Forever the sensualist, pursuing the pleasures
Of the flesh and the transitory moment,
Every passing chance and fleeting lust
With your oh-so debonair, cavalier
Devil-may-care-can-take-me tomorrow attitude,
Never paying heed, feckless and reckless
Following every bizarre whim and contrary impulse.
You never know why you are the way you are,
Though upon any given day you may blame
The father for passing on his rogue genes
Designed to self-destruct whenever
You gain an instant of clarity and collected calm,
Or the mother for expelling you from the Eden
Of the womb into this world of sorrow and woe.
But why stop there, surely the impersonal God
In the vast unreachable fortress of the Heavens
Deserves a share for even thinking and therefore
Emanating all the demiurges and demons
To fashion this perfectly flawed creation
With its built-in obsolescent as the unique selling point
Yes the guilt and the shame has to be theirs
For the urges that you always have to act on
Regardless of consequences and the possibility
Of a whole universe of hurt and pain
But can anyone take the weight of such responsibility?
At times like this, better to drink deeply
And gamble on the possibility of redemption,
Within her encircling arms lies salvation
The pressure of her hand on your thigh
Hints at an all-encompassing bliss
An unsurpassed re-capturing of the holy moment
If only she holds on tight and doesn’t hold back
You could die right now looking into her eyes
But one moment escapes into the next
And this night, like all nights, has to end:
The sun breaks the magic circle
Ending the eclipsing spell
Returning you to the sleazy here and now,
The dishevelled bed in this pallid light
In this foetid atmosphere heavy with sex
With the bitter taste of a fulfilled desire
Turning heavy and cold in your mouth.
The time is now, I think,
Tomorrow has come
Your party is over
That race has been run
You sinned in such haste
Time now to repent
At, of course, your leisure
For Hell is forever.
Full of startling and vivid imagery, Andre Breton’s 1931 poem Free Union is one of the finest examples of Surrealist poetry as well as a magnificent and powerful declaration of love. It was a major influence on the Beats, particularly Allen Ginsberg.
A free union is a romantic bond between two or more people without legal, civil or religious regulation.
My wife whose hair is a brush fire Whose thoughts are summer lightning Whose waist is an hourglass Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow Whose tongue is made out of amber and polished glass Whose tongue is a stabbed wafer The tongue of a doll with eyes that open and shut Whose tongue is an incredible stone My wife whose eyelashes are strokes in the handwriting of a child Whose eyebrows are nests of swallows My wife whose temples are the slate of greenhouse roofs With steam on the windows My wife whose shoulders are champagne Are fountains that curl from the heads of dolphins over the ice My wife whose wrists are matches Whose fingers are raffles holding the ace of hearts Whose fingers are fresh cut hay My wife with the armpits of martens and beech fruit And Midsummer Night That are hedges of privet and resting places for sea snails Whose arms are of sea foam and a landlocked sea And a fusion of wheat and a mill Whose legs are spindles In the delicate movements of watches and despair My wife whose calves are sweet with the sap of elders Whose feet are carved initials Keyrings and the feet of steeplejacks My wife whose neck is fine milled barley Whose throat contains the Valley of God And encounters in the bed of the maelstrom My wife whose breasts are of night — And are undersea molehills And crucibles of rubies My wife whose breasts are haunted by the ghosts of dew-moistened roses Whose belly is a fan unfolded in the sunlight Is a giant talon My wife with the back of a bird in vertical flight With a back of quicksilver And bright lights My wife whose nape is of smooth worn stone and white chalk And of a glass slipped through the fingers of someone who has just drunk My wife with the thighs of a skiff That are lustrous and feathered like arrows Stemmed with the light tailbones of a white peacock And imperceptible balance My wife whose rump is sandstone and flax Whose rump is the back of a swan and the spring My wife with the sex of an iris A mine and a platypus With the sex of an alga and old-fashioned candles My wife with the sex of a mirror My wife with eyes full of tears With eyes that are purple armour and a magnetized needle With eyes of savannahs With eyes full of water to drink in prisons My wife with eyes that are forests forever under the axe My wife with eyes that are the equal of water and air and earth and fire
After the scandal and subsequent prosecution that attended the publication of Les Fleurs Du Mal (see The Flowers of Evil: Litanies Of Satan), the decadent writer and theorist of Dandyism, Barbey D’Aurevilly told his friend Charles Baudelaire that after such a book it only remains for him to choose between the muzzle of the pistol and the foot of the cross.
It was nicely put and neatly summarized the dilemma facing the true decadent. D’Aurevilly, like many other decadents, including J.K Huysmans, Leon Bloy (see The Captives of Longjumeau) and Villers de l’isle Adam (see To the Dreamers, To the Deriders) opted for the cross. However the Catholicism re-adopted by the decadents retained more than a whiff of sulphur about it. Often it seems as if they decided to pledge their devotion to God just in order to celebrate Satan and all his works, revelling all the more in the sins of the flesh. Sin gives sensuality an additional flavour. It is no exaggeration to say that the French Symbolists invented themodern conception of Satanism.
D’Aurevilly’s masterpiece is the short story collection Les Diaboliques, a celebration of crime and immorality. No matter how much the bored gentleman dandies try to excel in evil in Les Diaboliques they are no match for the Devil’s representatives on earth, all of whom wear petticoats. Containing such bon-mots as “The Devil teaches women what they are – or they would teach it to the Devil if he did not know” and “Next to the wound, what a woman makes best is the bandage”, D’Aurevilly encapsulated the misogyny of the decadents in glittering, cynical one-liners. The book was illustrated by the Decadent artist par excellence Felicien Rops who also illustrated Les Fleurs Du Mal and whose entire artistic production was dedicated to an expose of the grip that Sin, Death and The Devil holds over the world.
A late and possibly the greatest of the Symbolists, the Norwegian Edvard Munch was a major precursor of Expressionism. Visiting the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo which houses a collection of his paintings is an unsettling experience. Munch’s work possesses an neurotic intensity unparalleled in Western art and seeing them side by side you become aware of his unhealthy fascination and dread of women.
This is best seen in his 1894 painting Madonna which is a very unusual devotional painting to say the least. The pose of the Madonna is sexually provocative, her halo is a dangerous shade of red and in addition to the virgin/whore dichotomy there is the suggestion that the Mother is also a vampire. All in all a stunning glorification of decadent love.
In the 2013 movie La Vie d’Adele-Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour), a masterful study of love, sexuality but above all else class, there is a particularly telling scene during the party at the beginning of Chapter 2. Invited to sit down in the home she shares with Emma, Adele is asked what she does by Emma’s friends. Her response that she is a teacher barely elicits acknowledgement and soon the conversation has turned to the Austrian artist Egon Schiele who the friend is studying for her thesis. Emma counters that though she likes Schiele she finds him too tortured, too dark and too obscure and she prefers Klimt. Klimt is dismissed by the art historian as ‘florid and decorative’. Adele looks lost and returns to her hostess duties.
Although it could be argued that the above exchange sets Klimt and Schiele in a needless competition when in real life they shared a mentor-pupil relationship (Klimt was 30 years older than Schiele), a close, long lasting friendship, muses (most infamously Wally Neuzil, who went from Klimt to Schiele and then back to Klimt again), and themes, most notably the female nude in overtly erotic situations, their art is markedly contrasting. Schiele gaze is uncompromisingly morbid, rawer and decidedly more edgy. Whereas Klimt, at least in the major paintings, is resplendent with gorgeous semi-abstract decorative motifs borrowed for Byzantine, Greek, Celtic and Egyptian art, leading it to be easily assimilated with bourgeois ideals of beauty. Regardless of this, Klimt’s work is undeniably sexy.
Klimt’s studio was populated day and night by cats and naked models. He never married and was rumoured to have fathered seventeen children on various lovers. His promiscuity resulted in syphilis which undoubtedly coloured his lush, decadent vision. He died in 1918 from complications arising from contracting influenza in the worldwide epidemic of that year that killed up to 50 to 100 million people.