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Already! (Or, Baudelaire at Sea)

April 9, 2014 | by

AGR251750

Alfred Jensen, Tall Ship, late nineteenth century

Baudelaire was born on this day in 1821. You may know that he’s credited with coining the term modernité, or that he helped to shape our theory of the flâneur; but you likely did not know that he was a seafaring man, with an unslakable thirst for the ocean. (An irresistibly bad pun presents itself: Boatelaire. But let’s pretend I didn’t write that.) Here’s “Already!”, a prose poem translated from the French by Aleister Crowley.

ALREADY!

A hundred times already the sun had leaped, radiant or saddened, from the immense cup of the sea whose rim could scarcely be seen; a hundred times it had again sunk, glittering or morose, into its mighty bath of twilight. For many days we had contemplated the other side of the firmament, and deciphered the celestial alphabet of the antipodes. And each of the passengers sighed and complained. One had said that the approach of land only exasperated their sufferings. “When, then,” they said, “shall we cease to sleep a sleep broken by the surge, troubled by a wind that snores louder than we? When shall we be able to eat at an unmoving table?”

There were those who thought of their own firesides, who regretted their sullen, faithless wives, and their noisy progeny. All so doted upon the image of the absent land, that I believe they would have eaten grass with as much enthusiasm as the beasts.

At length a coast was signalled, and on approaching we saw a magnificent and dazzling land. It seemed as though the music of life flowed therefrom in a vague murmur; and the banks, rich with all kinds of growths, breathed, for leagues around, a delicious odour of flowers and fruits.

Each one therefore was joyful; his evil humour left him. Quarrels were forgotten, reciprocal wrongs forgiven, the thought of duels was blotted out of the memory, and rancour fled away like smoke.

I alone was sad, inconceivably sad. Like a priest from whom one has torn his divinity, I could not, without heartbreaking bitterness, leave this so monstrously seductive ocean, this sea so infinitely various in its terrifying simplicity, which seemed to contain in itself and represent by its joys, and attractions, and angers, and smiles, the moods and agonies and ecstasies of all souls that have lived, that live, and that shall yet live.

In saying good-bye to this incomparable beauty I felt as though I had been smitten to death; and that is why when each of my companions said: “At last!” I could only cry “Already!

Here meanwhile was the land, the land with its noises, its passions, its commodities, its festivals: a land rich and magnificent, full of promises, that sent to us a mysterious perfume of rose and musk, and from whence the music of life flowed in an amorous murmuring.

 

5 COMMENTS

4 Comments

  1. flâneuse | April 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Baudelaire was the first French language poetry I could understand.
    These days it’s more Boredelaire than Boatdelaire.

  2. Bodwyn Wook | April 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Our late Uncle Emmett Jacobson, no poet he but, rather, a farmer & son & grandson of farmers, was born ninety-nine years after Baudelaire & a bit later in the month of April, in 1920; his ONLY original poem composed in the late 1920s in the outhouse behind the LeRay Town District 153 one-room school & called “Kiss My ASS, You Finehaired Bastards,” * is rightly deemed on a par with the work of Beaudelaire, in its own right as an American masterwork of scatological schoolboy lore.

    And, the young Jacobson did not incur any of the neurotic consequences that go with thinking of oneself as some sort of artiste.

    * — The exact words, alas, of this Northeast Squawbunion County literary treasure HAVE been lost, but the critics praised it highly in its day & the author consequently DID incur a switching from his Aunty Leona at the instigation of the schoolteacher that was the primary subject of the encomium. [Editor]

  3. Ricky Dominguez | April 10, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Interesting. Crowley did not translate, “Quand pourrons-nous manger de la viande qui ne soit pas salée comme l’élément infâme qui nous porte?” Was he a vegetarian?

  4. heh | April 10, 2014 at 9:17 am

    No one should trust Aleister Crowley for a definitive translation or anything else. An interesting one, sure.

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