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Title: The Book of Masks
Author: Gourmont, Remy de
Language: English
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and Cornell University.)



Translated by


Introduction by









To take critical questions seriously, even passionately, is one of the
marks of a genuinely civilized society. It points to both personal
disinterestedness and to an imaginative absorption in fundamentals.
The American who watches eagerly some tilt in that great critical
battle which has gone on for ages and has now reached our shores, is
released from his slavery to the immediate and the parochial; he has
ceased to flinch at the free exercise of thought; he has begun to
examine his mind as his fathers examined only their conscience; he is
a little less concerned for speed and a little more for direction; he
is almost a philosopher and has risen from mere heated gregariousness
to voluntary co-operation in a spiritual order. His equipment is, as a
rule, still meagre, and so his partisanship is not always an instructed
one. He may be overwhelmed by the formidable philosophical apparatus
of one critic or merely irritated by the political whims of another.
Hence nothing could well be more helpful to him than an introduction
to a foreign critic who is at once a stringent thinker and a charming
writer, who permitted his insight to be obscured by neither moral nor
political prejudices, who is both urbane and incisive, catholic and

Remy de Gourmont, like all the very great critics--Goethe, Ste. Beuve,
Hazlitt, Jules Lemaitre--knew the creative instinct and exercised the
creative faculty. Hence he understood, what the mere academician, the
mere scholar, can never grasp, that literature is life grown flame-like
and articulate; that, therefore, like life itself, it varies in aim
and character, in form and color and savor and is the memorable record
of and commentary upon each stage in that great process of change
that we call the world. To write like the Greeks or the Elizabethans
or the French classics is precisely what we must not do. It would
be both presumptuous and futile. All that we have to contribute to
mankind, what is it but just--our selves? If we were duplicates of
our great-grandfathers we would be littering the narrow earth to no
enriching purpose; all we have to contribute to literature is, again,
our selves. This moment, this sensation, this pang, this thought--this
little that is intimately our own is all we have of the unique and
precious and incomparable. Let us express it beautifully, individually,
memorably and it is all we can do; it is all that the classics did
in their day. To imitate the classics--be one! That is to say, live
widely, intensely, unsparingly and record your experience in some
timeless form. This, in brief, is the critical theory of Gourmont, this
is the background of that startling and yet, upon reflection, so clear
and necessary saying of his "The only excuse a man has for writing is
that he express himself, that he reveal to others the kind of world
reflected in the mirror of his soul; his only excuse is that he be

Gourmont, like the Symbolists whom he describes in this volume, founded
his theory of the arts upon a metaphysical speculation. He learned from
the German idealists, primarily the Post-Kantians and Schopenhauer,
that the world is only our representation, only our individual
vision and that, since there is no criterion of the existence or the
character of an external reality, that vision is, of course, all we
actually have to express in art. But to accept his critical theory
it is not necessary to accept his metaphysical views. The variety of
human experience remains equally infinite and equally fascinating on
account of its very infiniteness, whatever its objective content may
or may not be. We can dismiss that antecedent and insoluble question
and still agree that the best thing a man can give in art as in life
is his own self. What kind of a self? One hears at once the hot and
angry question of the conservative critic. A disciplined one, by all
means, an infinitely and subtly cultivated one. But not one shaped
after some given pattern, not a replica, not a herd-animal, but a
human personality. But achieving such personalities, the reply comes,
people fall into error. Well, this is an imperfect universe and the
world-spirit, as Goethe said, is more tolerant than people think.

It is clear that criticism conceived of in this fashion, can do little
with the old methods of harsh valuing and stiff classification. If, as
Jules, Lemaitre put it, a poem, a play, a novel, "exists" at all, if it
has that fundamental veracity of experience and energy of expression
which raise it to the level of literary discussion, a critic like
Gourmont cannot and will not pass a classifying judgment on it at all.
For such judgments involve the assumption that there exists a fixed
scale of objective values. And for such a scale we search both the
world and the mind in vain. Hence, too--and this is a point of the
last importance--we are done with arbitrary exclusions, exclusions
by transitory conventions or by tribal habits lifted to the plane of
eternal laws. All experience, the whole soul of man--nothing less than
that is now our province. And no one has done more to bring us that
critical and creative freedom and enlargement of scope than Remy de

In the volume before us, for instance, he discusses writers of very
varied moods and interests. Dr. Samuel Johnson or, for that matter,
a modern preceptist critic, speaking of these very poets, would have
told us how some of them were noble and some ignoble and certain ones
moral and others no better than they should be. And both of these good
and learned and arrogant men would have instructed Verlaine in what to
conceal, and Gustave Kahn in how to build verses and Régnier in how
to enlarge the range of his imagery. Thus they would have missed the
special beauty and thrill that each of these poets has brought into the
world. For they read--as all their kind reads--not with peace in their
hearts but with a bludgeon in their hands. But if we watch Gourmont
who had, by the way, an intellect of matchless energy, we find that he
read his poets with that wise passiveness which Wordsworth wanted men
to cultivate before the stars and hills. He is uniformly sensitive; he
lets his poets play upon him; he is the lute upon which their spirits
breathe. And then that lute itself begins to sound and to utter a music
of its own which swells and interprets and clarifies the music of his
poets and brings nearer to us the wisdom and the loveliness which they
and he have brought into the world.

Thus it is, first of all, as one of the earliest and finest examples
of the New Criticism that this English version of the "Book of Masks"
is to be welcomed. For the New Criticism is the chief phenomenon in
that movement toward spiritual and moral tolerance which the world
so sorely needs. But the book is also to be welcomed and valued for
the sake of its specific subject matter. One movement in the entire
range of modern poetry and only one surpasses the movement of the
French Symbolists in clearness of beauty, depth of feeling, wealth and
variety of music. This Symbolist movement arose in France as a protest
against the naturalistic, the objective in substance and against the
rigid and sonorous in form. Eloquence had so long, even during the
romantic period, dominated French poetry that profound inwardness
of inspiration and lyrical fluidity of expression were regarded as
essential by the literary reformers of the later eighteen hundred and
eighties. It was in the service of these ends that Stéphane Mallarmé
taught the Symbolist system Of poetics: to name no things except as
symbols of unseen realities, to use the external world merely as a
means of communicating mood and revery and reflection. The doctrine
and the verse of Mallarmé spoke to a Europe that was under the sway of
a similar reaction and the work of poets as diverse as Arthur Symons,
William Butler Yeats and Hugo von Hofmannsthal is unthinkable without
the pervasive influence of the French master. Mallarmé and his doctrine
are, indeed, the starting point of all modern lyrical poetry. Whatever
has been written since, in free verse or fixed, betrays through
conformity or re-action, the mark of that doctrine and the resultant

The actual poets of the movement are little known among us. Verlaine's
name is already almost a classical one and the exquisite versions
of many of his poems by Arthur Symons are accessible; Verhaeren was
lifted into a brief notoriety some years ago. But who really reads
the stormy and passionate verses of the Flemish master? Nor are there
many who have entered the suave and golden glow that radiates from
Régnier, chief of the living poets of France, or who have vibrated to
the melancholy of Samain or the inner music of Francis Vielé-Griffin.
The other poets, less copious and less applauded, are not greatly
inferior in the quality of their best work. There is not a poet in
Gourmont's book who has not written some verses that add permanently
to the world's store of living beauty. Nor is it true that a slightly
more recent development in French poetry has surpassed the works of the
Symbolists. M. Francis Jammes writes with a charming simplicity and M.
Paul Fort with a large rhythmic line, with freshness and with grace and
the very young "unanimiste" poets are intellectual and tolerant and
sane. But they are all, in the essentials of poetry, children of the
Symbolists whose work remains the great modern contribution of France
to poetical literature. LUDWIG LEWISOHN.


It is difficult to characterize a literary evolution in the hour when
the fruits are still uncertain and the very blossoming in the orchard
unconsummated. Precocious _trees_, slow-developing and dubious trees
which one would not care, however, to call sterile: the orchard is very
diverse and rich, too rich. The thickness of the leaves brings shadow,
and the shadow discolors the flowers and dulls the hues of the fruit.

We will stroll through this rich, dark orchard and sit down for a
moment at the foot of the strongest, fairest, and most agreeable trees.

Literary evolutions receive a name when they merit it by importance,
necessity and fitness. Quite often, this name has no precise meaning,
but is useful in serving as a rallying sign to all who accept it,
and as the aiming point for those who attack it. Thus the battle
is fought around a purely verbal labarum. What is the meaning of
_Romanticism?_ It is easier to feel than to explain it. What is the
meaning of _Symbolism?_ Practically nothing, if we adhere to the narrow
etymological sense. If we pass beyond, it may mean individualism in
literature, liberty in art, abandonment of taught formulas, tendencies
towards the new and strange, or even towards the bizarre. It may also
mean idealism, a contempt for the social anecdote, anti-naturalism,
a propensity to seize only the characteristic details of life, to
emphasize only those acts that distinguish one man from another, to
strive to achieve essentials; finally, for the poets symbolism seems
allied to free verse, that is, to unswathed verse whose young body may
frolic at ease, liberated from embarrassments of swaddling clothes and

But all this has little affinity with the syllables of the word, for we
must not let it be insinuated that symbolism is only the transformation
of the old allegory or of the art of personifying an idea in a human
being, a landscape, or a narrative. Such an art is the whole of art,
art primordial and eternal, and a literature freed from this necessity
would be unmentionable. It would be null, with as much aesthetic
significance as the clucking of the hocco or the braying of the wild

Literature, indeed, is nothing more than the artistic development of
the idea, the imaginary heroes. Heroes, or men (for every man in his
sphere is a hero), are only sketched by life; it is art which perfects
them by giving them, in exchange for their poor sick souls, the
treasure of an immortal idea, and the humblest, if chosen by a great
poet, may be called to this participation. Who so humble as that Aeneas
whom Virgil burdens with all the weight of being the idea of Roman
force, and who so humble as that Don Quixote on whom Cervantes imposes
the tremendous load of being at once Roland, the four sons Aymon,
Amadis, Palmerin, Tristan and all the knights of the Round Table! The
history of symbolism would be the history of man himself, since man can
only assimilate a symbolized idea. Needless to insist on this, for one
might think that the young devotees of symbolism are unaware of the
_Vita Nuova_ and the character Beatrice, whose frail, pure shoulders
nevertheless keep erect under the complex weight of symbols with which
the poet overwhelms her.

Whence, then, came the illusion that symbolizing of the idea was a

In these last years, we had a very serious attempt of literature based
on a scorn of the idea, a disdain of the symbol. We are acquainted with
its theory, which seems culinary: take a slice of life, etc. Zola,
having invented the recipe, forgot to serve it. His "slices of life"
are heavy poems of a miry, tumultuous lyricism, popular romanticism,
democratic symbolism, but ever full of an idea, always pregnant with
allegoric meaning. The idealistic revolt, then, did not rear itself
against the works (unless against the despicable works) of naturalism,
but against its theory, or rather against its pretension; returning
to the eternal, antecedent necessities of art, the rebels presumed to
express new and even surprising truths in professing their wish to
reinstate the idea in literature; they only relighted the torch; they
also lighted, all around, many small candles.

There is, nevertheless, a new truth, which has recently entered
literature and art, a truth quite metaphysical and quite _a priori_
(in appearance), quite young, since it is only a century old, and
truly new, since it has not yet served in the aesthetic order. This
evangelical and marvelous truth, liberating and renovating, is the
principle the world's ideality. With reference to th thinking subject,
man, the world, everything that is external, only exists according
to the idea he forms of it. We only know phenomena, we only reason
from appearances; all truth in itself escapes us; the essence is
unassailable. It is what Schopenhauer has popularized under this so
simple and clear formula: the world is my representation. I do not see
that which is; that which is, is what I see. As many thinking men, so
many diverse and perhaps dissimilar worlds. This doctrine, which Kant
left on the way to be flung to the rescue of the castaway morality,
is so fine and supple that one transposes it from theory to practice
without clashing with logic, even the most exigent. It is a universal
principle of emancipation for every man capable of understanding. It
has only revolutionized aesthetics, but here it is a question only of

Definitions of the beautiful are still given in manuals; they go
farther; formulas are given by which artists attain the expression of
the beautiful. There are institutes for teaching these formulas, which
are but the average and epitome of ideas or of preceding appreciations.
Theories in aesthetics generally being obscure, the ideal paragon, the
model, is joined to them. In those institutes (and the civilized world
is but a vast Institute) all novelty is held blasphemous, all personal
affirmation becomes an act of madness. Nordau, who has read, with
bizarre patience, all contemporary literature, propagated this idea,
basely destructive of all individualism, that "nonconformity" is the
capital crime of a writer. We violently differ in opinion. A writer's
capital crime is conformity, imitativeness, submission to rules and
precepts. A writer's work should be not only the reflection, but the
magnified reflection of his personality. The only excuse a man has for
writing, is to express himself, to reveal to others the world reflected
in his individual mirror; his only excuse is to be original. He should
say things not yet said, and say them in a form not yet formulated.
He should create his own aesthetics, and we should admit as many
aesthetics as there are original minds, judging them according to what
they are not.

Let us then admit that symbolism, though excessive, unseasonable and
pretentious, is the expression of individualism in art.

This too simple but clear definition will suffice provisionally. In
the course of the following portraits, or later, we doubtless will
have occasion to complete it. Its principle will, nevertheless,
serve to guide us, by inciting us to investigate, not what the new
writers should have done, according to monstrous rules and tyrannical
traditions, but what they wished to do. Aesthetics has also become a
personal talent; no one has the right to impose it upon others. An
artist can be compared with himself alone, but there is profit and
justice in noting dissimilarities. We will try to mark, not how the
"newcomers" resemble each other, but how they differ, that is to say in
what way they exist, for to exist is to be different.

This is not written to pretend that among most of them are no evident
similarities of thought and technique, an inevitable fact, but so
inevitable that it is without interest. No more do we insinuate that
this flowering is spontaneous; before the flower comes the seed, itself
fallen from a flower. These young people have fathers and masters:
Baudelaire, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Verlaine, Mallarmé, and others.
They love them dead or alive, they read them, they listen to them. What
stupidity to think that we disdain those of yesterday! Who then has
a more admired and affectionate court than Stéphane Mallarmé? And is
Villiers forgotten? And Verlaine forsaken?

Now, we must warn that the order of these portraits, without being
altogether arbitrary, implies no classification of prize-lists. There
are, even, outside of the gallery, absent personages, whom we will
bring back on occasion. There are empty frames and also bare places. As
for the portraits themselves, if any one judges them incomplete and too
brief, we reply that we wished them so, having the intention only to
give indications, only to show, with the gesture of an arm, the way.

Lastly, to join today with yesterday, we have intercalated familiar
faces among the new figures: and then, instead of rewriting a
physiognomy known to many, we have tried to bring to light some obscure
point, rather than the whole.


Of the life lived by sad beings who stir in the mystery of a night.
They know nothing save to smile, to suffer, to love; when they wish to
understand, the effort of their disquietude grows to anguish, their
revolt vanishes in sobbings. To mount, forever to mount the mournful
steps of Calvary and beat the brow against an iron door: so mounts
Sister Ygraine, so mounts and beats against the cruel iron gate each of
the poor creatures whose simple and pure tragedies Maeterlinck reveals
to us.

In other times the meaning of life was known; then men were not
ignorant of the essential; since they knew the end of their journey,
and in what last inn they would find the bed of repose. When, by
science itself, this elementary science had been taken from them, some
rejoiced, believing themselves delivered of a burden; others grieved,
feeling clearly that above all the other burdens on their shoulders,
one had been thrown, itself heavier than all the rest: the burden of

A whole literature has been begotten of this sensation, a literature
of grief, revolt against the burden, blasphemies against the mute
God. But, after the fury of their cries and interrogations, there was
a remission, and this was the literature of sadness, uneasiness and
anguish; revolt has been declared useless and imprecation puerile.
Made wise by vain struggles, humanity slowly resigns itself to
knowing nothing, comprehending nothing, fearing nothing, hoping for
nothing--except the very remote.

There is an island somewhere in the mists, and in the island is a
château, and in the château is a great room lit by a little lamp, and
in the great room people are waiting. What do they await? They know
not. They are expecting someone to knock at the door, they expect the
lamp to go out, they expect Death. They converse; yes, they speak words
which for an instant trouble the silence. Then they listen again,
leaving their phrases unended and their gestures interrupted. They
listen, they wait. She will perhaps not come? Oh! she will come. She
always comes. It is late, she will perhaps not come till the morrow.
And the people gathered in the great room beneath the little lamp begin
to laugh and go on hoping. Someone knocks. And that is all; it is a
whole life; it is the whole of life.

In this sense, Maeterlinck's dramas, so deliciously unreal, are deeply
alive and true; his characters, with the appearance of phantoms, are
steeped with life, like those seemingly inert balls, which, when
charged with electricity, grow fulgent at the contact of a point; they
are not abstractions but syntheses; they are states of soul or, better
still, states of humanity, moments, minutes which shall be eternal. In
short, they are real, by dint of their unreality.

A like kind of art was formerly practiced, after the _Roman de la
Rose_, by the pious romancers who, in little books of pretentious
clumsiness, made symbols and abstractions revolve. Bunyan's _Pilgrim's
Progress, Le Voyage Spirituel_, by the Spaniard Palafox, _le Palais de
l'Amour divin_, by an unknown person, are not altogether contemptible
works, but things there are truly too explicit and the characters bear
names that are truly too evident. Does one, in any free theater, see
a drama played by beings called Courage, Hate, Joy, Silence, Care,
Longing, Fear, Anger, and Shame? The hour of such amusement has passed
or has not returned: do not re-read _le Palais de l'Amour divin_; read
_la Mort de Tintagiles_, for it is of the new work that we must ask
for these aesthetic pleasures, if we desire them complete, poignant
and enveloping. Maeterlinck, truly, takes, pierces and entwines us in
Octupi formed of the delicate hair of young sleeping princesses, and
in the midst of them the troubled sleep of the little child, "sad as
a young king". He entwines and bears us where he pleases, to the very
depths of the abyss where whirls "the decomposed corpse of Alladin's
lamb", and farther, to the pure dark regions where lovers say: "Kiss
me gravely. Close not the eyes when I kiss you so. I want to see the
kisses that tremble in your heart; and the dew that mounts from your
soul.... We shall not find more kisses like these....--Evermore,
evermore!...--No, no: one does not kiss twice on the heart of death."
Before such delicate sighings, all objection grows mute; one is silent
at having felt a new way of loving and expressing love. New, truly.
Maeterlinck is very much himself, and to remain entirely personal he
can be a monochord; but he has sown, steeped and scutched the hemp for
this one cord, and it sings gently, sadly, uniquely under his drooping
hands. He has achieved a true work; he has found an unheard muffled
cry, a kind of lamentation, coldly mystical.

The word mysticism during these last years has taken such diverse and
even divergent meanings that it must be clearly and newly defined each
time one writes it. Certain persons give it a significance which would
draw it to that other word which seems clear, individualism. It is
certain that it touches the other, since mysticism may be called the
state in which a soul, abandoning the physical world and scornful of
its shocks and accidents, gives its mind only to relations and direct
intimacies with the infinite. But, if the infinite is changeless
and one, souls are changing and many. A soul has not the same
communications with God as has his sister, and God, though changeless
and one, is modified by the desire of each of his creatures and does
not tell one what he has told another. Liberty is the privilege of the
soul raised to mysticism. The body itself is but a neighbor to whom the
soul scarcely gives the friendly counsel of silence, but if the body
speaks, she hears it only as through a wall, and if the body acts, she
sees it act through a mask. Another name has been historically given
to such a state of life: quietism. This sentence of Maeterlinck is
altogether that of a quietist who shows us God smiling "at our most
serious faults as one smiles at the play of little dogs on a rug". This
is serious but true if we think how tiny a thing a fact is, how a fact
is caused, how we all are led by the endless chain of action, and how
little we really participate in our most decisive and best considered
acts. Such an ethics, leaving the care of useless judgments to wretched
human laws, snatches from life its very essence and transports it to
the upper regions where it blossoms, sheltered from contingencies and
from the humiliations which social contingencies are. Mystic morality
ignores everything not marked at the same time with the double seal of
the human and divine. Wherefore, it was always feared by clergy and
magistrates, for in denying every hierarchy of appearance, it denies,
to the point of abstention, all social order. A mystic can consent to
all bondages, except that of being a citizen. Maeterlinck sees the time
drawing near when men will understand each other, soul to soul, in the
same way that the mystic's soul communes with God. Is it true? Will
men one day be men, proud, free beings who admit no other judgments
than God's judgments? Maeterlinck perceives this dawn, because he
gazes within himself and is himself a dawn, but if he watched external
humanity, he would only see the impure, socialistic appetite of troughs
and stables. The humble, for whom he has divinely written, will not
read his book, and if they did read it they would see in it but a
mockery, for they have learned that the ideal is a manger, and they
know that their masters would flog them if they lifted their eyes to

So _le Trésor des Humbles_, that book of liberation and love, makes me
think bitterly of the unhappy condition of man today--and doubtless in
all possible times,

    Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
    Pour n'avoir pas chanté la region où vivre
    Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l'ennui.

    (Tr. 1)

And it will be in vain that

    Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie.

    (Tr. 2)

the hour of deliverance will be past and only a few will have heard it

Nevertheless, what means of hope in these pages where Maeterlinck,
disciple of Ruysbroeck, Novalis, Emerson and Hello, only asking of
these superior spirits (whose two lesser had intuitions of genius) the
sign of the hand that stimulates mysterious voyages! The generality of
men, and the more conscious, who have so many hours of indifference,
would find here encouragement to enjoy the simplicity of days and
muffled murmurs of deep life. They would learn the meaning of very
humble gestures and very futile words, and that an infant's laugh or
a woman's prattle equals, by what it holds of soul and mystery, the
most resplendent words of sages. For Maeterlinck, with his air of being
a sage, and quite wise, confidently narrates unusual thoughts with a
frankness quite disrespectful of psychological tradition, and with a
boldness quite contemptuous of mental habits, assumes the courage only
to attribute to things the importance they will have in an ultimate
world. Thus, sensuality is altogether absent in his meditations. He
knows the importance, but also the insignificance of the stir of blood
and nerves, storms that precede or follow, but never accompany thought.
And if he speaks of women who are nothing but soul, it is to inquire
into "the mysterious salt which forever conserves the memory of the
touch of two lips".

Maeterlinck's literature, poems or philosophy, comes in an hour when
we have most need to be fortified and strengthened, in an hour when
it is not immaterial to learn that the supreme end of life is "to
keep open the highways that lead from the visible to the invisible."
Maeterlinck has not only kept open the highways frequented by so many
good-intentioned souls, and where great-minded men here and there
open their arms like oases. It rather seems that he has increased to
infinity the extent of these highways; he has said "such specious words
in low tones" that the brambles have made way of themselves, the trees
have pruned themselves spontaneously, a step beyond is possible, and
the gaze today travels farther than it did yesterday.

Others doubtless have or have had a richer language, a more fertile
imagination, a clearer gift of observation, more fancy, faculties
better fitted to trumpet the music of words. Granted; but with a timid
and poor language, childish dramatic combinations, an almost enervating
system of repetition in phraseology, with these awkwardnesses, with all
his awkwardnesses, Maurice Maeterlinck works at books and booklets that
have a certain originality, a novelty so truly new that it will long
disconcert the lamentable troop of people who pardon audacity if there
be a precedent--as in the protocol--but who hold in scorn genius, which
is the perpetual audacity.


Of all the poets of today, narcissi along the river, Verhaeren is the
least obliging in allowing himself to be admired. He is rude, violent,
unskillful. Busied for twenty years in forging a strange and magical
tool, he remains in a mountain cavern, hammering the reddened irons,
radiant in the fire's reflection, haloed with sparks. Thus it is we
should picture him, a forger who,

    Comme s'il travaillait l'acier des âmes,
    Martèle à grands coups pleins, les lames
    Immenses de la patience et du silence.

    (Tr. 3)

If we discover his dwelling and question him, he replies with a parable
whose every word seems scanned on the forge, and, to conclude, he
delivers a tremendous blow of his heavy hammer.

When he is not laboring at his forge, he goes forth through the fields,
head and arms bare, and the Flemish fields tell him secrets they have
not yet told anyone. He beholds miraculous things and is not astonished
at them. Singular beings pass before him, beings whom everybody jostles
without being aware, visible alone to him. He has met the November Wind:

    Le vent sauvage de novembre.
        Le vent,
    L'avez-vous rencontré, le vent
    Au carrefour des trois cents routes...?

    (Tr. 4)

He has seen Death, and more than once; he has seen Fear; he has seen

    S'asseoir immensément du côté de la nuit.

    (Tr. 5)

The characteristic word of Verhaeren's poetry is _halluciné_. The
word leaps from page to page. An entire collection, the _Campagnes
hallucinées_ has not freed him from this obsession. Exorcism was not
possible, for it is the nature and very essence of Verhaeren to be the
hallucinated poet. "Sensations," Taine said, "are true hallucinations."
But where does truth begin or end? Who shall dare circumscribe it? The
poet, with no psychological scruples, wastes no time over troubling
himself to divide hallucinations into truths or untruths. For him
they are all true if they are sharp and strong, and he recounts them
frankly--and when the recitation is made by Verhaeren, it is very
lovely. Beauty in art is a relative result which is achieved by the
mixture of very different elements, often the most unexpected. Of these
elements, one alone is stable and permanent, and ought to be found in
all combinations: that is novelty. A work of art must be new, and we
recognize it as such quite simply by the fact that it gives a sensation
not yet experienced.

If it does not give this, a work, perfect though it be adjudged, is
everything that is contemptible. It is useless and ugly, since nothing
is more absolutely useful than beauty. With Verhaeren, beauty is made
of novelty and strength. This poet is a strong man and, since those
_Villes tentaculaires_ which surged with the violence of a telluric
upheaval, no one dares to deny him the state and glory of a great poet.
Perhaps he has not yet quite finished the magic instrument which for
twenty years he has been forging. Perhaps he is not yet master of his
language. He is unequal; he lets his most beautiful pages grow heavy
with inopportune epithets, and his finest poems become entangled in
what was once called prosaism. Nevertheless, the impression of power
and grandeur remains, and yes: he is a great poet. Listen to this
fragment from _Cathédrales_:

       *       *       *       *       *

    --O ces foules, ces foules
    Et la misère et la détresse qui les foulent
    Comme des houles!

    Les ostensoirs, ornés de soie,
    Vers les villes échafaudées,
    En toits de verre et de cristal,
    Du haut du choeur sacerdotal,
    Tendent la croix des gothiques idées.

    Ils s'imposent dans l'or des clairs dimanches
    --Toussaint, Noël, Pâques et Pentecôtes blanches.
    Ils s'imposent dans l'or et dans l'encens et dans la fête
    Du grand orgue battant du vol de ses tempêtes

    Les chapiteaux rouges et les voûtes vermeilles,
    Ils sont une âme, en du soldi,
    Qui vit de vieux décor et d'antique mystère

    Pourtant, dès que s'éteignent le cantique
    Et l'antienne naïve et prismatique,
    Un deuil d'encens évaporé s'empreint
    Sur les trépieds d'argent et les autels d'airain,

    Et les vitraux, grands de siècles agenouillés
    Devant le Christ, avec leurs papes immobiles
    Et leurs martyrs et leurs héros, semblent trembler
    Au bruit d'un train hautain que passe sur la ville.

    (Tr. 6)

Verhaeren appears a direct son of Victor Hugo, especially in his
earliest works. Even after his evolution towards a poetry more freely
feverish, he still remains romantic. Here, to explain this, are four
verses evoking the days of former times.

    Jadis--c'était la vie errante et somnambule,
    A travers les matins et les soirs fabuleux,
    Quand la droite de Dieu vers les Chanaans bleus
    Traçait la route d'or au fond des crépuscules.

    Jadis--c'était la vie énorme, exaspérée,
    Sauvagement pendue aux crins des étalons,
    Soudaine, avec de grands éclairs à ses talons
    Et vers l'espace immense immensément cabrée.

    Jadis--c'était la vie ardent, évocatoire;
    La Croix blanche de ciel, la Croix rouge d'enfer
    Marchaient, à la clarté des armures de fer,
    Chacune à travers sang, vers son ciel de victoire.

    Jadis--c'était la vie écumante et livide,
    Vécue et morte, à coups de crime et de tocsins,
    Bataille entre eux, de proscripteurs et d'assassins,
    Avec, au-dessus d'eux, la mort folle et splendid.

    (Tr. 7)

These verses are drawn from _Villages illusoires_, written almost
exclusively in assonant free verse, divided by means of a gasping
rhythm, but Verhaeren, master of free verse, is also master of romantic
verse, to which he can force, without being dashed to pieces, the
unbridled, terrible gallop of his thought, drunk with images, phantoms
and future visions.


He lives in an old Italian palace where emblems and figures are written
on walls. He muses, passing from room to room. Towards evening he
descends the marble stairs and goes into gardens flagged like streams,
to dream of his life among fountain basins and ponds, while the black
swans grow alarmed in their nests, and a peacock, alone like a king,
seems to drink superbly the dying pride of a golden twilight. De
Régnier is a melancholy, sumptuous poet. The two words which most often
break forth in his verses are _or_ and _mort_ (gold and death) and
there are poems where the insistence of this royal and autumnal rhyme
returns and even induces fear. In the collection of his last works
we could doubtless count more than fifty verses ending thus: golden
birds, golden swans, golden basins, golden flowers, and dead lake,
dead day, dead dream, dead autumn. It is a very curious obsession and
symptomatic, not of a possible verbal poverty, rather the contrary,
but of a confessed liking for a particularly rich colour and of a
sad richness like that of a setting sun, a richness turning into the
darkness of night.

Words obtrude themselves upon him when he wants to paint his
impressions and the color of his dreams; words also obtrude themselves
upon whoever would define him, and first this one, already written
but inevitably recurring: richness. De Régnier is the rich poet _par
excellence_--rich in images. He has coffers full of them, caves full of
them, vaults full of them, and unendingly a file of slaves bring him
opulent baskets which he disdainfully empties on the dazzling steps
of his marble stairs, rainbow-hued cascades that go gushingly, then
peacefully to form pools and illuminated lakes. All are not new. To
the fittest and fairest metaphors that came before, Verhaeren prefers
those he himself creates, though awkward and formless. De Régnier does
not disdain metaphors that came before, but he refashions them and
converts them to his own use by modifying their setting, imposing new
proximities on them, meanings still unknown. If among these reworked
images some of virgin matter are found, the impression such poetry
gives will none the less be altogether original. In working thus, the
bizarre and the obscure are avoided; the reader is not rudely thrown
into a labyrinthine forest; he recovers his path, and his joy in
gathering new flowers is doubled by the joy of gathering familiar ones.

    Le temps triste a fleuri ses heures en fleurs mortes,
    L'An qui passe a jauni ses jours en feuilles sèches.
    L'Aube pâle s'est vue à des eaux mornes
    Et les faces du soir ont saigné sous les flèches
    Du vent mystérieux qui rit et qui sanglote.

    (Tr. 8)

Such a poetry certainly charms.

De Régnier in verse can tell everything he wishes, his subtlety is
infinite; he notes indefinable nuances of dreams, imperceptible
apparitions, fugitive decorations. A naked hand, slightly shriveled,
that leans upon a marble table; fruit that swings in the wind and
drops; an abandoned pool--such nothings suffice, and the poem springs
forth, perfect and pure. His verse is very evocative; in several
syllables he forces his vision on us.

    Je sais de tristes eaux en qui meurent les soirs;
    Des fleurs que nul n'y cueille y tombent une à une....

    (Tr. 9)

Different again in this from Verhaeren, he is absolute master of his
language. Whether his poems are the result of long or brief labor,
they bear no mark of effort, and it is not without amazement, nor even
without admiration, that we follow the straight, noble progress of his
fair verses, white ambling nags harnessed in gold that sinks into the
glory of evenings.

Rich and fine, de Régnier's poetry is never purely lyrical; he encloses
an idea in the engarlanded circle of his metaphors, and no matter
how vague or general this idea may be, it suffices to strengthen the
necklace; the pearls are held by a thread, invisible sometime, but
always solid, as in these few verses:

    L'Aube fut si pâle hier
    Sur les doux prés et sur les prêles,
    Qu'au matin clair
    Un enfant vint parmi les herbes,
    Penchant sur elles
    Ses mains pures qui y cueillaient des asphodèles.

    Midi fut lourd d'orage et morne de soleil
    Au jardin mort de gloire en son sommeil
    Léthargique de fleurs et d'arbres,
    L'eau était dure à l'oeil comme du marbre,
    Le marbre tiède et clair comme de l'eau,
    Et l'enfant qui vint était beau,
    Vêtu de pourpre et lauré d'or,
    Et longtemps on voyait de tige en tige encor,
    Une à une, saigner les pivoines leur sang
    De pétales au passage du bel Enfant.

    L'Enfant qui vint ce soir était nu,
    Il cueillait des roses dans l'ombre,
    Il sanglotait d'être venu,
    Il reculait devant son ombre,
    C'est en lui nu
    Que mon Destin s'est reconnu.

    (Tr. 10)

Simple episode of a longer poem, itself a fragment of a book, this
little triptych has several meanings and tells different things as one
leaves it in its place or isolates it; here, an image of a particular
destiny; there, a general image of life, while yet again, one may there
see an example of free verse truly perfect and shaped by a master.


I do not wish to say that Vïelé-Griffin is a joyous poet; nevertheless,
he is the poet of joy. With him, we share the pleasures of a normal,
simple life, the certitude of beauty, the invincible youthfulness of
nature. He is neither violent, sumptuous nor sweet: he is calm. Though
very subjective, or because of this, for to think of oneself is to
think of oneself completely, he is religious. Like Emerson he is bound
to see "images of the most ancient religion" in nature, and to think,
again like Emerson: "It seems that a day has not been entirely profane,
in which some attention has been given to the things of nature." One
by one he knows and loves the elements of the forest, from the "great
gentle ash trees" to the "million young plants," and it is his very own
forest, his personal and original forest:

    Sous ma forêt de Mai fleure tout chèvrefeuille,
    Le soleil goutte en or par l'ombre grasse,
    Un chevreuil bruit dans les feuilles qu'il cueille,
    La brise en la frise des bouleaux passe,
    De feuille en feuille.

    Par ma plaine de mai toute herbe s'argente,
    Le soleil y luit comme au jeu des épées,
    Une abeille vibre aux muguets de la sente
    Des hautes fleurs vers le ru groupées.
    La brise en la frise des frênes chante....

    (Tr. 11)

But he knows other flowers than those which are common to glades; he
knows the flower-that-sings, she who sings, lavendar, sweet marjoram
or fay, in the old garden of ballads and tales. The popular songs have
left refrains in his memory which he blends in little poems, and which
are their commentary or fancy:

    Où est la Marguerite,
        O gué, ô gué,
    Où est la Marguerite?
    Elle est dans son château, coeur las et fatigué,
    Elle est dans son hameau, coeur enfantile et gai,
    Elle est dans son tombeau, semons-y du muguet,
        O gué, la Marguerite.

    (Tr. 12)

And this is almost as pure as Gerard de Nerval's _Cydalises_:

    Où sont nos amoureuses?
    Elles sont su tombeau;
    Elles sont plus heureuses
    Dans un séjour plus beau....

    (Tr. 13)

And almost as innocently cruel as this round which the little girls
sing and dance to:

    La beauté, a quoi sert-elle?
    Elle sert à aller en terre,
    Être mangée par les vers,
    Être mangée par les vers....

    (Tr. 14)

Vielé-Griffin has used the popular poetry discreetly--that poetry of
such little art that it seems increate--but he would have been less
discreet had he misused it, for he has the sentiment and respect
for it. Other poets, unfortunately, have been less prudent and have
collected the rose-that-talks with such clumsy or rough hands that we
wish an eternal silence had been conjured around a treasure now sullied
and vilified.

Like the forest, the sea enchants and intoxicates Vielé-Griffin; he
has called it all things in his earliest verses, that already remote
_Cueille d'Avril_; the insatiable devouring sea, abyss and tomb, the
savage sea with triumphal haughty swell, the sea wantoning after
voluptuous voids, the furious sea, the heedless sea, the stubborn, dumb
sea, the envious sea painting its face with stars or suns, dawns or
midnights--and the poet reproaches it for its flown glory:

    Ne sens-tu pas en toi l'opulence de n'être
    Que pour toi seule belle, ô Mer, et d'être toi?

    (Tr. 15)

then he proclaims his pride at not having followed the sea's example,
at not having sued glory with happy reminiscences or bold plagiarisms.
It must be recognized that Vielé-Griffin, who before did not lie, has
since kept his word. He has indeed remained himself, truly free, truly
proud and truly wild. His forest is not limitless, but it is not a
banal forest, it is a domain. I do not speak of the very important part
he has had in the difficult conquest of free verse; my impression is
more general and deeper and concerns itself not only with the form, but
with the essence of his art. Through Francis Vielé-Griffin there is
something new in French poetry.


With Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé is the poet who has had the most
direct influence on the poets of today. Both were Parnassians and first

    Per me si va tra la perduta gente.

    (Tr. 16)

With them one descends along the gloomy mountain to the doleful city of
_Fleurs du Mal_. All the present literature and especially that which
is called symbolistic, is Baudelairian, not doubtless by its external
technique, but by its internal and spiritual technique, by the sense
of mystery, by the anxious care to hear what things say, by the desire
to harmonize, from soul to soul, with the obscure thought diffused in
the night of the world, according to those so often quoted and repeated

    La nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
    Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
    L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
    Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

    Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
    Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
    Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
    Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

    (Tr. 17)

Baudelaire had read the first poems of Mallarmé before dying. He was
troubled; poets do not like to leave a brother or son behind them.
They would like to be alone and have their genius perish with their
brain. But Mallarmé was Baudelairian only by filiation. His so precious
originality quickly asserted itself. His _Proses_, his _Après-midi
d'un Faune_, his _Sonnets_, came, at too long intervals, to tell of
the marvelous subtlety of his patient, disdainful, imperiously gentle
genius. Having voluntarily killed in him the spontaneity of being
impressionable, the gifts of the artist by degrees replaced the gifts
of the poet. He loved words more for their possible sense than for
their true sense, and combined them in mosaics of a refined simplicity.
It has been well said of him that, like Perseus or Martial, he was
a difficult author. Yes, and like Anderson's man who wove invisible
threads, Mallarmé assembles gems colored by his dreams, whose richness
our care does not always succeed in divining. But it would be absurd
to suppose that he is incomprehensible. The trick of quoting certain
verses, obscure by their isolation, is not loyal, for, even in
fragments, Mallarmé's poetry, when good, is incomparably so, and if
later in a corroded book we only find these debris:

    La chair est triste, hélas! et j'ai lu tous les livres.
    Fuir! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
    D'être parmi l'écume inconnue et les cieux....

    Un automne jonché de taches de rousseur....
    Et tu fis la blancheur sanglotante des lys....
    Je t'apporte l'enfant d'une nuit d'Idumée....
    Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie....

    (Tr. 18)

we must attribute them to a poet who was an artist to the highest
degree. Oh! that sonnet of the swan (of which the last verse quoted
above is the ninth) where all the words are white as snow!

But everything possible has been written on this beloved poet. I end
with this comment.

Recently a question, something like this, was asked:

"Who, in the admiration of the young poets, will replace Verlaine, who
had replaced Leconte de Lisle?"

Few of those questioned answered. Two-thirds of those who abstained
were influenced by the ridiculous appearance of such an ultimatum. How
in short could it be that a young poet should admire, "exclusively
and successively," three "masters" so different as those two and
Mallarmé--incontestably chosen? Thus, many were silent because of
scruples--but I now vote, saying: Greatly loving and admiring Stéphane
Mallarmé, I do not see that Verlaine's death is a decent reason for
loving and admiring him more today than yesterday.

Nevertheless, since it is a strict duty ever to sacrifice the dead to
the living and to give the living, by an increase of glory, an increase
of energy, the result of the vote pleases me, and we, who were silent,
would have been bound to speak. What a pity if too much abstention had
perverted the truth! For, informed by a circular, the press in this
item has found a motive the more for laughing and pitying us, as long
as, riding on the inky waves of the sea of intellectual night, but
subduer of shipwreckers, the name of Mallarmé, at last written on the
ironic elegance of a racing cutter, sails and now defies the emptiness
and the bitter-sweet foam of the hoax.


When they know by heart what is pure in Verlaine, the young women of
today and tomorrow set out to dream _Au Jardin de l'Infante_. With
all that he owes to the author of _Fêtes Galantes_ (he owes him less
than one might suppose), Albert Samain is one of the most original and
charming poets, the sweetest and most delicate of poets:

    En robe héliotrope, et sa pensée au doigts,
    Le rêve passe, la ceinture dénouée,
    Frôlant les âmes de sa traîne de nuée,
    Au rhytme éteint d'une musique d'autrefois....

    (Tr. 19)

One must read the whole little poem which commences thus:

    Dans la lente douceur d'un soir des derniers jours....

    (Tr. 20)

It is pure and beautiful as any poem in the French language, and its
art has the simplicity of works deeply felt and long pondered over.
Free verse, new poetry! Here are verses which make us understand the
vanity of prosodists and the awkwardness of the too clever players on
the zither. A soul is there.

Samain's sincerity is wonderful. I think he would be ashamed to give
variations on sensations unexplored by his experience. Sincerity here
does not mean candor, nor simplicity gaucherie. He is sincere, not
because he avows all his thoughts, but because he thinks of all his
avowals. And he is simple because he has studied his art until he knows
its last secrets and effortlessly gives forth these secrets with an
unconscious mastery:

    Les roses du couchant s'effeuillent sur le fleuve;
    Et, dans l'émotion pâle du soir tombant,
    S'évoque un parc d'automne où rêve sur un banc
    Ma jeunesse déjà grave comme une veuve....

    (Tr. 21)

This is, it seems, like a Vigny made tender and consenting to the
humility of a melancholy quite simple and stripped of scarves.

He is not only softened. He is tender, and what passion and sensuality,
but so delicate!

    Tu marchais chaste dans la robe de ton âme,
    Que le désir suivait comme un faune dompté,
    Je respirais parmi le soir, ô pureté,
    Mon rêve enveloppé dans tes voiles de femme.

    (Tr. 22)

A delicate sensuality, which is really the impression his verses should
give to conform to his poetics, where he dreams

    De vers blonds où le sens fluide se délie
    Comme sous l'eau la chevelure d'Ophélie,

    De vers silencieux, et sans rythme et sans trame,
    Où la rime sans bruit glisse comme une rame,

    De vers d'une ancienne étoffe exténuée,
    Impalpable comme le son et la nuée,

    De vers de soirs d'automne ensorcelant les heures
    Au rite féminin des syllabes mineures,

    De vers de soirs d'amours énervés de verveine,
    Où l'âme sente, exquise, une caresse à peine....

    (Tr. 23)

But, this poet who would only love nuance, Verlainian nuance, could on
some occasions be a violent colorist or a vigorous hewer of marble.
This other Samain, older and not less genuine, is revealed in parts
of his collection called _Evocations_. It is a Parnassian Samain, but
always personal, even in grandiloquence. The two sonnets entitled
_Cléopâtre_ have a beauty not only of expression but of ideas; it is
neither pure music nor pure plastic art. The poem is complete and
alive, a strange, disconcerting marble; yes, a living marble whose life
stirs and fertilizes the very desert sands, around the momentarily
enamoured Sphinx.

Such is this poet: powerfully delicious in the art of making all the
bells and all the souls vibrate in harmony. All souls are in love with
this "child in robes of state."


It was in the already far-off and perhaps heroic times of the Art
Theatre; we were brought to hear and see _la Fille aux Mains coupées_:
To me there remains a most pleasant, complete and perfect memory
of a play that truly gave the exquisite and keen sensation of the
definitive. That hardly endured an hour; of it remains verses which
makes a poem with difficulty forgotten.

Pierre Quillard has reunited his early poetic writings under a title
which for more than one will be presumptuous: _La Gloire du Verbe_.
To dare this, is to be sure of oneself; to have the consciousness of
mastery; to affirm, more or less, that coming after Leconte de Lisle
and De Heredia, one will not flag in a craft demanding, along with
splendor of imagination, a singular sureness of hand. He has not lied;
a very skillful setter, he truly glorifies the multiple jewels of the
word. He makes the water of pearls smile and the rainbow of decomposed
diamonds laugh.

Captain of a galley filled with precious; slaves, he sails among the
tempting perils of purple archipelagos (as the Greek isles are said to
appear at certain hours), and when the night comes he seeks the sandy
shore of a violet gulf,

    Dans la splendeur des clairs de lune violets.

    (Tr. 24)

And he stays for the divine apparition:

    Alors des profondeurs et des ténèbres saintes
    Comme un jeune soleil sort des gouffres marins,
    Blanche, laissant couler des épaules aux reins
    Ses cheveux où nageaient de pâles hyacinthes,
    Une femme surgit....

    (Tr. 25)

whose eyes are gulfs of joy, love and terror, and where one sees
reflected the whole world of things from grass to the infinity of seas.
And she speaks: "Poet who, amidst life, exhibits astonishments and
desires and loves, you appear moved by sensual joys and you suffer, for
these joys you feel are truly vain, but

    Si tu n'étreins que des chimères, si tu bois
    L'enivrement de vins illusoires, qu'importe!
    Le soleil meurt, la foule imaginaire est morte
    Mais le monde subsiste en ta seule âme: vois!
    Les jours se sont fanées comme des roses brèves,
    Mais ton Verbe a créé le mirage où tu vis....

    (Tr. 26)

and my beauty, you give it form and gesture; I am your creation, I
exist because you think of me and because you evoke me."

Such is the leading idea of that _Gloire du Verbe_, one of the rare
poems of that time, where the idea and word march in harmonious rhythm.

At sunrise the galley again set sail: Pierre Quillard departed for
distant countries.

His is a pagan soul, or which would like to be pagan, for if his eyes
eagerly seek sensible beauty, his dream lingers, wishing to force the
portal behind which sleeps the beauty enclosed in things. He is truly
the more disturbed that he deigns not to mention it, and the glance of
the captives disturbs him with more than a shudder. As he knows all the
théogonies and all literatures,

    J'ai connu tous les dieux du ciel et de la terre,

    (Tr. 27)

as he has drunk at all sources, he knows more than one way to get
intoxicated: dilettante of a superior kind, when he will have worn out
the joy of sailing, when he will have chosen his residence (doubtless
near an old, holy fountain), having collected much, having sown many
noble seeds, he will see himself master of a royal garden and of a
people odorous with flowers,

    Fleurs éternelles, fleurs égales aux dieux!

    (Tr. 28)


The danger of free verse is that it remains amorphous, that its rhythm,
too little accentuated, gives it some of the characteristics of prose.
The finest verse truly remains, it seems to me, the verse formed of a
regular number of full or accented syllables and in which the position
of the accents is evident and not left to the choice of the reader or
declaimer; not only poets read verse, and it is imprudent to place
reliance on the chance of interpretations. One rightly supposes that I
would not amuse myself by quoting such verses as seemed to me wretched;
and above all I would not go to seek them in the poems of Herold, to
whom the preference would be unmerited. Not that Herold possesses the
gift of rhythm to a high point, but he has it sufficiently to give his
poetry the grace of a living thing, sweetly and languidly living. He is
a poet of gentleness; his poetry is blond, with pearls in its blond,
pure hair, and necklaces and rings, elegant, fine gems, on neck and
fingers. This word is the beloved word of the poet; his heroines are
flowered with gems as much as his gardens are flowered with lillies.

    La blonde, la blanche, la belle Dames des Lys.

    (Tr. 29)

He loved her, but what others, what queens and saints! Reader of
forgotten books, he finds precious legends there which he transposes to
short poems, often of a sonnet's length. He alone knows these queens,
Marozie, Anfelize, Bazine, Paryze, Orable or Aelis, and those saints,
Nonita, Bertilla, Richardis--Gemma! She is the first he has thought of;
her he gives the most attractive place in the stained glass window,
happy again to write that word whose charm he feels.

Herold is one of the most objective of the new poets; he hardly tells
of himself; he requires themes that are foreign to his life, and he
even chooses those that seem foreign to his beliefs: his queens are
not less charming for that, nor his saints less pure. One finds these
panels and church windows in the collection entitled _Chevaleries
sentimentales,_ the most important and most characteristic of his
works. It is a truly pleasant reading and one passes sweet hours among
those ladies, lilies, gems, and autumn roses.

    Les roses d'automne s'étiolent,
    Les roses qui fleurissaient les tombes;
    Lentement s'effeuillent les corolles
    Et le sol froid est jonché de pétales qui tombent.

    (Tr. 30)

Has not this a quite gentle melancholy? And this:

    Il y a des maisons qui pleurent sur le port,
    Il y a des glas qui sonnent dans les clochers,
    Où tintent des cloches vagues:
    Vers quels fleuves de mort
    Les vierges ont-elles marché,
    Les vierges qui avaient aux doigts de blondes bagues?

    (Tr. 31)

Thus, without forcing his talent to an impassioned expression of life,
an effort at which he doubtless would be unskillful, without laying
claim to gifts he lacks, Herold has created for his pleasure a poetry
of grace, purety, tenderness and sweetness.

If we demanded everything of the same poet, who would answer? The
essential thing is to have a garden, to work there with the spade and
sow seeds; the flowers that will shoot forth, carnations, peonies or
violets, will have their value and their charm, according to the hour
and the season.


By its fecundity in poets, the day we live in and which has already
lasted ten years, can hardly be compared with any of the vanished days,
even those richest in sunshine and flowers. There were fair morning
excursions in the dew, following the footsteps of Ronsard; there was
a lovely afternoon when Theophile's weary viol sighed, heard between
the oboes and the bass-trombones; there was the stormy romantic day,
sombre and royal, interrupted towards evening by the cry of a woman
whom Baudelaire was strangling; there was the Parnassian moonlight, and
the Verlainian sun rose--and we are there in full noon, in the midst
of a wide country provided with everything necessary for the making of
verse: plants, flowers, streams, rivulets, woods, caves and young women
so fresh that one would say their thoughts were newly hatched from an
ingenuous brain.

The wide country is quite full of poets who walk, no longer in troops
as in Ronsard's time, but alone and with a slightly sullen air; they
greet each other from afar with brief gestures. Not all have names and
several of them never will have any. How shall we call them? Let them
play on while this person overtakes us and tells us something of his

He is Adolphe Retté.

He is recognizable among them all by his dissolute and almost wild
appearance. He crushes the flowers, if he does not gather them, and
with reeds he makes rafts, throwing them to the tide, towards peril,
towards the morrow. But he smiles and grows languid when young girls
pass. _Une belle dame passa_ ... and he spoke:

    Dame des lys amoureux et pâmés,
    Dames des lys languissants et fanés,
        Triste aux yeux de belladone--

    Dame d'un rêve de roses royales,
    Dame des sombres roses nuptiales,
        Frêle comme une madone--

    Dame de ciel et de ravissement,
    Dame d'extase et de renoncement,
        Chaste étoile très lointaine--

    Dame d'enfer, ton sourire farouche,
    Dame du diable, un baiser de ta bouche,
    C'est le feu des mauvaises fontaines
        Et je brûle si je te touche.

    (Tr. 32)

The fair lady passed, but without being affected by the final
imprecation, which she doubtless attributed to excess of love. She
passed, giving the poet smile for smile.

This idyll had an admirable plaint for its first epilogue,

    Mon âme, il me semble que vous êtes un jardin ...

    (Tr. 33)

a garden where one sees, hanging on the hedges, in the evening mist,
shreds of the veil

    De la Dame qui est passée.

    (Tr. 34)

Sometime after this adventure, we learned that Retté, returned from a
voyage to the _Archipel en fleurs_, had enriched himself with a new
collection of dreams. He will yet again enrich himself. His talent is
a living shoot grafted on a stout wild stock of glorious viridity. A
poet, Adolphe Retté has only the sense of rhythm and the passion for
words. He loves ideas and he loves them when they are new and even
excessive. He wishes to be freed of all the old prejudices and he would
equally like to free his brothers in social bondage. His last books,
_la Forêt bruissante_ and _Similitudes_, affirm this tendency. The one
is a lyrical poem; the other, a dramatic poem in prose, very simple,
very curious and very extraordinary by the mixture there seen of the
sweet dreams of a tender poet and the somewhat rigid and naive fancies
of the Utopian anarchist. But without naivete, that is to say, without
freshness of soul, would poets exist?


Some take pleasure, an awkward testimony of a piously troubled
admiration, in saying and even in basing a paradoxical study on the
saying: "Villiers de L' Isle-Adam was neither of his country nor time."
This seems preposterous, for a superior man, a great writer is, in
fine, by his very genius, one of the syntheses of his race and epoch,
the representative of a momentary humanity, the brain and mouth of a
whole tribe and not a fugitive monster. Like Chateaubriand, his brother
in race and fame, Villiers was the man of the moment, and of a solemn
moment. Both, with differing views and under diverse appearances,
recreated the soul of the choice spirits of a period; from one arose
romantic Catholicism and that respect for the old traditional stones;
and from the other, the idealistic dream and that cult of antique
interior beauty. But the one was yet the proud ancestor of our savage
individualism; and the other taught us that the life around is the
only clay to be shaped. Villiers belonged to his time to such a degree
that all his masterpieces are dreams solidly based on science and
modern metaphysics, like _l'Ève Future_ or _Tribulat Bonhomet_, that
enormous, admirable and tragic piece of buffoonery, where all the gifts
of the dreamer, ironist and philosopher come to converge, so as to form
perhaps the most original creation of the century.

This point cleared, we declare that Villiers, being of prodigious
complexity, naturally lends himself to contradictory interpretations.
He was everything, a new Goethe, but if less conscious and less
perfect, keener, more artful, more mysterious, more human, and more
familiar. He is always among us and in us, by his work and by the
influence of his work, which exultantly goes through the best of the
writers and artists of the actual hour. He has reopened the gates of
the beyond, closed with what a crash we remember, and through these
gates a whole generation was hurled to infinity. The ecclesiastic
hierarchy numbers among her clerks, by the side of the exorcists,
the porters, they who must open the door of the sanctuary to all the
well-intentioned. Villiers exercised these two functions for us: he was
the exorcist of the real arid the porter of the ideal.

Complex, but we may see a double spirit in him. There were two
essentially dissimilar writers in him, the romanticist and the ironist.
The romanticist was the first to come to birth and the last to die:
_Elen_ and _Morgane; Akedysseril_ and _Axel._ Villiers, the ironist,
author of _Tribulat Bonhomet_, is intermediate between these two
romantic phases; _l'Ève future_ should be described as a mixture of
these two so diverse elements, for the book with its overwhelming irony
is also a book of love.

Villiers at once realized himself by fancy and irony, making his fancy
ironic, when life disgusted him even with fancy. No one has been more
subjective. His characters are created with particles of his soul,
raised, in the same way as a mystery, to the state of authentic,
complete souls. If it is a dialogue, he will cause a certain character
to utter philosophies quite above his normal understanding of things.
In _Axel_, the abbess speaks of hell as Villiers might have spoken
of Hegelianism, whose deceptions he learned towards the end, after
having accepted its large certitudes in the beginning: "It is done! the
child already experiences the ravishment and intoxications of Hell!"
He experienced them: as a Baudelairian, he loved blasphemy for its
occult effects, the immense risk of a pleasure taken at the expense
of God himself. Sacrilege is in acts, blasphemy in words. He believed
in words more than in realities, which are but the tangible shadows
of words, for it is quite evident, and by a very simple syllogism,
that if there is no thought in the absence of words, no more is there
matter in the absence of thought. He believed in the power of words to
the point of superstition. The only visible corrections of the second
over the first text of Axel, for example, consist in the adjunction
of words of a special ending, as when, to evoke an ecclesiastic and
conventual society, he uses _proditoire, prémonitoire, satisfactoire_,
and _fruition, collaudation_, etc. This very sense of the mystic powers
of syllabic articulation stimulates him towards the quest of names as
strange as _le Desservant de l'office des Morts_, a church function
which never existed unless at the monastery of Saint Apollodora; or
_l'Homme-qui-marche-sous-terre_, a name no Indian carried outside of
the scenes of the _Nouveau-Monde_.

In a very old rough draft of a page belonging perhaps to _l'Ève future_
he has thus defined the _real_:

"Now I say that the Real has its degrees of being. A thing is so much
more or less real for us as it interests us more or less, since a thing
that interested us not at all would for us be as if it were not--that
is to say, much less, though physical, than an unreal thing that
interested us.

"The Real for us, then, is only what touches the senses or the mind;
and according to the degree of intensity with which this sole _real_,
which we can judge and name, affects us, we class in our mind the
degree of being more or less rich in content as it seems to strike us,
and it is consequentlyy legitimate to say that it is realized.

"The _idea_ is the only control we have of _reality._"


"And on the top of a distant pine, solitary in the midst of a far-off
glade, I heard the nightingale--unique voice of that silence....

"'Poetic' landscapes almost invariably leave me quite cold, seeing
that for every serious man the most suggestive medium for ideas really
poetic is no other than four walls, a table and silence. Those who do
not carry within them the soul of everything the world can show them,
will do well to watch it: they will not recognize it, each thing being
beautiful only according to the thought of him who gazes at it and
reflects it in himself. Faith is essential in poetry as in religion,
and faith has no need of seeing with corporeal eyes to contemplate that
which it recognizes much better in itself...."

Such ideas were many times, under multiple forms, always new, expressed
by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam in his works. Without going as far as
Berkeley's pure negations, which nevertheless are but the extreme
logic of subjective idealism, he admitted in his conception of life,
on the same plan, the Interior and the Exterior, Spirit and Matter,
with a very visible tendency to give the first term domination over
the second. For him the idea of _progress_ was never anything but
a subject for jest, together with the nonsense of the humanitarian
positivists who teach, reversed mythology, that terrestrial paradise, a
superstition if we assign it the past, becomes the sole legitimate hope
if we place it in the future.

On the contrary, he makes a protagonist (Edison doubtless) say in a
short fragment of an old manuscript of _l'Ève future_:

"We are in the ripe age of Humanity, that is all I Soon will come the
senility and decrepitude of this strange polyp, and the evolution
accomplished, his mortal return to the mysterious laboratory where
all the Ghosts eternally work their experiments, by grace of _some
unquestionable necessity_."

And in this last word, Villiers mocks his belief in God. Was he
Christian? He became one towards the end of his life: thus he knew all
the forms of intellectual intoxication.


Individualism, which in literature gives us such agreeable baskets of
new flowers, often finds itself made sterile by the introduction of the
evil weeds of arrogance. One sees young persons, quite puffed up with
a monstrous infatuation, declare their intention, not only to produce
their work, but at the same the Work, to produce the unique flower,
after which the exhausted intelligence must cease being fecund and
collect itself in the slow dim task of the reorganization of strength.
Even in Paris there are two or three "machines of glory" which have
arrogated to themselves alone the right to pronounce this word, which
they have banished from the dictionary. That matters little, for the
spirit blows where it lists, and when it blows under the skin of frogs
and makes them huge, it is for its own amusement, for the world is sad.

Tailhade has none of the grotesque defects of pride; no one has more
simply pursued a more simple craft, that of the man of letters. The
Romans used a word "rhetorician", and this signified he who speaks,
subdues words and subjects them to the yoke of thought; he governs,
prompts and stimulates them to the point of imposing, in the very hour
of his imaginative work, the hardest, newest, and most dangerous of
tasks. Latin by race and tastes, Tailhade has the right to this fine
name of rhetorician at which the incompetence of pedants takes offence.
He is a rhetorician like Petronius, master equally in prose and poetry.

Here, taken from the rare _Domain de Sonnets_, is one of them:


    (Le laboratoire de Faust à Wittemberg)

    Des âges évolus j'ai remonté le fleuve,
    Et le coeur enivré de sublimes desseins,
    Déserté le Hadès et les ombrages saints,
    Où l'âme d'une paix ineffable s'abreuve.

    Le Temps n'a pu fléchir la courbe de mes seins.
    Je suis toujours debout et forte dans l'épreuve,
    Moi, l'éternelle vierge et l'éternelle veuve,
    Gloire d'Hellas, parmi la guerre aux noirs tocsins.

    O Faust, je viens à toi, quittant le sein des Mères!
    Pour toi, j'abandonnai, sur l'aile des chimères,
    L'ombre pâle où les dieux gisent, ensevelis.

    J'apporte à ton amour, de fond des deux antiques,
    Ma gorge dont le Temps n'a pas vaincu les lys
    Et ma voix assouplie aux rythmes prophétiques.

    (Tr. 35)

Having written this and _Vitraux_, poems which a disdainful mysticism
oddly seasons, and that _Terre latine_, prose of such affecting
beauty, perfect and unique pages of an almost sorrowful purity of
style, Tailhade suddenly made himself famed and feared by the cruel
and excessive satires which he called, as a souvenir and witness of a
voyage we all make without profit, _Au pays du Mufle_. The ignominy
of the age exasperates the Latin, charmed with sunshine and perfumes,
lovely phrases and comely gestures, and for whom money is the joy we
throw, like flowers, under the steps of women and not the productive
seed which we bury that it may sprout. There he reveals himself the
haughty executioner of hypocricies and greeds, of false glories and
real turpitudes, of money and success, of the parvenu of the Bourse and
the parvenu of _the feuilleton._ Harshly and even unjustly he lashes
his own aversions. For him, as for all the satirists, the particular
enemy becomes the public enemy, but what beautiful language at once
traditional and new, and what grand insolence!

Ce que j'écris n'est pas pour ces charognes!

No more are Tailhade's ballads destined to make dream the handsome
ladies who fan themselves with peacock plumes. It is difficult to quote
even one of the verses. This one is not very bad:

    Bourget, Maupassant et Loti,
    Se trouvent dans toutes les gares
    On les offre avec le rôti,
    Bourget, Maupassant et Loti.
    De ces auteurs soyez loti
    En même temps que de cigares:
    Bourget, Maupassant et Loti
    Se trouvent dans toutes les gares.

    (Tr. 36)

The _Quatorzain d'Été_ can be given in full and it is even good to know
it by heart, for it is a marvel of subtlety and a little genre picture
to care for and preserve. The epigraph, that verse of Rimbaud, in the
_Premières Communions_,

    Elle fait la victime et la petite épouse,

    (Tr. 37)

gives the tone of the frame:

    Certes, monsieur Benoist approuve les gens qui
    Ont lu Voltaire et sont aux Jésuites adverses.
    Il pense. Il est idoine aux longues controverses,
    Il adsperne le moine et le thériaki.

    Même il fut orateur d'une loge écossaise.
    Toutefois--car sa légitime croit en Dieu--
    La Petite Benoist, voiles blancs, ruban bleu,
    Communia. Ca fait qu'on boit maint litre à seize.

    Chez le bistro, parmi les bancs empouacrés,
    Le billard somnolent et les garçons vautrés,
    Rougit la pucelette aux gants de filoselle.

    Or, Benoist, qui s'émèche et tourne au calotin,
    Montre quelque plaisir d'avoir vu, ce matin.
    L'hymen du Fils unique et de sa demoiselle.

    (Tr. 38)

So, with much less wit, Sidonius Appollinaris scoffed the Barbarians
among whom the unkindness of the times forced him to live, and like
the Bishop of Clermont, it is not in vain that Laurent Tailhade scoffs
and chaffs them, for his epigrams will pass beyond the actual time.
Meanwhile, I regard him as one of the most authentic glories of the
present French letters.


Man rises early and walks through deserted roads and lanes; he fears
neither dew nor brambles, nor the action of the branches of hedges. He
gazes, listens, smells, pursues the birds, the wind, flowers, images.
Without haste, but nevertheless anxiously, for she has a delicate ear,
he seeks nature, whom he would surprise in her refuge; he finds her,
she is there; then, the twigs gently brushed away, he contemplates her
in the blue shadow of her retreat and, without having wakened her,
closing the curtain, he returns to his home. Before falling asleep, he
counts his images: "gently they are reborn at the beck of memory."

Jules Renard has given himself this name: the hunter of images. He
is a singularly fortunate and privileged hunter, for alone among his
colleagues, he only captures, beasts or little creatures, unpublished
prey. He scorns the known, or knows it not; his collection is only of
the rare and even unique heads, but which he is in no trouble to put
under lock, for they belong to him in such wise that a thief would
purloin them in vain. So penetrating and attested a personality has
something disconcerting, irritating and, according to some envious
persons, extravagant. "Do then as we do, take the old accumulated
metaphors from the common treasury; we go swiftly and it is very
convenient." But Jules Renard disbelieves in going swiftly. Though
unusually industrious, he produces little, and especially little at
a time, like those patient engravers who carve steel with geologic

When studying a writer, one loves (it is an inveterate habit bequeathed
us by Sainte-Beuve) to discern his spiritual family, enumerate his
ancestors, establish learned connections, and note, at the very least,
the souvenirs of long readings, traces of influence and the mark of the
hand placed an instant on the shoulder. To whoever has traveled much
among books and ideas, this task is simple enough and often easy to
the point that it is necessary rather to refrain from it, not to vex
the ingenious arrangement of acquired originalities. I have not had
this scruple with Renard, but have wished to draw a sketch book; but
the odd animal is shown alone, and the leaves only contain, among the
arabesques, empty medallions.

To be begotten quite alone, to owe his mind only to himself, to write
(since it is a question of writing) with the certitude of achieving the
true new wine, of an unexpected, original and inimitable flavor, that
is what must be, to the author of _l'Écornifleur_ a legitimate motive
of joy and a very weighty reason for being less troubled than others
about posthumous reputation. Already, his _Poil-de-Carotte_, that so
curious type of the intelligent, artful, fatalistic child, has entered
into the very form of speech. The "Poil-de-Carotte, you must shut the
hens in each evening" equals the most famous words of the celebrated
como dies in burlesque truth, and he is at once Cyrano and Molière and
will not be robbed of this claim.

Originality being undeniably established, other merits of Jules Renard
are distinctness, precision, freshness; his pictures of life, Parisian
or rural, have the appearance of dry-point work, occasionally a little
thin, but well circumscribed, clear and alive. Certain fragments, more
shaded off and ample, are marvels of art, as for instance, _Une Famille

     "It is after having traversed a sun-parched plain that I
     meet them.

     "Because of the noise, they do not stand by the road's
     edge. They inhabit the unploughed fields, near a fountain,
     like lone birds.

     "From afar they seem inscrutable. When I approach, their
     trunks relax. They discreetly welcome me. I can repose and
     refresh myself, but I divine that they observe and mistrust

     "They live together, the oldest in the center, and the
     little ones, whose first leaves have just appeared, almost
     everywhere, without ever dispersing.

     "They take long to die, and they protect the standing dead
     until they fall to dust.

     "They caress each other with their long branches to be
     assured that they are all there, like the blind. They
     gesticulate with rage, if the wind puts itself out of
     breath trying to uproot them. But among themselves, no
     dispute. They only murmur agreement.

     "I feel that they should be my real family. I will forget
     the other. These trees by degrees will adopt me, and to
     merit this, I understand what must be known.

     "Already I know how to gaze at passing clouds.

     "I know, too, how to rest in a spot.

     "And I almost know how to be silent."

When the anthologies will hail this page, they will hardly have an
irony so fine and a poetry so true.


To be the representative of logic among an assembly of poets is a
difficult role and has its inconveniences. There is the risk of
being taken too seriously and consequently of feeling bound to treat
literature in grave tones. Gravity is not necessary for the expression
of what we believe is truth; irony agreeably seasons the moral
decoction; pepper is needed in this camomile. Scornfully to affirm is a
sure enough way of not being the dupe of even one's own affirmations.
This is practicable in literature, for here all is uncertain and art
itself doubtless is but a game where we philosophically deceive each
other. That is why it is good to smile.

Louis Dumur rarely smiles. But if, having now gained more indulgence
and some rights to real bitterness, he wished to smile so as to excuse
and amuse himself, it seems that the whole assembly of poets would
protest, astonished and perhaps scandalized. So, by habit and logic, he
remains grave.

He is logic itself. He can observe, combine, deduce; his novels,
dramas, poems are of a solid construction whose balanced architecture
delights by the skillful symmetry of curves, everything directed
towards a central dome whither the eye is severely drawn. He is clever
and strong enough, when charmed with error, not to abandon it except
after having driven it to a corner, with its extremest consequences,
and sufficiently master of himself not to confess his error, but even
to defend it with all the ingenuities of argument. Such is his system
of French verse based on tonic accent; it is true that the result,
often deficient, for languages themselves have a quite imperious logic,
was occasionally felicitous and unexpected, with hexameters like this.

    L'orgueilleuse paresse des nuits, des parfums et des seins.

    (Tr. 39)

It is towards the theater that Dumur seems definitely to have turned
his intellectual activity. The first pages of his plays cut (I do not
speak of _Rembrandt_, a purely dramatic history, in the grand style
and with vast unfolding), and one is surprised by a renovated setting,
retouched words, and a light of conventional realism, an arrangement of
things and beings under a new cloak and fresh varnish,--but as we go
on, the author affirms that in this sad scenic landscape, valid speech
will be heard and that a puff of wind turning to tempest will ruin the

The screen, with its new cloth, is so arranged that, its banality
destroyed by degrees, beings and things stripped by a caprice of
lightning, nothing is left standing but the idea, naked or veiled in
its sole, essential mysteriousness.

This old-new setting, then, is the simplest and most available, where
the neutral imagination of a throng of eyewitnesses can, with the least
effort, place a mental combat whose arms are the accessories of the

A man journeys through the world bearing with him a coffer that
contains free natal earth; he carries his love. But a day falls when
he is crushed by his love. In the hour of this catastrophe, another
man understands, he takes from him the woman who is breaking his arms.
To love is to saddle oneself with an imperious burden up to the very
moment when, ceasing to be free, one ceases to be strong. _La Motte de
terre_ explains this lucidly and forcefully. It is the work of a writer
thoroughly master of his natural gifts, shaping them with an ease and
that air of domination which easily subdues ideas. It happens that
a work may be superior to the man and to his very intelligence, but
by very little. Though it be little and an innocent untruth, it is a
humiliating spectacle and provokes scorn more than the written avowal
of the most frightful and complete mediocrity in the brain that gave
it birth. The man of worth is always superior to his creation, for his
desire is too vast ever to be filled, his love too miraculous ever to
be met.

_La Nébuleuse_ is a poem of lovely and deep perspective, where,
symbolized by artless beings, are seen the successive generations of
men following each other uncomprehendingly, almost undiscerningly,
so different are their souls, and always summed up, to the moment of
their decline, by the child, the future, the "nebula," whose birth,
finally confirmed, brings death, under its morning clearness, to the
faded smiles of the aged stars. And, the vision ended, it is urged that
this morrow, which is becoming today, will be altogether like its dead
brothers, and that in short there is nothing new in the spectacle which
amuses the dead years leaning

    Sur les balcons du Ciel en robes surannées.

    (Tr. 40)

But this "nothingness" has no importance for the human atoms that form
and determine it; it is the delightful newness that we breathe and of
which we live. The new! The new! And let each intelligence, though
short-lived, affirm his will to exist, and to be dissimilar to all
antecedent or surrounding manifestations, and let each nebula aspire to
the character of a star whose light shall be distinct and clear among
other lights.

All this I have read in the text and in the silences of the dialogue,
for when the work of art is the development of an idea, the very spaces
between lines answer whoever can question them.

Dumur is disposed to create a philosophical theater, a theater of
ideas, and also to renew the _roman à these_, for _Pauline ou la
Liberté de l'amour_ is a serious work, arranged with skill, thought out
in an original manner and implying a rare intellectual worth.


There are few dramatists among the newcomers, I mean fervent observers
of the human drama, endowed with that large sympathy which urges the
writer to fraternize with all modes and forms of life. To some the
people's actions seem unimportant, perhaps because they lack that
spirit of philosophic generalization which elevates the humblest
happenings to the height of a tragedy. Others have and confess the
tendency to simplify everything. They observe and compare facts only
to extract summaries and quintessences from them; they have qualms and
shame at narrating the mechanisms so often described: they set up soul
portraits, keeping of physical anatomy only the materiality necessary
to hold the play of colors. Such an art, beside having the disadvantage
of being disliked by the reading public (which desires that it be
told stories, and which demands it of the newcomer) is the sign of an
evident and too disdainful absence of passion. But the dramatist is an
impassioned being, a mad lover of life and of the present life, not the
things of yesterday, dead representations whose faded decorations are
recognizable in lead coffins, but beings of today with all their beauty
and animal grossness, their mysterious souls, their true blood that
will flow from a heart and not from a swollen bladder, if stabbed in
the fifth act.

Georges Eekhoud is a dramatist, a passionate soul, a quaffer of life
and of blood.

His sympathies are multifarious and diverse; he loves everything.
"Nourish thyself with all that has life." Obeying the biblical word,
he gathers strength from all the repasts the world offers him, he
assimilates the tender or the harsh wildness of peasants or sailors
with as much sureness as the most deliberate and hypocritical
psychology of creatures drunk with civilization, the disquieting infamy
of eccentric loves and the nobility of consecrated passions, the brutal
sport of clumsy popular customs and the delicate perversion of certain
adolescent souls. He makes no choice, but understands everything
because he loves everything.

Nevertheless, whether voluntarily or whether fixed to the natal soil by
social necessities, he has limited the field of his fantastic pursuits
to the very limits of old Flanders. This agrees marvelously with his
genius, which is Flemish, excessive in his sentimental raptures as in
his debauches, Phillippe de Champaigne or Jordaens, drawing out lean
faces dramatized by the eyes of the fixed idea or displaying all the
red irruptions of joyous flesh. Eekhoud, then, is a representative
writer of a race, or of a moment of this race. This is important to
assure permanence to a work, and a place in the literary histories.

_Cycle patibulaire_ and _Mes communions_ seem the two books of Eekhoud
where this impassioned man cries his charities, angers, compassions,
scorns and loves most clearly and loudly, he himself the third book of
that marvelous trilogy whose two first have for title, Maeterlinck and

Playing a little on the word, I have called him "dramatist," in
defiance of the etymologies and usages, although he has never written
for the theater; but we divine a genius essentially dramatic by the way
in which his narratives are planned and as though miraculously balanced
to the sudden changes, the return to their true nature of characters
maddened by passion.

He has the genius for sudden changes. A character: then life presses
down and the character bends; a new weight straightens and sets
him up according to his original truth. It is the very essence
of psychological drama, and if the setting shares in the human
modifications, the work assumes an air of finality and plenitude,
giving an impression of unforseen art by the accepted logic of natural
simplicities. This might be a system of composition (not however
deficient), but not here: the whisperings of the instinct are hearkened
to and welcomed; the necessity of the catastrophe is thrust upon this
lucid mind (who has not dulled his mirror by breathing upon it),
and he clearly relates the consequences of the seismic movement of
the human soul. There are good examples of this art in the tales of
Balzac: _El Verdugo_ is only a succession of sudden changes, but too
concise: Eekhoud's _le Coq Rouge_, just as dramatic, has a much deeper
analysis and then is unveiled with grandeur, like a lovely land-scape'
effortlessly transformed by the play of clouds and the luminous space.

Equally grand, though with a cruel beauty, is the tragic story
simply called _Une mauvaise rencontre_ where is seen the heroic
transfiguration of the piteous soul of a weak vagrant, overpowered by
the strength of a gesture of love and, under the imperious magnetism of
the word, blossomed martyr, a stream of pure blood rushing miraculously
from the putrefied veins of the social carrion. Later on Mauxgraves
enjoys and dies of the terror of having beheld his words realized to
their very supreme convulsion, and the red cravat of the predestined
become the steel garrote which cuts the white neck in two.

In a novel of Balzac is a rapid, confused episode, which will recall
this tragedy to genealogists of ideas. Through hatred of humanity, M.
de Grandville has given a note for a thousand francs to a ragpicker,
so as to turn him into a drunkard, an idler, a thief; when he returns
to his home, he learns that his natural son has just been arrested for
theft; it is only romantic. This same anecdote, minus the conclusion,
is found in _A Rebours_ where des Esseintes acts, but on a young
blackguard, nearly like M. de Grandville and through a motive of
malignant scepticism. Here is a possible tree of Jesse, but which I
declare unauthentic, for the tragic perversity of Eekhoud, chimera or
screech-owl, is an original and sincere monster.

If sincerity is a merit, it is doubtless not an absolute literary
merit. Art is well pleased with falsehood and no one is particular to
confess either his "communions" or his repulsions; but by sincerity I
here understand the artistic disinterestedness which acts so that the
writer, unafraid of terrifying the average brain or of vexing certain
friends or masters, disrobes his thought with the calm wantonness
of the extreme innocence of perfect vice--or of passion. Eekhoud's
"communions" are impassioned; he eagerly sits down to table and having
nourished himself on charity, anger, pity and scorn, having tasted all
the love elixirs piously formed by his hate, he rises, drunks but not
fed, with the future joys.


The author of _Mystère des Foules_ strongly recalls Balzac; he has his
power and dispersive force. Like Balzac, but to a much smaller extent,
he wrote, while very young, execrable books where no one could have
forseen the future genius of an intelligence truly cyclical; _la Force
du mal_ is no more in the germ in _le Thé chez Miranda_ than _le Pere
Goriot_ in _Jane la Pâle_ or _le Vicaire des Ardennes._ Paul Adam,
nevertheless, is a precocious person, but there are limits to precocity
especially in a writer destined to narrate life exactly as he sees
and feels it. It was needful that the education of the senses should
have had time to mature and that experience should have fortified
the mind in the art of comparisons and choice, the association and
disassociation of ideas. A novelist still needs a large erudition and
all kinds of ideas that are solidly acquired, but slowly and by chance,
by the good will of things and the favorableness of events.

Today Paul Adam is in all his radiance and on the very eve of glory.
Each of his gestures, each pace of his brings him nearer to the
bomb-ketch ready to explode, and if he withstands the qualing from the
thunderclap, he will be king and master. By this bomb-ketch, I do not
mean the great mob, but that large public, already selected, which,
insensible to pure art, nevertheless demands that its romantic emotions
be served enrobed in true literary style, original, strongly perfumed,
of long dough cleverly kneaded, and in a form new enough to surprise
and charm. This was Balzac's public; it is the public which Paul Adam
seems on the point of reconquering. The novel of maimers (I omit three
or four masters whom I have not to judge here) is fallen lower than
ever since the century and a half when it was brought from England.
Neglecting observation, style, imagination and especially ideas, which
were rather general than particular, the fictionists who took up the
trade of telling stories, have brought fiction to such a point of
disrepute that an intelligent man, mindful of employing his leisure in
a manner worthy of his intelligence, no longer dares open one of these
books, which even the quay book-stalls rebel against and dam up against
the yellow current. Paul Adam certainly has suffered through this
convulsion of scorn: the lettered men and women, badly informed, have
long supposed that his books were like all the rest. They are different.

First by style: Paul Adam uses a language that is vigorous, concise,
full of images; new to the point of inaugurating syntactic forms.
By observation: his keen glance pierces like a wasp sting through
things and souls; like the new photography, he reads through skins and
caskets. By the imagination, which permits him to evoke and vivify the
most diverse, characteristic and personal beings, he has, like Balzac,
the genius not only of giving life to his characters, but personality,
of making them true individuals, all well-endowed with an individual
soul: in _la Force du Mal_, a young girl is placed so sharply under our
eyes that she becomes unforgettable; her character, unfortunately, too
abruptly summed up, wavers at the end. By fecundity, finally: fecundity
not only linear and of the nature of cleared fields, but of works whose
slightest are still works.

He has undertaken two great romantic epopees which his ardent bold
spirit will perfect to the condition of monuments, _l'Epoque_ and _les
Volontés merveilleuses_. He works alone, like a swarm, and at the first
ray of sunshine, the bee ideas rush tumultuously forth and disperse
across the vast fields of life.

Paul Adam is a magnificient spectacle.


He was a young man of savage and unexpected originality, a diseased
genius and, quite frankly, a mad genius. Imbeciles grow insane and in
their insanity the imbecility remains stagnant or agitated; in the
madness of a man of genius some genius often remains: the form and not
the quality of the intelligence has been affected; the fruit has been
bruised in the fall, but has preserved all its perfume and all the
savor of its pulp, hardly too ripe.

Such was the adventure of the amazing stranger, self-adorned with this
romantic pseudonym: Comte de Lautréamont. He was born at Montevideo
in April, 1846, and died at the age of twenty-eight, having published
the _Chants de Maldoror_ and _Poésies,_ a collection of thoughts and
critical notes of a literature less exasperated and even, here and
there, too wise. We know nothing of his brief life: he seems to have
had no literary connection, the numerous friends apostrophized in his
dedications bearing names that have remained secrets.

The _Chants de Maldoror_ is a long poem in prose whose six first chants
only were written. It is probable that Lautréamont, though living,
would not have continued them. We feel, in proportion as we finish the
reading of the volume, that consciousness is going, going--and when
it returns to him, several months before his death, he composes the
_Poésies_, where, among very curious passages, is revealed the state of
mind of a dying man who repeats, while disfiguring them in fever, his
most distant memories, that is to say, for this infant, the teachings
of his professors!

A motive the more why these chants surprise. It was a magnificent,
almost inexplicable stroke of genius. Unique this book will remain,
and henceforth it remains added to the list of works which, to the
exclusion of all classicism, forms the scanty library and the sole
literature admissible to those minds, oddly amiss, that are denied the
joys, less rare, of common things and conventional morality.

The worth of the _Chants de Maldoror_ is not in pure imagination:
fierce, demoniac, disordered or exasperated with arrogance in
crazy visions, it terrifies rather than charms; then, even in
unconsciousness, there are influences that can be determined. "O Nights
of Young," the author exclaims in his verses, "what sleep you have cost
me!" And here and there he is swayed by the romantic extravagances of
such English fictionists as were still read in his time, Anne Radcliffe
and Maturin (whom Balzac esteemed), Byron, also by the medical reports
on eroticism, and finally by the bible. He certainly had read widely,
and the only author he never quotes, Flaubert, must never have been far
from his reach.

This worth I would like to make known, consists, I believe, in
the novelty and originality of the images and metaphors, by their
abundance, the sequence logically arranged like a poem, as in the
magnificent description of a shipwreck, where all the verses (although
no typographie artifice betokens them) end thus: "The ship in distress
fires cannon shots of alarm; but it founders slowly ... majestically."
So, too, the litanies of the Ancient Ocean: "Ancient Ocean, your
waters are bitter. I greet you, Ancient Ocean. Ancient Ocean, O great
celibate, when you course the solemn solitudes of your phlegmatic
realms ... I greet you, Ancient Ocean." Here are other images:
"like a corner, as far as the eye can reach, where shivering cranes
deliberate much, and soar sturdily in winter athwart the silence."
And this terrifying invocation: silk-eyed octopus. To describe men he
uses expressions of a Homeric suggestiveness: narrow-shouldered men,
ugly-headed men, lousy-haired men, the man with pupils of jasper,
red-shanked men. Others have a violence magnificently obscene: "He
returns to his terrified attitude and continues to watch, with a
nervous trembling, the male hunt, and the great lips of the vagina of
gloom, whence ceaselessly flow, like a river, immense dark spermatazoae
which take their flight in the desolate ether, concealing entire nature
with the vast unfolding of their bat wings, and the solitary legions of
octopuses, saturnine and doleful at watching these hollow inexpressible
fulgurations." (1868: so that one cannot class them as phrases fancied
from some print of Odilon Redon). But what a theme, on the other hand,
what a story for the master of retrograde forms, of fear and the
amorphous stirrings of beings that are near--and what a book, written,
we might say, to tempt him!

Here is a passage, at once quite characteristic of Lautréamont's talent
and of his mental malady:

     "With slow steps the brother of the blood-sucker (Maldoror)
     marched through the forest.... Then he cried: 'Man, when
     you come upon a dead dog, pressed against a milldam so as
     to prevent it from issuing, go not like the others, and
     take with your hands the worms that flow from his swollen
     belly, considering it with astonishment, opening a knife,
     and then cutting a great number of them from the body, as
     you repeat that you too will be no more than this dog. What
     mystery seek you? Neither I nor the four fins of the sea
     bear of the Northern Seas have succeeded in solving the
     problem of life.... Who is this being, near the horizon,
     that fearlessly approaches, with troubled oblique bounds?
     And what majesty blended with serene gentleness! His gaze,
     though kind, is piercing. His enormous eyelids play with
     the breeze and appear alive. He is unknown to me. My body
     trembles as he fixes his monstrous eyes on me. Something
     like a dazzling aureole of light plays around him.... How
     fair he is.... You should be powerful, for you have a
     form more than human, sad as the universe, beautiful as
     suicide.... How! ... it is you, toad!... great toad ...
     unfortunate toad!... Pardon!... What do you on this earth
     where are the accursed? But what have you done with your
     viscous fetid pustules to have such a sweet air? I saw you
     when you descended from above, poor toad! I was thinking
     of infinity, and at the same time of my weakness....
     Since then you have appeared to me monarch of the ponds
     and marshes! Covered with a glory which belongs only to
     God, you have departed thence, leaving me consoled, but
     my staggering reason founders before such grandeur....
     Fold your white wings and gaze not from on high with those
     troubled eyes." The toad rests on its hind legs (which
     resemble those of a man) and, while the slugs, woodles,
     and snails flee at the sight of their mortal enemy, gives
     utterance to those words: "Hearken, Maldoror. Notice my
     figure, calm as a mirror.... I am but a simple dweller
     of the reeds, 'tis true, but thanks to your own contact,
     taking of good only what is in yourself, my reason has
     grown and I can converse with you.... As for myself, I
     should prefer to have protruding eyes, my body lacking feet
     and hands, to have killed a man, than to be as you are. For
     I hate you! Adieu, then, hope not to find again the toad in
     your passage. You have been the cause of my death. I leave
     for eternity, to implore pardon for you."

Alienists, had they studied this book, would have classified the author
among those aspiring to pass for persecuted persons: in the world he
only sees himself and God--and God thwarts him. But we might also
inquire whether Lautréamont is not a superior ironist, a man forced by
a precious scorn for mankind to feign a madness whose incoherence is
wiser and more beautiful than the average reason. There is the madness
of pride; there is the delirium of mediocrity. How many balanced and
honest pages, of good and clear literature, would I not give for this,
for these words and phrases under which he seems to have wished to
inter reason herself! The following is taken from the singular _Poésies_:

     "The perturbations, anxieties, depravations, deaths,
     exceptions in the physical or moral order, spirit of
     negation, brutishness, hallucinations fostered by the will,
     torments, destruction, confusions, tears, insatiabilities,
     servitudes, delving imaginations, novels, the unexpected,
     the forbidden, the chemical singularities of the mysterious
     vulture which lies in wait for the carrion of some dead
     illusion, precocious and abortive experiences, the darkness
     of the mailed bug, the terrible monomania of pride, the
     innoculation of deep stupor, funeral orations, desires,
     betrayals, tyrannies, impieties, irritations, acrimonies,
     aggressive insults, madness, temper, reasoned terrors,
     strange inquietudes which the reader would prefer not to
     experience, cants, nervous disorders, bleeding ordeals
     that drive logic at bay, exaggerations, the absence of
     sincerity, bores, platitudes, the somber, the lugubrious,
     childbirths worse than murders, passions, romancers at the
     Courts of Assize, tragedies, odes, melodramas, extremes
     forever presented, reason hissed at with impunity, odor of
     hens steeped in water, nausea, frogs, devil-fish, sharks,
     simoom of the deserts, that which is somnambulistic,
     squint-eyed, nocturnal, somniferous, noctambulistic,
     viscous, equivocal, consumptive, spasmodic, aphrodisiac,
     anaemic, one-eyed, hermaphroditic, bastard, albino,
     pédéraste, phenomena of the aquarium and the bearded woman,
     hours surfeited with gloomy discouragement, fantasies,
     acrimonies, monsters, demoralizing syllogisms, ordure,
     that which does not think like a child, desolation, the
     intellectual manchineel trees, perfumed cankers, stalks of
     the camelias, the guilt of a writer rolling down the slope
     of nothingness and scorning himself with joyous cries,
     remorse, hypocrisies, vague vistas that grind one in their
     imperceptible gearing, the serious spittles on inviolate
     maxims, vermin and their insinuating titillations, stupid
     prefaces like those of Cromwell, Mademoiselle de Maupin
     and Dumas _fils_, decaying, helplessness, blasphemies,
     suffocation, stifling, mania,--before these unclean charnel
     houses, which I blush to name, it is at last time to react
     against whatever disgusts us and bows us down." Maldoror
     (or Lautréamont) seems to have judged himself in making
     himself apostrophised thus by his enigmatic Toad: "Your
     spirit is so diseased that it perceives nothing; and you
     deem it natural each time there issues from your mouth
     words that are senseless, though full of an infernal


Laforge, in the course of a reading, sketched some notes regarding
Corbière which, though not printed, are nevertheless definitive, as for

"Bohemian of the Ocean--picaresque and tramp--breaking down, concise,
driving his verse with a whip--strident as the cry of gulls, and like
them never wearied--without aestheticism--nothing of poetry or verse,
hardly of literature--sensual, he never reveals the flesh--a blackguard
and Byronic creature--alway the crisp word--there is not another
artist in verse more freed of poetic language--he has a trade without
plastic interest--the interest, the effect is in the whip stroke,
the dry-point, the pun, the friskiness, the romantic abruptness--
he wishes to be indefinable, uncataloguable, to be neither loved nor
hated; in short, declassed from every latitude, every custom hither and
beyond the Pyrenees."

This doubtless is the truth: Corbière all his life was dominated
and led by the demon of contradiction. He supposed that one must be
differentiated from men by thoughts and acts exactly contrary to the
thoughts and acts of the mass of men; there is much of the willful in
his originality; he labored at it as women labor over their complexion
during long afternoons between sky and earth, and when he disembarked,
it was to draw broadsides of stupefaction. Dandyism à la Baudelaire.

But a nature cannot be developed except in the sense of its instincts
and inclinations. Corbière had inherently to be something of what he
became, the Don Juan of singularity; it is the only woman he loves; he
mocks the other with the clever phrase "the eterna madame."

Corbière has much wit, wit at the same time of the Montmartre wine-shop
and of the blade of past times. His talent is formed of the braggart
spirit, uncouth and humbug, of a bad impudent taste, of genius thrusts.
He has the drunken air, but he is only laboriously clumsy; to make
absurd chaplets, he shapes from miraculous, rolled pebbles works of a
secular patience, but in the dizaine he leaves the little stone of the
sea quite naked and rough, because at bottom he loves the sea with a
great naiveté and because his folly for paradoxical things gives way,
from time to time, to an intoxication of poetry and beauty.

Among the never ordinary verses of _Amours jaunes_, are many that are
admirable, but admirable with an air so equivocal, so specious, that
we do not always enjoy them at the first meeting; then we judge that
Tristan Corbière is, like Laforgue, a little his disciple, one of
those undeniable, unclassable talents which are strange and precious
exceptions in the history of literature--singular even in a gallery of

Here are two little poems of Tristan Corbière, forgotten even by the
last publisher of the _Amours jaunes_:


    C'est la mer;--calme plat--Et la grande marée
    Avec un grondement lointain s'est retirée....
    Le flot va revenir se roulant dans son bruit.
    Entendez-vous gratter les crabes de la nuit.

    C'est le Styx asséché: le chiffonier Diogène,
    La lanterne à la main, s'en vient avec sans-gêne.
    Le long du ruisseau noir, les poètes pervers
    Pêchent: leur crâne creux leur sert de boîte à vers.

    C'est le champ: pour glaner les impures charpies
    S'abat le vol tournant des hideuses harpies;
    Le lapin de gouttière, à l'affût des rongeurs.
    Fuit les fils de Bondy, nocturnes vendangeurs.

    C'est la mort: la police gît.--En haut l'amour
    Fait sa sieste, en tétant la viande d'un bras lourd
    Oû le baiser éteint laisse sa plaque rouge.
    L'heure est seule. Écoutez. Pas un rêve ne bouge.

    C'est la vie: écoutez, la source vive chante
    L'éternelle chanson sur la tête gluante
    D'un dieu marin tirant ses membres nus et verts
    Sur le lit de la Morgue ... et les yeux grands ouverts.


    Vois aux deux le grand rond de cuivre rouge luire,
    Immense casserole où le bon Dieu fait cuire
    La manne, l'arlequin, l'éternel plat du jour.
    C'est trempé de sueur et c'est trempé d'amour.

    Les laridons en cercle attendent prés du four,
    On entend vaguement la chair rance bruire,
    Et les soiffards aussi sont là, tendant leur buire,
    Les marmiteux grelotte en attendant son tour.

    Crois-tu que le soleil frit donc pour tout le monde
    Ces gras graillons grouillants qu'un torrent d'or inonde?
    Non, le bouillon de chien tombe sur nous du ciel.

    Eux sont sous le rayon et nous sous la gouttière.
    A nous le pot au noir qui froidit sans lumière.
    Notre substance à nous, c'est notre poche à fiel.

    (Tr. 41)

Born at Morlaix in 1845, Tristan returned there in 1875 to die of
inflammation of the lungs. He was the son (others say the nephew) of
the sea romancer, Edouard Corbière, author of _Négrier_, whose violent
love for the things of the sea had such a strong influence upon the
poet. This _Négrier_, by Edouard Corbière, captain on a long-voyage
vessel, 1832, 2 vol. in-8, is a quite interesting tale of maritime
adventures. The fourth chapter of the first part, entitled _Prisons
d'Angleterre_, (the convict ships) contains the most curious details
about the habits of the prisoners, about the loves of the _corvettes_
with the "_forts-a-bras_"--in one place, the author says, where "there
was only one sex." The preface of this novel reveals a spirit that is
very proud and very disdainful of the public: the same spirit with some
talent and a sharper nervousness,--you have Tristan Corbière.


Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born at Charleville, October 20, 1854,
and from the most tender age showed traits of the most insupportable
blackguardism. His brief stay in Paris was in 1870-71. He followed
Verlaine in England, then in Belgium. After the little misunderstanding
which separated them, Rimbaud roved through the world, followed the
most diverse trades, a soldier in the army of Holland, ticket taker
at Stockholm in the Loisset circus, contractor in the Isle of Cyprus,
trader at Harrar, then at Cape Guardafui, in Africa, where a friend
of M. Vittorio Pico saw him, applying himself to the fur trade. It
is likely that, scorning all that lacks brutal gratification, savage
adventure, the violent life, this poet, singular among all, willingly
renounced poetry. None of the authentic pieces of _Reliquaire_ seem
more recent than 1873; although he did not die before the end of
1891. The verses of his extreme youth are weak, but from the age of
seventeen Rimbaud acquired originality, and his work will endure,
at least by virtue of phenomena. He is often obscure, bizarre and
absurd. Of sincerity nothing, with a woman's character, a girl's,
inherently wicked and even savage, Rimbaud has that kind of talent
which interests without pleasing. In his works are pages which give the
impression of beauty one feels before a pustulous toad, a good-looking
syphillitic woman, or the Chateau-Rouge at eleven o'clock in the
evening. _Les Pauvres â l'èglise, les Premières Communions_ possess an
uncommon quality of infamy and blasphemy. _Les Assis_ and _le Bateau
ivre_,--there we have the excellent Rimbaud, and I detest neither
_Oraison du soir_ nor _les Chercheuses de Poux._ He was somebody after
all, since genius ennobles even baseness. He was a poet. Some verses of
his have remained living almost in the state of ordinary speech:

    Avec l'assentiment des grands héliotropes.

    (Tr. 42)

Some stanzas of _Bateau ivre_ belong to true and great poetry:

    Et dès lors je me suis baigné dans le poème
    De la mer, infusé d'astres et latescent,
    Dévorant les azurs verts où, flottaison blême
    Et ravie, un noyé pensif parfois descend,
    Où, teignant tout à coup les bleuités, délires
    Et rythmes lents sous les rutilements du jour,
    Plus fortes que l'alcool, plus vastes que vos lyres,
    Fermentent les rousseurs amères de l'amour.

    (Tr. 43)

The whole poem marches: all of Rimbaud's poems march, and in _les
Illuminations_ there are marvelous belly dances.

It is a pity that his life, so poorly known, was not the true _vita
abscondita_; what is known disgusts from what can be understood of it.
Rimbaud was like those women whom we are not surprised to learn have
taken to religion in some house of shame; but what revolts still more
is that he seems to have been a jealous and passionate mistress: here
the aberration becomes debauched, being sentimental. Senancour, the
man who has spoken most freely of love, says of these inharmonious
liaisons where the female falls so low that she has no name except in
the dirtiest slang:

"When in a very particular situation, the need results in a minute
of misconduct, we can perhaps pardon men totally vulgar, or at least
banish its memory; but how understand that which becomes a habit, an
attachment? The fault may have been accidental; but that which is
joined to this act of brutality, that which is not unforseen, becomes
ignoble. If even a passion capable of troubling the head and almost of
depriving one of liberty, has often left an ineffaceable stain, what
disgust will not a consent given in cold-blood inspire? Intimacy in
this manner, that is the height of shame, the irremediable infamy."

But the intelligence, conscious or unconscious, though not having all
rights, has the right of all absolutions.

    ... Qui sait si le genie
    N'est pas une de vos vertus,

    (Tr. 44)

monsters, whether you are called Rimbaud,--or Verlaine?


Like all writers who have achieved an understanding of life, Francis
Poictevin, though a born novelist, promptly renounced the novel. He
knows that everything happens, that a fact in itself is not more
interesting than another fact and that the manners of expression alone
have significance.

I recall something to this effect reported by Sarcey apropos of the
lamentable Murger: "About gave him a subject for a novel; he made
nothing of it. He was decidedly a sluggard." It is very difficult to
persuade certain old men--old or young--that there are no _subjects_;
there is only a _subject_ in literature, and that he who writes, and
all literature, that is to say all philosophy, can arise equally from
the cry of a run-over dog as from Faust's exclamations as he questions
Nature: "Where seize thee, O infinite Nature? And thou, Breasts?"

The author of _Tout Bas_ and of _Presque,_ like any other person, could
have arranged his meditations in dialogues, order his sentiments into
chapters divided at random, insinuate through pseudo-living characters
a bit of gesticulating life and have them express, by the act of
kneeling on the flag-stones of some familiar church, the virtue of
an unrecognized creed: in short, write "the novel of mysticism" and
popularize the practice of mental prayer for the "literary journals."
By this means his books would have gained him a popularity which
certainly he now lacks, for few writers among those whose talent
is evident are so little esteemed, less known and less discussed.
Poictevin disdains all artifice save the artifice of style, a snare
into which we are content to fall. Whether he notes the delicacies of
a flower, a little girl's attitude, the grace of a madonna, or the
cold and quite hard purity of Catherine de Gênes, he wins us with sure
strokes, by that very preciosity with which some clumsily reproach
him. This preciosity is rigorously personal. Apart from all groups,
as remote from Huysmans as from Mallarmé, the author of _Tout Bas_
works, one would say, in a cell, an ideal cell he carries with him
while traveling; and there, standing, often kneeling, he pours out his
poems and prayers in phrases that have the unique musical quality of a
Byzantine organ. Less phrases than vibrations, vibrations so peculiar
that few souls find themselves attuned. Music of Gregorian plain-chant,
such as one listens to in a sumptuous Flemish church, with sudden
fugues of exalted prayer that soar aloft towards the high lines and
hurl themselves against the painted vaults, kindling old stained-glass
windows, illuming the lines of the darkened cross with love. The mystic
monk, the true mystic, Fra Angelico, and Bonaventura a little, live
again in the pages of _Presque_ with its chatoyant spirituality, more
than in all the pseudo-mystic literature of our time. Would not the
author of _Recordare sanctae crucis_ find more satisfaction in this
prayer than in the patronizing and fructiferous deductions; "Here
below the Christ appears the most adorable, most absorbed figure of
the eternal substance, scented with all virtues; a figure with dulcet
blues, the burning clear yellows of topaz or chrysanthemum, the
blood-red hues of future glories. And despite my daily relapses, I
compel myself, according to Jesus' word to the Samaritan, to adoration
in spirit and in truth," Poictevin has entered the "Garden of all the
flowerings" of which Saint Bonaventura sang,

    (Crux deliciarum hortus
    In quo florent omnia....)

    (Tr. 45)

and kneeling, he has kissed the heart of roses whose rosary is of
blood,--the blood of the great torment. While Morning, fair-haired
youth, delivers moist adolescence to folly-driven women, he goes
towards a priestly peace, to masses of solitude, and one of the graces
gathered is that his soul becomes impregnated with the "interior light,
_claritas caritas_."

It is the essential point. Mere phrases, yes; but the phrases are no
more than the attire and reserve of his art. He has felt, dreamed or
thought before speaking; especially has he loved: and some of his,
metaphors leap like a fervent prayer, like one of the cries of Saint

He strives clearly to reach the bottom, to penetrate even the vital
center of the hortensia's umbel. Everywhere he seeks--and finds--the
soul. No one is less a rhetorician than this stylist, for the
rhetorician is he who clothes the solid common things with garments
fit to sustain all the vulgarity of bedizenings, while Poictevin
ever diaphanizes a phantom, a rainbow, an illusion, an azalea
flower, thus: "Would a hand of a consumptive in the contraction of
its quasi-diaphaneity, leaning, not lazily, but which no longer is
conscious, seem to warn, less exalted than before and indulgently

Yes, how subtle it is!--and why not write "like everybody"?

Alas! that is forbidden him,--because he is a mystic, because he feels
new rapports between man and God, and because, veiled in the dolorous
perfection of a form where grace becomes pearled in minutiae, Poictevin
is a spontaneous writer. How many things, doubtless, has he never
transcribed, afraid of not having discovered the exact expression, the
unique and very rare, the unedited!

Everything, indeed, in a work of art should be unedited,--and even
the words, by the manner of grouping them, of shaping them to new
meanings,--and one often regrets having an alphabet familiar to too
many half-lettered persons.

Disciple of Goncourt, from whom he further sharpened his precious
style of writing, Francis Poictevin by degrees refined himself to
immateriality. And that is just his genius, the expression of the
immaterial and the inexpressible: he invented the mysticism of style.


In 1891 I wrote as follows apropos of the _Cahiers d'André Walter_, an
anonymous work: "The diary is a form of good literature and perhaps
the best for some extremely subjective minds. De Maupassant would make
nothing of it. For him the world is like the cover of a billiard table;
he notes the meetings of the balls and stops when the balls stop, for
if there is no further material movement to be perceived, there is
nothing more to be said, The subjective soul feeds on itself through
the reserve of its stored sensations; and, by an occult chemistry,
by unconscious combinations whose numbers approach infinity, those
sensations, often of a faraway past time, become changed and are
multiplied in ideas. Then are narrated, not anecdotes, but the very
anecdotes of oneself, the only kind that can often be retold, if one
has the talent and gift to vary their appearances. In this way has the
author of these copy books worked and thus will he work again. His
is a romantic and philosophic mind, of the lineage of Goethe. One of
these years, when he will have recognized the helplessness of thought
against the onward course of things, its social uselessness, the scorn
it inspires in that mass of corpuscles named society, indignation will
seize him, and since action, though illusive, is forever closed to
him, he will wake armed with irony. This oddly enough, is a writer's
finishing touch; it is the co-efficient of his soul's worth. The theory
of the novel, stated in a note of page 120 is of more than mediocre
interest; we must hope that the author upon occasion will recollect it.
As for the present book, it is ingenuous and delicate, the revealer
of a fine intelligence. It seems the condensation of a whole youth
of study, dreams and sentiment, of a tortuous, timorous youth. This
reflection (p. 142) rather well sums up André Walter's state of mind:
'O, the emotion when one is quite near to happiness, when one has but
to touch it,--and passes on.'"

There is a certain pleasure in not having been deceived in one's first
judgment of the first book of an unknown person. Now that André Gide
has, after several intelligent works, become one of the most luminous
of the Church's Levites, with the flames of intelligence and grace
quite visible around his brow and in his eyes, the time nears when
bold discoverers will discuss his genius, and, since he fares forth
and advances, sound the trumpets of the advancing column. He deserves
the glory, if anyone merits it (glory is always unjust) since to the
originality of talent the master of minds willed that in this singular
being should be joined an originality of soul. It is a gift rare enough
to justify speaking of it.

A writer's talent is often nothing but the terrible faculty of
retelling, in phrases that seem beautiful, the eternal clamors of
mediocre humanity. Even gigantic geniuses, like Victor Hugo or Adam de
Saint-Victor were destined to utter an admirable music whose grandeur
consists in concealing the immense emptiness of the deserts: their soul
is like the formless docile soul of deserts and crowds; they love,
think, and desire the loves, thoughts, desires of all men and of all
beasts; poets, they magnificently declaim what is not worth the trouble
of being thought.

The human species, doubtless, in its entire aspect of a hive or colony,
is only superior to the bison species or the king-fisher, because we
are a part of it; here and there man is a sorry automaton; but his
superiority lies in his ability to attain consciousness; a small number
reach this stage. To acquire the full consciousness of self is to know
oneself so different from others that one no longer feels allied with
men except by purely animal contacts: nevertheless, among souls of
this degree, there is an ideal fraternity based on differences,--while
social fraternity is based on resemblances.

The full consciousness of self can be called originality of soul,--and
all this is said only to point out the group of rare beings to which
André Gide belongs.

The misfortune of these beings, when they wish to express themselves,
is that they do it with such odd gestures that men fear to approach
them; their life of social contacts must often revolve in the brief
circle of ideal fraternities; or, when the mob consents to admit such
souls, it is as curiosities or museum objects. Their glory is, finally,
to be loved from afar and almost understood, as parchments are seen and
read above sealed glass cases.

But all this is related in _Paludes_, a story, as is known, "of animals
living in dusky caverns, and which lose their sight through never being
used"; it is also, with a more intimate charm than in the _Voyage d'
Urien_, the ingenuous story of a very complicated, very intellectual
and very original soul.


At this moment there is a little movement of neo-paganism, of sensual
naturalism and erotism at once mystic and materialistic, a springtime
of those purely carnal religions where woman is adored even for the
very ugliness of her sex, for by means of metaphors we can idealize
the imperfect and deify the illusive. A novel of Marcel Batilliat, a
young unknown man, is, despite its serious faults, perhaps the most
curious specimen of this erotic religiosity which zealous hearts are
cultivating as dreams or ideals. But there is a famous manifestation,
the _Aphrodite_ of Pierre Louys, whose success, doubtless, henceforth
will stifle as under roses, all other claims of sexual romanticism.

It is not, although its appearance has deceived young and old critics,
a historical novel, such as _Salammbô_ or even _Thaïs._ The perfect
knowledge which Pierre Louys possesses of Alexandrian religions
and customs has allowed him to clothe his personages with names
and garbs veraciously ancient, but the book must be read divested
of those precautions which are not there, just as in more than one
eighteenth century novel, where the customs, gestures and desires of an
incontestable today are at play behind the embroidered screen work of
hieratic phallophores.

By the vulgarizing of art, love finally has returned to us naked. It
is in the epoch of the flowering of Calvinism that the nude began
to be banned from manners and that it sought refuge in art, which
alone treasured the tradition of it. Formerly, and even in the time
of Charles the Fifth, there were no public celebrations without
speculations regarding lovely nude women; the nude was so little
dreaded that adulterous women were driven stark naked through the
towns. It is beyond a doubt that, in the mysteries, such roles as Adam
and Eve were acted by persons free of fleshings,--monstrous display.
To love the nude, and first of all femininity with its graces and
insolences, is traditional in those races which hard reform has not
altogether terrorized. The idea of the nude being admitted, costume can
be modified to take in floating loose robe, manners can be softened,
and something of splendor illume the gloom of our hypocricies. By its
vogue, _Aphrodite_ has signalled the possible return to manners where
there will be a bit of freedom; coming from that period, this book has
the value of an antidote.

But how fallacious is such a literature. All these women, all this
flesh, the cries, the luxury so animal, so empty and so cruel! The
females gnaw at the brains; thought flies horror-stricken; woman's soul
oozes away as by the action of rain, and all these copulations engender
nothingness, disgust and death.

Pierre Louys has felt that his fleshly book logically must end in
death: _Aphrodite_ closes in a scene of death, with obsequies.

It is the end of _Atala_ (Chateaubriand invisibly hovers over our
whole literature), but gracefully refashioned and renewed with art
and tenderness,--so well that the idea of death comes to join itself
with the idea of beauty; the two images, entwined like two courtisans,
slowly fades into the night.


Sincerity, what an enormous unreasonable demand, if it is a question of
woman! Those most praised for their candor were nevertheless comedians,
like the weeping Marceline, an actress moreover who wept through
her life, as in a role, with the consciousness which the plaudits
of the public give. Since women have written, not one has had the
good faith to speak and confess themselves in bold humility, and the
only ideas of feminine psychology known to literature must be sought
in the literature of men. There is more to learn of women in _Lady
Roxanna_ than in the complete works of George Sand. It is not perhaps
a question of untruthfulness; it is rather a natural incapacity to
think for herself, to take cognizance of herself in her own brain, and
not in the eyes and in the lips of others; even when they ingenuously
write into little secret diaries, women think of the unknown god
reading--perhaps--over their shoulders. With a similar nature, a woman,
to be placed in the first ranks of men, would require even a higher
genius than that of the highest man; that is why, if the conspicuous
works of men are often superior to the men themselves, the finest works
of women are always inferior to the worth of the women who produced

This incapacity is not personal; it is generic and absolute. It is
needful, then, to compare women exclusively with themselves, and not
scorn them for whatever of egoism or personality is lacking: this
fault, outside of literature and art, is generally estimated as equal
to a positive virtue.

Whether they essay their charms in perversity or candor, women will
better succeed in living than in playing their comedy; they are made
for life, for the flesh, for materiality,--and they will joyfully
realize their most romantic dreams if they do not find themselves
arrested by the indifference of man whose more sensitive nerves suffer
from vibrating in the void. There is an evident contradiction between
art and life; we have hardly ever seen a man live in action and dream
at the same time, transposing in writing the gestures that first were
real: the equivalence of sensations is certain and the horrors of fear
can better be described by whosoever imagines them than by the man that
experiences them. On the contrary, the predominance in a temperament of
tendencies to live, dulls the sharpness of the imaginative faculties.
With the more intelligent women, those best gifted for cerebral
pursuits, the impelling motivation will most easily be translated into
acts than into art. It is a physiological fact, a state of nature it
would be as absurd to reproach women with as to blame men for the
smallness of their breasts or the shortness of their hair. Moreover,
if it is a question of art, the discussion, which touches such a small
number of creatures, has for humanity, like all purely intellectual
questions, but an interest of the steeple or the street corner.

All this, then, being admitted, and it also being admitted that
_l'Animale_ is Rachilde's most singular book (although not the most
ambiguous) and that _le Démon de l'Absurde_ is the best, I will
willingly add, not for the sole pleasure of contradicting myself and
destroying the virtue of the preceding pages, that this collection
of tales and imaginative dialogue proves to me a realized effort at
true artistic sincerity. Pages like _la Panthère_ or _les Vendanges
de Sodom_ show that a woman can have phases of virility, to write,
careless of necessary coquetteries or customary attitudes, make art
with nothing but an idea and from words, create.


"Le Romanée and Chambertin, Clos-Vougeot and Corton made the abbatial
pomps, princely fetes, opulences of vestments figured in gold, aglow
with light, pass before him. The Clos-Vougeot especially dazzled him.
To him that wine seemed the syrup of great dignitaries. The etiquette
glittered before his eyes, like glories surrounded by beams, placed in
churches, behind the occiput of Virgins."

The writer who in 1881, in the midst of the naturalistic morass, had,
before a name read on a wine list, such a vision, although ironic,
of evoked splendors, must have puzzled his friends and made them
suspect an approaching defection. In fact, several years later, the
unexpected _A Rebours_ appeared, and it was not a point of departure,
but the consecration of a new literature. No longer was it so much a
question of forcing a brutal externality to enter the domains of Art
by representation, as of drawing from this very representation motives
for dreams and interior revaluations. _En Rade_ further developed
this system whose fruitfulness is limitless,--while the naturalistic
method proved itself still more sterile than even its enemies had dared
hope,--a system of strictest logic and of such marvelous suppleness
that it permits, without forfeiting anything to likelihood, to
intercalate in exact scenes of rustic life, pages like "Esther" or like
the "_voyage sélénien_."

The architecture of _Là-Bas_ is based on an analogous plan, but the
license profitably finds itself restrained by the unity of subject,
which remains absolute beneath its multiple faces: the Christ of
Gunewald, in his extreme mystic violence, his startling and consoling
hideousness, is not a fugue without line, nor are the demoniac forest
of Tiffauges, the cruel Black Mass, or any of the "fragments" displaced
or inharmonious; nevertheless, before the freedom of the novel, they
had been criticized, not in themselves, but as not rigorously necessary
to the advance of the book. Fortunately the novel is finally free, and
to say more, the novel, as still conceived by Zola or Bourget, to us
appears a conception as superannuated as the epic poem or the tragedy.
Only, the old frame is still able to serve; it sometimes is necessary
to entice the public to very arduous subjects, to simulate vague
romantic intrigues, which the author unravels at his own will, after he
has said all he wished to say. But the essential of yesterday is become
the accessory, and an accessory more and more scorned: quite rare at
the present hour are those writers who are clever or strong enough to
confine themselves to a demolished genre, to spur the fatigued cavalry
of sentimentalities and adulteries.

Moreover, aesthetics tends to specialization in as many forms as there
are talents: among many vanities are admissible arrogances to which
we cannot refuse the right to create into normal characters. Huysmans
is of those; he no longer writes novels, he makes books, and he plans
them according to an original arrangement; I believe that is one of
the reasons why some persons still take issue with his literature and
find it immoral. This last point is easy to explain by a single word:
for the non-artist, art is always immoral. As soon as one wishes, for
example, to translate sexual relations into a new language, he is
immoral because he discloses, fatally, acts which, treated by ordinary
procedures, would remain unperceived, lost in the mist of common
things. Thus it is that an artist, not at all erotic, can be accused of
stupid outrages by the foolish or the mischievous, before the public.
It, nevertheless, does not seem that the facts of love or rather of
aberration related in _Là-Bas_ at all entice the simplicity of virginal
ignorance. This book rather gives disgust or horror of sensuality in
that it does not invite to foolish experiences or even to permissible
unions. Will not immorality, if we behold it from a particular and
peculiarly religious point of view, consist, on the contrary, in the
insistence upon the exquisiteness of carnal love and the vaunting of
the delights of legitimate copulation?

The Middle Age knew not: our hypocrisies. It was not at all ignorant
of the eternal turpitudes, but it knew how to hate them. It had no
use for our conduct, nor for our refinements; it published the vices,
sculped them on its cathedral portals and spread them in the verses of
its poets. It had less regard for refraining from terrifying the fears
of mummied souls than for tearing apart the robes and revealing the
man, and showing to man, so as to make him ashamed, all the ugliness of
his low animality. But it did not make the brute wallow in his vice;
it placed him on his knees and made him lift his head. Huysmans has
understood all this, and it was difficult to conquer. After the horrors
of the satanic debauch, before the earthly punishment, he has, like
the noble weeping people he evokes, forgiven even the most frightful
slayers of infants, the basest sadist, the most monstrous fool that
ever was.

Having absolved such a man, he could without pharisaism absolve
himself, and with the aid of God, some more humble and quite brotherly
succor, of helpful reading, visitations to gentle conventual chapels,
Huysmans one day found himself converted to mysticism, and wrote
_En Route_, that book which is like a statue of stone that suddenly
begins to weep. It is a mysticism a little raucous and hard, but like
his phrases, his epithets, Huysmans is hard. Mysticism first came
to him through the eyes rather than through the soul. He observed
religious facts with the fear of being their dupe and the hope
that they would be absurd; he was caught in the very meshes of the
_credo-quia-absurdum_,--happy victim of his curiosity.

Now, fatigued at having watched men's hypocritical faces, he watches
the stones, preparing a supreme book on "The Cathedral." There, if it
is a question of feeling and understanding, is it especially a question
of sight. He will see as no other person has seen, for no one other
person has seen, no one ever was gifted with a glance so sharp, so
boring, so frank and so skilled in insinuating himself into the very
wrinkles of faces, rose-windows and masks.

Huysmans is an eye.


In the _Fleurs de bonne Volonté_ is a little complaint, like the
others, called _Dimanches_:

    Le ciel pleut sans but, sans que rien l'émeuve,
    Il pleut, il pleut, bergère! sur le fleuve....

    Le fleuve a son repos dominical;
    Pas un chaland, en amont, en aval.

    Les vêpres carillonnent sur la ville,
    Les berges sont désertes, sans une île.

    Passe un pensionnat, ô pauvres chairs!
    Plusieurs out déjà leurs manchons d'hiver.

    Une qui n'a ni manchon ni fourrure
    Fait tout en gris une bien pauvre figure;

    Et la voilà qui s'échappe des rangs
    Et court: ô mon Dieu, qu'est-ce qui lui prend?

    Elle va se jeter dans le fleuve.
    Pas un batelier, pas un chien de Terre-Neuve....

    (Tr. 46)

And there we have, prophesized, the sudden absurd death, the life of
Laforgue. His heart was too cold; he departed.

His was a mind gifted with all the gifts and rich with important
acquisitions. With his natural genius made up of sensibility, irony,
imagination and clairvoyance, he had wished to nourish it with positive
knowledge, all the philosophies, all the literatures, all the images
of nature and art; and even the latest views of science seemed to have
been familiar to him. He had an ornate flamboyant genius, ready to
construct architectural works infinitely diverse and fair, to rear new
ogives and unfamiliar domes; but he had forgotten his winter muff and
died one snowy day of cold.

That is why his work, already magnificent, is only the prelude of an
oratorio ended in silence.

Many of his verses are as though reddened by a glacial affectation of
naiveté; they speak of the too dearly cherished child, of the young
girl hearkened to--but a sign of a true need of affection and of a pure
gentleness of heart,--adolescent of genius who would still have wished
to place on the knees of his mother, his "equatorial brow, greenhouse
of anomalies." But many have the beauty of purified topazes, the
melancholy of opals, the freshness of moon-stones, and some pages, like
that which commences thus:

    Noire bise, averse glapissante
    Et fleuve noir, et maisons closes....

    (Tr. 47)

have a sad, consoling grace, with eternal avowals: forever on the same
subject, Laforgue retells it in such fashion that it seems dreamed and
confessed for the first time. And I think that what we must demand of
the translator of dreams is, not to wish to fix forever the fugacity of
a thought or air, but to sing the song of the present hour with such
frank force that it seems the only one we could hear, the only one
we could understand. In the end, perhaps, it is necessary to become
reasonable and delight us with the present and with new flowers,
indifferent, except as a botanist, to the faded fields. Every epoch of
thought, art or sentiment should take a deep delight in itself and go
down from the world with the egoism and languor of a superb lake which,
smiling upon the old streams, receives them, calms them, and absorbs

There was no present for Laforgue, except among a group of friends. He
died just as his _Moralités Légendaires_ was coming to birth, but still
offered to a minority, and he had just learned from some mouths that
these pages consecrated him to live the life of glory among those whom
the gods created in their image, they, too, gods and creators. It is
a literature entirely new and disconcertingly unexpected, giving the
curious sensation (specially rare) that we have never read anything
like it; the grape with all its velvet hues in the morning light, but
with curious reflections and an air as if the seeds within had become
frozen by a breath of ironic wind come from some place farther than the

On a copy of _l'Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune_, offered to Bourget
(and since thrown among old papers in the quay) Laforgue wrote: "This
is only an _inter-mezzo._ I pray you to wait yet awhile, and give me
until my next book";--but he was of those who ever look forward to
finding themselves in their next work, the noble unsatisfied who have
too much to say ever to believe that they have said other things than
prolegomenae and prefaces. If his interrupted work is but a preface, it
belongs to those which counterbalance a finished work.


Raymond de la Tailhède thus exalts Moréas:

    Tout un silence d'or vibrant s'est abattu,
    Près des sources que des satyres ont troublées,
    Claire merveille éclose au profond des vallées,
    Si l'oiselet chanteur du bocage s'est tu.

    Oubli de flûte, heures de rêves sans alarmes,
    Où tu as su trouver pour ton sang amoureux
    La douceur d'habiter un séjour odoreux
    De roses dont les dieux sylvains te font des armes

    Là tu vas composant ces beaux livres, honneur
    Du langage français et de la noble Athènes.

    (Tr. 48)

These verses are romances, that is, of a poet to whom the romantic
period is but a witch's night where unreal sonorous gnomes stir, of a
poet (this one has talent) who concentrates his efforts to imitate the
Greeks of the Anthology through Ronsard, and to steal from Ronsard the
secret of his laborious phrase, his botanical epithets, and his sickly
rhythm. As for what is exquisite in Ronsard, since that little has
passed into tradition and memory, the Romantic school had to neglect it
on pain of quickly losing what alone constitutes its originality. There
is I know not what of provincialism, of steps against life's current,
of the loiterer, in this care for imitation and restoration. Somewhere
Moréas sings praise

    De ce Sophocle, honneur de la Ferté-Milon,

    (Tr. 40)

and it is just that: the Romantic school always has the air of coming
from Ferté-Milon.

But Jean Moréas, who has met his friends on the road, started from
somewhere farther away, introduces himself more proudly.

Arrived in Paris like any other Wallachian or Eastern student, and
already full of love for the French language, Moréas betook himself
to the school of the old poets and frequented the society of Jacot de
Forest and Benoit de Sainte-Maure. He wished to take the road to which
every clever youth should vow himself who is ambitious to become a good
harper; he swore to accomplish the complete pilgrimage: At this hour,
having set out from the _Chanson de Saint-Léger_, he has, it is said,
reached the seventeenth century, and this in less than ten years. It
is not as discouraging as one supposes. And now that texts are more
familiar, the road shortens: from now on less halts. Moréas will camp
under the old Hugo oak, and, if he perseveres, we shall see him achieve
the aim of his voyage, which doubtless is to catch up with himself.
Then, casting aside the staff, often changed and cut from such diverse
copses, he will lean on his own genius and we will be able to judge
him, if that be our whim, with a certain security.

All that today can be said is that Moréas passionately loves the French
language and poetry, and that the two proud-hearted sisters have smiled
upon him more than once, satisfied to see near their steps a pilgrim so
patient, a cavalier armed with such good-will.

    Cavalcando l'altrjer per un cammino,
    Pensoso dell andar che mi sgradia,
    Trovai Amor in mezzo della via
    In abito legger di pellegrino.

    (Tr. 50)

Thus Moréas goes, quite attentive, quite in love, and in the light robe
of a pilgrim. When he called one of his poems _le Pèlerin passionné_,
he gave an excellent idea and a very sane symbolism of himself, his
role and his playings among us.

There are fine things in that _Pèlerin_, and also in _les Syrtes_;
there are admirable and delicious touches and which (for my part) I
shall always joyfully reread, in _les Cantilènes,_ but inasmuch as
Moréas, having changed his manner, repudiates these primitive works,
I shall not insist. There remains _Ériphyle_, a delicate collection
formed of a poem of four "sylvae", all in the taste of the Renaissance
and destined to be the book of examples where the young "Romans",
spurred on by the somewhat intemperate invectives of Charles Maurras,
must study the classic art of composing facile verses laboriously. Here
is a page:

    Astre brillant, Phébé aux ailes étendues,
    O flamme de la nuit qui croîs et diminues,
    Favorise la route et les sombres forêts
    Où mon ami errant porte ses pas discrets!
    Dans la grotte au vain bruit dont l'entrée est tout lierre,
    Sur la roche pointue aux chèvres familière,
    Sur le lac, sur l'étang, sur leurs tranquilles eaux,
    Sur les bords émaillés où plaignent les roseaux.
    Dans le cristal rompu des ruisselets obliques,
    Il aime à voir trembler tes feux mélancoliques.
           *       *       *       *       *
    Phébé, ô Cynthia, dès sa saison première,
    Mon ami fut épris de ta belle lumière;
    Dans leur cercle observant tes visages divers,
    Sous ta douce influence il composait ses vers.
    Par dessus Nice, Eryx, Seyre et la sablonneuse
    Ioclos, le Tmolus et la grande Epidaure,
    Et la verte Cydon, sa piété honore
    Ce rocher de Latmos où tu fus amoureuse.

    (Tr. 51)

Moréas, like his Phoebe, has tried to put on many diverse countenances
and even to cover his face with masks. We always recognize him from his
brothers: he is a poet.


The logic of an amateur of literature is offended upon his discovering
that his admirations disagree with those of the public; but he is not
surprised, knowing that there are the elect of the last hour. The
public's attitude is less benignant when it learns the disaccord which
is noticeable between it, obscure master of glories, and the opinion
of the small oligarchic number. Accustomed to couple these two ideas,
renown and talent, it shows a repugnance in disjoining them; it does
not admit, for it has a secret sense of justice or logic, that an
illustrious author might be so by chance alone, or that an unknown
author merits recognition. Here is a misunderstanding, doubtless old
as the six thousand years ascribed by La Bruyère to human thought,
and this misunderstanding, based on very logical and solid reasoning,
sets at defiance from the height of its pedestal all attempts at
conciliation. To end it, it is needful to limit oneself to the timid
insinuations of science and to ask if we truly know the "thing in
itself," if there is not a certain inevitable little difference
between the object of knowledge and the knowledge of the object. On
this ground, as one will be less understood, agreement will be easier
and then the legitimate difference of opinions will be voluntarily
admitted, since it is not a question of captivating Truth--that
reflection of a moon in a well--but to measure by approximation, as is
done with stars, the distance or the difference existing between the
genius of a poet and the idea we have of it.

Were it necessary, which is quite useless, to express oneself more
clearly, it might be said that, according to several persons whose
opinion perhaps is worth that of many others, all the literary history,
as written by professors according to educational views, is but a
mass of judgments nearly all reversed, and that, in particular, the
histories of French literature is but the banal cataloguing of the
plaudits and crowns fallen to the cleverest or most fortunate. Perhaps
it is time to adopt another method and to give, among the celebrated
persons, a place to those who could have attained it--if the snow had
not fallen on the day they announced the glory of the new spring.

Stuart Merrill and Saint-Pol-Roux are of those whom the snow gainsaid.
If the public knows their names less than some others, it is not that
they have less merit, it is that they had less good fortune.

The poet of _Fastes_, by the mere choice of this word, bespeaks the
fair frankness of a rich soul and a generous talent. His verses, a
little gilded, a little clamorous, truly burst forth and peal for
the holidays and gorgeous parades, and when the play of sunshine has
passed, behold the torches illumined in the night for the sumptuous
procession of supernatural women. Poems or women, they doubtless are
bedecked with too many rings and rubies and their robes are embroidered
with too much gold; they are royal courtisans rather than princesses,
but we love their cruel eyes and russet hair.

After such splendid trumpets, the _Petits Poèmes d'Automne_, the noise
of the spuming wheel, a sound of a bell, an air of a flute in tone of
moonlight: it is the drowsiness and dreaming saddened by the silence of
things, the incertitude of the hours:

    C'est le vent d'automne dans l'allée,
    Soeur, écoute, et la chute sur l'eau
    Des feuilles du saule et du bouleau,
    Et c'est le givre dans la vallée,

    Dénoue--il est l'heure--tes cheveaux
    Plus blonds que le chanvre que tu files....

    Et viens, pareille à ces châtelaines
    Dolentes à qui tu fais songer,
    Dans le silence où meurt ton léger
    Rouet, ô ma soeur des marjolaines!

    (Tr. 52)

Thus, in Stuart Merrill we discover the contrast and struggle of a
spirited temperament and a very gentle heart, and according as one
of the two natures prevails, we hear the violence of brasses or the
murmurings of viols. Similarly does his technique oscillate from
_Gammes_ to his latest poems, from the Parnassian stiffness to the
_verso suelto_ of the new schools, which only the senators of art do
not recognize. Vers libre, which is favorable to original talent,
and which is a reef of danger to others, could not help winning over
so gifted a poet, and so intelligent an innovator. This is how he
understands it:

    Venez avec des couronnes de primevères dans vos mains,
    O fillettes qui pleurez la soeur morte à l'aurore.
    Les cloches de la vallée sonnent la fin d'un sort,
    Et l'on voit luire des pelles au soleil du matin.

    Venez avec des corbeilles de violettes, ô fillettes
    Qui hésitez un peu dans le chemin des hêtres,
    Par crainte des paroles solennelles du prêtre.
    Venez, le ciel est tout sonore d'invisibles alouettes....

    C'est la fête de la mort, et l'on dirait dimanche,
    Tant les cloches sonnent, douces au fond de la vallée;
    Les garçons se sont cachés dans les petites allées;
    Vous seules devez prier au pied de la tombe blanche....

    Quelque année, les garçons qui se cachent aujourd'hui
    Viendront vous dire à toutes la douce douleur d'aimer,
    Et l'on vous entendra, autour du mât de mai,
    Chanter des rondes d'enfance pour saluer la nuit.

    (Tr. 53)

Stuart Merrill did not embark in vain, the day he desired to cross the
Atlantic, to come and woo the proud French poetry, and place one of her
flowers in his hair.


One of the most fruitful and astonishing inventors of images and
metaphors. To find new expressions, Huysmans materializes the spiritual
and the intellectual spheres, thus giving his style a precision
somewhat heavy and a lucidity rather unnatural: _rotten souls_ (like
teeth) and _cracked hearts_ (like an old wall); it is picturesque and
nothing else. The inverse operation is more conformable to the old
taste of men for endowing vague sentiments and a dim consciousness to
objects. It remains faithful to the pantheistic and animistic tradition
without which neither art nor poetry would be possible. It is the deep
source from which all the others are formed, pure water transformed
by the slightest ray of sunshine into jewels sparkling like fairy
collars. Other "metaphorists" like Jules Renard, venture to seek the
image either in a reforming vision, a detail separated from the whole
becoming the thing itself, or in a transposition and exaggeration of
metaphors in usage; finally, there is the analogic method by which,
without our voluntary aid, the meaning of ordinary words change daily.
Saint-Pol-Roux blends these methods and makes them all contribute to
the manufacture of images which, if they are all new, are not all
beautiful. From them a catalogue or a dictionary could be drawn up:

    Wise-Woman of light                      means   the cock.
    Morrow of the caterpillar in balldress    --     butterfly.
    Sin that sucks                            --     natural child.
    Living distaff                            --     mutton.
    Fin of the plow                           --     plowshare.
    Wasp with the whip sting                  --     diligence.
    Breast of crystal                         --     flagon.
    Crab of the hand                          --     open hand.
    Letter announcement                       --     magpie.
    Cemetery with wings                       --     a flight of crows.
    Romance for the nostrils                  --     perfume of flowers.
    To tame the carious jawbone
      of bemol of a modern tarask             --     to play the piano.
    Surly gewgaw of the doorway               --     watchdog.
    Blaspheming limousine                     --     wagoner.
    To chant a bronze alexandrine             --     to peal midnight.
    Cognac of Father Adam                     --     the broad, pure air.
    Imagery only seen with closed eyes        --     dreams.
    Leaves of living salad                    --     frogs.
    Green chatterers                          --     frogs.
    Sonorous wild-poppy                       --     cock-crow.

The most heedless person, having read this last, will decide that
Saint-Pol-Roux is gifted with an imagination and with an equally
exuberant wretched taste. If all these images, some of which are
ingenious, followed one after another towards _les Reposoirs de la
Procession_ where the poet guides them, the reading of such a work
would be difficult and the smile would often temper the aesthetic
emotion; but strewn here and there, they but form stains and do not
always break the harmony of richly colored, ingenious and grave poems.
_Le Pèlerinage de Sainte-Anne_, written almost entirely in images, is
free of all impurity and the metaphors, as Théophile Gautier would
have wished, unfold themselves in profusion, but logically and knit
together; it is the type and marvel of the prose poem, with rhythm and
assonance. In the same volume, the _Nocturne_ dedicated to Huysmans
is but a vain chaplet of incoherent catachreses: the ideas there are
devoured by a frightful troop of beasts. But _l'Autopsie de la Vieille
fille_, despite a fault of tone, but _Calvaire immémorial_, but _l'Ame
saisissable_ are masterpieces. Saint-Pol-Roux plays on a zither whose
strings sometimes are too tightly drawn: a turn of the key would
suffice for our ears ever to be deeply gladdened.


Upon the first appearance of his _Chauves-Souris_ in violet velvet,
the question was seriously put whether de Montesquiou was a poet
or an amateur of poetry, and whether the fashionable world could
be harmonized with the cult of the Nine Sisters, or of any one of
them, for nine women are a lot. But to discourse in such fashion is
to confess one's unfamiliarity with that logical operation called
the dissociation of ideas, for it seems elementary logic separately
to evaluate the worth or beauty of the tree and its fruit, of man
and his works. Whether jewel or pebble, the book will be judged in
itself, disregarding the source, the quarry or the stream from which
it comes, and the diamond will not change its name, whether hailing
from the Cape or from Golconda. To criticism the social life of a poet
matters as little as to Polymnia herself, who indifferently welcomes
into her circle the peasant Burns and the partician Byron, Villon the
purse-snatcher and Frederick II, the king: Art's book of heraldry and
that of Hozier are not written in the same style.

So we will not disturb ourselves with unraveling the flax from the
distaff, or ascertaining what of illusiveness de Montesquiou and his
status of a man of fashion have been able to add to the renown of the

The poet, here, is "a précieuse".

Were those women really so ridiculous, who, to place themselves in the
tone of some fine and gallant poets, imagined new ways of speech, and,
through a hatred of the common, affected a singularity of mind, costume
and gesture? Their crime, after all, was in not wishing to conform
with the world, and it seems that they paid dearly for this, they--and
the entire French poetry which, for a century and a half, truly feared
ridicule too much. Poets at last are freed from such horrors; in fact
they are now allowed to avow their originality; far from forbidding
them to go naked, criticism encourages them to assume the free easy
dress of the gymnosophist. But some of them are tattooed.

And that is really the true quarrel with de Montesquiou: his
originality is excessively tattooed. Its beauty recalls, not without
melancholy, the complicated figurations with which the old Australian
chieftains were wont to ornament themselves; there is even an odd
refinement in the nuances, the design, and the amusing audacities of
tone and lines. He achieves the arabesque better than the figure, and
sensation better than thought. If he thinks, it is through ideographic
signs, like the Japanese:

    Poisson, grue, aigle, fleur, bambou qu'un oiseau ploie,
    Tortue, iris, pivoine, anémone et moineaux.

    (Tr. 54)

He loves these juxtapositions of words, and when he chooses them, like
those above, soft and vivid, the landscape he seeks is quite pleasantly
evoked, but often one sees, relieved against an artificial sky, hard
unfamiliar forms, processions of carnival larvae--Or rather, women,
girls, birds,--baubles deformed by a too Oriental fancy; baubles and

    Je voudrais que ce vers fût un bibelot d'art,

    (Tr. 55)

is the aesthetics of de Montesquiou, but the bauble is no more than an
amusing fragile thing to be placed under a glass case or closet,--yes,
preferably in a closet. Then, disburdened of all this grotto work,
all this lacquer, all this delicate paste, and as he himself wittily
says, all these "shelves of infusoria," the poet's museum would become
an agreeable gallery, where one would pleasantly muse before the many
metamorphoses of a soul anxious to give a new nuance-laden grace to
beauty. With the half of the _Hortensias bleus_ one could make a book,
still quite thick, which would be almost entirely composed of fine
or proud or delicate poetry. The author of _Ancilla,_ of _Mortuis
ignotis_, and of _Tables vives_ would appear what he truly is,
excluding all travesty,--a good poet.

Here is a part of the _Tables vives_, whose title is obscure, but whose
verses have beautiful clarity, despite the too familiar sound of some
too Parnassian rimes and some verbal incertitudes:

    ... Apprenez à l'enfant à prier les flots bleus,
    Car c'est le ciel d'en bas dont la nue est l'écume,
    Le reflet du soleil qui sur la mer s'allume
    Est plus doux à fixer pour nos yeux nébuleux.

    Apprenez à l'enfant à prier le ciel pur,
    C'est l'océan d'en haut dont la vague est nuage.
    L'ombre d'une tempête abondante en naufrage
    Pour nos coeurs est moins triste à suivre dans l'azur.

    Apprenez à l'enfant à prier toutes choses:
    L'abeille de l'esprit compose un miel de jour
    Sur les vivants _ave_ du rosaire des roses,
    Chapelet de parfums aux dizaines d'amour....

    (Tr. 56)

In short, de Montesquiou exists: blue hortensia, green rose or white
peony, he is of those flowers one curiously gazes upon in a bed of
flowers, whose name one asks and whose memory one cherishes.


Domaine De Fée, a Song of Songs recited by one lone voice, very
charming and very amorous, in a Verlainian setting,--O eternal Verlaine!

    O bel avril épanoui,
    Qu'importe ta chanson franche,
    Tes lilas blancs, tes aubépines et l'or fleuri
    De ton soleil par les branches,
    Si loin de moi la bien-aimée
    Dans les brumes du nord est restée.

    (Tr. 57)

That is the tone. It is very simple, very delicate, very pure and
sometimes biblical:

    J'étais allé jusu'au fond du jardin,
    Quand dans la nuit une invisible main
    Me terrassa plus forte que moi--
    Une voix me dit: C'est pour ta joie.

    (Tr. 58)

_Dilectus meus descendit in hortum_ ... but here the poet, as chaste,
is less sensual: The Orient has thrown a surplice over an Occidental
soul, and if he still cultivates large white lilies in his enclosed
garden, he has learned the pleasure of escaping, by secret paths known
to fairies, "in the forest noiselessly laughing", as they gather
bindweed, broom,

    Et les fleurettes aventurières le long des haies.

    (Tr. 59)

This poem of twenty-four leaves is doubtless the most delicious little
book of love verses given us since the _Fêtes Galantes_, and with the
_Chansons d'amant_ are perhaps the only verses of these last years
where sentiment dare confess in utter frankness, with the perfect and
touching grace of divine sincerity. If, in some of these pages, there
still remains a touch of rhetoric, it is because Kahn, even at the feet
of the Sulamite, has not renounced the pleasure of surprising by the
ever novel deftness of the jongleur and virtuoso, and if he sometimes
treats the French language tyrannically, it is that for him she has
always had the affectionate yieldings of a slave. He abuses his power a
little, giving some words meanings that hang on the skirts of others,
making phrases yield to a too summary syntax, but these are mischievous
habits not exclusively personal to him. His science of rhythm and
mastery in wielding free verse, he borrows from no one.

Was Kahn the first? To whom do we owe free verse? To Rimbaud, whose
_Illuminations_ appeared in _Vogue_ in 1886, to Laforgue, who at
the same period, in the same precious little review,--conducted by
Kahn--published _Légende_ and _Solo de lune_, and, finally, to Kahn
himself; at that time he wrote:

    Void l'allégresse des âmes d'automne,
    La Ville s'évapore en illusions proches,
    Void se voiler de violet et d'orangé les porches
    De la nuit sans lune
    Princesse, qu'as tu fait de ta tiare orfévrée?

    (Tr. 60)

--and particularly to Walt Whitman, whose majestic license was then
beginning to be appreciated.

How joyfully this tiny _Vogue_, which today sells at the price of
miniature parchments, was read under the galleries of the Odéon by
timid youths drunk with the odor of novelty which these pale little
pages exhaled.

Kahn's last collection, _la Pluie et le Beau temps_, has not changed
our opinion of his talent and originality: he remains equal to himself
with his two tendencies, here less in harmony, towards sentiment and
the picturesque, quite apparent if one compares with _Image_, that so
mournful hymn,

    O Jésus couronné de ronces,
    Qui saigne en tous coeurs meurtris,

    (Tr. 61)

the _Dialogue de Zélanae_,

    Bonjour mynher, bonjour myffrau,

    (Tr. 62)

as pretty and sweet as some old almanac print. Here, in the middle
tone, is a truly faultless lied:

    L'heure du nuage blanc s'est fondue sur la plaine
        En reflets de sang, en flocons de laine,
        O bruyères roses, ô ciel couleur de sang.

    L'heure du nuage d'or a pâli sur la plaine,
    Et tombent des voiles lents et longs de blanche laine
    O bruyères mauves--ô ciel couleur de sang.

    L'heure du nuage d'or a crevé sur la plaine,
    Les roseaux chantaient doux sous le vent de haine,
    O bruyères rouges--ô ciel couleur de sang.

    L'heure du nuage d'or a passé sur la plaine
    Ephémèrement: sa splendeur est lointaine,
    O bruyère d'or--ô ciel couleur de sang.

    (Tr. 63)

Words, words! Doubtless, but well selected and artistically blended.
Kahn is before everything else an artist: sometimes he is more.


Gaston Boissier, in crowning (touching custom) a fifty-year-old poet,
congratulated him for never having innovated, for having expressed
ordinary ideas in a facile style, for having scrupulously conformed to
the traditional laws of French poetics.

Might not a history of our literature be written by neglecting the
innovators? Ronsard would be replaced by Ponthus de Thyard, Corneille
by his brother, Racine by Campistron, Lamartine by de Laprade, Victor
Hugo by Ponsard, and Verlaine by Aicard; it would be more encouraging,
more academic and perhaps more fashionable, for genius in France always
seems slightly ridiculous.

Verlaine is a nature and as such undefinable. Like his life, the
rhythms he loves are of broken or rolling lines; he ended by disjoining
romantic verse, and having destroyed its form, having bored and
ripped it so as to permit too many things to be introduced, all the
effervescences that issued from his crazy skull, he unwittingly became
one of the instigators of vers libre. Verlainian verse with its shoots,
its incidences, its parentheses, naturally evolved into vers libre; in
becoming "libre," it did no more than reflect a condition.

When the gift of expression forsakes him, and when at the same time the
gift of tears is removed, he either becomes the blustering rough iambic
writer of _Invectives_, or the humble awkward elegist of _Chansons pour
Elle_. Poet by these very gifts, consecrated to talk felicitously only
of love, all loves; and he whose lips press as in a dream upon the
stars of the purifactory robe, he who wrote the _Amies_ composed those
Canticles of the month of Mary. And from the same heart, the same hand,
the same genius,--but who shall chant them, O hypocrites! if not those
very white-veiled Friends.

To confess one's sins of action or dreams is not sinful; no public
confession can bring disrepute to a man, for all men are equal and
equally tempted; no one commits a crime his brother is not capable
of. That is why the pious journals or the Academy vainly took
upon themselves the shame of having abused Verlaine, still under
the flowers; the kick of the sacristan and scoundrel broke on a
pedestal already of granite, while in his marble beard, Verlaine was
everlastingly smiling, with the look of a faun hearkening while the
bells peal.


(Tr. 1)

Magnificent, but who without hopes delivers himself for not having
praised the country in which to live when ennui has grown resplendent
out of the sterile winter.

(Tr. 2)

His neck will shake off this white agony.

(Tr. 3)

As if he were fashioning the steel of souls, hammers with great full
strokes, the immense plates of patience and silence.

(Tr. 4)

The savage wind of November, the wind, have you met it, the wind at the
crossroads of three hundred paths...?

(Tr. 5)

Seated gigantically on the side of the night

(Tr. 6)

       *       *       *       *       *
--O these crowds, these crowds, and the misery and distress that
whips them like billows.

Monstrances, decorated with silk, towards the heaped up towns, in roofs
of glass and crystal, from the height of the sacerdotal choir, stretch
the cross of gothic ideas.

They obtrude themselves in the gold of clear Sundays--All Saints' day,
Christmas, Easter, and white Pentecosts. They obtrude themselves in the
gold and in the incense and in the fête of the great organ beating with
the flight of its storms.

The red capitals and vermillion vaults are a soul, in sunlight, living
in the old background and antique authoritarian mystery.

Yet, when the song and the naive, prismatic anthem ceases, a grief
of incense evaporated stamps itself on the golden tripods and brazen

And the stained glass windows, lofty with ages kneeling before Christ,
with their immobile popes and martyrs and heroes, seem to tremble at
the sound of a proud train passing through the town.

(Tr. 7)

Formerly--there was the errant, somnambulous life, across the mornings
and fabulous evening, when the right hand of God towards the blue
Canaans traced the golden road in the depth of the shadows.

Formerly--there was the enormous, exasperated life, fiercely hung on
the manes of stallions, suddenly, with great sparks from their hoofs,
and towards immense space immensely provoked.

Formerly--there was the ardent, evocative life; the white Cross of
heaven, the red Cross of hell advanced, to the splendor of iron armors,
each across blood, towards his victorious heaven.

Formerly--there was the foaming livid life, alive and dead, with
strokes of crime and tocsins, battle between them, of proscribers and
assassins, with splendid and mad death above them.

(Tr. 8)

The melancholy time has ornamented its hours like dead flowers; the
passing year has yellowed its days like dry leaves. The pale dawn is
seen by gloomy waters and the faces of evening have bled under the
arrows of the laughing, bleeding, mysterious wind.

(Tr. 9)

I know sad waters in which die the evenings; flowers which nobody
gathers fall there one by one.

(Tr. 10)

Yesterday the dawn was so pale over the peaceful meadows and
shavegrass; in the clear morning came a child to gather plants, leaning
on them his pure hands that gathered the asphodels.

Noon was heavy with storm and dismal with sunlight in the garden dead
of pride in its lethargic sleep of flowers and trees; the water was
hard to the eye like marble, the marble warm and clear like water, and
the child that came was comely, clad in purple and golden-hair, and
long one saw the peonies, one by one, draw their blood from the petals
at the passage of the fair child.

The child that came that evening was naked. He gathered roses in the
dusk, he sobbed at having come, he retreated before his shadow. It is
like him, naked, that my destiny has recognized itself.

(Tr. 11)

Goat's leaf grows under my May forest. The sun drops in gold through
the heavy gloom. A roe-buck stirs in the leaves he gathers. The breeze
in the frieze of birches passes from leaf to leaf.

The grasses are silvered in my May field. There the sun gleams like a
play of swords. A bee vibrates to the lilies of the valley in the lane
of tall grouped flowers, towards the bed of the stream. The breeze
sings in the frieze of the ash-trees.

(Tr. 12)

Where is the Marguerite, O gué, o gué, where is the Marguerite? She is
in her château, weary and tired at heart, She is in her hamlet, gay
and childish at heart. She is in her grave, let us gather there the
lily-of-the-valley, O gué, the Marguerite.

(Tr. 13)

Where are our beloved ones? They are in the grave; they are happier in
a fairer sojourn.

(Tr. 14)

Of what use is beauty? Its use is to go in earth, to be eaten by worms,
to be eaten by worms....

(Tr. 15)

Do you not feel in you the opulence of being only for yourself
beautiful, O Sea, and of being yourself?

(Tr. 17)

Nature is a temple where living pillars sometimes let confused words
issue; man passes there through forests of symbols watching him with
friendly gaze.

Like long echoes blended in distance to deep, dim unity, vast as night
and clear as day, the perfumes, colors and sounds answer each other.

(Tr. 18)

    The flesh is sad, alas! and I have read all the books.
    To fly yonder! I feel that the birds are drunk
    At being among the unknown foam and the heavens....

    An autumn strewn with stains of redness....
    And you were the sobbing whiteness of lilies....
    I bring you the child of an Idumean night....
    His neck will shake off this white agony....

(Tr. 19)

The dream, in a heliotrope robe, and her thought on her fingers, with
loosened girdle, passes, lightly grazing souls with her cloud train, to
the extinct rhythm of a music of other times.

(Tr. 20)

In the lingering fragrance of an evening of the last days.

(Tr. 21)

The roses of the west shed their leaves on the stream; and, in the pale
emotion of the falling evening, is evoked an autumnal park where, on a
bench, dreams my youth, already sober as a widow.

(Tr. 22)

Chastely you walked in the robe of your soul, which desire followed
like a tamed faun; I breathed through the evening, O purity, my dream
enveloped in your womanly veils.

(Tr. 23)

Fair verses where the fluid sense is loosened like the hair of Ophelia
under the water. Silent verses, without rhythm or trammels, where
noiselessly the rhyme slips like an oar. Verses of an old thin stuff,
impalpable as sound or cloud. Verses of autumnal evenings bewitching
the hours with the feminine rite of minor syllables. Verses of evenings
of loves enervated with verbena, where, exquisitely, the soul hardly
feels a caress.

(Tr. 24)

In the splendor of violet moonlights.

(Tr. 25)

Then from the depths and holy night, as a young sun springs from abysms
of the sea, white, letting stream from shoulders to back her hair where
pale hyacinths swim, a woman rises.

(Tr. 26)

If you clasp only chimerae, if you drink the intoxication of delusive
wine, what matter! The sun dies, the imaginary crowd is dead, but the
world subsists in your own soul: See! the days are faded like brief
roses, but your word has created the mirage in which you live.

(Tr. 27)

I have known all the gods of earth and heaven.

(Tr. 28)

Eternal flowers, flowers equal to the gods I

(Tr. 29)

The fair, the white, the lovely lady of lilies.

(Tr. 30)

The autumn roses wither, the flowers that bedecked the graves; slowly
the corollae are scattered and the cold ground is strewn with falling

(Tr. 31)

There are houses whose fronts weep, there are knells that toll in the
belfry, where faint bells ring. Towards what streams of death have the
virgins marched, the virgins with fair rings on their fingers?

(Tr. 32)

    Lady of amourous, swooning lilies,
    Lady of languishing, faded lilies,
      Sad with eyes of belladonna.

    Lady of dreams of royal roses,
    Lady of sombre, nuptial roses,
      Frail as a madonna--

    Lady of heaven and rapture,
    Lady of ecstacy and renouncement,
      Chaste far-off star.

    Lady of hell, thy sullen smile,
    Lady of the devil, a kiss of thy mouth,
    Is the fire of evil fountains,
      And I burn if I touch thee.

(Tr. 33)

Methinks, my soul, thou art a garden.

(Tr. 34)

Of the lady that has passed away.

(Tr. 35)


_(Faust's laboratory at Wittenberg)_

From the evolved ages I have reascended the stream and, with a heart
intoxicated by sublime designs, deserted the Hades and holy shades
where the soul is steeped in an ineffable calm.

Time has not bent the curve of my breasts. I am ever up and strong in
trial, I, the eternal virgin and eternal widow, glory of Hellas, among
war with its black tocsins.

O Faust! I come to you, abandoning the bosom of the Mothers! For you I
have left, on wings of the chimerae, the pale shades where he buried
the gods.

I bring for your love, from the depths of antique skies, my neck whose
lilies time has not vanquished and my voice made supple with prophetic

(Tr. 36)

Bourget, Maupassant and Loti are found in all the stations, offered
with the roast. Choose these authors at the same time as the cigars.
Bourget, Maupassant are found in all the stations.

(Tr. 37)

She is the victim and the little spouse.

(Tr. 38)

Truly, Monsieur Benoist approves of persons who have read Voltaire and
are opposed to Jesuits. He muses. He is partial to long controversies,
calmuniates priest and theriac.

He even was an orator at a Scotch lodge. Nevertheless--because his
lawful child believes in God--his little daughter, in white veils and
blue ribbon, received the sacrament. This required that several liters
at sixteen sous be drunk at the _bistro,_ among the filthy benches,
where the billiard man was sleeping, the waiters sprawling, and where
his little maid in floss-silk gloves was blushing.

Now, Benoist who colors at the sight of a churchman, shows some
pleasure at having seen, that morning, the marriage of the only son and
his young girl.

(Tr. 39)

The proud indolence of nights, perfumes and breasts.

(Tr. 40)

On Heaven's balconies in antiquated robes.

(Tr. 41)


It is the sea;--calm sheet. And the great tide with distant rumbling
has receded.... The wave returns, wallowing in its noise. Hearest thou
the clawing of the night crabs.

It is the drained Styx: Diogenes, lantern in hand, unceremoniously
arrives. Perverse poets angle along the black stream: their hollow
skulls serve as boxes for worms.

It is the field: to glean impure lint falls the whirling flight of
hideous harpies; the gutter rabbit, on the watch for rodents, flees the
sons of Bondy, nocturnal vintagers.

It is death: the policeman lies dead. On high, love takes a siesta,
sucking the meat with heavy hand where the extinguished kisses leave a
red patch. Alone is the hour. Listen. Not a dream stirs.

It is life: listen, the lively spring sings the eternal song on the
head of a sea-god drawing green naked limbs on the bed of the Morgue
... and the great open eyes.


See gleaming in the skies the great disk of red copper, immense
casserole where the good God cooks manna, the harlequin, eternal _plat
du jour_. It is dipped in sweat and dipped in love.

The laridons wait in a circle near the oven; vaguely one hears the
rustling of rancid flesh, and the tipplers, too, are there, holding out
their jugs; the wretches shiver, waiting their turn.

Thinkest thou the sun then fries for everybody these fat stirring
scraps of burnt meat which a flood of gold inundates? No, the dog-soup
falls on us from the sky.

They are beneath the ray and we beneath the gutter. To us the black jug
that grows cold without light. Our substance for ourselves is our bag
of gall.

(Tr. 42)

With the assent of the tall sunflowers.

(Tr. 43)

And since, then, I have bathed me in the poem of the sea, steeped in
stars and latescent, mastering the green azure where, flotation pale
and ravished, a pensive drowned person sometimes descends; where,
suddenly staining the nuances of blue, frenzied and slow rhythms
beneath the glinting red of day, stronger than alcohol, vaster than
your lyres, the bitter redness of love ferments.

(Tr. 44)

Who knows if genius is not one of your virtues.

(Tr. 45)

The sky rains without ending, though nothing agitates it; it rains, it
rains, shepherdess! on the stream....

The stream has its dominical repose; not a barge up stream, downstream.

Vespers chime in the town; the banks are deserted, not an isle.

Passes a boarding-school group, o poor flesh! Several already have on
their winter muffs.

One that has neither muff nor fur makes a quite sorry figure all in

And see! She breaks from the ranks and runs; O God, what has seized her?

She goes and throws herself in the stream. Not a boatman, not a
Newfoundland dog....

(Tr. 47)

Dismal north wind, screaming downpour and dark stream, and shut

(Tr. 48)

A full silence of vibrant gold has descended near the springs which
satyrs have troubled; a clear marvel enclosed in the heart of the
valleys, if the little singing bird remains silent.

Oblivion of the flute, hours of fearless dreams, where thou hast known
how to find for thy amorous blood the peacefulness of inhabiting a
place odorous with roses, whose sylvan gods make thee arms.

There thou goest, composing beautiful books, a credit to the French
language and the noble Athens.

(Tr. 49)

Of that Sophocles, credit to Ferté-Milon.

(Tr. 50)

    Once while riding on a journey,
    Pensive along the route that displeased me,
    I found love in the middle of the road
    In a vagrant's scant attire.

(Tr. 51)

Brilliant star, Phoebe with outspread wings, O name of night that
grows and wanes, favor my way through the gloomy forest where my
errant soul takes its modest steps! In the grotto with hollow sounds,
whose entrance is ivy-covered, on the rock topped with the familiar
she-goat, on the lake, on the pond, on the tranquil waters, on the
enamelled banks where reeds moan, she likes to see the trembling of thy
melancholy fires.

Phoebe, O Cynthia, from the first season my soul was drunk with thy
lovely light; observing thy diverse faces in their orb, beneath thy
gentle influence, she composed verses. Above Nicias, Eryx, Siris and
the sandy Iolchos, Timolus and the grand Epidorus, and Green Sidon, her
piety reveres this rock of Latmos where thou loved.

(Tr. 52)

It is the autumn wind in the lane, sister, hearken, and the fall of
willow and beach tree leaves on the water, and the hoar-frost in the

And come, like those drooping great ladies, to him who is thinking of
thee, in the silence when thy light spinning-wheel dies, O sister of
the sweet marjoram.

Loose--'tis the hour--thy hair fairer than the hemp thou spinnest....

(Tr. 53)

Come with wreathes of primroses in thy hands, O young girls, who mourn
the sister dead at dawn. Bells of the valley peal the end of a destiny,
and spades are seen gleaming in the morning sun.

Come with baskets of violets, O young girls who slightly hesitate in
the path of beeches, for fear of the priest's solemn words. Come, the
sky is quite sonorous with invisible larks....

'Tis the festival of the dead, one would say Sunday, the bells ring so
gently in the heart of the valley; boys have hidden in the lanes. Thou
alone goest to pray at the foot of the white grave.

Some year, the boys, who today are hidden, will come to tell you the
sweet pain of loving, and they will hear you all, around the maypole,
sing songs of childhood to greet the night.

(Tr. 54)

Fish, crane, eagle, flower, bird-bent bamboo.
Turtle, iris, peony, anemone, sparrows.

(Tr. 55)

I wish that this verse were a bauble of art,

(Tr. 56)

Learn from the child to pray to the blue waves, for 'tis the sky here
below whose cloud is foam. The sun's reflection sparkling on the sea is
sweeter to gaze on to our gloomy eyes.

Learn from the child to pray to the pure sky, 'tis the ocean above,
whose void is cloud. The gloom of a cloud rich in wrecks to our hearts
is less sad to follow in the azure.

Learn from the child to pray to all things: the bee of the spirit makes
a honey of light on the living _aves_ of the rosary of roses, a chaplet
of perfumes on the rosaries of love.

(Tr. 57)

    O lovely April, glad and bright,
    What matters your blithe song,
    White lilacs, hawthorns, and the flowered gold
    Of sunlight streaming through the branches,
    If far-away my well-beloved
    In the northern fogs stays.

(Tr. 58)

    I had gone to the heart of the garden,
    When in the night some invisible hand,
    Stronger than me, struck me to earth,--
    'Tis for your joy, a voice did say.

(Tr. 59)

And the tiny venturous flowers along the hedges.

(Tr. 60)

    Behold the rapture of autumnal souls,
    The town dissolves like near illusions;
    Behold the portals of the moonless night
    Veiled in violet and orange-hues.
    Princess, what did'st thou with the jeweled tiara.

(Tr. 61)

O Jesus crowned with thorns, bleeding in every bruised heart.

(Tr. 62)

Gooday mynher, gooday myffrau.

(Tr. 63)

    The hour of white cloud is cast o'er the plain,
    Like reflections of blood, or flocks of wool,
    O rose-colored sweet-heather, O blood-colored sky.

    The hour of gold cloud has paled o'er the plain,
    The long slow veils of white wool fall,
    O mauve-colored sweet-heather--O blood-colored sky.

    The hour of gold cloud has burst o'er the plain,
    Gently the reeds sang under angered winds,
    O red sweet-heather--O blood-colored sky.

    The hour of gold cloud has passed o'er the plain
    So swiftly: its splendor has vanished.
    O gold sweet-heather--O blood-colored sky.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Book of Masks" ***

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