Some Remarks on Baudelaire's Influence|
upon Modern Poetry and Thought, Page 7
by Guy Thorne (1915).
In the temple of night rise vast living pillars, and there those who worship murmur words that man has never yet been able to understand. The worshippers in this temple of night wander though a huge and tangled wood of symbols, while on every side they feel that inexplicable yet friendly eyes regard them.
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Far-off and dim long-drawn echoes are heard. They shiver through the forest, coming together in one deep mingled sound like that of a gong. The sound reverberates and dies away.
Vast as the night and more brilliant than the day, colour, sound, sweet odours speak to the worshippers in this temple. They are all infinitely varied. There are sounds as fragrant as childhood itself. There are others as beautiful as the sound of hautboys, and the sound itself is a colour which is like green corn.
The forest is full of magic odours. The odour of amber and incense, the scent of benzoin and musk, the perfumes form themselves into one harmonic chord in which the enraptured senses and that throbbing exaltation which is of the soul, fuse into a triumphant hinting of sense and sound.
If this is not gathering the conflicting claims, bewildering experiences, the entangled interests of modern life into one receptive cistern of the brain where consciousness stands tasting all that comes, then the poem of Baudelaire means nothing, and the beautiful prose of Pater has drawn nothing from it.
"We shall see him no more"; "This is the end of the man and his work"—remarks like these only faintly indicate what was said of Oscar Wilde when he was sent to prison. When Wilde was in prison in 1896 "Salomé" was produced by Lugne Poë at the Théâtre de Louvre in Paris. England was affronted and offended. When the play of "Salomé" was produced in England for the first time it was at a private performance at the New Stage Club. The critics did their best to howl it down. It was as though a ghost, a revenant, had appeared.
Meanwhile the play had been produced in Berlin, and from that moment it held the European stage. It ran for a longer consecutive period in Germany than any play by any Englishman—not excepting Shakespeare. Its popularity extended to all countries where it was not prohibited. It was performed throughout Europe, Asia, and America. It was even played in Yiddish . . . that was the beginning. At the present moment the works of Oscar Wilde are being sold in enormous quantities and in many editions. You can buy "Intentions" or "Dorian Gray" for one shilling. The influence that Oscar Wilde is having upon a generation of readers which has risen since he died is incalculable. Hardly an article in the daily press would be written as it is written if it were not for the posthumous prosperity of the poet whose work has risen like the Phnix from the ashes of his personal reputation.
It was Baudelaire who provided that attitude towards life which Wilde made his own. Baudelaire gave Wilde—or rather Wilde took from Baudelaire—some of the jewels which the latter had snatched from the classic diadem of Poe.
"And if we grow tired of an antique time, and desire to realise our own age in all its weariness and sin, are there not books that can make us live more in one single hour than life can make us live in a score of shameful years ? Close to your hand lies a little volume, bound in some Nile-green skin that has been powdered with gilded nenuphars and smoothed with hard ivory. It is the book that Gautier loved; it is Baudelaire's masterpiece. Open it at that sad madrigal that begins
"'Que m'importe que tu sois sage ?
Sois belle ! et sois triste !'
and you will find yourself worshipping sorrow as you have never worshipped joy. Pass on to the poem on the man who tortures himself; let its subtle music steal into your brain and colour your thoughts, and you will become for a moment what he was who wrote it; nay, not for a moment only, but for many barren, moonlit nights and sunless, sterile days will a despair that is not your own make its dwelling within you, and the misery of another gnaw your heart away. Read the whole book, suffer it to tell even one of its secrets to your soul, and your soul will grow eager to know more, and will feed upon poisonous honey, and seek to repent of strange crimes of which it is guiltless, and to make atonement for terrible pleasures that it has never known."
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