An American in Paris: Charles Baudelaire
and the Bilingual School of Poetry
For my nephew and godson, Michael
I offer a challenge, It is an idea for the graduate student Who speaks both French and English well, Who can “think” in each language; & can move easily From one to the other. I offer an idea Founded in Paris in 1857 By a bilingual modern French poet, Charles Baudelaire. But our story does not begin there.
It is a story, A germ, (as Whitman Might have suggested), A mustard seed, Or perhaps a mustard plant. It is a story about evil, Seduction, statutory rape & incest. Committed by Abraham, Father of the People of God, Against the slave Hagar His adopted daughter And wife’s known maidservant.
Baudelaire tried to make modern poetry From her story, & called the poems Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of evil). The English and American Translators declined to go for the pun, (“Rape” as sexual assault is evil; “rape” as a flowering mustard plant is yellow), The Flowers of Rape are the beautiful mulatto children Of Hagar’s descendents living in America. Thus our story has roots in The Holy Bible, In The Book of Genesis.
The story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar may be a parable, Not a historical recording. Abraham might be the father Of paternalism and benign enslavement, A “peculiar” institution That saw grown elderly men Acting as fathers To young ladies Of budding innocence. I will allow you To draw Parallels Between Hagar And African American slaves In the disunited States As you please. The themes of love, time, and evil Reoccur throughout Baudelaire’s poetry. It culminates in his magnificent 1864 masterpiece, “Un cheval de race.” My bilingual attempt At revealing Just a corner Of the page To entice you To further study, follows…
Carnivorous Readers of the World, Delight!
I will attempt to articulate a bilingual perspective and analysis of the poem “Un cheval de race” by Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a brilliant bilingual poet. He read Edgar Allan Poe. Why? We’ll never know the whole story. Meanwhile the work is beautiful! “Un cheval de race” (A Thoroughbred Horse) May be animated with bilingual thinking, Bilingual suggestions And bilingual ideas About “aural” poetry. The poem opens: “Elle est bien laide.” (It is quite ugly). He is being laid Or she is “bein’ led.” I prefer the suggestion Of her being led. It better respects the original French pronunciation. I think she could be A horse, a lover, a prostitute or perhaps An African American slave! “Elle est délicieuse pourtant,” (It is delightful, nonetheless). She is delicious or she may be delightful. The French use the same word for both. If she be a person, she is delightful. If she be a horse, or a cut of meat from a horse, She could become delicious. There are strong arguments in favor Of both possible definitions. “Le Temps et l’Amour l’ont marquée de leurs griffes…” (Time and Love have scarred with their claws). Griffe (claw) becomes the “grief” Of the grieving slave. Meanwhile, claws become The Clause, The three-fifths clause That supports slavery, And the concept of “free Persons” and “other Persons” In the US Constitution, The compromise That made union possible For almost eighty-five years. “Time and Love… have cruelly taught her…” Suggests the possibility that she might be a daughter, A daughter Of someone close or near. This brings me back to the opening sentence, “What is ‘aural’ poetry?” Aural poetry Is founded On the belief That the spirit Of a poet Can be evoked By the reader In the oral reading of the poem. Aural poetry Is a creative endeavor Where the reader Infers Suggestions Offered By the poet. It is based upon an “aural presence” Of the spirit of the poet guiding the reader. It is mystical, magical and enigmatic, Yet may be considered essential To the possibility of a true bilingual reading of poetry. “Elle est vraiment laide.” (She is ugly indeed).
And she is ugly In action and deed If she be a prostitute. “Elle est fourmi.” She is “fer me,” Araignée, A spider or a cut of meat, A steak taken From the stomach muscle Of a butchered animal. We must credit Kurt Cobain Of the musical group Nirvana With the song “Milk It” Which opens “Doll steak… Test meat…” For this important observation and noteworthy distinction! It continues. And still she is for me, “An ant,” An aunt, “Une tante,” The sister of the mother Suggested by the presence of the mère Within the mare Of the horse being led. As the mother may also be an aunt, Daughter becomes a niece, A city of Nice, A nice city of Nice, France, Lost to the vagaries of the past Of the Old South. The bilateral nature Of the poem Is well emphasized in the imagery Of the third paragraph of the translation. Her gait, Her frame, Her breath, And her mane All suggest the paired possibilities Of a horse With a woman. To lose (Toulouse) Narbonne Was originally a mistake of omission, To lose Nice must be considered A missed stake of commission. She is both lovely and charming. And there is more, So much more. But I’ll let you discover more By yourself.
In all there is strong evidence for “She” being a fallen woman, Possibly a slave, Possibly a prostitute, And possibly a lover of the poet. In fact, “One might try to argue that she is all these women Combined into the single and singular image Of a Thoroughbred horse…” For bilingual thinking Is more than just the translation Of a mother tongue Into a foreign language, Bilingual thinking includes A new point of view On our own Language of English. Bilingual thoughts Make a niece of a city And an aunt of an ant, In all A bilingual school Is consistent with Emily Dickinson’s poetic rule: “I dwell in possibility…” And Sylvia Plath’s “A Secret.” “How superior!”
Had paternalism And animal husbandry Combined Too close Or gone too far? Was Baudelaire Aware And not too far From the mark? Is “she” like a thoroughbred horse To the American reader? Is “Un cheval de race” A stand on race? A stand on slavery? A stand on breeding The next generation of African Americans? And so perhaps she is being Laid, The key may sing In finding a poetry Where the French May bring their language And not fear the wool Being pulled over one’s eyes, And the English and Americans don’t feel They are always being taken for a ride Down the garden cart path That Baudelaire can make seem so agreeable!
Being bilingual Might mean adopting another point of view, Seeing from someone else’s rubber boots, And not getting electrified. It’s not easy. It never is. Baudelaire’s vision for a modern world Spelt disaster For agricultural paternalism, In other words, Slavery. Poor Abraham never saw the train that ran over Him. 10/10/14
Baudelaire in Slavery: An essay on modern poetry
“Baudelaire in Slavery” attempts to combine. It tries to marry & align the stars of a constellation believed heavenly by the weight of human history, a wait for truth & beauty to be revealed amidst the ugliness of a modern war.
I write to collect thoughts on the subject of the family of Hagar, Sarah & Abraham. The "Big Three" are united in their support for The Family of the Children of God. This truth of a common humanity was discovered & revealed by Hagar & Abraham. Their separate identities as Jewish & Egyptian persons make them symbolic of our roots as a diverse community.
The community of God's children is rooted in faith. So much so it might get in the way of our seeing our fundamental universal (catholic) nature. One can identify oneself as being "different" by one’s identity as Roman Catholic. At the same time we might do well to remember our identity as independent Greek universal.
Christmastime is a good time to remember. To remember the child we all once were, to remember the commonality of our humanity, to remember God as Love. So much can get in the way of our understanding, an acknowledgment of God the Father (& Mother?) above. So much can get in the way of our legacy as Christian brothers & sisters, religious or lay, & so much does interfere with us as we type in vocal anger at the honey-sticky keyboard!
The quality of the equality of Hagar, Abraham & Sarah is marked by the Church as conditional. The paternal roots of the ancient Catholic Church made possible a belief in God's love uniting unequal common humanity. This inequality finds expression today in the opposition towards same sex marriage. The carefully studied modernity of Charles Baudelaire opposed this distinction.
And so it goes, modernity or paternalism, equality or hierarchy. Can we have both? I don't know... I just don’t know.
We need papal leadership. We need the love of the Pope. We need the love of a Cardinal, a bishop or a priest. We need to see clearly, the future is now! We need to be harmonious, determined & proud! We need for you to be you & “fer” me to be me!
The channeling of the spirit of Charles Baudelaire is akin to the channeling of water, a British Channel of Passage to transatlantic oceanic ways. The broadcasting of the body of Charles Baudelaire is similar to the seeding of a fallow field, a dormant meadow or a parting pasture. Wild are the oats left by the wayside.
The body of Baudelaire requires burial, left for carrion & not interred for over a century now, the body is fragrant with frankincense, carrion flowers & rats; the least we could do is bury the poetry! The spirit of Baudelaire is apparently & spiritually aural, a presence heard like cowbells at day. It separates & divides like a good brassiere, ages past, (so then that’s what I hear), a memory lasts, a hook & a latch, the memory is now past, a chill wind now appears to blow.
As with all good writers, Baudelaire leaves so much for the imagination, for others to find, to design & discover. Covering the corpse of the corps, a rhythm method, not a bore, a musical practice, a French lore, a contempt for & contemplation of, the truth… A core truth.
For me it’s all about the girl, a young woman in love with the whole worldwide whirled, a dance partner on the Opera House stage-floor. Hearing the music as it bounds, the fleet foot of the deer, a bounding leap of faith that has not appeared again since his parting memory.
And poetry sounds, testing the depth of the water, sounding the depths of the channel & checking the chart. Baudelaire knew better than to start to challenge the assumptions of the muddled or narrow-minded, he stayed focused on the open water, cool or warm waters readily had. And the sea’s open saltwater seized the imagination.
Passages of distance match passages of time, a crossing of the ocean in due course. A water course beyond manners coarse, as the matter unrefined & ill-defined combined to realign the stars into a new constellation!
By channeling & broadcasting Baudelaire we seek to align misaligned thinking about a catholic man & mind. A parent to his children home & abroad, his progeny will witness the awakening of a new day in the modern world.
I fear we’re getting near to a conclusion. I fear we are getting close to the end. My dear, we’re beginning to lose momentum as we part-company with his story.
Baudelaire erred with caution. He compared his love to Satan. Our dare to read him without admonishing him, is then being fairly tested as even-handed.
Where do we go from here? We are motivated to bury & to free, to inter the body & see the spirit-aura released. Can it be we should do both at the same time?
Parting as friends sends the right note in support of an equal humanity. One Common Humanity is the essential message of a modern catholic mind. An immortal soul would agree with me.
It is poetry without borders supporting a bilingual or even a multilingual understanding of western history, a reading of the Good News of the Gospel & a comprehension of the mystery of His Passion. It is a poetry that might support a lateral shoring of the Life of the Lord, a showing of hands & poetic feet for the music of countless angels throughout the ages.
Within this modern world of Baudelaire’s invention, resides the story of the Egyptian servant, Hagar. Hagar’s contribution to humanity was as a first among equals. In concert with Abraham & Sarah, Hagar, as a daughter, accepted her new father, Abraham, & bore him a son, a future prince. This love she had as a girl, as a lover, & as a new mother, was matched by Abraham’s realization that she was no longer a slave, but was a Child of God, an equal human being to him & his wife, Sarah, elderly & without biological children, until now. Hagar, Abraham & Sarah destroyed slavery among God’s Children, thus defeating slavery as the People of Egypt understood it. This is a true story, the vital Truth that we find in sacred Scripture.
How do we reconcile our ancient & honorable history with the equally honorable but new story of modern life? 1861 & The War Between the States had begun, six years later, Baudelaire will have sung his last song & passed away. A young man, indeed, a sad floral note to his work as a poet.
The abolition of slavery & involuntary servitude was a turning point in modern western civilization’s history, a point to mark the changes that have occurred since then. “Agitate, agitate, agitate!” was the abolitionists’ cry in response to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 magnanimity. Might too the Hallelujahs rise to the war’s concluding note? In December 1865 the defeat of slavery & the victory of abolition were complete.
Baudelaire’s modernity would go on to be equated with equality, a state of being in 1789 lost or unknown. Promised by Thomas Jefferson, the Happiness equality implies, was thus given full expression by the Patriots of ‘76 & ‘75. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen.
The note of thanks for his contribution to ending slavery did not find appreciation among the crowd of “peculiar” paternal supporters who felt that slavery never existed in the United States of America. Simple God-given inequality was all they had supported, & when their rights as free Persons were infringed, & they were invaded by the Union North & her followers, before they caved in to the pressure of “God’s Love,” they defied the enemy.
The first African American Regiment of all free volunteer men of the North was formed in 1863 in Massachusetts during the Civil War. They fought bravely, & without pay in protest of unequal pay rates.
And so it will be equality that is the legacy of the Revolutionary Patriots, a declaration of humanity’s united state of being, an equality of good & evil will not be Baudelaire’s best foot forward, but rather a defense of Lady Liberty is the thought as the French already know her!
So much has already been made of the meaning of the title, Les Fleurs du mal. O so much has in fact has been offered; the title has become meaningless, The Flowers of Evil with a capitalized “mal,” the flowers due (owed) to the Satanic master… He is a taskmaster who whips & curls the lip of the slave, a slave who in love obeys Him, the Dark Prince.
So much remains to be said, said of the quality of the evil, the nature of its being led, the quality of its equality, a modernity of stakes instead of meat. It is a story about “rape,” the flower & the evil, combined into one image, one slave, one child. Our relation is of a story, the flowers of rape, the flowers of evil assault, the flowers of yellow flowers innocent like the children of slavery, like the children we all are! Even today!
"Baudelaire in Slavery” has attempted to outline the reasons why we love the French poet. His support of Hagar as the mulatto slave of Abraham & Sarah defends a world view of equality. His perspective on God & the Lord Jesus Christ is tender & kind, as a lack of faith in his religious contemporaries is marked by a concurrent belief in biblical truths buried deep inside the poetry of “her” story. Perhaps in due time we might understand the man & his vision of modernity. A truth we might read in a harmonious light.
Deep. Deep within the Darkness, before the coming of the Light, there was a People of God. Deep within the folds & hidden recesses of the Light, there existed a Time of old & ancient memories lost to the passing & passages of humanity, a death of a dearth of remembrances that today might be suggested or even perhaps, just may be boldly told. A culture existed among the people, a culture split in two, one rent by “to have & have not,” a love distant or perhaps confused, perhaps forgotten, a love bemused or refused. Well buried within this society was a belief in a common humanity, a belief of unity & equal human beings. Then came Satan, & His promises of inequality; Eve bit, & Adam ate, as we all traveled the road we have all come to hate, a relation of Haitian, of European immigrants & murder, love & eternal waiting.
Deeper still the divide was not told in the beginning, in the telling of the Genesis we all have come to know, except perhaps in the sordid tale of Hagar, & perhaps her masters Sarah & Abraham. The tale was related to the Exodus from Egypt, a freedom from a life of chattel slavery, & towards a life of worshipping God. So too the news of his sons made Abraham a proud father, one who was at One with God. Hagar was just allyn Hagar, a harmonious but seemingly insignificant woman.
Or so they told us long ago, when cotton was picked on plantation old & seemingly (but not seemly), or venerable. Wait! It’s not too late, (or is it, yet?), to tell of the glorious Ode, a poem, a lay, a truth, a day when The End has come.
In the beginning, there was darkness, & so in the end will there be light? Perhaps Heaven awaits us? Perhaps we might delight in the deliciousness of eternal bliss? I’m up to page nine, I don’t know when to say when… What do you think Sven? Again, is this the beginning of my end?
In conclusion, slavery may be an attitude, was an attitude, before ever becoming an institution. It is an idea about conditioned equality, like the Church believes in human inequality, a thought inconsistent with God’s Love as we know it today… Modernity will defeat paternalism just as marriage equality will defeat the quaint old-time tradition of “man & wife.” O how dated it sounds, even today, today when all are so happy & gay!
Have a nice day… Okay, okay, okay?
Have a nice day… Being happy & gay… Being a human being gay, happy & merry… Have a nice day… It’s all I can say… I can’t think straight anymore…
Have a nice day… Being a being in your own way… Being happy & merry, that’s all And have a good night… A good and silver shiny knight… To King Arthur you home or towards the Sun… The One… The only One.
And have a nice day… As they say in France… Kiss me, I’m stupid for romance! Kiss me, I’m stupid for a chance!
As each day passes, day to night, week to month to season to year, I grow more despondent for my dear Roman Catholic Church. I grow more morose in my hopes for the future. Near desperation fills my voice & occupies my prose. I smell fear. Peers are no source of comfort.
sleep & I dream of a white Christmas & a giving tree, a scenery of green friends & poultry hens in my brother’s Vermont side yard. Of a white Christmas I have a dream.
Half fast television commercials going forward. It’s a fact: Mars orbiting in retrograde motion. A relationship of disparate & desperate images, as my band plays again.
Baudelaire & slavery is appropriate, for the season of giving means being free to give & receive. Now is the time to up & holler, “Yippee! I’m free! I am free.”
--January 4, 2015