Maldoror and Poems, p.1
MALDOROR AND POEMS
Comte de Lautreamont
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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