Maldoror and poems, p.1
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       Maldoror and Poems, p.1


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Maldoror and Poems


  MALDOROR AND POEMS

  Comte de Lautreamont

  FIRST BOOK

  1

  May it please heaven that the reader, emboldened and having for the time being become as fierce as what he is reading, should, without being led astray, find his rugged and treacherous way across the desolate swamps of these sombre and poison-filled pages; for, unless he brings to his reading a rigorous logic and a tautness of mind equal at least to his wariness, the deadly emanations of this book will dissolve his soul as water does sugar. It is not right that everyone should savour this bitter fruit with impunity. Consequently, shrinking soul, turn on your heels and go back before penetrating further into such uncharted, perilous wastelands. Listen well to what I say: turn on your heels and go back, not forward, like the eyes of a son respectfully averted form the august contemplation of his mother’s face; or rather like a formation of very meditative cranes, stretching out of sight, whose sensitive bodies flee the chill of winter, when, their wings fully extended, they fly powerfully through silence to a precise point on the horizon, from which suddenly a strange strong wind blows, precursor of the storm. The oldest crane, flying on alone ahead of the others, shakes his head like a reasonable person on seeing this, making at the same time a clack with his beak, and he is troubled (as I, too, would be, if I were he); all the time his scrawny and featherless neck, which has seen three generations of cranes, is moving in irritated undulations which foretoken the quickly-gathering storm. Having calmly looked in all directions with his experienced eyes, the crane prudently (ahead of all the others, for he has the privilege of showing his tail-feathers to his less intelligent fellows) gyrates to change the direction of the geometric figure (perhaps it is a triangle, but one cannot see the third side which these curious birds of passage form in space) either to port or to starboard, like a skilled captain; uttering as he does to his vigilant cry, like that of a melancholy sentry, to repulse the common enemy. Then, maneuvering with wings which seem no bigger than a starling’s, because he is no fool, he takes another philosophic and surer line of flight.

  2

  Reader, perhaps it is hatred you wish me to invoke at the outset of this work! What makes you think that you will not sniff—drenched in numberless pleasures, for as long as you wish, with your proud nostrils, wide and thin, as you turn over on your belly like a shark, in the beautiful black air, as if you understood the importance of this act and the equal importance of your legitimate appetite, slowly and majestically—its red emanations. I assure you, they will delight the two shapeless holes of your hideous muzzle, if you endeavour beforehand to inhale, in three thousand consecutive breaths, the accursed conscience of the Eternal One! Your nostrils, which will dilate immeasurably in unspeakable contentment, in motionless ecstasy, will ask nothing better of space, for they will be full of fragrance as if of perfumes and incense; for they will be glutted with complete happiness, like angels who dwell in the peace and magnificence of pleasant Heaven.

  3

  I will state in a few lines that Maldoror was good during the first years of his life when he lived happily. That is that. Then he noticed that he had been born evil: an extraordinary fatality! As far as he could, he hid his real character for a large number of years; but in the end, because of the concentration this required, which did not come naturally to him, the blood used to rush to his head every day; until, no longer able to bear such a life, he flung himself resolutely into a career of evildoing...a sweet atmosphere! Who would have thought so! Whenever he kissed a little pink-faced child, he felt like tearing open its cheeks with a razor, and he would have done so very often, had not Justice, with its long train of punishments, prevented him. He was no liar, admitted the truth and said that he was cruel. Human beings, did you hear that? He dares to say it again with his trembling pen. So it is a power stronger than will...Curse! Could a stone escape from the laws of gravity? Impossible. Impossible, for evil to form an alliance with good. That is what I was saying in the above lines.

  4

  There are those whose purpose in writing is, by means of the noble qualities of heart which their imagination invents or which they themselves may have, to seek the plaudits of other human beings. For my part, I use my genius to depict the delights of cruelty: delights which are not transitory or artificial; but which began with man and will end with him. Cannot genius be allied with cruelty in the secret resolutions of Providence? Or can one, being cruel, not have genius? The proof will be in my words. You have only to listen to me, if you wish...Excuse me, for a moment it seemed as if my hair was standing on end; but it is nothing, for I had no trouble in putting them back in place again with my hand. He who sings does not claim that is cavatinas are utterly unknown; on the contrary, he commends himself because his hero’s haughty and wicked thoughts are in all men.

  5

  Throughout my life, I have seen narrow-shouldered men, without a single exception, committing innumerable stupid acts, brutalizing their fellows, and perverting souls by all means. They call the motive for their actions fame. Seeing these spectacles, I wanted to laugh like the others but I found that strange imitation impossible. I took a knife with a sharp steel cutting-edge on its blade and slit my flesh where the lips join. For a moment I believed I had achieved my object. I looked in a mirror at this mouth disfigured by an act of my own will It was a mistake! The blood flowing from the two wounds prevented me from discerning whether the laugh really was the same as the others’. But after comparing them for a few moments I saw clearly that my laugh did not resemble that of human beings, i.e. I was not laughing at all. I have seen men, ugly men with their eyes sunk in dark sockets, surpassing the hardness of rock, the rigidity of cast steel, the insolence of youth, the senseless rage of criminals, the falseness of the hypocrite, the most extraordinary actors, the strength of character of priests, beings whose real character is the most impenetrable, colder than anything else in heaven or on earth; I have seen them wearing out moralists who have attempted to discover their heart, and seen them bring upon themselves implacable anger from on high. I have seen them all now, the strongest fist raised towards heaven, like a child already disobedient towards its mother, probably incited by some spirit from hell, eyes full of the bitterest remorse, but at the same time of hatred; glacially silent, not daring to utter the vast ungrateful meditations hidden in their breasts, because those meditations were so full of injustice and horror; I have seen them grieve the God of mercy in his compassion; and again at the moment of the day, from their earliest childhood right up to the end of their old age, I have seen them uttering unbelievable anathemata, void of all common sense, against everything which breathes, against themselves, and against Providence; prostituting women and children, thus dishonouring the parts of the body consecrated to modesty. Then, the waters of the seas rise up, engulfing ships in their bottomless depths; hurricanes and earthquakes level houses; plague and all kinds of diseases decimate families. But men do not realize this. I have seen them blushing, or turning pale for shame at their conduct on this earth—rarely. Tempests, sisters of the hurricanes; bluish firmament, whose beauty I refuse to acknowledge; hypocritical sea, image of my own heart; earth, who hold mysteries hidden in your breast; the whole universe; God, who created it with such magnificence, it is thee I invoke; show me a man who is good...But at the same time increase my strength tenfold; for at the sight of such a monster, I may die of astonishment; men have died of less.

  6

  One should let one's nails grow for a fortnight. Oh! How sweet it is to brutally snatch from his bed a child with no hair yet on his upper lip, and, with eyes wide open, to pretend to suavely stroke his forehead, brushing back his beautiful locks! Then, suddenly, at the moment when he least expects i
t, to sink one's long nails into his tender breast, being careful, though, not to kill him; for if he died, there would be no later viewing of his misery. Then, one drinks the blood, licking the wounds; and, during the entire procedure, which ought to last no shorter than an aeon, the boy cries. Nothing could be better than his blood, warm and just freshly squeezed out as I have described, if it weren't for his tears, bitter as salt. Mortal one, haven't you ever tasted your blood, when by chance you cut your finger? Tasty, isn't it? For it has no taste. Besides, can you not recall one day, absorbed in your dismal thoughts, having lifted your deeply cupped palm to your sickly face, drenched by the downpour from your eyes; the said hand then making its fatal way to your mouth, which, from this vessel chattering like the teeth of the schoolboy who glances sidelong at the one born to oppress him, sucked the tears in long draughts? Tasty, aren't they? For they taste of vinegar. A taste reminiscent of the tears of your true love, except a child's tears are so much more pleasing to the palate. He is incapable of deceit, for he does not yet know evil: but the most loving of women is bound to betray sooner or later... This I deduce by analogy, despite my ignorance of what friendship means, what love means (I doubt I will ever accept either of these, at least not from the human race). So, since your blood and tears do not disgust you, go ahead, feed confidently on the adolescent's tears and blood. Blindfold him, while you tear open his quivering flesh; and, after listening to his resplendent squeals for a good few hours, similar to those hoarse shrieks of death one hears from the throats of the mortally wounded on battlefields, you then, running out faster than an avalanche, fly back in from the room next door, pretending to rush to his rescue. You untie his hands, with their swollen nerves and veins, you restore sight to his distraught eyes, as you resume licking his tears and blood. Oh, what a genuine and noble change of heart! That divine spark within us, which so rarely appears, is revealed; too late! How the heart longs to console the innocent one we have harmed. "O child, who has just undergone such cruel torture, who could have ever committed such an unspeakable crime upon you! You poor soul! The agony you must be going through! And if your mother were to know of this, she would be no closer to death, so feared by evildoers, than I am now. Alas! What, then, are good and evil? Might they be one and the same thing, by which in our furious rage we attest our impotence and our passionate thirst to attain the infinite by even the maddest means? Or might they be two separate things? Yes... they'd better be one and the same... for, if not, what shall become of me on the Day of Judgment? Forgive me, child. Here before your noble and sacred eyes stands the man who crushed your bones and tore off the strips of flesh dangling from various parts of your body. Was it a frenzied inspiration of my delirious mind, was it a deep inner instinct independent of my reason, such as that of the eagle tearing at its prey, that drove me to commit this crime? And yet, as much as my victim, I suffered! Forgive me, child. Once we are freed from this transient life, I want us to be entwined for evermore, becoming but one being, my mouth fused to your mouth. But even so, my punishment will not be complete. So you will tear at me, without ever stopping, with your teeth and nails at the same time. I will adorn and embalm my body with perfumes and garlands for this expiatory holocaust; and together we shall suffer, I from being torn, you from tearing me... my mouth fused to yours. O blond-haired child, with your eyes so gentle, will you now do what I advise you? Despite yourself, I wish you to do it, and you will set my conscience at rest." And in saying this, you will have wronged a human being and be loved by that same being: therein lies the greatest conceivable happiness. Later, you could take him to the hospital, for the crippled boy will be in no condition to earn a living. They will proclaim you a hero, and centuries from now, laurel crowns and gold medals will cover your bare feet on your ancient iconic tomb. O you, whose name I will not inscribe upon this page consecrated to the sanctity of crime, I know your forgiveness was as boundless as the universe. But look, I'm still here!

  7

  I have made a pact with Prostitution to sow disorder in families. I remember the night which preceded this dangerous liaison. Before me I saw a tombstone. I heard a glow-worm, big as a house, say to me: “I will give you the light you need. Read the inscription. It is not from me that this supreme order comes.” A vast blood-coloured light, at the sight of which my jaws clacked and my hands fell inert, suffused the air as far as the horizon. I leaned against a ruined wall, for I was about to fall, and read: “Hear lies a youth who died of consumption: you know why. Do not pray for him.” Not many men perhaps would have shown such courage as I did. Meanwhile, a beautiful naked woman came and lay down at my feat. Sadly, I said to her, “You can get up.” And I held out to her the hand with which the fratricide slits his sister’s throat. The shining worm, to me: “Beware, look to your safety, for you are the weaker and I the stronger. Her name is Prostitution.” With tears in my eyes and my heart full of rage, I felt an unknown strength rising within me. I took hold of a huge stone; after many attempts, I managed to lift it as far as my chest. Then, with my arms, I put it on my shoulders. I climbed the mountain until I reached the top: from there, I hurled the stone on to the shining worm, crushing it. Its head was thrust six feet into the ground, a man’s height; the stone rebounded as high as six churches. Then it fell down again into a lake, and for a moment the water-level, eddying, dropped as the sinking stone created an immense inverted cone. The surface became calm again; the blood-red light ceased to shine. “Alas! alas!” the naked woman exclaimed. “What have you done?” I said to her: “I prefer you to him. Because I pity the unhappy. It is not your fault that eternal justice has created you.” And she said: “One day men will do me justice; I will say no more to you. Let me go and hide my infinite sadness at the bottom of the sea. Only you, and the hideous monsters who swarm in those black depths do not despise me. You are good. Adieu, you who have loved me.” I, to her: “Adieu, once more adieu! I will always love you. From today, I abandon virtue.” And that is why, oh you peoples of the earth, when you hear the winter wind moaning on the sea and by its shores, or above the large towns which have long been in mourning for me, or across the cold polar regions say: “It is not God’s spirit passing over us: it is only the shrill sigh of Prostitution in unison with the deep groans of the Montevidean.” Children, it is I who say this to you. Then, full of mercy, kneel down. And let men, more numerous than lice, say long prayers.

  8

  In the moonlight, by the sea, or in isolated parts of the country, when plunged in bitter reflections one can see everything take on yellow, vague, fantastic shapes. Tree-shadows, now quickly, now slowly, run, come back, and disappear again to return in different shapes, flattening out, sticking to the ground. In the days when I was borne along on the wings of my youth, this used to make me dream, this appeared strange to me. Now I have grown used to it. Through the leaves the wind moans its languorous notes, and the owl sings its solemn complaint, which makes the hair of those who hear it stand on end. Then dogs, driven wild, break their chains and escape from distant farms. They run all over the countryside, a prey to madness. Suddenly they stop and, wildly anxious, their eyes burning, they look around them on all sides. And just as elephants, in the desert, before they die, look up one last time at the sky, despairingly raising their trunks, not moving their eyes, so too these dogs’ ears do not move, but, raising their heads, they swell out their dreadful necks and start barking in turns, like a hungry child yelling for food, or a cat who has ripped its guts open on a roof, like a woman about to give birth, or a plague-ridden patient dying in hospital, or a young girl singing a sublime air; at the stars in the north, at the stars in the east, at the stars in the south, at the stars in the west; at the moon; at the mountains which in the distance seem like giant rocks in the darkness; at the tops of their voices they bark at the cold air they are breathing, the cold air which makes the insides of their nostrils red and burning; at the silence of the night; at the screech-owls who brush against their muzzles in their oblique line of flight, as
they carry off in their beaks a rat or a frog, living nourishment, sweet to the little ones; at the rabbits who scurry out of sight in the winking of an eye; at the thief, fleeing on his galloping horse after committing a crime; at the snakes stirring in the heath, who make their flesh creep, their teeth chatter; at their own barks, which frighten them; at the toads whom they crush with a quick, sharp movement of their jaws (why have they strayed so far from the swamps?); at the trees, whose gently-rustling leaves are as many mysteries that they cannot understand, which they want to fathom with their attentive, intelligent eyes; at the spiders hanging beneath their long legs, who climb up trees to escape; at the raves who, during day, have found nothing to eat and are returning with tired wings to their nests; at the craggy cliffs along the sea-shore; at the fires burning on the masts of invisible ships; at the muffled sound of the waves beating against the huge fish who, as they swim, reveal their black backs and then plunge down again into the fathomless depths; and against man, who makes slaves of them. After which, they start running again through the countryside, bounding across ditches, paths, fields, through weeds and over steep rocks, their paws bleeding. You would think they had caught rabies and were seeking a vast pool in which to quench their thirst. Their prolonged howls fill nature with dread. And then, woe to the belated traveler! These graveyard fiends will set upon him, will tear him to pieces and eat him, their mouths dripping blood; for they have sound teeth. The wild animals, not daring to approach and partake of the meal of flesh, fled out of sight, trembling. After some hours, the dogs, exhausted by running round, almost dead, their tongues hanging out, set upon one another and, not knowing what they are doing, tear one another into thousands of pieces with incredible rapidity. Yet they do not do this out of cruelty. One day, a glazed look in her eyes, my mother said to me: ‘When you are in bed and you hear the barking of the dogs in the countryside, hide beneath your blanket but do not deride what they do; they have an insatiable thirst for the infinite, as you, and I, and all other pale, long-faced human beings do. I will even allow you to stand in front of your window to contemplate this spectacle, which is quite edifying.’ Since that time, I have respected the dead woman’s wish. Like those dogs, I feel the need for the infinite. I cannot, cannot satisfy this need. I am the son of a man and a woman, from what I have been told. This astonishes me...I believed I was something more. Besides, what does it matter to me where I come from? If I had any choice, I would rather have been born the male of a female shark, whose hunger welcomes tempests, and of the tiger, whose cruelty is well-known. You, who are looking at me, go away, for the breath I exhale is poisonous. No one has yet seen the green wrinkles on my brow; nor the protruding bones of my face which are like the bones of some huge fish, or the cliffs along the sea-horse, or the steep alpine mountains which I often crossed when the hair on my head was of a different colour. And when on stormy nights I prowl around the habitations of men, my hair lashed by the wind of the tempests, my eyes aflame, isolated like a huge boulder in the middle of a path, I cover my face with a piece of velvet, black as the soot which gathers inside chimneys. No eyes may behold the ugliness which the Supreme Being, with a smile of omnipotent hatred, has set upon my face. Each morning, when for others the sun rises, spreading joy and health-bringing warmth through nature, no line of my face moves as, staring into the space which is full of darkness, crouching in the depths of my beloved cave, in a mood of despair which intoxicates me like wine, I tear my breast to shreds with my powerful hands. Yet I do not feel that I am the victim of some rabid fit! Yet I do not feel that I am the only one who suffers. Yet I feel that I am still breathing. Like a condemned man flexing his muscles and reflecting on their fate as he is about to mount the scaffold, sitting up on my bed of straw with my eyes closed I slowly move my neck from right to left, from left to right, for hours on end; I do not fall down stone dead. From time to time, whenever my neck cannot continue moving in any direction, whenever it stops before starting to turn the opposite way again, all of a sudden I look up at the horizon, through the rare gaps in the brushwood which covers the cave’s entrance. And I see nothing! Nothing...unless it be the countryside dancing and whirling with the trees and the birds criss-crossing the air. This perplexes my blood and my brain...who is beating me on the head with an iron rod, like a hammer striking the anvil?

 
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