-A SEASON IN HELL-
Night in Hell
I have just swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison. –Blessed, blessed,
blessed the advice I was given!
–My guts are on fire. The power of the poison twists my arms and legs,
cripples me, drives me to the ground. I die of thirst, I suffocate,
I cannot cry. This is Hell, eternal torment! See how the flames rise!
I burn as I ought to. Go on, Devil! I once came close to a conversion
to the good and to felicity, salvation. How can I describe my vision;
the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! There were millions of delightful
creatures in smooth spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions,
I don’t know what all. Noble ambitions! But I am still alive! Suppose
damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly
damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am. This is the
catechism at work. I am the slave of my baptism. You, my parents, have
ruined my life, and your own. Poor child! –Hell is powerless against
pagans. –I am still alive! Later on, the delights of damnation will
become more profound. A crime, quick, and let me fall to nothingness,
condemned by human law. Shut up, will you shut up! Everything here is
shame and reproach– Satan saying that the fire is worthless, that my
anger is ridiculous and silly. –Ah, stop! …those mistakes someone
whispered– magic spells, deceptive odors, childish music– and to think
that I possess the truth, that I can have a vision of justice: my judgment
is sound and firm, I am prime for perfection…. Pride. –My scalp begins
to tighten. Have mercy! Lord, I am afraid! Water, I thirst, I thirst!
Ah, childhood, grass and rain, the puddle on the paving stones, Moonlight
when the clock strikes twelve…. The devil is in the clock tower, right
now! Mary! Holy Virgin!… –Horrible stupidity. Look there, are those
not honorable men, who wish me well? Come on… a pillow over my mouth,
they cannot hear me, they are only ghosts. Anyway, no one ever thinks
of anyone else. Don’t let them come closer. I must surely stink of burning
flesh…. My hallucinations are endless. This is what I’ve always gone
through: the end of my faith in history, the neglect of my principles.
I shall say no more about this; poets and visionaries would be jealous.
I am the richest one of all, a thousand times, and I will hoard it like
the sea. O God– the clock of life stopped but a moment ago. I am no
longer within the world. –Theology is accurate; hell is certainly down
below– and heaven is up on high. Ecstasy, nightmare, sleep, in a nest
of flames. How the mind wanders idly in the country… Satan, Ferdinand,
blows with the wild seed. .. Jesus walks on purple thorns but doesn’t
bend them… Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. In the light of
the lantern we saw him there, all white, with long brown hair, standing
in the curve of an emerald wave….
I will tear the veils from every mystery– mysteries of religion or
of nature, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, and nothingness.
I am a master of phantasmagoria.
Listen! Every talent is mine! –There is no one here, and there is someone:
I wouldn’t want to waste my treasure. –Shall I give you African chants,
belly dancers? Shall I disappear, shall I begin an attempt to discover
the Ring? Shall I? I will manufacture gold, and medicines. Put your
faith in me, then; faith comforts, it guides and heals. Come unto me
all of you– even the little children– let me console you, let me pour
out my heart for you– my miraculous heart! –Poor men, poor laborers!
I do not ask for prayers; give me only your trust, and I will be happy.
Think of me, now. All this doesn’t make me miss the world much. I’m
lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet stupidities,
Bah! I’ll make all the ugly faces I can! We are out of the world, that’s
sure. Not a single sound. My sense of touch is gone. Ah, my chteau,
my Saxony, my willow woods! Evenings and mornings, nights and days….
How tired I am! I ought to have a special hell for my anger, a hell
for my pride– and a hell for sex; a whole symphony of hells! I am weary,
I die. This is the grave and I’m turning into worms, horror of horrors!
Satan, you clown, you want to dissolve me with your charms. Well, I
want it. I want it! Stab me with a pitchfork, sprinkle me with fire!
Ah! To return to life! To stare at our deformities. And this poison,
this eternally accursed embrace! My weakness, and the world’s cruelty!
My God, have pity, hide me, I can’t control myself at all! I am hidden,
and I am not. And as the Damned soul rises, so does the fire.
The Infernal Bridegroom
Let us hear the confession of an old friend in Hell: “O Lord, O Celestial
Bridegroom, do not turn thy face from the confession of the most pitiful
of thy handmaidens. I am lost. I’m drunk. I’m impure. What a life! ”
Pardon, Lord in Heaven, pardon! Ah, pardon! All these tears! And all
the tears to come later on, I hope!
“Later on, I will meet the Celestial Bridegroom! I was born to be His
slave. –That other one can beat me now! “Right now, it’s the end of
the world! Oh, girls… my friends… no, not my friends… I’ve never
gone through anything like this; delirium, torments, anything…. It’s
so silly! ”
Oh, I cry, I’m suffering! I really am suffering! And still I’ve got
a right to do whatever I want, now that I am covered with contempt by
the most contemptible hearts.
“Well, let me make my confession anyway, though I may have to repeat
it twenty times again– so dull, and so insignificant! “I am a slave
of the Infernal Bridegroom; the one who seduced the foolish virgins.
That’s exactly the devil he is. He’s no phantom, he’s no ghost. But
I, who have lost my wits, damned and dead to the world– no one will
be able to kill me– how can I describe him to you? I can’t even talk
anymore! I’m all dressed in mourning, I’m crying, I’m afraid. Please,
dear Lord, a little fresh air, if you don’t mind, please! “I am a widow–
I used to be a widow– oh, yes, I used to be very serious in those days;
I wasn’t born to become a skeleton! He was a child– or almost…. His
delicate, mysterious ways enchanted me. I forgot all my duties in order
to follow him. What a life we lead! True life is lacking. We are exiles
from this world, really– I go where he goes; I have to. And lots of
times he gets mad at me– at me, poor sinner! That Devil! (He really
is a Devil, you know, and not a man.) “He says: `I don’t love women.
Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately
imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else
goes out the window. All they have left is cold disdain; that’s what
marriages live on nowadays. Sometimes I see women who ought to be happy,
with whom I could have found companionship, already swallowed up by
brutes with as much feeling as an old log….’ “I listen to him turn
infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. `I belong to an ancient race:
my ancestors were Norsemen: they slashed their own bodies, drank their
own blood. I’ll slash my body all over, I’ll tattoo myself, I want to
be as ugly as a Mongol; you’ll see, I’ll scream in the streets. I want
to get really mad with anger. Don’t show me jewels; I’ll get down on
all fours and writhe on the carpet. I want my wealth stained all over
with blood. I will never do any work….’ Several times, at night, his
demon seized me, and we rolled about wrestling! –Sometimes at night
when he’s drunk he hangs around street corners or behind doors, to scare
me to death. `I’ll get my throat cut for sure, won’t that be disgusting.’
And, oh, those days when he wants to go around pretending he’s a criminal!
Sometimes he talks, in his backcountry words, full of emotion, about
death, and how it makes us repent, and how surely there are miserable
people in the world, about exhausting work, and about saying goodbye
and how it tears your heart. In the dives where we used to get drunk,
he would cry when he looked at the people around us– cattle of the
slums. He used to pick up drunks in the dark streets. He had the pity
of a brutal mother for little children. He went around with all the
sweetness of a little girl on her way to Sunday school. He pretended
to know all about everything– business, art, medicine– and I always
went along with him; I had to!
“I used to see clearly all the trappings that he hung up in his imagination;
costumes, fabric, furniture…. It was I who lent him weapons, and a
change of face. I could visualize everything that affected him, exactly
as he would have imagined it for himself. Whenever he seemed depressed,
I would follow him into strange, complicated adventures, on and on,
into good and evil; but I always knew I could never be a part of his
world. Beside his dear body, as he slept, I lay awake hour after hour,
night after night, trying to imagine why he wanted so much to escape
from reality. No man before ever had such a desire. I was aware– without
being afraid for him– that he could become a serious menace to society.
Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself,
he was only looking for them. But of course, his charity is under a
spell, and I am its prisoner. No one else could have the strength–
the strength of despair!– to stand it, to stand being cared for and
loved by him. Besides, I could never imagine him with anybody else–
we all have eyes for our own Dark Angel, never other people’s Angels–
at least I think so. I lived in his soul as if it were a palace that
had been cleared out so that the most unworthy person in it would be
you, that’s all. Ah, really, I used to depend on him terribly. But what
did he want with my dull, my cowardly existence? He couldn’t improve
me, though he never managed to kill me! I get so sad and disappointed;
sometimes I say to him `I understand you.’ He just shrugs his shoulders.
And so my heartaches kept growing and growing, and I saw myself going
more and more to pieces (and everyone else would have seen it, too,
if I hadn’t been so miserable that no one even looked at me anymore!),
and still more and more I craved his affection…. His kisses and his
friendly arms around me were just like heaven– a dark heaven, that
I could go into, and where I wanted only to be left– poor, deaf, dumb,
and blind. Already, I was getting to depend on it. And I used to imagine
that we were two happy children free to wander in a Paradise of sadness.
We were in absolute harmony. Deeply moved, we labored side by side.
But then, after a piercing embrace, he would say: `How funny it will
all seem, all you’ve gone through, when I’m not here anymore. When you
no longer feel my arms around your shoulders, nor my heart beneath you,
nor this mouth on your eyes. Because I will have to go away someday,
far away. Besides, I’ve got to help out others too; that’s what I’m
here for. Although I won’t really like it… dear heart…’ And in that
instant I could feel myself, with him gone, dizzy with fear, sinking
down into the most horrible blackness– into death. I made him promise
that he would never leave me. And he promised, twenty times; promised
like a lover. It was as meaningless as my saying to him: `I understand
“Oh, I’ve never been jealous of him. He’ll never leave me, I’m sure
of it. What will he do? He doesn’t know a soul; he’ll never work; he
wants to live like a sleepwalker. Can his kindness and his charity by
themselves give him his place in the real world? There are moments when
I forget the wretched mess I’ve fallen into…. He will give me strength;
we’ll travel, we’ll go hunting in the desert, we’ll sleep on the sidewalks
of unknown cities, carefree and happy. Or else some day I’ll wake up
and his magic power will have changed all laws and morals, but the world
will still be the same and leave me my desires and my joys and my lack
of concern. Oh, that wonderful world of adventures that we found in
children’s books– won’t you give me that world? I’ve suffered so much;
I deserve a reward…. He can’t. I don’t know what he really wants.
He says he has hopes and regrets: but they have nothing to do with me.
Does he talk to God? Maybe I should talk to God myself. I am in the
depths of an abyss, and I have forgotten how to pray. “Suppose he did
explain his sadness to me– would I understand it any better than his
jokes and insults? He attacks me, he spends hours making me ashamed
of everything in the world that has ever meant anything to me, and then
he gets mad if I cry. “…
`Do you see that lovely young man going into that beautiful, peaceful
house? His name is Duval, Dufour; …Armand, Maurice, whatever you please.
There is a woman who has spent her life loving that evil creature; she
died. I’m sure she’s a saint in heaven right now. You are going to kill
me the way he killed that woman. That’s what’s in store for all of us
who have unselfish hearts….’ Oh, dear! There were days when all men
of action seemed to him like the toys of some grotesque raving. He would
laugh, horribly, on and on. Then he would go back to acting like a young
mother, or an older sister…. If he were not such a wild thing, we
would be saved! But even his sweetness is mortal…. I am his slave….
“Oh, I’ve lost my mind! “Some day maybe he’ll just disappear miraculously,
but I absolutely must be told about it, I mean if he’s going to go back
up into heaven or someplace, so that I can go and watch for just a minute
the Assumption of my darling boy….” One hell of a household!