A Season in Hell

-A SEASON IN HELL-

Once, if I remember rightly…

Bad Blood

Night in Hell

Ravings I

Ravings II

Flash of Lightning

The Impossible

Morning

Farewell

*

The Impossible

FR: L’Impossible

book

Ah! My life as a child, the open road in every weather; I was unnaturally
abstinent, more detached than the best of beggars, proud to have no
country, no friends– what stupidity that was!– and only now I realize
it!

I was right to distrust old men who never lost a chance for a caress,
parasites on the health and cleanliness of our women– today when women
are so much a race apart from us.

I was right in everything I distrusted… because I am running away!

I am running away!

I’ll explain.

Even yesterday, I kept sighing: “God!
There are enough of us damned down here! I’ve done time enough already
in their ranks. I know them all. We always recognize each other; we
disgust each other. Charity is unheard of among us. Still, we’re polite;
our relations with the world are quite correct.” Is that surprising?
The world! Businessmen and idiots!– there’s no dishonor in being here–
but the company of the elect; how would they receive us? For there are
surely people, happy people, the false elect, since we must be bold
or humble to approach them. These are the real elect.

No saintly hypocrites, these! Since I’ve got back two cents’ worth of reason– how quickly it goes!– I can see that my troubles come from not realizing soon enough that this is the Western World. These Western swamps! Not that light has paled, form worn out, or movement been misguided…. All right! Now my mind wants absolutely to take on itself all the cruel developments that mind has undergone since the Orient collapsed…. My mind demands it! …

And that’s the end of my two cents’ worth of reason! The mind is in control, it insists that I remain in the West. It will have to
be silenced if I expect it to end as I always wanted to. I used to say,
to hell with martyrs’ palms, all beacons of art, the inventor’s pride,
the plunderer’s frenzy; I expected to return to the Orient and to original,
eternal wisdom. But this is evidently a dream of depraved laziness!

And yet I had no intention of trying to escape from modern suffering–
I have no high regard for the bastard wisdom of the Koran. But isn’t
there a very real torment in knowing that since the dawn of that scientific
discovery, Christianity, Man has been making a fool of himself, proving
what is obvious, puffing with pride as he repeats his proofs… and
living on that alone? This is a subtle, stupid torment– and this is
the source of my spiritual ramblings. Nature may well be bored with
it all! Prudhomme was born with Christ.

Isn’t it because we cultivate the fog? We swallow fever with our watery
vegetables. And drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And blind faith!

Isn’t this all a bit far from the thought, the wisdom of the Orient,
the original fatherland? Why have a modern world, if such poisons are
invented? Priests and preachers will say: Of course. But you are really
referring to Eden. There is nothing for you in the past history of Oriental
races…. True enough. It was Eden I meant! How can this purity of ancient
races affect my dream?

Philosophers will say: The world has no ages;
humanity moves from place to place, that’s all. You are a Western man,
but quite free to live in your Orient, as old a one as you want. ..
and to live in it as you like. Don’t be a defeatist. Philosophers, you are part and parcel of your Western world!

Careful, mind. Don’t rush madly after salvation. Train yourself! Ah, science never goes fast enough for us! But I see that my mind is asleep.

–If it stays wide awake from
this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels!.. –If it had been wide awake until this moment, I would have never given in to degenerate instincts, long ago!… –If it had always been wide awake, I would be floating in wisdom!…

O Purity! Purity!

In this moment of awakening, I had a vision of purity!
Through the mind we go to God! What a crippling misfortune!

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*

Morning

FR: Matin

book

Hadn’t I once a youth that was lovely, heroic, fabulous– something to write
down on pages of gold?… I was too lucky! Through what crime, by what
fault did I deserve my present weakness? You who imagine that animals
sob with sorrow, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams,
try now to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better
than the beggar wth his endless Aves and Pater Nosters. I no longer
know how to talk!

And yet, today, I think I have finished this account of my Hell. And
it was Hell; the old one, whose gates were opened by the Son of Man.
From the same desert, toward the same dark sky, my tired eyes forever
open on the silver star, forever; but the three wise men never stir,
the Kings of life, the heart, the soul, the mind. When will we go, over
mountains and shores, to hail the birth of new labor, new wisdom, the
flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, to be the first
to adore… Christmas on earth! The song of the heavens, the marching
of nations! We are slaves; let us not curse life!

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*

Farewell

FR: Adieu

book

Autumn already!… But why regret the everlasting sun, if we are sworn to a
search for divine brightness– far from those who die as seasons turn….
Autumn. Our boat, risen out of a hanging fog, turns toward poverty’s
harbor, the monstrous city, its sky stained with fire and mud. Ah! Those
stinking rags, bread soaked with rain, drunkenness, and the thousands
of loves who nailed me to the cross! Will there never, ever be an end
to that ghoulish queen of a million dead souls and bodies and who will
all be judged!, I can see myself again, my skin corroded by dirt and
disease, hair and armpits crawling with worms, and worms still larger
crawling in my heart, stretched out among ageless, heartless, unknown
figures…. I could easily have died there…. What a horrible memory!
I detest poverty. And I dread winter because it’s so cozy!

–Sometimes in the sky I see endless sandy shores covered with white
rejoicing nations. A great golden ship, above me, flutters many-colored
pennants in the morning breeze. I was the creator of every feast, every
triumph, every drama. I tried to invent new flowers, new planets, new
flesh, new languages. I thought I had acquired supernatural powers.
Ha! I have to bury my imagination and my memories! What an end to a
splendid career as an artist and storyteller! I! I called myself a magician,
an angel, free from all moral constraint…. I am sent back to the soil
to seek some obligation, to wrap gnarled reality in my arms. A peasant!
Am I deceived? Would Charity be the sister of death, for me?

Well, I shall ask forgiveness for having lived on lies. And that’s that.
But not one friendly hand… and where can I look for help? True; the
new era is nothing if not harsh. For I can say that I have gained a
victory; the gnashing of teeth, the hissing of hellfire, the stinking
sighs subside. All my monstrous memories are fading. My last longings
depart– jealousy of beggars, bandits, friends of death, all those that
the world passed by– Damned souls, if I were to take vengeance! One
must be absolutely modern. Never mind hymns of thanksgiving: hold on
to a step once taken. A hard night! Dried blood smokes on my face, and
nothing lies behind me but that repulsive little tree! The battle for
the soul is as brutal as the battles of men; but the sight of justice
is the pleasure of God alone.

Yet this is the watch by night. Let us all accept new strength, and
real tenderness. And at dawn, armed with glowing patience, we will enter
the cities of glory. Why did I talk about a friendly hand! My great
advantage is that I can laugh at old love affairs full of falsehood,
and stamp with shame such deceitful couples– I went through women’s
Hell over there– and I will be able now to possess the truth within
one body and one soul.

April-August,
1873

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