Alchemy of the Word
DELERIUM: The Alchemy of the Word
My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.
For a long time I boasted that I was master of all possible landscapes–
and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable.
What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets,
carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints, old-fashioned
literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind
of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children’s books,
old operas, silly old songs, the nave rhythms of country rimes. I dreamed
of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics
without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals,
movements of races and continents; I used to believe in every kind of
I invented colors for the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U
green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and
I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry
that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would
be its translator. I began it as an investigation. I turned silences
and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the
whirling world stand still.
Far from flocks, from birds and country girls,
What did I drink within that leafy screen
Surrounded by tender hazelnut trees
In the warm green mist of afternoon?
What could I drink from this young Oise
–Tongueless trees, flowerless grass, dark skies–
Drink from these yellow gourds, far from the hut I loved?
Some golden draught that made me sweat.
I would have made a doubtful sign for an inn.
Later, toward evening, the sky filled with clouds…
Water from the woods runs out on virgin sands,
And heavenly winds cast ice thick on the ponds;
Then I saw gold, and wept, but could not drink.
* * *
At four in the morning, in summertime,
Love’s drowsiness still lasts…
The bushes blow away the odor Of the night’s feast.
Beyond the bright Hesperides,
Within the western workshop of the Sun,
Carpenters scramble– in shirtsleeves–
Work is begun.
And in desolate, moss-grown isles
They raise their precious panels
Where the city
Will paint a hollow sky.
For these charming dabblers in the arts
Who labor for a King in Babylon,
Venus! Leave for a moment
Lovers’ haloed hearts…
O Queen of Shepherds!
Carry the purest eau-de-vie
To these workmen while they rest
And take their bath at noonday, in the sea.
The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part
in my alchemy of the word.
I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a
mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on
the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters
and mysteries. A vaudeville’s title filled me with awe. And so I explained
my magical sophistries by turning words into visions! At last, I began
to consider my mind’s disorder a sacred thing. I lay about idle, consumed
by an oppressive fever: I envied the bliss of animals– caterpillars,
who portray the innocence of a second childhood; moles, the slumber
of virginity! My mind turned sour. I said farewell to the world in poems
something like ballads: