The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 26|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
It is very difficult, without writing at great length—and, even then, it is better to direct the reader straight to the poems themselves—to give a just idea of these compositions; pictures, medallions, bas-reliefs, statuettes, enamels, pastels, cameos which follow each other rather like the vertebrae in the spine of a serpent. One is able to pick out some of the rings, and the pieces join themselves together, always living, having each its own soul writhing convulsively towards an inaccessible ideal.
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Before closing this Introduction, which, although already too long—for we have simply chased through the work of the author and friend whose talent we endeavor to explain—it is necessary to quote the titles of the "Poems in Prose"—very superior in intensity, concentration, profoundness, and elegance to the delicate fantasies of "Gaspard de la nuit," which Baudelaire proposed to take as models. Among the fifty pieces which comprise the collection, each different in tone and composition, we will number "Le Gâteau," "La Chambre double," "Le Foules," "Les Veuves," "Le vieux saltimbanque," "Une Hémisphère dans une chevelure," "L'Invitation au voyage," "La Belle Dorothée," "Une Mort héroïque," " Le Thyrse," "Portraits de maîtresses," "Le Désir de peindre," "Un Cheval de race," and especially "Les Bienfaits de la lune," an adorable poem in which the poet expresses, with magical illumination, what the English painter Millais has missed so completely in his "Eve of St. Agnes"—the descent of the nocturnal star with its phosphoric blue light, its grey of iridescent mother-of-pearl, its mist traversed by rays in which atoms of silver beat like moths. From the tops of her stairway of clouds, the Moon leans down over the cradle of a sleeping child, bathing it in her baneful and splendid light; she dowers the sweet pale head like a fairy god-mother, and murmurs in its ear: "Thou shalt submit eternally to the influence of my kiss, thou shalt be beautiful after my fashion. Thou shalt love what I love and those that love me: the waters, the clouds, the silence, the night, the great green sea, the shapeless and multiform waters, the place where thou art not, the lover whom thou knowest not, the prodigious flowers, the perfumes that trouble the mind, the cats which swoon and groan like women in hoarse or gentle voices."
We know of no other analogy to this perfect piece than the poetry of Li-tai-pe, so well translated by Judith Walter, in which the Empress of China draws, among the rays, on the stairway of jade made brilliant by the moon, the folds of her white satin robe. A lunatique only is able to understand the moon and her mysterious charm.
When we listen to the music of Weber we experience at first a sensation of magnetic sleep, a sort of appeasement which separates us without any shock from real life. Then in the distance sounds a strange note which makes us listen attentively. This note is like a sigh from the supernatural world, like the voice of the invisible spirits which call us. Oberon just puts his hunting-horn to his mouth and the magic forest opens, stretching out into blue vistas peopled with all the fantastic folk described by Shakespeare in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Titania herself appears in the transparent robe of silver gauze.
The reading of the "Poems in Prose" has often produced in us these impressions; a phrase, a word—one only—bizarrely chosen and placed, evoke for us an unknown world of forgotten and yet friendly faces. They revive the memories of early life, and present a mysterious choir of vanished ideas, murmuring in undertones among the phantoms of things apart from the realities of life. Other phrases, of a morbid tenderness, seem like music whispering consolation for unavowed sorrows and irremediable despair. But it is necessary to beware, for such things as these make us homesick, like the "Ranz des vaches" of the poor Swiss lansquenet in the German ballad, in garrison at Strasbourg, who swam across the Rhine, was retaken and shot "for having listened to much to the sound of the horn of the Alps."
February 20th, 1868.
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