Preposterous Universe

Monday, April 11, 2005
The Desire to Paint

National Poetry Month continues. (And I am still on the road, currently shifting from D.C. to NYC.) So here is a prose poem from Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, translated by L.M. Friedman.
Unhappy perhaps is man, but happy the artist torn by desire.

I am burning to paint her, that enigmatic woman whom I had glimpsed so rarely and who fled so quickly, like something beautiful regretfully left behind by a traveler swept off into the night. Ah, how long it has been already since she vanished!

She is lovely, and more than lovely: she is astonishing. Darkness abounds in her, and she is inspired by everything deep and nocturnal. Her eyes are two caverns in which mystery vaguely flickers, and a sudden glance from her illuminates like a flash of lightning -- an explosion in the dark of night.

I would compare her to a black sun, if only one could conceive of such a star pouring forth light and happiness. But it is the moon, rather, to which she is more readily likened; it is the moon that has marked her indelibly with its redoubtable influence; not the stark white moon of romantic idylls, that icy bride, but the sinister, inebriating moon suspended in the depths of a stormy night and brushed by racing clouds; not the peaceful, discreet moon visiting the sleep of guiltless men, but the moon ripped from the heavens, defeated and rebellious, that the Thessalian witches cruelly compelled to dance on the terrified grass.

In her little skull dwell a tenacious will and a love of prey. And yet from the lower part of that disturbing face, beneath restless nostrils eagerly inhaling the unknown and the impossible, laughter will burst out suddenly and with ineffable grace, and her wide mouth, all redness and whiteness -- and delectable -- makes one dream of the miracle of a superb flower blossoming in a volcanic soil.

There are women who fill men with a desire to conquer them and have their way with them; but this woman inspires a longing to die slowly under her gaze.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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