You Promised Me Paris

Brassai
Brassai

Do you remember?
Probably not,
Not rightly anyway.
I’ve listened to you reminisce,
Oh I don’t know
How many thousand times
And it only tangentially
Touches upon the truth:
Bears little to no resemblance
To any reality we ever lived.
You re-cast yourself as the hero,
The catalyst and centre-point
Of every scenario and situation.
You re-write the script,
The story changes in the telling
Every single time.
But do you remember?
Don’t you remember that

You promised me Paris
As a pendant,
Hanging from my necklace
Fashioned from falling stars.
You promised me the world
As a good luck charm,
Swinging from my bracelet
Wrought from light beams.
You promised me Paris,
You promised me Paris.

I wish I could forget
The years of careless neglect,
The constant evasions,
The way I avert my downcast eyes
As you smile once again
At some passing sweet young thing.
Look what you have made of me,
You could never help yourself.
You are always searching,
For someone to save you
From your own wretched self.
But you know it’s later than you think
Though sometimes I can almost believe
That you once believed
In you and me as a destiny,
In the words you spoke,
That I wish I could forget,
But I can never forget that

You promised me Paris
As a pendant,
Hanging from my necklace
Fashioned from falling stars.
You promised me the world
As a good luck charm,
Swinging from my bracelet
Wrought from light beams.
You promised me Paris,
You promised me Paris.

The Flowers of Evil: The Balcony

800px-bazille_la_toilette1
Frederic Bazille-La Toilette 1870

It is impossible to overestimate the influence  of Charles Baudelaire upon modernity. The entire Symbolism/Decadent movement that so dominated the 19th Century fin-de-siecle in Europe owed its very existence to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire’s importance extends  far deeper that the creation of one transitory artistic school however. Although he didn’t invent the concept of dandyism (that honour belongs to Beau Brummel), his example gave it a wider cultural currency that eventually resulted in the carefully constructed persona of the ultimate aesthete and wit, Oscar Wilde. His wanderings around the Parisian streets led to Walter Benjamin formulating a new type of man, the flaneur. The figure of the flaneur  recurs frequently in Benjamin’s massive, unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project. The spirit of the Baudelairean flaneur guided the Surrealists in their impromptu flea-market jaunts and nocturnal adventuring. The Situationist International (see Moving Images) took the flaneur a step further and the central tenets of the SI, Unitary Urbanism and psycho-geography are based upon the needs of this recently evolved city-dweller.

Beyond shaping some of the major artistic and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th Century, Baudelaire presence can be felt in Punk (with his dried green hair and urgent provocations) and dominated Goth (Dreams of Desire 5 (That Look).

His influential art criticism (and the inspiration he provided to visual artists, see The Sleepers) and his re-definition of the poet as cultural agitator and arbitrator paved the way for Guillaume Apollinaire (In The Zone) and Andre Breton (The Pope of Surrealism).

Baudelaire’s fame largely rests upon his volume of poetry, Le Fleurs Du Mal. First published in 1857 it immediately caused a scandal. Baudelaire’s originality lay not in the versification (which is traditional) but in the explicit, morbid subject matter.

Below is a translation of one of his finest love poems, Le Balcon, inspired by his muse and mistress of twenty years, the ‘Venus Noire’, Jeanne Duval (she was a Creole of Haitian-French heritage).

The Balcony

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
you who are all my pleasures and all my duties,
you will remember the beauty of our caresses,
the sweetness of the hearth, the charm of the evenings,
mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

On evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire
and evenings on the balcony, veiled with pink mist,
how soft your breast was,
how kind to me was your heart!
Often we said imperishable things
on evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire.

How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!
How deep is space! How powerful the human heart!
As I leant over you, oh queen of all adored ones,
I thought I was breathing the fragrance of your blood.
How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!

The night would thicken like a wall around us,
and in the dark my eyes would make out yours,
and I would drink your breath, oh sweetness, oh poison!
And your feet would fall asleep in my brotherly hands.
The night would thicken like a wall around us.

I know how to evoke the moments of happiness,
I relive my past, nestling my head on your lap.
For why would I seek your languid beauties anywhere
except in your dear body and your oh-so-gentle heart?
I know how to evoke the moments of happiness!

Will those sweet words, those perfumes, those infinite kisses
be reborn from a chasm deeper than we may fathom
like suns that rise rejuvenated into the sky
after cleansing themselves in the oceans’ depths?
Oh sweet words, oh perfumes, oh infinite kisses!

 

Translation Peter Low 2001

Arcane Gestures

Claude Cahun-1929-1930
Claude Cahun-1929-1930

Following the arcane gestures of your hands
That replicates and duplicates the movement
Of your swaying rolling hips against my pelvis
I stare long and hard into your glittering eyes
Focused on the middle distance chasing down
An ecstasy among the chimeras and paradoxes
The beauty of your distracted expression
Is a provocation, an exhalation of pure spirit
A command from above that I dare not refuse
For you alone can take me there to where I belong
Drenched with colour and drowning in sound
Overwhelmed by sensation and alive in love