The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 25|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
The rumour of Baudelaire's death spread in Paris with the winged rapidity of bad news, faster than an electric current along its wire. Baudelaire was still living, but the news, though false, was only premature; he could not recover from the attack. Brought back from Brussels by his family and friends, he lived some months, unable to speak, unable to write, as paralysis had broken the connecting thread between thought and speech. Thought lived in him always—one could see that from the expression of his eyes; but it was a prisoner, and dumb, without any means of communication, in the dungeon of clay which would only open in the tomb. What good is it to go into the details of this sad end? It is not a happy way to die; it is sorrowful, for the survivors, to see so fine and fruitful an intelligence pass away, to lose in a more and more deserted path of life a companion of youth.
PAGE 25 OF 26.
Besides the "Flowers of Evil," translations of Edgar Poe, the "Artificial Paradises," and art criticisms, Baudelaire left a little book of "poems in prose" inserted at various periods in journals and reviews, which soon became without interest for vulgar readers and forced the poet, in his noble obstinacy, which would allow of no concession, to take the series to a more enterprising or literary paper. This is the first time that these pieces, scattered and difficult to find, are bound in one volume, nor will they be the least of the poet's titles to the regard of posterity.
In the short Preface addressed to Arsène Houssaye, which precedes the "Petits poèmes en prose," Baudelaire relates how the idea of employing this hybrid form, floating between verse and prose, came to him.
"I have a little confession to make to you. It was in turning over, for the twentieth time, the famous 'Gaspard de la nuit' of Aloysius Bertrand (a book known to me, to you, and several of our friends—has it not the right to be called famous?) that the idea came to me to attempt something analogous and to apply to the description of modern life, or rather to a modern and more abstract life, the process that he has applied to the painting of an ancient time, so strangely picturesque.
"Who among us, in these days of ambition, has not dreamt of the miracle of poetical, musical prose, without rhythm, without rhyme, supple enough and apt enough to adapt itself to the movements of the soul, to the swaying of a dream, to the sudden throbs of conscience?"
It is unnecessary to say that nothing resembles "Gaspard de la nuit" less than the "Poems in Prose." Baudelaire himself saw this after he commenced work, and he spoke of an accident, of which any other than he would have been proud, but which only humiliated a mind which looked upon the accomplishment of exactly what it had intended as an honour.
We have seen that Baudelaire always claimed to direct his inspiration according to his own will, and to introduce infallible mathematics into his art. He blamed himself for producing anything but that upon which he had resolved, even though it is, as in the present case, an original and powerful work.
Our poetical language, it must be acknowledged, in spite of the valiant effort of the new school to render it flexible and malleable, hardly lends itself to rare and subtle detail, especially when the subject is la vie moderne, familiar or luxurious. Without having, as at one time, a horror for the calculated word and a love of circumlocution, French verse, by its very construction, refuses particularly significant expressions and if forced into direct statement, immediately becomes hard, rugged, and laborious. "The Poems in Prose" came very opportunely to supply this deficiency, and in this form, which demands perfect art and where each word must be thrown, before being employed, into scales more easy to weigh down than those of the "Peseurs d'or" of Quintin Metsys—for it is necessary to have the standard, the weights, and the balance—Baudelaire has shown a precious side of his delicate and bizarre talent. He has been able to approach the almost inexpressible and to render the fugitive nuances which float between sound and colour, and those thoughts which resemble arabesque motifs or themes of musical phrases. It is not only to the physical nature, but to the secret movements of the soul, to capricious melancholy, to nervous hallucinations that his form is aptly applied. The author of the "Flowers of Evil" has drawn from it marvellous effects, and one is sometimes surprised that the language carries one through the transparencies of a dream, in the blue distances, marks out a ruined tower, a clump of trees, the summit of a mountain, and shows one things impossible to describe, which, until now, have never been expressed in words. This should be one of the glories, if not the greatest, of Baudelaire, to bring within the range of style a series of things, sensations, and effects unnamed by Adam, the great nomenclator. A writer can be ambitious of no more beautiful title, and this the author of the "Poems in prose" undoubtedly merits.
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