Illuminations

-ILLUMINATIONS-


XI

Drunken Morning

Matinée d’ivresse

book

Oh, my Beautiful! Oh, my Good!

Hideous fanfare where

yet I do not stumble!

Oh, rack of enchantments!

 

For the first time,

hurrah for the unheard-of work,

For the marvelous body!

For the first time!

 

It began with the laughter of children,

and there it will end.

This poison will stay in our veins even when,

as the fanfares depart,

We return to our former disharmony.

 

Oh, now, we who are so worthy of these tortures!

Let us re-create ourselves

after that superhuman promise

Made to our souls and our bodies at their creation:

 

That promise, that madness!

Elegance, silence, violence!

They promised to bury in shadows the tree of good and evil,

To banish tyrannical honesty,

So that we might flourish in our very pure love.

 

It began with a certain disgust, and it ended–

Since we could not immediately seize upon eternity–

It ended in a scattering of perfumes.

 

Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, austerity of virgins,

Horror of faces and objects here below,

Be scared in the memory of the evening past.

 

It began in utter boorishness,

and now it ends In angels of fire and ice.

Little drunken vigil, blessed!

If only for the mask you have left us!

 

Method, we believe in you!

We never forgot that yesterday

You glorified all our ages.

We have faith in poison.

 

We will give our lives completely, everyday.

For this is the assassin’s hour.

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XII

Sentences

FR: Phrases

book

When the world is reduced to a single dark wood

for our four eyes’ astonishment,– a beach for two

faithful children,– a musical house

for one pure sympathy,– I shall find you.

 

Should there be here below

but a single old man, handsome

and calm in the midst

of incredible luxury, I shall be at your feet.

 

Should I have realized all your memories,–

should I be the one who can bind you

hand and foot,– I shall strangle you.

When we are very strong,– who draws back?

very gay,– who cares for ridicule?

When we are very bad,– what would they do with us?

Deck yourself, dance, laugh.

I could never throw Love out of the window.

My comrade, beggar girl, monster child!

O it’s all one to you these unhappy women,

these wiles and my discomfiture.

Bind yourself to us with your impossible voice, your voice!

sole soother of this vile despair.

An overcast morning in July. A taste of ashes flies through the air;–

an odor of sweating wood on the hearth,–

dew-ret flowers– devastation along the promenades–

the mist of the canals over the fields–

why not incense and toys already?

I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple;

garlands from window to window;

golden chains from star to star, and I dance.

The upland pond smokes continuously.

What witch will rise against the white west sky?

What violet frondescence fall?

While public funds evaporate in feasts of fraternity,

a bell of rosy fire rings in the clouds.

 

Reviving a pleasant taste of Indian ink,

a black powder rains on my vigil.

I lower the jets of the chandelier,

I throw myself on my bed,

and turning my face towards the darkness,

I see you, my daughters! my queens!

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XIII

Working People

FR: Ouvriers

book

O that warm February morning!

The untimely south came

to stir up our absurd paupers’ memories,

our young distress.

 

Henrika had on a brown

and white checked cotton skirt

which must have been worn in the last century,

a bonnet with ribbons and a silk scarf.

 

It was much sadder than any mourning.

We were taking a stroll in the suburbs.

 

The weather was overcast

and that wind from the south

excited all the evil odors of the desolate

garden and the dried fields.

It did not seem to weary my wife as it did me.

In a puddle left by the rains of the preceding month,

on a fairly high path,

she called my attention to some very little fishes.

 

The city with its smoke and its factory noises

followed us far out along the roads.

O other world, habituation

blessed by sky and shade!

 

The south brought black miserable memories

of my childhood, my summer despairs,

the horrible quantity of strength

and of knowledge that fate has always kept from me.

 

No! we will not spend the summer

in this avaricious country

where we shall never be anything

but affianced orphans.

 

I want this hardened arm

to stop dragging a cherished image.

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XIV

The Bridges

FR: Les Ponts

book

Skies the gray of crystal.

A strange design of bridges,

some straight, some arched,

others descending at oblique angles to the first;

 

and these figures recurring

in other lighted circuits of the canal,

but all so long and light that the banks,

laden with domes, sink and shrink.

 

A few of these bridges

are still covered with hovels,

others support polls,

signals, frail parapets.

 

Minor chords cross

each other and disappear;

ropes rise from the shore.

 

One can make out a red coat,

possibly other costumes

and musical instruments.

 

Are these popular tunes,

snatches of seigniorial concerts,

remnants of public hymns?

 

The water is gray and blue,

wide as an arm of the sea.

 

A white ray falling from high

in the sky destroys this comedy.

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XV

City

FR: Ville

book

I am an ephemeral

and a not too discontented citizen

of a metropolis considered modern

 

because all known taste

has been evaded in the furnishings

and the exterior of the houses

as well as in the layout of the city.

 

Here you will fail to detect the least trace

of any monument of superstition.

Morals and language

are reduced to their simplest expression,

 

at last! The way these millions of people,

who do not even need to know each other,

manage their education, business,

and old age is so identical

 

that the course of their lives

must be several times less long

than that which a mad statistics

calculates for the people of the continent.

 

And from my window I see new specters rolling through

the thick eternal smoke–

our woodland shade, our summer night!–

new Eumenides in front of my cottage

 

which is my country and all my heart

since everything here resembles it,–

 

Death without tears,

our diligent daughter and servant,

a desperate Love, and a pretty

Crime howling in the mud in the street.

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XVI

Ruts

FR: Ornières

book

To the right the summer dawn

wakes the leaves and the mists

and the noises in this corner of the park,

 

and the left-hand banks

hold in their violet shadows

the thousand swift ruts of the wet road.

 

Wonderland procession! Yes, truly: floats covered

with animals of gilded wood, poles and bright bunting,

to the furious gallop of twenty dappled circus horses,

and children and men on their most fantastic beasts;–

 

twenty rotund vehicles, decorated with flags

and flowers like the coaches of old or in fairy tales,

full of children all dressed up for a suburban pastoral.

 

Even coffins under their somber canopies

lifting aloft their jet-black plumes,

bowling along to the trot

of huge mares, blue and black.

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XVII

Cities

FR: Villes

book

These are cities!

And this is the people for whom these

Alleghenys and Lebanons of dream have been raised!

Castles of wood and crystal move on tracks and invisible winches.

 

Old craters ringed with mammoth statues and

coppery palms roar melodiously in flames.

Festivals of love reverberate

from the canals suspended behind the castles.

 

Chimes echo through the gorges like a chase.

Corporations of giant singers assemble,

their vestments and oriflames

brilliant as the mountain-peaks.

 

On platforms in the midst of gulfs,

Rolands brazen their bravuras.

From abysmal catwalks and the rooftops of inns,

a burning sky hoists flags upon the masts.

 

The collapse of apotheosis

unites the heights to the depths

where seraphic shecentaurs

wind among the avalanches.

 

Above the plateaus of the highest reaches,

the sea, troubled by the perpetual birth of Venus

and loaded with choral fleets amid

an uproar of pearls and precious conches,

grows dark at times with mortal thunder.

 

On the slopes,

harvests of flowers

as big as our weapons

and goblets are bellowing.

 

Processions of Mabs in red-opaline scale the ravines.

On high, their feet in the waterfalls and briars,

stags give suck to Diana.

 

Bacchantes of the suburbs weep,

and the moon burns and howls.

Venus enters the caves

of the black-smiths and hermits.

 

Clusters of belfries repeat the ideas of the people.

Issues from castles of bone an unknown music.

In the boroughs legends

are born and enthusiasm germinate.

 

A paradise of storms collapses.

Savages dance without stopping the festival of night.

 

And, for one hour, I descended into the swarm

of a boulevard of Baghdad

where groups of peple were singing

the joy of the new work,

circulating under a heavy wind

without being able to escape those fabulous phantoms

of the mountains to which one must return.

 

What good arms, what wondrous hour

will restore to me that region

whence come my slumbers

and least movements?

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XVIII

Tramps

FR: Vagabonds

book

Pitiful brother! What frightful nights I owed him!

“I have not put enough ardor

into this enterprise.

I have trifled with his infirmity.

 

My fault should we go back to exile,

and to slavery.”

He implied I was unlucky

and of a very strange innocence,

and would add disquieting reasons.

 

For reply, I would jeer at this Satanic doctor

and, in the end, going over to the window,

I would create, beyond the countryside

crossed by bands of rare music,

phantoms of nocturnal extravagance to come.

 

After this vaguely hygienic diversion,

I would lie down on my pallet

and no sooner asleep than,

almost every night,

the poor brother would rise,

his mouth foul, eyes starting from his head,

 

— just as he had dreamed he looked!

and would drag me into the room,

howling his dream of imbecilic sorrow.

I had, in truth, pledged myself to restore him

to his primitive state of child of the Sun,–

 

and, nourished by the wine of caverns

and the biscuit of the road, we wandered,

I impatient to find the place and the formula.

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XIX

Cities

Villes

book

The official Acropolis is of all the conceptions

of modern barbarism the most colossal:

indescribable is the unpolished daylight

the sky produces, the immovable grey,

 

the imperial radiance of buildings under

the sun’s eternal snow. With a singular flair

for the enormous, all the classical marvels of

architecture have been reproduced,

 

and I visit expositions of painting in galleries

twenty times as huge as Hampton Court.

And what painting! a Norwegian Nebuchadnezzar

had built ministerial staircases;

 

the mere clerks were prouder than Brennuses and I

trembled before the guards and superintendents.

The very arrangement of buildings in squares,

courtyards and terraces made the cab-drivers drunk.

The parks indicate primitive nature

worked over with consummate art,

the upper quarter having inexplicable spots:

an arm of the sea, without ships, rolling its

sheet of sleet between quays covered

with giant candelabra.

 

A short bridge leads to a postern directly

under the dome of the Sainte-chapelle.

This dome has an armature of wrought steel

about 15,000 feet in diameter.

 

At certain points, from copper footbridges,

from platforms, from stairways winding about

the halls and piers, I thought I might be able to

judge the depth of the city. But it is prodigious

beyond calculation: what are the levels of those

other quarters lying above or below the Acropolis?

 

For a stranger of our times,

reconnaissance is impossible.

The commercial quarter is a circus in one style,

with arcaded galleries.

no shops are to be seen, but the snow on

the causeway is beaten down;

a few nabobs, as rare as pedestrians

on a Sunday morning in London,

amble toward a diligence of diamonds.

Divans in red velvet; iced beverages are sold

at prices ranging from 800 to 1,000 rupees.

At the very thought of looking for

theatres in this circus,

 

I remind myself that the shops should

contain dramas sufficiently gloomy.

I suppose there is a police force;

but the law must be so strange that

I abandon any idea of imagining what

sort of adventures are local.

 

The residential quarter, as elegant as

the smartest street in Paris, is favored with

an aura of light; the democratic element

numbers a few thousand souls.

 

There again, the houses are not in

country, or rather ‘county’, which fills the

west endlessly with forests and vast plantations

where unsociable gentlemen search

for their family-trees by rays of artificial light.

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XX

Vigils

Veillées

book

I

It is a repose in the light,

neither fever nor languor,

on a bed or on a meadow.

It is the friend neither violent nor weak.

The friend.

It is the beloved neither

tormenting nor tormented.

The beloved.

Air and the world not sought.

Life. –Was it really this?

–And the dream grew cold.

II

The lighting comes round

to the crown post again.

From the two extremities of the room

— decorations negligible

— harmonic elevations join.

The wall opposite the watcher

is a psychological succession

of atmospheric sections of friezes,

bands, and geological accidents.

Intense quick dream

of sentimental groups

with people of all possible characters

amidst all possible appearances.

III

The lamps and the rugs

of the vigil make the noise

of waves in the night,

along the hull and around the steerage.

The sea of the vigil, like Emily’s breasts.

The hangings, halfway up,

undergrowth of emerald tinted lace,

where dart the vigil doves. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The plaque of the black hearth,

real suns of seashores! ah! magic wells;

only sight of dawn, this time.

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XXI

Mystic

FR: Mystique

book

On the slope of the knoll angels

whirl their woolen robes

in pastures of emerald and steel.

Meadows of flame leap up to the summit of the little hill.

 

At the left, the mold of the ridge is trampled by all the homicides

and all the battles, and all the disastrous noises

describe their curve. Behind the right-hand

ridge, the line of orients and of progress.

 

And while the band above the picture is composed of the revolving

and rushing hum of seashells and of human nights,

The flowering sweetness of the stars and of the night

and all the rest descends, opposite the knol

l, like a basket,– against our face, and

makes the abyss perfumed and blue below.

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