The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 9|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
But it is, so to speak, only the shadow of the talent of Baudelaire, a shadow ardently fiery or coldly blue, which allows him to give the essential and luminous touch. There is a serenity in his nervous, febrile, and tormenting talent. On the highest summits he is tranquil: pacem summa tenent.
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But, instead of writing of the poet's ideas, it would be infinitely better to allow him to speak for himself: "Poetry, little as one wishes to penetrate one's self, to question one's soul, to recall the memories of past enthusiasm, has no other end than itself; it cannot have any other, and no poem will be so great, so noble, so truly worthy of the name of poem, as that which is written purely from the pleasure of writing.
"I do not say that poetry does not ennoble tastes—be it well understood—that its final result is not to raise men above vulgar interests. This would be an obvious absurdity. I say that, if the poet has followed a moral aim, he has diminished his poetical power, and it would not be imprudent to lay a wager that his work will be bad. Poetry is unable, under pain of death or decay, to assimilate itself to morals or science.
"It has not Truth as an object; it has Itself. The demonstration of Truth is elsewhere.
"Truth has only to do with songs; all that gives charm and grace to a song will give to Truth its authority and power. Coldness, calmness, impassivity, drive back the diamonds and flowers of the Muse; they are absolutely in opposition to poetical humour.
"The Pure Intellect aspires to Truth, Taste informs us of Beauty, and Moral Sense teaches us Duty. It is true that the middle sense is intimately connected with the other two, and is only separated from the Moral Sense by very slight divergences, so that Aristotle has not hesitated to place some of its operations among the virtues themselves. Also, that which especially exasperates the man of Taste in the sight of Vice is its deformity and disproportion. Vice outrages justice and truth, revolts the Intellect and Conscience; but, like an outrage in harmony—a dissonance—it wounds more particularly certain poetical natures, and I do not believe it would be scandalous to consider all infraction of moral, the beautiful moral, as a fault against rhythm and universal prosody.
"It is this admirable, this immortal instinct of Beauty which makes us consider the earth and all its manifold forms, sounds, odours, sentiments, as a hint of, and correspondence to, Heaven. The insatiable thirst for that which is beyond and which veils life, is the most lively proof of our immortality. It is at once by and through poetry, by and through music, that the soul gets a glimpse of the splendours beyond the tomb. And, when an exquisite poem brings tears to the eyes, these tears are not the proof of an excess of joy, they are the witness rather of an exited melancholy, an intercession of the nerves, of a nature exiled in imperfection wishing to possess itself, even on this earth, of a revealed paradise.
"Thus, the principle of poetry is, strictly and simply, the Human Aspiration towards Supreme Beauty; and the manifestation of this principle is in the enthusiasm, the awakening of the soul, enthusiasm quite independent of that passion, which is the intoxication of the heart, and of that Truth, which is the Food of Reason. For passion is a natural thing, too natural even not to introduce a wounding note, discordant in the domain of unsullied Beauty; too familiar and too violent not to degrade pure Desires, gracious Melancholies and noble Despairs, which inhabit the supernatural regions of Poetry."
Although few poets have a more spontaneously sparkling inspiration and originality than Baudelaire—doubtless through distaste for the false poetic style which affects to believe in the descent of a tongue on fire on the writer painfully rhyming a strophe—he pretended that the true author provoked, directed, and modified at will this mysterious power of literary production; and we find in a very curious piece which precedes the translation of Edgar Poe's celebrated poem "The Raven," the following lines, half ironical, half serious, in which Baudelaire's own opinion is set down under the guise of an analysis of the famous American author:
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