Nature is a temple whose living colonnades
Breathe forth a mystic speech in fitful sighs;
Man wanders among symbols in those glades
Where all things watch him with familiar eyes.
Like dwindling echoes gathered far away
Into a deep and thronging unison
Huge as the night or as the light of day,
All scents and sounds and colors meet as one.
Perfumes there are as sweet as the oboe’s sound,
Green as the prairies, fresh as a child’s caress,
– And there are others, rich, corrupt, profound
And of an infinite pervasiveness,
Like myrrh, or musk, or amber, the excite
The ecstasies of sense, the soul’s delight.
So said Charles Baudelaire. How difficult it is to add one single word to this spellbinding poem without being a pedant. This risk, let us take it: we’ve already taken many others whose enormity, precisely, is an excuse. Let’s continue. They say you like Rimbaud when you’re 20, Verlaine at 30, and Baudelaire at 40. After this subtle exchange between harmonic sounds, colors and fragrances, let us move from maturity to the exuberance of youth, with this sonnet of Fresh Prince of Romanticism, Arthur Rimbaud.
Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O – vowels,
Some day I will open your silent pregnancies:
A, black belt, hairy with burst flies,
Bumbling and buzzing over stinking cruelties,
Pits of night; E, candour of sand pavilions,
High glacial spears, white kings, trembling Queen
I, bloody spittle, laughter dribbling from a face
In wild denial or in anger, vermilions;
U, … divine movement of viridian seas,
Peace of pastures animal-strewn, peace of calm lines
Drawn on foreheads worn with heavy alchemies;
O, supreme Trumpet, harsh with strange stridencies,
Silences traced in angels and astral designs:
O…Omega…the violet light of His Eyes!
Another genius, another language. The music is almost the same, but in a minor tone, on the surface, with all violins. The same Rimbaud later sells other dreams, brutal and bloody. Each one his own hell. In contrast to the great rogue, here is the studious Paul Valery. With him, everything is meaning, work, consciousness. No style effects, no words rare or precious as with Arthur R, nor the silent lethal symphony emanating from the alexandrines of Charles B. For Paul V composes decasyllabics.
The Graveyard By The Sea
This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame —
That sea forever starting and re-starting.
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!
What grace of light, what pure toil goes to form
The manifold diamond of the elusive foam!
What peace I feel begotten at that source!
When sunlight rests upon a profound sea,
Time’s air is sparkling, dream is certainty —
Pure artifice both of an eternal Cause.
Even as a fruit’s absorbed in the enjoying,
Even as within the mouth its body dying
Changes into delight through dissolution,
So to my melted soul the heavens declare
All bounds transfigured into a boundless air,
And I breathe now my future’s emanation.
Beautiful heaven, true heaven, look how I change!
After such arrogance, after so much strange
Idleness — strange, yet full of potency —
I am all open to these shining spaces;
Over the homes of the dead my shadow passes,
Ghosting along — a ghost subduing me.
The bird-sharp cries of girls whom love is teasing,
The eyes, the teeth, the eyelids moistly closing,
The pretty breast that gambles with the flame,
The crimson blood shining when lips are yielded,
The last gift, and the fingers that would shield it —
All go to earth, go back into the game.
Zeno, Zeno, cruel philosopher Zeno,
Have you then pierced me with your feathered arrow
That hums and flies, yet does not fly! The sounding
Shaft gives me life, the arrow kills. Oh, sun! —
Oh, what a tortoise-shadow to outrun
My soul, Achilles’ giant stride left standing!
The wind is rising! … We must try to live!
The huge air opens and shuts my book: the wave
Dares to explode out of the rocks in reeking
Spray. Fly away, my sun-bewildered pages!
Break, waves! Break up with your rejoicing surges
This quiet roof where sails like doves were pecking.
Decasyllabics instead of alexandrines … We can hear two feet are missing, what gives the poem a fast rhythm in an ample pace. Inimitable Paul Valery …
The astute reader will have noted that we give here only significant excerpts from the poem “The Graveyard By The Sea” that is longer than the dimensions of these articles.
At what age are we supposed to like this great poet of the intellect, with his sharpened multi-faceted word like a precious diamond? When are we supposed to read Paul Valéry?
When we read Proust? Or a little later, when we read Bergson? These three are alike as brothers, each in his way, the poet, the novelist, the philosopher. Bergson as the philosopher of vital strength, Proust as the novelist of memory and Valery as the poet of light.
But i’ll give all three for one spleen of Baudelaire.
You should always be drunk. So as not to feel Time’s horrible burden which breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without cease. With wine, poetry, or virtue as you choose. But get drunk. (Charles Baudelaire)