre,
Our infinite upon the finite ocean.
Some wish to leave their venal native skies,
Some flee their birthplace, others change their ways,
Astrologers who've drowned in Beauty's eyes,
Tyrannic Circe with the scent that slays.
Not to be changed to beasts, they have their fling
With space, and splendour, and the burning sky,
The suns that bronze them and the frosts that sting
Efface the mark of kisses by and by.
But the true travellers are those who go
Only to get away: hearts like balloons
Unballasted, with their own fate aglow,
Who know not why they fly with the monsoons:
Those whose desires are in the shape of clouds.
And dream, as raw recruits of shot and shell,
Of mighty raptures in strange, transient crowds
Of which no human soul the name can tell.
Horror! We imitate the top and bowl
In swerve and bias. Through our sleep it runs.
It's Curiosity that makes us roll
As the fierce Angel whips the whirling suns.
Singular game! where the goal changes places;
The winning-post is nowhere, yet all round;
Where Man tires not of the mad hope he races
Thinking, some day, that respite will be found.
Our soul's like a three-master, where one hears
A voice that from the bridge would warn all hands.
Another from the foretop madly cheers
"Love, joy, and glory" ... Hell! we're on the sands!
The watchmen think each isle that heaves in view
An Eldorado, shouting their belief.
Imagination riots in the crew
Who in the morning only find a reef.
The fool that dotes on far, chimeric lands —
Put him in irons, or feed him to the shark!
The drunken sailor's visionary lands
Can only leave the bitter truth more stark.
So some old vagabond, in mud who grovels,
Dreams, nose in air, of Edens sweet to roam.
Wherever smoky wicks illumine hovels
He sees another Capua or Rome.
Amazing travellers, what noble stories
We read in the deep oceans of your gaze!
Show us your memory's casket, and the glories
Streaming from gems made out of stars and rays!
We, too, would roam without a sail or steam,
And to combat the boredom of our jail,
Would stretch, like canvas on our souls, a dream,
Framed in horizons, of the seas you sail.
What have you seen?
"We have seen stars and waves.
We have seen sands and shores and oceans too,
In spite of shocks and unexpected graves,
We have been bored, at times, the same as you.
The solar glories on the violet ocean
And those of spires that in the sunset rise,
Lit, in our hearts, a yearning, fierce emotion
To plunge into those ever-luring skies.
The richest cities and the scenes most proud
In nature, have no magic to enamour
Like those which hazard traces in the cloud
While wistful longing magnifies their glamour.
Enjoyment adds more fuel for desire,
Old tree, to which all pleasure is manure;
As the bark hardens, so the boughs shoot higher,
And nearer to the sun would grow mature.
Tree, will you always flourish, more vivacious
Than cypress? — None the less, these views are yours:
We took some photographs for your voracious
Album, who only care for distant shores.
We have seen idols elephantine-snouted,
And thrones with living gems bestarred and pearled,
And palaces whose riches would have routed
The dreams of all the bankers in the world.
We have seen wonder-striking robes and dresses,
Women whose nails and teeth the betel stains
And jugglers whom the rearing snake caresses."
What then? What then?
"O childish little brains,
Not to forget the greatest wonder there —
We've seen in every country, without searching,
From top to bottom of the fatal stair
Immortal sin ubiquitously lurching:
Woman, a vile slave, proud in her stupidity,
Self-worshipping, without the least disgust:
Man, greedy, lustful, ruthless in cupidity,
Slave to a slave, and sewer to her lust:
The torturer's delight, the martyr's sobs,
The feasts where blood perfumes the giddy rout:
Power sapping its own tyrants: servile mobs
In amorous obeisance to the knout:
Some similar religions to our own,
All climbing skywards: Sanctity who treasures,
As in his downy couch some dainty drone, i
In horsehair, nails, and whips, his dearest pleasures.
Prating Humanity, with genius raving,
As mad today as ever from the first,
Cries in fierce agony, its Maker braving,
'O God, my Lord and likeness, be thou cursed!'
But those less dull, the lovers of Dementia,
Fleeing the herd which fate has safe impounded,
In opium seek for limitless adventure.
— That's all the record of the globe we rounded."
It's bitter knowledge that one learns from travel.
The world so small and drab, from day to day,
The horror of our image will unravel,
A pool of dread in deserts of dismay.
Must we depart, or stay? Stay if you can.
Go if you must. One runs: another hides
To baffle Time, that fatal foe to man.
And there are runners, whom no rest betides,
Like the Apostles or the Wandering Jew,
Whom neither ship nor waggon can enable
To cheat the retiary. But not a few
Have killed him without stirring from their cradle.
But when he sets his foot upon our nape
We still can hope and cry "Leave all behind!"
As in old times to China we'll escape
With eyes turned seawards, hair that fans the wind,
We'll sail once more upon the sea of Shades
With heart like that of a young sailor beating.
I hear the rich, sad voices of the Trades
Who cry "This Way! all you who would be eating
The scented Lotus. Here it is they range
The piles of magic fruit. O hungry friend,
Come here and swoon away into the strange
Trance of an afternoon that has no end."
In the familiar tones we sense the spectre.
Our Pylades stretch arms across the seas,
"To salve your heart, now swim to your Electra"
She cries, of whom we used to kiss the knees.
O Death, old Captain, it is time. Weigh anchor!
To sail beyond the doldrums of our days.
Though black as pitch the sea and sky, we hanker
For space; you know our hearts are full of rays.
Pour us your poison to revive our soul!
It cheers the burning quest that we pursue,
Careless if Hell or Heaven be our goal,
Beyond the known world to seek out the New!
— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)
For the boy playing with his globe and stamps,
the world is equal to his appetite —
how grand the world in the blaze of the lamps,
how petty in tomorrow's small dry light!
One morning we lift anchor, full of brave
prejudices, prospects, ingenuity —
we swing with the velvet swell of the wave,
our infinite is rocked by the fixed sea.
Some wish to fly a cheapness they detest,
others, their cradles' terror — other stand
with their binoculars on a woman's breast,
reptilian Circe with her junk and wand.
Not to be turned to reptiles, such men daze
themselves with spaces, light, the burning sky;
cold toughens them, they bronze in the sun's blaze
and dry the sores of their debauchery.
But the true voyagers are those who move
simply to move — like lost balloons! Their heart
is some old motor thudding in one groove.
It says its single phrase, "Let us depart!"
They are like conscripts lusting for the guns;
our sciences have never learned to tag
their projects and designs — enormous, vague
hopes grease the wheels of these automatons!
We imitate, oh horror! tops and bowls
in their eternal waltzing marathon;
even in sleep, our fever whips and rolls —
like a black angel flogging the brute sun.
Strange sport! where destination has no place
or name, and may be anywhere we choose —
where man, committed to his endless race,
runs like a madman diving for repose!
Our soul is a three-master seeking port:
a voice from starboard shouts, "We're at the dock!"
Another, more elated, cries from port,
"Here's dancing, gin and girls!" Balls! it's a rock!
The islands sighted by the lookout seem
the El Dorados promised us last night;
imagination wakes from its drugged dream,
sees only ledges in the morning light.
Poor lovers of exotic Indias,
shall we throw you in chains or in the sea?
Sailors discovering new Americas,
who drown in a mirage of agony!
The worn-out sponge, who scuffles through our slums
sees whiskey, paradise and liberty
wherever oil-lamps shine in furnished rooms —
we see Blue Grottoes, Caesar and Capri.
Stunningly simple Tourists, your pursuit
is written in the tear-drops in your eyes!
Spread out the packing cases of your loot,
your azure sapphires made of seas and skies!
We want to break the boredom of our jails
and cross the oceans without oars or steam —
give us visions to stretch our minds like sails,
the blue, exotic shoreline of your dream!
Tell us, what have you seen?
"We've seen the stars,
a wave or two — we've also seen some sand;
although we peer through telescopes and spars,
we're often deadly bored as you on land.
The shine of sunlight on the violet sea,
the roar of cities when the sun goes down;
these stir our hearts with restless energy;
we worship the Indian Ocean where we drown!
No old chateau or shrine besieged by crowds
of crippled pilgrims sets our souls on fire,
as these chance countries gathered from the clouds.
Our hearts are always anxious with desire.
(Desire, that great elm fertilized by lust,
gives its old body, when the heaven warms
its bark that winters and old age encrust;
green branches draw the sun into its arms.
Why are you always growing taller, Tree —
Oh longer-lived than cypress!) Yet we took
one or two sketches for your picture-book,
Brothers who sell your souls for novelty!
We have salaamed to pagan gods with horns,
entered shrines peopled by a galaxy
of Buddhas, Slavic saints, and unicorns,
so rich Rothschild must dream of bankruptcy!
Priests' robes that scattered solid golden flakes,
dancers with tattooed bellies and behinds,
charmers supported by braziers of snakes..."
Yes, and what else?
Oh trivial, childish minds!
You've missed the more important things that we
were forced to learn against our will. We've been
from top to bottom of the ladder, and see
only the pageant of immortal sin:
there women, servile, peacock-tailed, and coarse,
marry for money, and love without disgust
horny, pot-bellied tyrants stuffed on lust,
slaves' slaves — the sewer in which their gutter pours!
old maids who weep, playboys who live each hour,
state banquets loaded with hot sauces, blood and trash,
ministers sterilized by dreams of power,
workers who love their brutalizing lash;
and everywhere religions like our own
all storming heaven, propped by saints who reign
like sybarites on beds of nails and frown —
all searching for some orgiastic pain!
Many, self-drunk, are lying in the mud —
mad now, as they have always been, they roll
in torment screaming to the throne of God:
"My image and my lord, I hate your soul!"
And others, dedicated without hope,
flee the dull herd — each locked in his own world
hides in his ivory-tower of art and dope —
this is the daily news from the whole world!
How sour the knowledge travellers bring away!
The world's monotonous and small; we see
ourselves today, tomorrow, yesterday,
an oasis of horror in a desert of ennui!
Shall we move or rest? Rest, if you can rest;
move if you must. One runs, but others drop
and trick their vigilant antagonist.
Time is a runner who can never stop,
the Wandering Jew or Christ's Apostles. Yet
nothing's enough; no knife goes through the ribs
of this retarius throwing out his net;
others can kill and never leave their cribs.
And even when Time's heel is on our throat
we still can hope, still cry, "On, on, let's go!"
Just as we once took passage on the boat
for China, shivering as we felt the blow,
so we now set our sails for the Dead Sea,
light-hearted as the youngest voyager.
If you look seaward, Traveller, you will see
a spectre rise and hear it sing, "Stop, here,
and eat my lotus-flowers, here's where they're sold.
Here are the fabulous fruits; look, my boughs bend;
eat yourself sick on knowledge. Here we hold
time in our hands, it never has to end."
We know the accents of this ghost by heart;
our comrade spreads his arms across the seas;
"On, on, Orestes. Sail and feast your heart —
here's Clytemnestra." Once we kissed her knees.
It's time, Old Captain, lift anchor, sink!
The land rots; we shall sail into the night;
if now the sky and sea are black as ink
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light.
Only when we drink poison are we well —
we want, this fire so burns our brain tissue,
to drown in the abyss — heaven or hell,
who cares? Through the unknown, we'll find the new.
— Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963)
The child, in love with globes and maps of foreign parts,
Finds in the universe no dearth and no defect.
How big the world is, seen by lamplight on his charts!
How very small the world is, viewed in retrospect.
Some morning we start out; we have a grudge, we itch
To hurt someone, get even, — whatever the cause may be,
Here we are, leaning to the vessel's roll and pitch,
Cradling our infinite upon the finite sea:
People who think their country shameful, who despise
Its politics, are here; and men who hate their home;
Astrologers, who read the stars in women's eyes
Till nearly drowned, stand by the rail and watch the foam;
Men who must run from Circe, or be changed to swine,
Go tramping round the deck, drunken with light and air,
Thinking that wind and sun and spray that tastes of brine
Can clean the lips of kisses, blow perfume from the hair.
But the true travelers are those who leave a port
Just to be leaving; hearts light as balloons, they cry,
"Come on! There's a ship sailing! Hurry! Time's getting short!"
And pack a bag and board her, — and could not tell you why.
Those whose desires assume the shape of mist or cloud;
Who long for, as the raw recruit longs for his gun,
Voluptuousness immense and changing, by the crowd
Unguessed, and never known by name to anyone.
So, like a top, spinning and waltzing horribly,
Or bouncing like a ball, we go, — even in profound
Slumber tormented, rolled by Curiosity
Like hoops, as some hard Angel whips the suns around.
Bizarre phenomenon, this goal that changes place! —
And, being nowhere, can be any port of call!
Where Man, whose hope is never out of breath, will race
Madly, to find repose, just anywhere at all!
Our soul before the wind sails on, Utopia-bound;
A voice calls from the deck, "What's that ahead there? — land?"
A voice from the dark crow's-nest — wild, fanatic sound —
Shouts "Happiness! Glory! Love!" — it's just a bank of sand!
Each little island sighted by the watch at night
Becomes an Eldorado, is in his belief
The Promised Land; Imagination soars; despite
The fact that every dawn reveals a barren reef.
Poor fellow, sick with love for that which never was!
Put him in irons — must we? — throw him overboard?
Mad, drunken tar, inventor of Americas...
Which, fading, make the void more bitter, more abhorred.
So the old trudging tramp, befouled by muck and mud,
Ever before his eyes keeps Paradise in sight,
And sniffs with nose in air a steaming Lotus bud,
Wherever humble people sup by candlelight.
Astonishing, you are, you travelers, — your eyes
Are deep as the sea's self; what stories they withhold!
Open for us the chest of your rich memories!
Show us those treasures, wrought of meteoric gold!
We'd like, though not by steam or sail, to travel, too!
Brighten our prisons, please! Our days are all the same!
Paint on our spirits, stretched like canvases for you,
Your memories, that have horizons for their frame!
Tell us, what have you seen?
"What have we seen? — oh, well,
We have seen waves, seen stars, seen quite a bit of sand;
We have been shipwrecked once or twice; but, truth to tell,
It's just as dull as here in any foreign land.
The glory of the sun upon the violet sea,
The glory of the castles in the setting sun,
Saddened us, made us restless, made us long to be
Under some magic sky, some unfamiliar one.
Truly, the finest cities, the most famous views,
Were never so attractive or mysterious
As those we saw in clouds. But it was all no use,
We had to keep on going — that's the way with us.
— Fulfillment only adds fresh fuel to the blaze.
(Desire! — old tree that pasture on pleasure and grow fat,
Your bark grows harder, thicker, with the passing days,
But you are set to reach the sun, for all of that!
Shall you grow on for ever, tall tree — -must you outdo
The cypress?) Still, we have collected, we may say,
For your voracious album, with care, a sketch or two,
Brothers, to whom all's fine that comes from far away.
We have bowed down to bestial idols; we have seen
Baldaquined thrones inlaid with every kind of gem;
Palaces, silver pillars with marble lace between —
Ruinous for your bankers even to dream of them — ;
Processions, coronations, — such costumes as we lack
Tongue to describe — seen cobras dance, and watched them kiss
The juggler's mouth; seen women with nails and teeth stained black."
And then? — and then?
"You childrenI! Do you want more of this?
Well, then, and most impressive of all: you cannot go
Anywhere, and not witness — it's thrust before your eyes —
On every rung of the ladder, the high as well as the low,
The tedious spectacle of sin-that-never-dies.
Woman, vile slave, adoring herself, ridiculous
And unaware of it, too stupid and too vain;
And man, the pompous tyrant, greedy, cupidinous
And hard, slave of a slave, and gutter into the drain.
The headsman happy in his work, the victim's shriek;
Banquets where blood has peppered the pot, perfumed the fruits;
Poison of too much power making the despot weak;
The people all in love with the whip which keeps them brutes;
Divers religions, all quite similar to ours,
Each promising salvation and life; Saints everywhere,
Who might as well be wallowing on feather beds and flowers
As getting so much pleasure from those hair shirts they wear.
Humanity, still talking too much, drunken and proud
As ever of its talents, to mighty God on high
In anguish and in furious wrath shouting aloud,
'Master, made in my image! I curse Thee! Mayst Thou die!'
Not all, of course, are quite such nit-wits; there are some
Who, sickened by the norm, and paying serious court
To Madness, seeking refuge, turn to opium.
We've been around the world; and this is our report."
Bitter the knowledge gained from travel... What am I?
The small monotonous world reflects me everywhere:
Yesterday, now, tomorrow, for ever — in a dry
Desert of boredom, an oasis of despair!
Shall I go on? — stay here? Stay here, exhausted man!
Yet, if you must, go on — keep under cover — flee —
Try to outwit the watchful enemy if you can —
Sepulchral Time! Alas, how many there must be
Constrained like the apostles, like the wandering Jew,
To journey without respite over dust and foam
To dodge the net of Time! — and there are others, who
Have quietly killed him, never having stirred from home.
Yet, when his foot is on our spine, one hope at least
Remains: wriggle from under! Onward! The untrod track!
Just as we once set forth for China and points east,
Wide eyes on the wide sea, and hair blown stiffly back,
We shall embark upon the Sea of Shadows, gay
As a young passenger on his first voyage out...
What are those sweet, funereal voices? "Come this way,
All ye that are in trouble! — all ye that are in doubt!
"Ye that would drink of Lethe and eat of Lotus-flowers,
Here are miraculous fruits! — here, harvested, are piled
All things the heart has missed! Drink, through the long, sweet hours
Of that clear afternoon never by dusk defiled!"
We know this ghost — those accents! — Pylades! comforter
And friend! — his arms outstretched! — ah, and this ghost we know,
That calls, "I am Electra! Come! — the voice of her
Whose lost, belovèd knees we kissed so long ago.
Oh, Death, old captain, hoist the anchor! Come, cast off!
We've seen this country, Death! We're sick of it! Let's go!
The sky is black; black is the curling crest, the trough
Of the deep wave; yet crowd the sail on, even so!
Pour us your poison wine that makes us feel like gods!
Our brains are burning up! — there's nothing left to do
But plunge into the void! — hell? heaven? — what's the odds?
We're bound for the Unknown, in search of something new!
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)
For kids agitated by model machines, adventures hierarchy and technology
The indulgent reins of government sponsorship/research can quell their excitement.
How enormous is the world to newly matriculated students
Compared to the voices of their professors that only
Itch to sound slights.
One day the door of the wonder world swings open
And the power of insight seems lastingly your own.
Aspects of the visible universe submit to command
While invisible spheres, slyly proud/hiddenly sentient.
Surrender the laughter of fright.
After balancing our checkbooks we want to inspect the ether
Noting that some friends have already submitted to vain indifference.
We highlight the maps to mark lightly traveled roads and
Kill the habit that reinforces slaking off or hanging it out..
Indefiniteness projects itself onto the roof of our skulls.
Those who stay home protect themselves from accidental conceptions.
Their fear of space gets the unsmiling lips
Furnished by the domestic bedroom and
The blissfully meaningless kiss.
The travelers to join with are those who want to
Escape the little emotions
So susceptible to death
They can't even last the night.
Screw them whose desires are limp
And dote on the Chimeric possibility of a lottery win.
The transitions make themselves available to us in sleep.
Caring about what meets us in the morning is our Protean enemy.
Relying on the fast take, the object has no time to change its face.
We can't expect recompense if there's no footage to show the backers.
A loping fatter scam that will skin pop us is a day very much past.
Our soul's simply a razzing match where one voice blabbers
That stupid mistakes will bust the budget while another mumbles
That no matter how smoothly things go, waste is inevitable.
A third cynic from his boom, "Love, joy, happiness, creative glory!"
The tantalization of possible awards will jerk us through"
After endless rushes, imagination seizes the crew, but
Next morning they find their masterpiece underexposed.
Amazing travelers, what fantastic stories you tell!
What a bottomless incurvation to your eyes.
Show us the streaming gems from the memory chest
The mirroring beads of anecdote and hilarity. We'd also
Like to think it possible to combat the tediousness of these bourgeois prisons.
We'll stretch the canvas, prepare the paints and brushes
Willing to take a month or even a year to make ourselves great.
What have you seen?
We've been to see the priests who diet on lost brains
And read the future in hallucinogenic dreams.
In spite of a lot of unexpected deaths,
We were bored, the same as you.
The solar glories on an early morning violet ocean
Lit our depressions while the fiercely empty sunsets
Felt like cortisone injections into the knee.
But even the richest cities and riskiest gambols can't
Make up for encounters that strand you Nowhere
Longing for convention, tasting the tears of aloneness.
The mining of every physical pleasure kept our desire kindled
Even though sensation is a manure the world provides in overabundance.
But really, your views would be ours if you'd been out.
Look at these photos we've taken to convince you of that truth.
You'll meet females more exciting
Than the magazines ever offer.
They know it and shame you
Before they treat you to themselves
In wicked doses.
We have seen a techno army wipe out battalions
Of the simple enemy in a single hour and
Couldn't help but drink blood and eat still
Fresh hearts since there was no potable water or food
Anywhere. We saw troves of patents in the Sony Fortress that
Would have given Joe American
Five-hundred years of wet dreams.
Oh yeah, and then?
People proud of stupidity's strength,
The autoerotic nightmare tortured to fulfillment
Mercenaries ruthlessly adventuring to worship
Unquenchable lusts. Power sapping its users,
Similar religions crying, "Pie in the sky, for believers,
No help for others!" All the outmoded geniuses once using
Useful metaphors, madly prating. Those less dull, fleeing
Through alcohol and drugs the shadows.
It's bitter if you let it cool,
The world so drab from day to day
So terrifying that any image made in it
Can be splashed perfunctorily away.
Shall we go or stay? Stay if you can
Go if you must. The scented lotus has not been
For us. The heart cannot be salved. There's no
Electra to swim to and kiss lovingly on the knee.
Death, Old Captain, it's time,
Your hand on the stick,
Send us out beyond the doldrums of our days.
We hanker for space. You know our hearts
Are cleft with thorns. Agonize us again!
Shoot us enough to make us cynical of the known worlds
And desperate for the new.
— Will Schmitz
... the traveller finds the earth a bitter school!
a dwindled waste, which boredom amplifies!
where trite oases from each muddy pool
one thing reflect: his horror-haunted eyes!
must we depart or stay? if needs be, go;
stay if ye can. One runs, another hides
to cheat that vigilant, remorseless foe,
old Time! and runners tireless, besides,
like the Apostles and the Wandering Jew,
have found no courser swift enough to baulk
that monster with his net, whom others knew
how to destroy before they learned to walk.
but when at last It stands upon our throats,
then we can shout exulting: forward now!
as once to Asian shores we launched our boats,
with wind-blown hair and seaward-gazing brow,
we shall push off upon Night's shadowy Sea,
blithely as one embarking when a boy;
o soft funereal voices calling thee,
hark to their chant: "come, ye who would enjoy
the fragrant sorcery of the lotus-flower!
come! with the long-craved fruit ye shall commune,
drunk with the sweetness and the drowsy power
of this enchanted endless afternoon!"
we know the phantom by its old behest;
yonder our mates hold beckoning arms toward ours,
"come, cool thy heart on my refreshing breast!"
cries she whose knees we kissed in happier hours.
cast off, old Captain Death! the time has come!
we hate this weary shore and would depart!
though sea and sky are drowned in murky gloom,
thy beckoning flames blaze high in every heart!
pour out, to comfort us, thy poison-brew!
so burnt our souls with fires implacable,
into the Pit unplumbed, to find the New,
we'd plunge, nor care if it were Heaven nor Hell!
(The original publication only includes this portion of the poem.)
— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)
To Maxime du Campe
For the child, adoring cards and prints,
The universe fulfils its vast appetite.
Ah, how large is the world in the brightness of lamps,
How small in the eyes of memory!
We leave one morning, brains full of flame,
Hearts full of malice and bitter desires,
And we go and follow the rhythm of the waves,
Rocking our infinite on the finite of the seas:
Some happy to escape a tainted country
Others, the horrors of their cradles; and a few,
Astrologers drowned in the eyes of a woman,
Some tyrannical Circe of dangerous perfumes.
So not to be transformed into animals, they get drunk
On space and light and skies on fire;
The biting ice, the suns that turn them copper,
Slowly blot out the brand of kisses.
But the true travelers are they who depart
For departing's sake; with hearts light as balloons,
They never swerve from their destinies,
Saying continuously, without knowing why: "Let us go on!"
These have passions formed like clouds;
As a recruit of his gun, they dream
Of spacious pleasures, transient, little understood,
Whose name no human spirit knows.
It is a terrible thought that we imitate
The top and the ball in their bounding waltzes; even asleep
Curiosity tortures and turns us
Like a cruel angel whipping the sun.
Whimsical fortune, whose end is out of place
And, being nowhere, can be anywhere!
Where Man, in whom Hope is never weary,
Runs ever like a madman searching for repose.
Our soul is a brigantine seeking its Icaria:
A voice resounds on deck: "Open your eyes!"
A hot mad voice from the maintop cries:
"Love. Glory. Fortune!" Hell is a rock.
Each little island sighted by the look-out man
Becomes another Eldorado, the promise of Destiny;
Imagination, setting out its revels,
Finds but a reef in the morning light.
O the poor lover of chimerical lands!
Must one put him in irons, throw him in the water,
This drunken sailor, contriver of those Americas
Whose glimpses make the gulfs more bitter?
Thus the old vagabond, tramping through the mud,
With his nose in the air, dreams of shining Edens;
Bewitched his eye finds a Capua
Wherever a candle glimmers in a hovel.
O marvelous travelers! what glorious stories
We read in your eyes as deep as the seas.
Show us the caskets of your rich memories
Those wonderful jewels of stars and stratosphere.
We would travel without wind or sail!
And so, to gladden the cares of our jails,
Pass over our spirits, stretched out like canvas,
Your memories with their frames of horizons.
Tell us, what have you seen?
"We have seen the stars
And the waves; and we have seen the sands also;
And, despite shocks and unforeshadowed disasters,
We have often, as here, grown weary.
The glory of sunlight on the violet sea,
The glory of cities in the setting sun,
Lit in our hearts an uneasy desire
To sink in a sky of enticing reflections.
Never did the richest cities, the grandest countryside,
Hold such mysterious charms
As those chance made amongst the clouds,
And ever passion made as anxious!
— Delight adds power to desire.
O desire, you old tree, your pasture is pleasure,
And whilst your bark grows great and hard
Your branches long to see the sun close to!
Do you ever increase, grand tree, you who live
Longer than the cypress? — Nevertheless, we have carefully
Culled some sketches for your ravenous album,
Brothers finding beauty in all things coming from afar!
We have greeted great horned idols,
Thrones starry with luminous jewels,
Figured palaces whose fairy pomp
Would be a dream of ruin for a banker,
Robes which make the eyes intoxicated;
Women with tinted teeth and nails
And cunning jugglers caressed by serpents."
And then, what then?
"O childish minds!
Never to forget the principal matter,
We have everywhere seen, without having sought it,
From top to bottom of the fatal ladder,
The wearisome spectacle of immortal sin:
Woman, base slave of pride and stupidity,
Adores herself without a smile, loves herself with no distaste;
Man, that gluttonous, lewd tyrant, hard and avaricious,
Is a slave of the slave, a trickle in the sewer;
The joyful executioner, the sobbing martyr;
The festival that flavors and perfumes the blood;
The poisonous power that weakens the oppressor
And the people craving the agonizing whip;
Many religions like ours
All scaling the heavens; Sanctity
Like a tender voluptuary wallowing in a feather bed
Seeking sensuality in nails and horse-hair;
Fearing Humanity, besotted with its own genius,
Is as mad today as ever it was,
Crying to God in its furious agony:
"O my fellow and my master, I curse thee!"
And the less senseless, brave lovers of Dementia,
Flee the great herd penned in by Destiny,
And take refuge in a vast opium!
— Such is the eternal report of the whole world."
O bitter is the knowledge that one draws from the voyage!
The monotonous and tiny world, today
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our reflections,
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom!
Must we depart? If you can do so, remain;
Depart, if you must. Someone runs, another crouches,
To deceive that vigilant and fatal enemy,
Time! Ah, there are some runners who know no respite,
Like the wandering Jew or like the apostles,
Whom nothing aids, no cart, nor ship,
To flee this ugly gladiator; there are: others
Who even in their cradles know how to kill it.
When at last he shall place his foot upon our spine,
We will be capable of hope, crying: "Forward!"
As in old times we left for China,
Eyes fixed in the distance, halt in the winds,
We shall embark on that sea of Darkness
With the happy heart of a young traveler.
Do you hear these voices, alluring and funereal,
Singing: "This way, those of you who long to eat
The perfumed lotus-leaf! it is here that are gathered
Those miraculous fruits for which your heart hungers;
Do come and get drunk on the strange sweetness
Of this afternoon without end!"
By those familiar accents we discover the phantom
Over there our personal Pylades stretch out their arms to us.
"Swim to your Electra to revive your hearts!"
Says she whose knees we one time kissed.
O Death, my captain, it is time! let us raise the anchor!
This country wearies us, O Death! Let us make ready!
If sea and sky are both as black as ink,
You know our hearts are full of sunshine.
Pour on us your poison to refresh us!
Oh, this fire so burns our brains, we would
Dive to the depths of the gulf, Heaven or Hell, what matter?
If only to find in the depths of the Unknown the New!
— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)