By Gregg Glorie
[a.k.a. Gregg G. Brown]
a novel inspired by the life of Chas. Baudelaire
Birds of intermitted bliss Singing in the night's abyss ~~Wallace Stevens
324B Matawan Avenue
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
Please blame Dan Weeks for this effusion, who poured a little toilet water on the brune tinder in my flowerbox.
Evil Interludes section heading.
Baudelaire bent beneath his lamp intently. I quote him:
The title of my intensest work, Flowers of Evil, says everything. I am all declared in this paradox. It was gestated with the patience of an elephant’s child, which labors 14 months in the womb before its gigantic birth, the size of a black coup caught in a rain of elemental perfumes. I am positive it is worth all the lies I have told to see it to print; it is also, I may mention, almost worth all the truths I have had to suffer to bring it off in rage and patience. People… their faces go up in flame when they read it. And yet, they deny me everything. All the glory that they were so willing to load down Satan with, they leave me bereft of, although they declare me his disciple. Hypocrites! I am tired, even, of seeing through their terrible, tepid hearts—pale as the starved spit of a saint! Willess imbeciles. The virtue of my trepanned treatise lies exactly in its faults, and these may all be summed up in one singular, monstrous phrase: it is honest!
So my friend commented to his maman in 1849, writing under a shaky lamp on trembling parchment, in an absolute livid fury the night before he was to stand trial in front of the justice of France on charges of what were, in retrospect, irrefutable immorality. His brow was like an egg, with a caricature of hatred drawn in shadowed lines above the black, bleak coals of his eyes.
“Let my poems revenge me after my death!”
In his agitation, Charles had knocked his bottle of squid ink to the floor.
“Yes! stain the globe with death!”
He smiled at the wicked thought.
“Yes, after all, why not? Why not the death of all of France for this effrontery? How can they be so prodigal of their good credit in the eyes of posterity? What credit have they accrued through just acts? None! I witness it! I have staked my life on my poems, so why shouldn’t they?”
He laughed and sent the black bottle sailing at a cat, his Jeanne’s Chuchu, with the toe of his shoe.
And to think, the other day I heard de Banville, waiting for his mistress by the theater stagedoor, in the mode of the poete mal, attest to me that, “of all the young poets of today… it is Baudelaire alone who lives, although he is dead!” I was livid at his insolence. What right had he to speak of Baudelaire at all, now that the great man was dead–this peon who had hated him so much in life? That I did not strike him is to me an eternal shame. And yet, I confess, I was such a coward, so much of a hollow spirit, so empty of heart, that I merely concurred when he went on or averr, “he, he is the one one looks to, the one I read at midnight for dark consolation when I find my trivial life too hateful.”
How many hours have I spent turning the honored pages of that sacred book of his myself, seeking just such pardon of the passing hours! In that heavy binding always on my table were the impeccable sonnets and chansons of Hell, written in blood by the Prince Himself.
Time and again, Charles had railed at me about how the poet is the most debauched and blessed of men. A sinner with the conscience of a saint: a god with a velvet hide in incessant need of stroking. ‘It would not be a vice, if it were not attractive.’ Indeed, and we would be liars to say that at all times we stayed away from its low, red, embracing light that stains our features in a supple glow, as if we could witness the birth of our own souls from the mass confusion of sensations life bombards us with. Charles would shudder at his own feelings of attraction, at the strange enchantment fervent prayers might throw over a murder to make it more… delicious. On such subjects, such sensations of the innermost man, he could discourse for hours, and time with him would pass away like a dream until only the dawn and exhaustion would put an end to his explorations. I would then excuse myself and search feebly for the door out of his apartments, with only the vaguest sense of which planet I was on, while at my back, he would laugh like an infernal incarnation, instructing me still:
“Sleep is death, Bonadventure. Let the absinthe uncurl your nerves into this faultless blue sky, the same one that will shine down on you in your tomb when your friends gather to tell spiteful tales about your existence one last time to your insensate face!”
Evil Interludes section heading.
A supreme and unnerving lack of sentimentality, that was his gift. Dull, regular and virtuous as a tax-clerk in that respect. But, ah! How he yearned to find something of goodness in his constitution… but he wouldn’t lie about the fact that he didn’t! A tiger looking in a mirror sees a tiger. A dandy staring into that silver abyss, sees the dwarfish agglomeration of all of humanity’s shortcomings. He might stare for hours, telling me, or, more likely, his priviledged self, “I am the only object of my own affections, my love stains only myself…” And then, perhaps after a pause of ten minutes or more, having undergone some disturbing revolution in his thoughts, with a ragged breath, he would annunciate in a harsh whisper, “beast, fauve!”
“Gautier! Is it better to gaze with a pitiless eye at a scab, or to tell yourself you are in the best of health?”
“Please, Charles, it is a disgusting thought. Would you care to see my new verse romance? Dangers, thrills! A real cliffhanger.”
Then, as though I were not there, as if his voice issued from the throne of God in imperishable rectitude:
“This man searches for his vices away from home.”
“By the deity, what do you mean?”
“In my heart are Abyssinias and lions, terrors, and the thief-cheats of virtues, exchanging, by their exact machinations, curses across the burning churchyard of my soiled veins.”
You see the sort of frustrating friend he could be. And this sort of abuse, or insight (I could never keep straight which it was, not even to myself!) was interrupted only by bouts of the most desolate, creaking sobriety, absolute dustbowls of interior work, when not so much as a sigh would escape the man. And that, after you had traveled all day to be in his company, at his express invitation!
The distractions and miseries of Paris afforded him his only outlet at such times. His sadness, which made the grand chandelier in his rooms project black beams at noon, was greater, and perhaps nobler, than the crepes and sorrows of his contemporaries. He was sad for all men by being sad for himself alone, the imperfections of his coarse body, the ‘smashed assets of my rotten soul.’ Yes, here on the Rue Voltaire, lived a martyr of all mankind! It is true, my friends.
Sainte-Beauve, that constipated critic, declared that he had discovered in the sadness that spurted from Baudelaire’s pages, ‘the final symptom of a sick generation.’
If only we could all bear our portion of that sickness as incandescently as did Baudelaire, perhaps we would be free today of this deadweight of guilt that pulls our tired skeletons into the slough of despond, while still no less animated by the muscles that sink us, and yet cry out to be transformed into wax feathers and transcendent wings!
Here was the clairvoyant, the first seer who operated through the passionate analysis of that classic 19th century Parisian emotion: Remorse. He was such a theological innocent, that he did not hesitate to discover himself on the cross, broken and exalted. Gautier told me of his ‘interior camera eye’ which he deemed manly. “Pitiless to others, he nailed himself as well.” First he would help the soldiers put up the unrepentant thieves, then he would ascend himself to the nexus of suffering consciousness.
The great erotic roarings for that slut, Jeanne Duval! A circus of sex and sin, the clasp of bodies ignorant of death. And yet, no man was more intensely aware of his ultimate demise; the disposition of his eternal estate was, for him, a constant pressure he continually sensed, as if mercury were filling the room, squeezing his lungs, shining at his lips ….
Oh, I saw it all myself with Rimbaud! Arthur! Strapping and lambent. Unable to be comforted. Risking, and willing to risk all of that penetrating intelligence to discover a single tingling truth that no thought could unseat. His facility to apprehend made him suspiscious of his every apprehension. And he did not trust God to care for what he had created….
“The work is… difficult…. My comfort is that it is useless.”
And then, after enough years had passed, he would no longer smile, even at his own evil wit.
Yes, he was the first to see: that if we are to understand heaven, whose intimations form our only sense of sequence and worth in this daisychain of misery that afflicts all living consciousness, it must be, will only be, through our senses. His doctrine of correspondences, where sight and hearing intermingle their horn and ivory gateways to the sullen soul, that was the first step: to test the equipment of our senses by overloading them, to see and find out what they really consist of at bottom. What is the exact quality of sin? What are the furry sensations of virtue? What is the color of hope? Perversions, condemnations, every experience seared to its uttermost, only then would the harp of the self be tuned to catch the vibrational beauties of the immanent or transcendent without being liable to deceptions! Revelation has not been vouchsafed to us.
This is the scientific method he was the first to establish in poetry. Absolutely.
He had his cold delights, like many men.
Holding his enormous head, and strutting before the fireplace like a conscience-stricken peacock. Always in fine wares, and I daren’t say a word against him, or he’d… he’d…. Well, he’d make me look into my own heart so far, I didn’t want to live any more. He could turn an evil phrase! How he knew me, without being a whore himself, I don’t know. Vile lashings of that spiked tongue! Ah! My heart was scissored by his whips! How did he ever manage it, knowing me like he’d been through every degradation with me, spitting at my pimp… and… other things. He would say, ‘Love is the reason.’ But no love ever spoke like his.
The next moment it was all “devotion without content, oh my miserable dear, it is the finest thing under the sun! For you I pour these roses over with my blood. Your masses of hair bury me, and, like a vampire of desire, I arise…!”
Such things. The erotic and the gnostic compellingly combined. I could… stand on his words and see the world. That’s what it was. That’s what it was like. No one’s ever done that to me, before or since.
“Hand me that wine. There’s a love. Put your pants on.”
Without the incantation of a formula, there is no science. Lacking science, how can one have a poetry of mists and amulets, razors and daisies? If a heart should miss a beat, but then return to its effortful circulation, the circumlocution of its everyday existence, that petty farce and sham, we are brought to a new knowing of the heart, an awareness that it exists. To stop hearts, that is my experiment. If they start back up again…. Well, I tried. My own one day will forget itself.
How to see reality but through enchantment? How to create a vision that enchants yourself? This is the only difficulty: to be made to believe by words alone, so that reality may be completely blotted out, as in an opium stupor, or lonely Poe upon his lover’s tomb chanting verities, and then to dismiss the fiction that has dismissed the world. Ah! That must be what it is like to be alive for a moment. An ocean of feeling–eviscerated!
Is this sanity? Yes, if properly punctuated.
Attend to life, and then depart it. This is how one cultivates the ‘voice from beyond the tomb.’ Velvet weltanschauung!
“Nerval, how shall we blend all effects, all expressions?”
“Do you really? As a child, I was too new to forget anything; everything was too close, too sudden to forget. I had yet to be touched by that magic wand, Nostalgia. One needs a death.”
“Now I remember.”
“That must be a poem!”