Comte de Lautreamont – Maldoror and Poems

Description:Comte de Lautreamont’s MALDOROR and poems is a collection of poems by the french poet. The poems are set in a desolate swampland and are full of poison. The reader is warned not to be led as…Full descriptionJump to Page You are on page 1of 99Search inside document  

Comte de Lautreamont
Transcribed by hand by DP
Dedicated to Elizabeth Emelia who understood me and this book like none other

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
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 it, 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!
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 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?
I propose, without emotion to declaim the cold and serious strophe which you are about to hear.
You, pay attention to its contents and beware of the painful impression which it will not fail to
leave, like a brand, on your perplexed imaginations. Do not think that I am about to die, for I am
no skeleton yet and old age is not yet stamped on my brow. Discard therefore any notion of
comparison with the swan at the moment when its soul takes flight; see before you nothing but a
monster, whose face I am glad you cannot perceive; though it is less horrible than his soul.
However, I am not a criminal…enough of this subject. It is not long ago since I saw the sea again
and walked the decks of ships and my memories of this are as strong as if I only came ashore
yesterday. Nevertheless be, if you can, as calm as I in reading these lines which I already regret
offering you, and do not blush at the thought of what the human heart is. O Octopus, with your
silken look! whose soul is inseparable from mine; you most beautiful inhabitant of the terrestrial
globe, who have at your disposal a seraglio of four hundred suckers; you in whom linked
indestructibly by a common accord, the sweet communicative virtue and the divine graces are
nobly present, as if in their natural residence, why are you not with me, your mercury belly against
my aluminum breast, both of us sitting on some sea-shore rock, to contemplate the spectacle I
Old ocean, crystal-waved, you resemble proportionally the azure stains seen on the disfigured
tops of mosses; you are an immense blueness on the body of the earth: I love this comparison.
Thus on seeing you first, a prolonged breath of sadness which one would take for the murmuring
of your delicious breeze, passes, leaving ineffable traces on the deeply-moved soul, and recalling
to the minds of those who love you—though one does not always realize this—man’s crude
beginnings, when he first came to know sorrow, which has been with him ever since. I hail you,
old ocean!
Old ocean, your harmoniously spherical form, which gladdens the stern countenance of
geometry, reminds me only too well of man’s small eyes, which are like the boar’s in their
minuteness and like the eyes of night-birds in the circular perfection of contour. However,
throughout the centuries, man has considered himself beautiful. For my part, I rather suppose
that man only believes in his own beauty out of pride; that he is not really beautiful and he
suspects this himself; for why does he look on the face of his fellow-man with such scorn? I hail
you, old ocean!
Old ocean, you are the symbol of identity: always equal to yourself. You never vary essentially
and, if somewhere your waves are raging, further away, in some other zone, they are perfectly
calm. You are not like man who stops in the street to watch two bulldogs snarling and biting one
another’s necks, but who does stop to watch when a funeral passes; who is approachable in the
morning, in a black mood in the evening; who laughs today and cries tomorrow…I hail you, old
Old ocean, there is nothing far-fetched in the idea that you hide within your breast things which
will in the future be useful to man. You have already given him the whale. You do not easily
allow the greedy eyes of the natural sciences to guess the thousand secrets of your inmost
organization. You are modest. Man brags incessantly of trifles. I hail you, old ocean!
Old ocean, the different species of fish to which you give nourishment have sworn no brotherhood
among themselves. Each species keeps to itself. Temperaments, shapes and sizes, which vary
from species to species, satisfactorily explain what at first appears to be only an anomaly. The
same is true in man’s case, though he cannot plead the same excuses. If a piece of land is
occupied by thirty million human beings, they feel obliged not to become involved in their
neighbour’s existence, rooted as they are to their own piece of ground. From great to small, each
man lives like a savage in his lair, rarely venturing out to visit his fellow-creature, who is also
crouching in his lair. The great universal family of men is a utopia worthy of the most mediocre
logic. Furthermore, his ingratitude stands out against the spectacle of your fecund breasts; for
one thinks of those many parents ungrateful enough to their creator to abandon the fruit of their
wretched union…I hail you, old ocean!
Old ocean, your physical immensity can only be conceived if one tries to measure the active
potency needed to engender the totality of your mass. You cannot be embraced in a single look.
In order to contemplate you, the sights of the telescope must be turned in a continuous
movement towards the four points of the horizon, just as a mathematician is obliged when doing
and algebraic equation to examine individually all the various possible cases before arriving at an
answer. Man eats nourishing substances and makes other efforts, worth of a better fate, to
appear huge. Let him puff himself out as much as he wishes, this adorable frog. Set your mind
at rest, he will not equal you in size; at least, I suppose not. I hail you, old ocean!
Old ocean your waters are bitter. Their taste is the same as the rancorous gall which criticism
distills and pours on the arts, the sciences, everything. If someone is a genius, it condemns him
as an idiot; if another has a beautiful body, then he is a frightful hunchback. Certainly, man
should have a strong sense of his own imperfections, three-quarters of which are due to himself
alone, in order to criticize them thus. I hail you, old ocean!
Old ocean, men, despite the excellence of their methods, though they are helped by scientific
means of investigation, have not yet succeeded in measuring your vertiginous depths. Even the
largest and heaviest sounding-lines have failed to plumb your inaccessible gulfs. Fish may: but
not men. I have often wondered which is the easier to fathom: the depth of the ocean or the
depth of the human heart! Often as I stood on ships’ decks with my hand on my brow, while the
moon swung fitfully between the masts, I have found myself grappling with this difficult problem,
having set aside anything which could distract me from my object. Yes, which the deeper, the
more impenetrable of the two: the ocean or the human heart? If thirty years of experience of life
can sway the balance from one to the other of these solutions, I will venture to say that despite
the depth of the ocean, it cannot rank, as far as a comparison of this quality goes, with the depth
of the human heart. I have had connections with men who were virtuous. They died at sixty, and
not one of them failed to exclaim that ‘he had done his best on this earth, that is he had practised
charity; that is all, that was easy enough, anyone might do the same.’ Who can understand how
two lovers who idolized each other only the day before, separate over a misinterpreted word, one
going east, one west, with needlepoints of vengeance, hatred, love and remorse, and never see
each other again, each one draped in his solitary pride. It is a miracle which recurs every day but
is none the less miraculous. Who can understand how it is that we relish not only the general
misfortunes of our closest friends, at the same time as being distressed about them? An
unanswerable example to close the series: man hypocritically says ‘yes’ and thinks ‘no.’ That is
why the wild boars of humanity have so much trust in one another and are not egoists.
Psychology still has a long way to go. I hail you, old ocean!
Old ocean, your might is such that men have discovered it to their own cost. In vain do they
deploy all the resources of their ingenuity…they are incapable of mastering you. They have met
their match. I say that they have found something stronger than they. This something has a
name. That name is: the ocean! The fear that you inspire in them is such that they respect you.
In spite of this, you set their heaviest machines dancing with grace, elegance and ease. You
make them execute gymnastic leaps right up to the sky, and admirable dives to the bottom of
your domains: a circus acrobat would envy them. They are fortunate if you don not enfold them
finally in you whirling, bubbling embrace, taking them on a trip–not by railway–to see your aquatic
entrails, to see how the fish are, and above all, how they are themselves. Man says: ‘I am more
intelligent than the ocean.’ That is possible; it is even quite true; but the ocean is more terrifying to
him than he to the ocean; this does not need to be proven. This observant patriarch,
contemporary of the first epochs of our suspended globe, smiles with pity as he witnesses naval
battles among the nations. The hands of men have created hundreds of leviathans. The
pompous orders given on deck, the cries of the wounded, bursts of a cannon-fire, these are
noises whose only function is to kill a few seconds. It seems that the excitement is over, the
ocean’s belly has swallowed everything up. Its mouth is formidable, it must be huge towards the
bottom, in the direction of the unknown. And at last, to crown the stupid comedy, which is not
even interesting, you can see a passing stork in the air, slowed down by fatigue, beginning to cry,
though not slackening its wingspan: ‘Well…how annoying! There were some black specks down
there; I closed my eyes and they just disappeared.’ I salute you, old ocean!
Old ocean, great celibate, when you survey the solemn solitude of your imperturbable realms,
you are justly proud of your native magnificence and of the true praises which I so fervently
bestow on you. Rocked voluptuously by the gentle effluvia of your majestic slowness–that most
imposing of all the attributes with which the divine power has endowed you–you unroll in sombre
mystery, along all your sublime surface, your incomparable waves, in calm awareness of your
eternal power. At short intervals, they follow one another in parallel lines. No sooner does one
subside than another comes to meet it, accompanied by the melancholy sound of the frothing
foam, reminding us that all is foam. (Thus human beings, those living waves, die one after
another, monotonously; but they make no foaming sound.) The bird of passage rests on the
waves, then abandons himself to their movements, full of proud grace, until the bones of his
wings have recovered their accustomed strength and he can continue his aerial pilgrimage. I
wish that human majesty were only the incarnate reflection of your own. I am too demanding but
my sincere wish glorifies you. Your moral grandeur, image of infinity, is as vast as the
philosopher’s reflections, as woman’s love, as the divine beauty of the bird, as the meditations of
the poet. You are more beautiful than the night. Answer me, ocean, will you be my brother?
Swell more violently…more…still more, if you want me to compare you to God’s vengeance.
Lengthen your livid claws, as you clear a way over your own breast…that is good. Unroll your
frightful waves, hideous ocean, whom I alone understand, before which I fall, prostrate, at your
knees. Man’s majesty is a deception; he does not overawe me; but you do. Oh when you
advance with your high and terrible crest, wild and hypnotic, surrounded by a court of sinuous
coils of waves rolling on one another fully aware of all you are, while you utter from the depths of
your breast, as if weighed down by and intense remorse whose cause I cannot discover, the
perpetual suppressed moan which men so often fear, even when they contemplate you, in safety,
trembling from the sea-shore, then I see that I cannot claim the illustrious right to call myself your
equal. That is why, in face of your superiority, I would give you all my love (and no one knows the
amount of love in my aspirations towards the Beautiful) if only because you make me think with
sorrow on my fellows, who form the most ironic contrast with you, the most farcical antithesis that
has ever been seen in the whole of creation; I cannot love you, I detest you. Why, then, do I
return to you for the thousandth time to your welcoming arms which caress my flaming brow, your
touch dispelling its feverish heat. I do not know your hidden destiny; everything about you
interests me. Tell me, then, if you are the abode of the Prince of Darkness. Tell me…tell me,
ocean (only me, so as to cause no grief to those who till now have known only illusions), tell me if
it is the breath of Satan that creates the tempests which whip your salt-water cloud-high. You
must tell me, for I would rejoice to know that hell is o near to man. I intend this to be the last
strophe of my invocation. Thus, one last time, I want to hail you and bid you goodbye. Old
ocean, crystal-waved…Free-flowing tears well up in my eyes, I have no strength to go on; for I
feel that the moment has come for me to return to men, brutish in their appearance;
but…courage! Let us make a superhuman effort and, conscious of our duty, fulfill our destiny on
this earth. I hail you, old ocean!
You will not, in my last hour, find me surrounded by priests. I want to die lulled by the waves of
the stormy sea, or standing on a mountain-top…my eyes looking upwards, no: I know my
extinction will be complete. Besides, I would have no hope of mercy. Who is opening the door of
my funeral chamber? I had said no one was to enter. Whoever you are, go away; but if you
believe you notice some mark of sorrow or fear on my hyena’s face (I use the comparison
although the hyena is more handsome than I, pleasanter to look at), if you believe this, then let
me undeceive you: let him approach. It is a winter night on which the elements are dashing
against one another on all sides, man is afraid, and the youth broods on some crime against one
of his friends, if he is like I was in my youth. Let the wind, whose plaintive whistle has saddened
mankind ever since the wind and mankind have existed, let it carry me on the bone of its wings,
just before my last agony, across the world impatient for my death. I will still enjoy in secret the
numerous examples of human malice (a brother, unseen, likes to observe his brothers’ acts).
The eagle, the raven, the immortal pelican, the wild duck, the migrant crane, awakened,
chattering with cold, will see me passing by the light of the lightning, a horrible, happy spectre.
They will not know the meaning of it. On earth, the viper, the toad’s bulbous eyes, the tiger, the
elephant; in the sea, the whale, the shark, the hammer-fish, the misshapen ray-fish, and the tooth
of the polar seal, will wonder what this violation of the laws of nature is. Man, trembling, will press
his head against the earth in the midst of his groans. ‘Yes, I surpass you all by my innate cruelty
which it was not for me to suppress. Is this the reason why you prostrate yourselves before me?
Or is it because you have seen me, a new phenomenon, traversing blood-drenched space like a
terrifying comet? (A shower of blood falls from my vast body, like the blackish cloud which the
hurricane pushes before it.) Do not be afraid, children. I do not want to curse you. The harm you
have done me is too great, too great the harm I have done you, to have been deliberate. You
have gone your way and I have gone mine, both similar, both depraved. Given our resemblance
of character, we must, necessarily, have met; the resultant impact has been fatal for us both.’
Then men, taking courage, little by little will look up, stretching out their necks like the snail to see
who is speaking thus. All of a sudden, their flaming, distorted faces, showing their terrible
emotions, will grimace in such a way that wolves will shrink in fear. They will all rise at once like
an immense spring. What imprecations! What voices breaking as they yell! They have
recognized me. And now see how the animals of the earth are joining in with men, making their
bizarre outcry heard; the hatred they both feel has turned against the common enemy, me; they
are reconciled by universal assent. Winds who bear me up, carry me higher; I fear perfidy. Let
us disappear gradually from their sight, witness, once again, of the consequences the passions
bring in their wake, completely satisfied. I thank you, oh bat rhinolophe, for waking me with the
beating of your wings, bat with the horse-show crested nose: I realize that it was, in fact, only,
unfortunately, a passing illness, and I feel–with disgust–that I am recovering. Some say you
were coming towards me to suck the little blood left in my body: why cannot this supposition be
A family around a table with a lamp on it:
‘My son, give me those scissors on that chair.’
‘They are not there, mother.’
‘Go and look for them in the other room, then. Do you remember the time, my dear husband,
when we vowed to have a child in whom we would be born again a second time and who would
be the comfort of our old age?’
‘I remember, and God granted our wish. We have nothing to complain in our lot on this earth.
Every day we bless Providence and its goodness. Our Edward has all his mother’s charms.’
‘And his father’s manly qualities.’
‘Here are the scissors, mother. I found them at last.’
He resumes his work…but someone has appeared at the front door, and has for some time been
contemplating the scene before him.
‘What does this sight mean? There are many people less happy than these. What shifts have
they made to be able to love their existence so? Away, Maldoror, from this peaceful hearth! You
do not belong here!’
He has withdrawn!
‘I do not know what can have brought it about; but I feel my human faculties conflicting in my
breast. My soul is ill at ease, and does not know why; the atmosphere is heavy.’
‘Wife, my impressions are the same as yours; I am trembling with fear that some misfortune is
going to befall us. Have faith in God; our supreme hope is in Him.’
‘Mother, I can hardly breath; my head aches.’
‘You too, my son! I will wet your temples and forehead with vinegar.’
‘No, dear mother.’
See, he leans back on his chair, tired.
‘Something is going round and round inside me, which I cannot explain. Now the least object
annoys me.’
‘How pale you are! This evening will not pass without some catastrophe plunging all three of us
into the lake of despair.’
I hear in the distance prolonged cries of the most acute pain.
‘My son!’
‘Oh mother, I am afraid.’
‘Tell me quickly if you are feeling ill.’
‘Mother, I fell no pain…I am not telling the truth.’
His father has not recovered from his astonishment: ‘These are cries one sometimes hears in the
silence of starless nights. Although we hear these cries, he who utters them is not near here; for
one can hear groans at three leagues’ distance, borne by the wind from one town to the next.
People have often spoken to me of this phenomenon; but I have never had occasion to judge the
truth of it for myself. Wife, you spoke to me of a catastrophe; never has greater woe existed in
time’s long spiral than the woe of him who now troubles the sleep of his fellows…’
I hear in the distance prolonged cries of the most acute pain.
‘Please heaven his birth may not be a calamity for his country, which has driven him from her
breast. He goes from land to land, abhorred by everywhere. Some say he has been afflicted
since childhood with a kind of original madness. Others assert that he is extremely and
instinctively cruel, is himself ashamed of this, and that his parents died of sorrow. There are
some who claim that he was branded with a surname in youth; that he has been inconsolable
ever since, because his wounded sense of dignity saw in this fact a flagrant proof of the
wickedness of man, which becomes apparent in his earliest years and increases later. That
surname was the vampire!’
I hear in the distance prolonged cries of the most acute pain.
‘They add that day and night, without relief or rest, horrible nightmares make him bleed from his
mouth and his ears; that spectres sit at his bed’s head and—impelled in spite of themselves by an
unknown force, implacable persistent, in voices one moment gentle, another like the roars of
battle—yell in his face this name, still tenacious, still hideous, which will only perish with the
universe. Some even assert that love has reduced him to this state; or that these cries testify to
his repentance at some crime buried in the night of his mysterious past. But the majority think
that he is tortured by immeasurable pride, as Satan once was, and that he wants to be equal with
I hear in the distance prolonged cries of the most acute pain.
‘My son, these are exceptional confidences. I pity you for having heard them at your age, and I
hope you will never imitate this man.’
‘Speak, oh my Edward; answer that you will never imitate this man.’
‘Oh beloved mother, to whom I owe my life, I promise you, if the holy promise of a child has any
value, that I will never imitate this man.’
‘That is good, my son. You must obey your mother, no matter what.’
The groans can no longer be heard.
‘Wife, have you finished your work?’
‘There are still a few stitches to be put in this shirt, though we have stayed up late this evening.’
‘And I have not yet finished my chapter. Let us take advantage of the lamp’s last gleams; for the
oil is running out, let each one of us finish his work.’
The child exclaims: ‘If God lets us live!’
‘Radiant angle, come to me. You will walk through meadows from morning to evening; you will
no have to work. My palace is built of silver walls, gold columns, and diamond doors. You will go
to bed when you choose, to the sound of celestial music, without saying your prayers. When, in
the morning, the sun shows its dazzling rays and the lark carries its song with it out of sight up
into the sky, you can stay in bed until you become tired of it. You will walk on the most precious
carpets; you will be constantly enveloped in an atmosphere composed of the perfumed essences
of the most fragrant flowers.’
‘It is time to rest body and mind. Rise up, mother, on your muscular ankles. It is right that your
stiff fingers should abandon this excessive work. We should avoid extremes.’
‘Oh, how pleasant your life will be there. I will give you an enchanted ring; when you turn its ruby
round, you will be invisible, like the princes in fairy-tales.’
‘Put those daily weapons of yours into the cupboard while I, for my part, arrange my papers.’
‘When you put it back in its normal position you will reappear as nature formed you, oh young
magician. All this because I love you and aspire to make you happy.’
‘Go away, whoever you are; take your hands off my shoulders.’
‘My son, do not fall asleep, lulled by the dreams of childhood. Our evening prayer together has
not begun, and you have not yet put your clothes tidily on your chair…on your knees! Eternal
creator of the universe, you show your inexhaustible goodness even in the smallest things.’
‘Do you not like clear streams where thousands of little red, blue and silvery fish dart? You will
catch them with a net so fine it will itself be the bait, until it is full. You will see the shiny pebbles
beneath the surface, more polished than marble.’
‘Mother, look at these claws; I do not trust him; but my conscience is clear. I have nothing to
reproach myself with.’
‘You see us as prostrate at your feet, overwhelmed by you greatness. If any proud thought has
crept into our minds, we reject it immediately with the spittle of contempt and make you
irremissible sacrifice of it.’
‘You will bathe with the girls there, who will embrace you in their arms. When you have left the
bath, they will tress you crowns of roses and carnations. They will have transparent butterfly
wings and long undulating hair floating around their pretty foreheads.’
‘Even if your palace were more beautiful than crystal, I would not leave this house to follow you. I
believe you are no imposter, since you speak so softly, for fear of being heard. To leave one’s
parents is a wicked deed. I do not intend to be an ungrateful son. As for your little girls, they are
not as beautiful as my mother’s eyes.’
‘All our life is spent singing canticles to your glory. We have been your faithful servants up to now
and such we will remain until the moment when we receive your command to leave this earth.’
‘They will obey you at your slightest sign and will think of nothing but pleasing you. If you wish for
the bird which never rests, they will bring it to you. If you wish for the snow-carriage which takes
you to the sun in the twinkling of an eyelid, they will bring it for you. They would bring you
anything you asked for! They would even bring you the kite, big as a tower, who was hidden in
the mo and from whose tail birds of all kinds hang by a silken thread. Think of what you are
doing…follow my advice.’
‘Do whatever you wish. I do not want to interrupt the prayer by calling for help. Although your
body vanishes whenever I try to ward it off, know that I do not fear you.’
‘Before you, nothing is great, unless it be the flame from a pure heart.’
‘Think of what I have told you, if you do not want to repent later.’
‘Celestial Father, avert, avert the woes which may befall our family.’
‘Will you not be gone evil spirit?’
‘Preserve this my dearest wife, who has consoled me in my dejection.’
‘Since you refuse, I will make you weep and grind your teeth like a man on the gallows.’
‘And this my loving son, whose pure lips have scarcely opened to the kisses of life’s dawn.’
‘Mother, he is strangling me…Father, help me, I cannot breathe…Your blessing!’
A cry of immense irony has risen in the air. See how the eagles, stunned, fall turning and turning
from the clouds, literally thunderstruck by the column of air.
‘His heart has stopped beating…And his mother dead too at the same time as the fruit of her
womb, whom I can no longer recognize, he is so disfigured…My wife…My son…I recall a far-off
time when I was a husband and a father!’
At this scene he had said that he would not be able to bear this injustice. If that power accorded
him by the infernal spirits, or rather which he draws from within himself, is efficacious, then this
child, before the night has passed, should no longer be.
He who does not know how to weep (for he has always repressed the suffering within) saw that
he was now in Norway. He was in the Folrol isles, looking for sea-birds’ nests on sheer
crevasses, and was astonished that the three-hundred-metre-long rope which hold the explorer
above the precipice had been so well chosen for strength and soundness. He saw in this,
whatever may be said, a striking example of human goodness, and could not believe his eyes. If
it had been his responsibility to prepare the rope, he would have made little cuts in it, so that it
would snap, and hurt the hunter into the sea!
‘Grave-digger, do you not want to talk to me? A sperm-whale slowly rises from the ocean’s
depths, lifting its head above water to see the ship which is passing through these solitary
regions. Curiosity was born with the universe.’
‘Friend it is impossible for me to exchange ideas with you. For a long time now the moonbeams
have been shining on the marble tombstones. It is the silent hour when more than one human
being dreams that he sees women in chains appear, trailing their winding-sheets, covered in
blood-stains, like stars on a clear night. He who sleeps utters groans like those of a condemned
man, until he awakes to find that reality is three times worse than dreams. I must finish digging
this grave with my tireless spade, so that it is ready tomorrow morning. One cannot do two things
at once, if one is doing serious work.’
‘He thinks that digging graves is serious work! You think that digging graves is serious work!’
‘When the savage pelican resolves to give its breast to be devoured by its young, with no other
witness than Him who could create such love, although the sacrifice is great, this is an act which
can be understood. When a young man sees a woman he would worship in the arms of a friend,
he starts to smoke a cigar; he stays at home, and enters into indissoluble friendship with sorrow;
this act can be understood. When a boarder at school is controlled for years which seem like
centuries, from morning to evening and from evening to morning again by a pariah of civilization
whose eyes are constantly fixed on him, he feels the tumultuous upsurge of lasting hatred rising
like thick smoke to his brain, which seems about to burst. From the moment when he was thrown
into that prison, to the approaching moment when he will leave it, an intense fever turns his face a
sickly yellow, knits his brow, makes his eyes sink in their sockets. At night he broods because he
does not want to sleep. During the day, his thoughts soar beyond the walls of the place of
degradation until the moment comes when he escapes, or when, as if plague-ridden, he is thrown
out of the eternal cloister. This act can be understood. Digging a grave often surpasses the
forces of nature. How, stranger, can you expect the pick to go on digging this earth which first
nourishes us then provides us with a comfortable bed, protected from the winter winds which
whistle through these cold lands, when he who holds the pick—having all day been touching
convulsively with his trembling hands the cheeks of those once living who are now returning to his
realm—sees before him in the evening, written in flaming letters on each cross, the statement of
that terrifying problem which man has not yet resolved: the mortality or immortality of the soul. I
have not ceased to love God, the creator of the universe; but if after death we are no longer to
exist why do I see most nights each grave opening and its inhabitants gently lifting the leaden
lids, to go out and breathe the fresh air?’
‘Stop your work. Emotion is sapping your strength; you seem weak as a reed; it would be utter
madness to go on. I am strong; I will take your place. Stand aside; and let me know if I am doing
anything wrong.’
‘How muscular his arms are, and what a pleasure it is to watch him digging the earth with such
‘You must not let your mind be tormented by useless doubt: all these graves scattered throughout
the cemetery are worthy of measurement by the philosopher’s serene compass. Dangerous
hallucinations may come by day; but above all they come at night. Do not therefore be surprised
as the fantastic visions which your eyes seem to perceive. During the day when the mind is
resting, examine your conscience; it will tell you, certainly, that the God who created man and
gave him part of His own intelligence possesses goodness without limits and after our earthly
death will take His masterpiece to His breast. Grave-digger, why do you weep? Why these
tears, like a woman’s? Remember this: we are on this mastless vessel to suffer. It is man’s merit
that God has judged him capable of conquering his deepest sufferings. Speak and since,
according to your wishes, there would be no more suffering, tell me, if your tongue is like that of
other men, in what virtue, that ideal which everyone strives to attain, would then consist?’
‘Where am I? Has not my character changed? I fell a powerful breath of consolation brush
against my cool, calm forehead, like the spring breeze which revives old men’s hopes. Who is
this man who in sublime language has said things which no mere passing stranger could have
uttered? What musical beauty there is in the incomparable melody of his voice! I would rather
hear him speak than hear others sing. Yet the more I observe him the less candid his face
appears to be. The general expression of his features contrasts singularly with these words
which only the love of God could have inspired. His somewhat wrinkled forehead is marked with
an indelible stigma. And this stigma which has prematurely aged him, is it a mark of honour or
infamy? Should those wrinkles be looked on with veneration? I do not know, I am afraid to know.
Although he says what he does not believe, I think he has reasons for acting as he has done,
moved by the few tattered shreds of charity which still remain in him. He is absorbed in
reflections which are unknown to me, and he is redoubling his activity in a kind of labour to which
he is unaccustomed. His skin is drenched in sweat; he does not notice. He is sadder than the
feelings inspired by the sight of a child in its cradle. How sombre he is!…Where do you come
from? Stranger, allow me to touch you, let my hands, which rarely grasp those of the living,
trespass on the nobility of your body. Whatever happens, I would know what to hold on to. This
hair is the finest I have ever touched in my life. Who would be so bold as to doubt my judgment
of the quality of hair?
‘What do you want with me? Can you not see I am digging this grave? The lion does not wish to
be disturbed when he is feasting on flesh. If you don not know that, I will teach you. Come on,
hurry. Do what you wish.’
‘What is now shivering at my touch, making me shiver too, is flesh, there is no doubt of it. It is
real…I am not dreaming! Who are you, you who stoop here as you dig a grave, while I stand here
doing nothing, like an idler living on others’ bread? It is the hour for sleep, or for sacrificing one’s
repose to the pursuit of knowledge. In any event, no one is out of his house, or if he is, he has
been careful to close the door, so as not to let in thieves. Everyone is enclosed in his room as
best he can, while the ashes in his old fireplace can still manage to give off enough dying heat to
keep the room a little warm. But you do not do what the others do. Your clothes indicate that you
are from some distant land.’
‘Although I am not tired, it is pointless to continue digging the grave. Now undress me; then put
me into it.’
‘The conversation we have just been having, the two of us, is so strange that I do not know how
to answer…I think the gentleman is having a little joke.’
‘Yes, yes, it is true, I was not serious; I do not know what I am saying any more.’
He collapsed, and the grave-digger rushed to support him!
‘What is wrong?’
‘Yes, yes, it is true. I was lying. I was really tired when I put down the pick…it is the first time I
have done this kind of work…do not take any notice of what I said.’
‘My opinion of him is being confirmed more and more. He is someone who has known dreadful
affliction. I pity him so much that I prefer to remain in the dark. And then he would not want to
answer me, that is sure: to open one’s heart in such an abnormal state is to double one’s
‘Let me leave this cemetery; I will continue on my way.’
‘Your legs are not strong enough to hold you. You would get lost on the way. My duty is to offer
you a simple bed. I have no other. Trust in me. Accepting my hospitality does not oblige you to
reveal any of your secrets to me.’
‘Oh venerable louse, you whose body has no wing-case, one day you will bitterly reproach me for
not having loved your sublime understanding enough; perhaps you were right, since I feel no
gratitude towards this man who is helping me. Oh lantern of Maldoror, where are you guiding his
‘To my home. Whether you are a criminal who has not taken the precaution of washing his right
hand with soap after committing his atrocious crime and whose guilt is revealed by close
inspection of his hand; or a brother who has lost his sister; or some dispossessed monarch
fleeing his realms, my truly imposing palace is worthy to receive you. It was not built of diamonds
and precious stones, for it is only a poor cottage, crudely put together; but this famous cottage
has a historic past, which the present renews and continues incessantly. If it could speak it would
astound even you, who seem to be astonished by nothing. How often this cottage and I have
seen coffins pass by containing bones soon to be more worm-eaten that the door I leant against.
My countless subjects increase each day. I need no periodical census to ascertain this. Here it
is the same as in life; everyone pays rates in proportion to the opulence of the dwelling he has
chosen for himself; and if some miser should refuse to hand over his dues, then I have
instructions to do as bailiffs and vultures who would enjoy a good meal. I have seen many drawn
up under the flag of death—the once-handsome man; the man who remained handsome even
after death; men, women, beggars, kings’ sons; the illusions of youth, the skeletons of old men;
genius; madness; idleness and its opposite; the false and the true-hearted; the mask of the
proud, the modesty of the humble; vice crowned with flowers and innocence betrayed.’
‘No, certainly I will not refuse your offer of a bed worthy of me, till dawn which will come soon. I
thank you for your kindness Gravedigger, it is grand to contemplate the ruins of cities; but it is
grander still to contemplate the ruins of human beings!’
The brother of the leech was walking in the forest, slowly. He stops several times, opening his
mouth to speak. But each time his throat contracts, drives back the abortive effort. At last he
cries out: ‘Man, when you come across a dead dog lying on its back against a sluice gate which
will not let it through, do not, as others do, go up and pick out the worms crawling from its swollen
belly, examine them in wonder, take out a knife and cut up a large number of them, saying as you
do so that one day you will be no more than this dog. What mystery do you seek? Neither I nor
the four fin-legs of the polar bear in the Boreal ocean have been able to solve the problems of life.
Take care, night is approaching, you have been here since morning. What will your family say,
and your little sister, seeing you arrive so late? Wash your hands, go on your way, to your home,
your bed. Who is that being yonder on the horizon who dares to approach me, without fear, in
crooked, agitated jumps; and what majesty, mingled with serene gentleness! His look, though
gentle, is deep. His enormous eyelids play in the breeze and seem to have their own life. I do
not know him. When I stare at his monstrous eyes, my body trembles—for the first time since I
sucked the dry breasts of what is called a mother. There is, as it were, a halo of dazzling light
around him. When he spoke, all nature was hushed and felt a great shudder. Since it pleases
you to come to me, as if drawn by a lover, I shall not resist. How beautiful he is! It hurts me to
say it. You must be powerful; for you have a more than human face, sad as the universe,
beautiful as suicide. I abhor you with all my being; and I would rather, from the beginning of the
centuries, have had a serpent coiled about my neck than look on your eyes…What…is it you,
toad?…fat toad!…wretched toad!…Forgive…Forgive! Why have you come to this earth where the
accursed are? But what have you done to your viscous, reeking pustules to look so gentle?
When you came from on high by command from above, with the mission of consoling the different
races of living beings, you struck the earth with the speed of the kite in your long magnificent
flight; I saw you! Poor toad! How often did I think of infinity then, and of my own weakness.
“Another who is superior to those of the earth,” I said to myself. “By divine will. Why should I not
be, too? To what purpose this injustice in divine decrees? He, the Creator, is mad; and yet, he is
the strongest, his wrath is dreadful! Since you appeared to me, monarch of pools and swamps,
arrayed in the glory which belongs to God alone, you have in part consoled me. But my
stumbling reason founders before such greatness! Who are you? Stay…oh stay on this earth.
Fold your white wings, and do not look up with such anxious eyes. If you must leave, let us leave
together!”’ The toad sits on his haunches (which so resemble those of men) and, while slugs, lice
and snails flee at the sight of their deadly enemy, he speaks in these terms: ‘Maldoror, listen to
me. Look on my face, calm as a mirror. I believe my intelligence is equal to yours. One day you
called me the mainstay of your life. Since then I have not proved unworthy of the confidence you
put in me. I am only a simple dweller among the reeds, it is true; but thanks to my contract with
you, taking only what was beautiful in you, my mind has become more exalted, I can speak to
you. I have come to you to haul you from the depths. Those who call themselves your friends
are struck with consternation when they see you, pale and stooping, in theatres, in public places,
in churches, or with your two sinewy thighs pressed against that horse which gallops only by night
as it carries its phantom master, wrapped in his long, black cloak. Abandon these thoughts,
which make your heart as empty as the desert; they are more burning than fire. Your mind is so
sick that you do not realize it; you think you are perfectly normal when you are uttering the most
senseless words (though full of infernal grandeur). Wretch! what have you said since the day of
your birth? O sad remnant of an immortal intelligence, which God created with so much love!
You have engendered only curses more frightful than the sight of ravenous panthers. For my
part, I would prefer to have my eyelids struck down, to have a body without legs or arms, to have
murdered a man, than to be you! Because I hate you. Why do you have this character which
astonishes me? What right do you have to come to this earth and pour scorn on those who live
on it, rotten wreck buoyed up by skepticism? If you do not like it here, you should return to the
spheres from where you came. A city-dweller should not reside in a village, like a foreigner. We
know that in space there exist spheres more spacious than our own, whose spirits have an
intelligence of which we cannot even conceive. Well…go there then. Leave this moving ground!
Show at last your divine essence, which you have kept hidden until now; and as soon as
possible, direct your rising flight towards your sphere, which we do not at all envy you, proud that
you are! For I have not managed to discover whether you are a man or more than a man! Adieu,
then. Do not hope to encounter the toad again on your way. You have been the cause of my
death. I leave for eternity, to beg your forgiveness!’
It is sometimes logical to refer to the appearances of phenomena, this first song finishes here.
Do not be severe on him who has yet only been tuning his lyre; it makes such a strange sound!
However, if you are impartial, you will already have recognized a strong stamp amid the
imperfections. As for me, I shall resume my work, to bring out, without too great a delay, a
second song. The end of the nineteenth century will have its poet (yet, to start with, he must not
produce a masterpiece, but follow the law of nature); he was born on American shores, at the
mouth of the Plata, where two nations, once rivals are now striving to surpass each other in moral
and material progress. Buenos Aires, the Queen of the South, and Montevideo, the coquette,
stretch out their hands in friendship across the silvery waters of the great estuary. But eternal
war holds destructive sway over these lands, joyously reaping countless victims. Adieu, old man,
think of me if you have read me: and you, young man, do not despair; for whatever you may
believe to the contrary, you have a friend in the vampire. And counting the scab-producing
sarcoptes-mite, you will have two friends!
What has become of Maldoror’s first song, since his mouth, full of belladonna leaves,
uttered it through the realms of anger, in a moment of reflection?…What has become of this
song…We do not know exactly. It is not in the trees, nor in the winds. And morality, passing
through that place, not foreseeing that it had found in these incandescent pages an energetic
advocate, saw him making for the dark recesses and secret fibres of consciousness, with a firm
straight step. This much at least we do know; since that time, toad-faced man can no longer
recognize himself, often falling into fist of rage which make him seem like a beast of the forest. It
is not his fault. For ages, his eyelids weighed down beneath resedas of modesty, he had
believed himself to consist only of good, and a minimal quantity of evil. Revealing his heart with
all its wicked plots to him, I bluntly taught him the reverse: that he consists of evil only, with a
minimal quantity of good which legislators are hard pressed to prevent from evaporating
completely. In this I am teaching him nothing new and I wish he would not feel eternal shame at
these bitter truths of mine; but the realization of this wish would not conform to the laws of nature.
In fact I am tearing the mask off his false and slime-covered face, dropping, like ivory balls into a
silver bowl, the sublime lies with which he deceives himself: it is understandable, then, that he
cannot summon a look of calm on to his face, even when reason disperses the darkness of pride.
That is why the hero I present has brought upon himself implacable hatred, by attacking
humanity, which thought itself invulnerable, through the breach of absurd philosophical tirades;
these abound like grains of sand in his books, the comic qualities of which I am sometimes,
whenever my reason abandons me, on the point of finding so droll—but tiresome. He had
foreseen it. It is not enough to sculpt statues of goodness on shelves of libraries where
parchments are stored. O human being, here you are now, naked as a worm, in the presence of
my sword of diamond! Abandon your method; the time for pride is past: prostrated before you, I
offer up this prayer. There is someone who observes the smallest actions of your guilty lives.
You are ensnared by the subtle network of his relentless perspicacity. Do not trust him when his
back is turned; for he is watching you; do not trust him when his eyes are closed, for he is still
watching you. It is difficult to conceive that you can have made the dreadful resolution to surpass
the child of my imagination in matters of guile and wickedness. His least blows are fatal. If one is
careful, one can teach him who does not know it that wolves and brigands do not devour one
another: perhaps they are not in the habit of doing so. Therefore fearlessly entrust all care for
your existence to him: he will guide it in the direction he knows so well. Do not believe in his
apparent intention of making you better; for you are, to say the least, only of indifferent interest to
him: even in saying this I am making allowances in your favour. What I have said does not
approach the whole truth. But it is because he delights in doing evil to you, rightly convinced that
you will become as wicked as he and that you will accompany him, when the time comes, into
hell’s gaping abyss. His place has long since been appointed, the place where an iron gibbet
stands, with chains and halters hanging from it. When destiny brings him there, the dismal pit
beneath the trap door will never have tasted more delicious prey, nor will he ever have
contemplated a more fitting habitation. It seems that I am speaking an in intentionally paternal
manner, and that humanity has no right to complain.
I am grasping the pen which is going to compose the second song…an instrument torn from the
wings of some red pyraugue! But what is wrong with my fingers? The joints remain paralysed,
as soon as I want to start my work. Yet I need to write…It is impossible! I repeat that I need to
write my thoughts. I have, like any other man, the right to submit to this natural law…But no, no,
still the pen will not move! What is this? See the lightning flashing in the distance, across the
countryside. The storm is crossing the sky. It is raining…Still it is raining…How it rains! The
thunder has burst, it has beaten down on my open window, stretching me out on the floor. It has
struck me on the forehead. Poor young man! Your face was already disfigured enough by
premature wrinkles and the deformity of birth. It did not need this long sulphurous scar, too! (I
have just assumed the wound has healed, but it will be some time before that happens). What do
the storm and the paralysing of my fingers mean? Is it a warning from on high to make me think
twice about the risks I am running by distilling the saliva of my square mouth? But this storm did
not frighten me. What would a legion of storms matter to me? These celestial policemen carry
out their difficult duties with zeal, if I am to judge summarily by my wounded forehead. I do not
need to thank the Almighty for his remarkable skill; he aimed the thunderbolt so that it cut my face
exactly in two; from the forehead, where the injury was most critical, down to the neck. Let
someone else congratulate him on his accuracy! But these storms attack one who is stronger
than they. And so, viper-faced Eternal One, not content with placing my soul between the
frontiers of madness and these frenzied thoughts which are slowly killing me, you had to decide,
after mature consideration, that it befitted your majesty to make torrents of blood gush from my
brow! But what can you hope to achieve? You know that I do not love you, that I in fact hate you.
Why do you persist? When will your behaviour cease to be enshrouded in all the appearances of
strangeness? Speak to me frankly, as a friend. Do you not suspect that your odious persecution
of me is characterized by a naive eagerness which is utterly ridiculous, though none of your
seraphim would dare to point this out to you? What rage has taken hold of you? I want you to
know that if you abandoned the pursuit and let me live in peace I would be grateful to you…Go on
then, Sultan, lick the floor and rid me of the blood which has stained it. The bandaging is
finished: my brow has been stanched and washed with salt-water, I have wound bandlets around
my face. There is not much to speak of: four blood-drenched shirts, two handkerchiefs. One
would not think at first sight that Maldoror had so much blood in his arteries, for his face has only
a waxen, corpse-like sheen. But there it is. Perhaps that is all the blood his body could contain,
and it is probably that there is not much more left. Enough, enough, you greedy dog; leave the
floor as it is; your belly is full. You must no go on drinking; for you would very quickly start
vomiting. You have glutted yourself adequately, now go and lie down in your kennel; consider
yourself swimming in bliss; for three immense days you will not think of hunger, thanks to the
globules which you have swallowed with visible and solemn satisfaction. And you, Leman, take a
broom; I should like to take one, too, but I do not have the strength. You understand, do you not,
that I do not have the strength? Put your tears back in their scabbard, or else I will think that you
are not courageous enough to contemplate in composure the huge gash occasioned by a
punishment which for me is already lost in the night of past time. You will go to the fountain and
fetch two pails of water. Once you have washed the floor, you will take the linen into the next
room. If the laundress comes back this evening, as she should, you will give it to her; but as it
has been raining heavily for an hour and is raining still, I do not think she will leave her house; in
that case, she will come tomorrow. If she should ask you where all this blood comes from, you
are not obliged to answer her. Oh, how weak I am! No matter; I shall nonetheless be strong
enough to raise my pen-holder, and courageous enough to work out my thoughts. What concern
was it of the Creator’s, that he should plague me with the thunderstorm as if I were a child? I
shall nonetheless persist in my resolve to write. These bandelets are a nuisance, the air in my
room is thick with blood…
May the day never come when Lohengrin and I pass one another in the street, brushing against
one another like strangers in a hurry! Oh let me flee for ever far from this thought! The Eternal
One has created the world as it is: He would have been very wise if, in the time strictly necessary
to break a woman’s skull with hammer-blows, He had forgotten his sidereal majesty for a moment
to reveal to us the mysteries amid which our existence stifles like a fish flailing on the ship’s
deck. But he is great and noble; He prevails over us by the might of his conceptions; if He
parleyed with men, all His disgraceful acts would be flung in His face. But…wretch that you are!
Why do you not blush? It is not enough that the army of physical and moral afflictions which
surrounds us should have been created: the secret of our shabby destiny is not even revealed to
us. I know the Almighty…and He too must know me. If we chance to be walking along the same
path, His sharp eyes see me coming from afar: He crosses the road, to avoid the triple platinum
dart which nature gave me for a tongue! You will do me the favour, O Creator, of letting me give
vent to my feelings. Wielding my terrible ironies in my firm untrembling hand, I warn you that my
heart will contain enough to keep on attacking you until my existence ends. I shall strike your
hollow carcass; but so hard that I undertake to knock out the remaining portions of intelligence
which you did not want to give to man, because you were jealous at the thought that he would
become your equal and which, cunning bandit, you had shamelessly hidden in your bowels, as if
you did not know that one day I would discover them with my never-closing eyes, take them away
and share them with my fellows. This I have done and now they no longer fear you; now they
deal with you on an equal footing. Come, kill me and make me repent my boldness: I bare my
breast and await you with humility. Appear, then, derisory spans of eternal punishments!
Pompous displays of over-rated qualities! He has proved incapable of stopping the circulation of
my blood which defies Him. Yet I have proofs that he does not hesitate to stop the breath of other
human beings in their prime, who have scarcely tasted the delights of life. It is quite appalling, in
my humble opinion! I have seen the Creator whetting His futile cruelty, kindling fires in which old
men and children alike have died. It was not I who started the attack; it is He who forces me to
turn around with my steel-cord whip, like a spinning-top. Does He not Himself provide me with
the accusations I use against Him? My terrifying verve will not flag. It thrives on the senseless
nightmares of my sleepless nights. And this has been written for the sake of Lohengrin; so let us
return to him. Fearing that he would become like other men later, I had at first resolved to stab
him to death once he had passed the age of innocence. But I reconsidered and wisely
abandoned my resolution in time. He does not suspect that his life was in danger for a quarter of
an hour. Everything was ready, and the knife had been bought. It had a fine and delicate blade,
for I like grace and elegance even in the instruments of death; but it was long and pointed. Just
one cut in the neck, carefully piercing the carotid artery, would have been enough, I think. I am
glad I acted as I did; I would have regretted it later. So, Lohengrin, do whatever you wish,
whatever you please; lock me up forever in a dark prison with scorpions as the only companions
of my captivity, or pull out my eye till it falls to the ground, I shall never reproach you in the least; I
am yours, I belong to you, I no longer live for myself. The pain you cause me will not be
comparable to the joy of knowing that he who wounds me with his murderous hands is steeped in
an essence more divine than that of his fellows! Yet it is still noble to give one’s life for another
human being and thus to keep alive the hope that not all men are wicked, since there has been
one who overcame my mistrust and aversion and attracted himself to my bitter sympathy.
It is midnight; there is no longer a single omnibus to be seen, from the Bastille to the Madelaine. I
am wrong; here is one which has appeared suddenly, as if from under the earth. A few late
passers-by are looking at it attentively; for it does not resemble any other. On the open top deck
men are sitting, with fixed unmoving eyes like dead fish. They are hunched up tight beside one
another and seem to be lifeless; apart from that, the number of passengers permitted by the
regulations has not been exceeded. When the coachman whips his horses, you would think it
was the whip moving his hand, not his hand moving the whip. Who can this group of strange
dumb people be? Are they moon-dwellers? There are moments when one would be tempted to
believe so; but they are more like corpses. The omnibus, anxious to arrive at the last stop, tears
through space, making the roads rattle…It is disappearing!…But a shapeless form is madly
pursuing it, in its wake, amid the dust. ‘Stop, I beg you, stop…my legs are swollen from a day’s
walking…I have not eaten since yesterday…My parents have abandoned me…I do not know what
to do now…I have made up my mind to go back home and I would be there soon if you would let
me have a seat…I am only a little boy, eight years old, I trust in you…’ It is disappearing!…It is
disappearing!…But a shapeless form is madly pursuing it, in its wake, amid the dust. One of the
men, cold-eyed, nudges his neighbour and seems to be expressing his displeasure at these
silvery moans which reach his ears. The other imperceptibly nods his head in agreement, only to
plunge again into motionless self-absorption, like a tortoise into his shell. Everything in the
expressions of the other travelers indicates that their feelings are the same as the first two. The
cries can be heard for two or three minutes, becoming shriller every second. Along the boulevard
one can see windows being opened and the frightened face of someone with a candle in his hand
who, having looked out into the street, slams the shutters to again, and does not reappear…It is
disappearing!…It is disappearing!…But a shapeless form pursues it madly, in its wake, amid the
dust. Among all the stony faces, only a young man absorbed in reverie seems to feel any pity for
the boy’s misery. He does not dare to raise his voice on behalf of the child, who still thinks he
can reach the omnibus with his aching little feet; for the other men are casting contemptuous,
imperious looks at him and he knows he can do nothing against their will. Stunned, his head in
his hands, his elbows resting on his knees, he wonders if this is an example of ‘human charity.’
Then he realizes that it is only an empty phrase which is no longer even to be found in the
dictionary of poetry, and he freely admits his mistake. He says to himself: ‘In fact, why should I
be interested in this small child? Let us leave him behind.’ Yet a hot tear rolls down the cheek of
this adolescent who has just blasphemed. Uneasy, he passes his hand across his brow, as if to
push away a cloud whose opacity darkens his intelligence. He is struggling in vain in the century
into which he has been thrown; he feels that this is not where he belongs, and yet he cannot get
out. Terrible prison! Dreadful fatality! Lombano, since that day I have been well pleased with
you! I did not cease to observe you, while my face appeared to be as indifferent as that of the
other travelers. With an impulse of indignation the adolescent gets up and wants to go away, so
as not to participate, even unwillingly, in an evil action. I beckon him, and he comes to my
side…It is disappearing!…It is disappearing!…But a shapeless form pursues it madly, in its wake,
amid the dust. Suddenly, the cries cease; for the child has tripped over a stone protruding from
the road’s surface, and he has injured his head in falling. The omnibus has disappeared over the
horizon and all that can be seen now is the silent street… It is disappearing!…It is
disappearing!…But a shapeless form no longer pursues it madly, in its wake, amid the dust.
Behold a ragman passing, bending over the child with his dim lantern in his hand; he has more
goodness of heart than all his fellows in the omnibus. He has just lifted up the child; you may be
sure that he will heal him, that he will not abandon him as his parents did. It is disappearing!…It is
disappearing!…But from where he is standing the ragman’s piercing look pursues it madly, in its
wake, amid the dust. Stupid, idiotic race! You will regret having acted thus! It is I who tell you.
You will regret it! My poetry will consist exclusively of attacks on man, that wild beast, and the
Creator, who ought never to have bred such vermin. Volume after volume will accumulate, till the
end of my life; yet this single idea only will be found, ever present in my mind!
On my daily walk I used to pass through a narrow street every day. Every day a slim ten-year-old
girl would follow me along the street, keeping a respectful distance, looking at me with
sympathetic, curious eyes. She was big for her age, and had a well-shaped body. Long, black
hair, parted on her head, fell in separate tresses on to shoulders like marble. One day she was
following me as usual; the sturdy arms of a woman of the people caught her by the hair, like a
whirlwind catches a leaf, and slapped her twice, brutally, on her proud, silent face. Then she
brought that straying consciousness back home. I tried in vain to appear unconcerned; she never
failed to pursue me, though her presence had by now become irksome. When I took a different
route, she would stop, struggling violently to control herself, at the end of the street, standing still
as the statue of silence, and she would not cease looking before her until I was out of sight. One
day this girl went on ahead of me in the street, and fell into step with me. If I walked faster to
pass by her, she almost ran to keep the same distance between us. But if I slowed down so that
there would be a large space between us, she slowed down too, and did so with all the grace of
childhood. When we reached the end of the street, she slowly turned round barring my way.
There was no time no for me to slip away; now I stood before her. Her eyes were swollen and
red. It was easy to see that she wanted to speak to me, but did not know how to go about it. Her
face suddenly turning pate as a corpse, she asked me: ‘Would you be so kind as to tell me what
time it is?’ I told her I did not have a watch and walked rapidly away. And since that day, child of
the troubled and precocious imagination, you have not seen in your narrow street the mysterious
young man whose heavy sandals could be heard clattering along those winding roads. The
appearance of this blazing comet will never be repeated; the mournful object of your fanatical
curiosity will no longer flash on the facade of your disappointed observation. And you will often
think, too often, perhaps always, of him who did not seem to be worried about the good and evil
of this life, who went haphazardly away—with his face horribly dead, his hair standing on end,
with a tottering gait, his arms swimming blindly in the ironic waters of ether, as if he were seeking
there the bleeding prey of hope, continually buoyed up, through the immense regions of space,
by the implacable snow-plough of fatality. You will see me no more, and I will no longer see
you!…Who knows? Perhaps this young girl was not what she appeared to be. Perhaps
boundless cunning, eighteen years’ experience and the charm of vice were hidden beneath her
innocent appearance. Young sellers of love have been known to leave the British Isles gaily
behind them and cross the channel. They spread their wings, whirling in golden swarms in the
Parisian light; and whenever they were seen, people would say: ‘they are no more than ten or
twelve years old’. But in reality they were twenty. Oh, if this supposition be true, cursed be the
windings of that dark street! Horrible! horrible! the things that happen there. I think her mother
struck her because she was not plying her trade skillfully enough. It is possible that she was only
a child and, in that case, the mother is even more guilty. For my part, I refuse to believe this
supposition, which is only a hypothesis and I prefer to see and to love, in this romantic character,
a soul revealing itself too soon…Ah, young girl, I charge you not to reappear before me, if ever I
return to that narrow street. It could cost you dear! No! No! I, generous enough to love my
fellows! I have resolved against it since the day of my birth! They do not love me! Worlds will be
destroyed, granite will glide like a cormorant on the surface of the waves before I touch the
infamous hands of another human being. Back…back with that hand! Young girl, you are no
angel, you will become like other women after all. No, no, I implore you, do not reappear before
my frowning squinting eyes. In a moment of distraction I might take your arms and wring them
like linen which is squeezed after washing, or break them with a crack like two dry branches and
then forcible make you eat them. Taking our head between my hands with a gentle, caressing
air, I might dig my greedy fingers into the lobes of your innocent brain—to extract, with a smile on
my lips, a substance which is good ointment to bathe my eyes, sore from the eternal insomnia of
life. I might, by stitching you eyelids together, deprive you of the spectacle of the universe, and
make it impossible for you to see your way; and then I should certainly not act as your guide. I
might, raising your virgin body in my iron arms, seize you by the legs and swing you around me
like a front, concentrating all my strength as I described the final circle, and hurling you against
the wall. Each drop of your blood would spurt on to a human breast, to frighten men and to set
before them an example of my wickedness. They will tear shreds and shreds of flesh from their
bodies; but the drop of blood remains, ineffaceable, in the same place, and will shin like a
diamond. Do not be alarmed. I will instruct half a dozen servants to keep the venerated remains
of your body and to protect them from the ravenous hunger of the dogs. No doubt the body has
remained stuck to the wall like a ripe pear and has not fallen to the earth; but a dog can jump
extremely high, if one is not careful…
How delightful this child is, sitting on a bench in the Tuileries garden. His bold eyes dart
looks at some invisible object, far off in the distance. He cannot be more than eight years old, yet
he is not playing happily and in a manner which would befit one of his years. He should at least
be laughing and walking with some friend, but to do so would not be in character.
How delightful this child is, sitting on a bench in the Tuileries garden! A man, moved by a
hidden design, comes and sits beside him on the bench. His manner is suspicious. Who is he? I
need not tell you, for you will recognize him by his tortuous conversation. Let us listen to them,
without disturbing them: ‘What were you thinking of, my child?’
‘I was thinking of heaven.’
‘You do not need to think about heaven. It is quite enough to think about this earth. Are you
tired of life, you who have only just been born?’
‘No, but everyone prefers heaven to earth.’
‘Not I. For since heaven, like earth, has been made by God, you may be sure that there you
will meet the same evils as down here. After your death you will not be rewarded according to
you merits; for injustices are done you on this earth (and experience will later teach you that they
are), there is no reason why, in the next life, they should not continue to be committed. The best
thing you can do is not to think of God and to take the law into your own hands, since justice is
denied you. If one of your companions offended you, would you not be glad to kill him?’
‘But it is forbidden.’
‘It is not as forbidden as you think. It is just a matter of not getting caught. The justice of
laws is worthless; it is the jurisprudence of the offended party which counts. If you detested one
of your companions, would you not be wretched at the thought of constantly having his image
before your mind’s eye?’
‘That is true.’
‘Such a companion would make you wretched for the rest of your life; for, seeing that your
hatred is only passive, he will continue to sneer at you and hurt you with impunity. So there is
only one way of putting an end to the situation; that is to get rid of one’s enemy. This is the point I
wanted to make, so that you would understand the basis on which our present society is founded.
Each man, unless he is simply an imbecile, must take the law into his own hands. He who gains
victory over his fellow-men is the cleverest and the strongest. Would you not like to dominate
your fellow-men?’
‘Yes, yes.’
‘Then be the strongest and the cleverest. You are too young yet to be the strongest; but from
today you can use guile, the finest instrument of men of genius. When the shepherd-boy David
struck the giant Goliath’s forehead with a stone from a sling, is it not wonderful to note that it was
only cunning which enabled David to conquer his adversary and that if on the other hand it had
come to a hand-to-hand fight, the giant would have crushed him like a fly? In open war you will
never be able to conquer men, on whom you wish to impose your will; but with cunning you can
fight alone against them all. You desire riches, palaces, fame? Or were you deceiving me when
you declared these noble aspirations?’
‘No, no, I was not deceiving you. But I would like to attain what I want by other means.’
‘Then you will achieve nothing. Virtuous and well-meaning methods lead nowhere. You
must bring into play more powerful levers, more cunningly contrived traps. Before your virtue has
brought you fame, before you have achieved your goal, a hundred others will have time to leapfrog over your back and arrive at the winning-post ahead of you, so that there will be no more
room left for your narrow ideas. One must be able to embrace more amply the horizon of the
present time. Have you not heard for example of the immense glory victories bring? And yet
victories do not simply happen. Blood must be shed, a lot of blood, to achieve them and to lay
them at the feet of conquerors. Without the corpses and the scattered limbs you see on the plain
where carnage is wisely practised, there would be no war and, without war, there would be no
victory. You see that, when one wants to be famous, one has to dive gracefully into rivers of the
blood of cannon-blasted bodies. The end excuses the means. The first thing you need to be
famous is to have money. Now, as you have none, you will have to murder to acquire it; but as
you are not strong enough to handle a dagger, become a thief until your limbs are big enough.
That they may grow more quickly, I advise you to do gymnastics twice a day, one hour in the
morning, one at night. In this way, you will be able to start your career of crime at fifteen, instead
of waiting till you are twenty. Love of glory excuses everything and perhaps later when you are
the master of your fellow-men you will do them almost as much good as you did them harm in the
Maldoror notices that the blood is boiling in his young interlocutor’s head; his nostrils are
swollen; his lips are flecked with a light white foam. He feels his pulse; it is beating very fast.
Fever has taken hold of this delicate body. He fears the consequences his words will have; the
wretch sneaks away, frustrated at not having been able to converse longer with the child. When
even in mature years it is so difficult to master our passions, poised between good and evil, how
hard it must be for so inexperienced a mind? How much more relative energy is required! The
child will escape at the price of three days in bed. May it please heaven that his mother’s
presence should restore peace to this sensitive flower, the frail exterior of a fine soul!
In a flowery grove the hermaphrodite sleeps a deep, heavy sleep, drenched in his tears. The
moon’s disc has come clear of the mass of clouds, and with its pale beams caresses his gentle
adolescent face. His features express the most virile energy as well as the grace of a celestial
virgin. Nothing about him seems natural, not even the muscles of his body, which clear their way
across the harmonious contours of a feminine form. He has one arm around his head and
another around his breast, as if to restrain the beating of a heart which can make no confidences,
laden with the heavy burden of an eternal secret. Tired of life and ashamed of walking among
beings who are not like him, he has given his soul up to despair and wanders alone, like the
beggar of the valley. By what means does he live? Though he does not realize it,
compassionate souls are watching over him near at hand, and they will not abandon him: he is so
good! he is so resigned! Sometimes, he willingly talks with sensitive people, without touching
their hands, keeping at a safe distance for fear of an imaginary danger. If he is asked why he has
chosen solitude as his companion, he raises his eyes towards the sky, scarcely restraining tears
of reproach against Providence; but he does not reply to this tactless question, which fills his
eyes, otherwise white as snow, with the redness of the morning rose. If the conversation goes
on, he becomes anxious, looks around him in all directions as if he is trying to flee from an
approaching enemy, quickly waves good-bye and moves off on the wings of his reawakened
sense of shame to disappear into the forest. he is generally taken for a madman. One day four
masked men, acting on orders, fell upon him and bound him tightly, so that he could only move
his legs. The rough thongs of the whip crashed down on his back as they told him to make his
way without delay to the Bicetre road. He started to smile as the blows rained down on him and
spoke to them with such feeling and intelligence of the many human sciences he had studied
which indicated great erudition in one who had not yet crossed the threshold of youth, and of the
destiny of mankind fully revealing the poetic nobility of his soul, that his attackers, chilled to the
blood with fear at the act which they had committed, untied his broken limbs, and falling at his
knees, begged forgiveness, which was granted, and went away, showing signs of a veneration
which is not ordinarily accorded to men. Since this event, which was much spoken of, everyone
has guessed his secret; but they pretend not to know it so as not to increase his suffering; and
the government has granted him an honorary pension, to make him forget that there was a
moment when, without preliminary investigation, they had wanted to put him by force into a
lunatic asylum. He keeps half of the money for his own use; the rest he gives to the poor. When
he sees a man and a woman walking along a path shaded by plane-trees, he feels his body
splitting from top to bottom into two parts, and each new part going to embrace one of the
walkers; but it is only a hallucination, and reason soon takes over again. That is why he mixes
neither with men nor with women; for his excessively strong sense of shame, which arose with
the idea that he was only a monster, prevents him from giving his burning love to anyone. He
would consider it self-profanation, and profanation of others. His pride repeats this axiom to him:
‘Let each remain among his own kind.’ His pride, I say, because he fears that by sharing his life
with a man or a woman, he will sooner or later be reproached, as if it were a dreadful crime, for
the conformation of his body. So he shelters behind his self-esteem, offended by this impious
supposition, which comes from him alone, and he persists in remaining alone and without
consolation amidst his torments. There in a flowery grove the hermaphrodite sleeps a deep
heavy sleep, drenched in his tears. The birds, waking, contemplate, enraptured, this melancholy
figure, through the branches of the trees, and the nightingale will not sing its crystal-toned
cavatinas. The presence of the unhappy hermaphrodite has made the wood as august as a
tomb. Oh wanderer mislead by your spirit of adventure to leave your father and mother from the
earliest age; by the sufferings you have undergone from thirst, in the desert; by the homeland you
are perhaps seeking, after long wanderings as an outlaw in strange lands; by your steed, your
faithful friend, who with you has borne exile and the inclemency of the climes which your roaming
disposition has brought you through; by the dignity which is given man by journeys through
distant lands and unexplored seas, amid the polar ice-floes, or under the torrid desert sun, do not
touch with your hand, like a tremor of the breeze, these ringlets of hair on the ground among the
grass. Stand back several steps, and you will be acting more wisely. This hair is sacred; it is the
wish of the hermaphrodite himself; he does not wish this hair, perfumed by the mountain breeze,
to be kissed religiously by human lips, nor his brow, which shines at this moment like the stars
which has fallen from its orbit, passing through space and on to this majestic brow, which it
surrounds with its diamantine brightness, like a halo. Night, casting off sadness, puts on all its
charms to fete the sleep of this incarnation of modesty, this perfect image of angelic innocence:
the gentle humming of insects is less audible. The branches of trees bend their bushy heights
over him to protect him from the dew, and the breeze, plucking the strings of its melodious harp,
sends it joyous harmonies through the universal silence towards those closed eyelids which are
dreaming that they are present at the cadenced concert of the spheres. He dreams that he is
happy, that his bodily nature has changed; or that at least he has flown off on a dark-red cloud
towards another sphere inhabited by beings whose nature is the same as his! He dreams that
flowers are dancing around him like huge mad garlands, imbuing him with their suave perfumes,
while he sings a hymn of love in the arms of a human being of magical beauty. But what his arms
are clasping is only twilight mist; and when he awakes, his arms will clasp it no longer. Do not
awaken, hermaphrodite; do not awaken yet, I implore you. Why will you not believe me?
Sleep…sleep on for ever. May your breast rise as you pursue the chimerical hope of happiness.
I grant you that; but do not open your eyes. Ah! do not open your eyes! I want to leave you thus,
so that I do not have to witness your awakening. Perhaps, one day, with the help of a voluminous
book, I will tell your story in moving words, appalled by all that it contains and by the moving
lessons to be drawn from it. Till now, I have not been able to; for every time that I wanted to,
copious tears would fall on to the paper, and my fingers would tremble, but not from old age. But
now I want to have the courage at last. I am shocked that my nerves are no stronger than a
woman’s and that I faint like a girl every time I reflect on your great misery. Sleep…sleep on; but
do not open your eyes. Ah! do not open your eyes! Adieu, hermaphrodite: I will not fail to pray
every day for you (if it were for myself, I should not pray). May peace be with you!
When I hear a soprano uttering her vibrant and melodious notes, my eyes are filled with a
hidden flame, flashes of pain shoot across them, and the burst of alarm-bell and cannonade
resound in my ears. What can be the reason for this deep loathing of everything related to man?
If those harmonies are played on the chords of an instrument, I listen in delight to the pearly notes
wafting in cadence through the elastic waves of the atmosphere. Sense conveys to my hearing
an impression so sweet as to melt nerves and thought. The magic poppies of an ineffable
drowsiness envelop, like a veil filtering the light of day, the active power of my senses and
tenacious strength of my imagination. The story is told that I was born in the arms of deafness!
In the first years of my childhood, I could not hear what was said to me. When with the greatest
difficulty, they had taught me to speak, it was not until after I had read on a sheet of paper what
someone had written that I could in turn communicate the thread of my ideas. One day, woeful
day, I had grown in beauty and innocence. Everyone admired the intelligence and goodness of
the divine youth. Many a conscience blushed inwardly when it contemplated those clear feature
in which his soul was enshrined. No one approached him without veneration, for they had
noticed in his eyes the look of an angel. But no, I knew only too well that the happy faces of
youth would not flower perpetually, wreathed in capricious garlands, on hi modest and noble
brow, which all mothers used to kiss with frenzied devotion. It was beginning to seem to me that
the universe, with its starry vault of impassable and tormentingly mysterious globes, was not
perhaps the most imposing thing I had dreamt of. And so, one day, tired of trudging along the
steep path on this earthly journey, trudging along like a drunkard through the dark catacombs of
life, I slowly raised my splenetic eyes, ringed with bluish circles, towards the concavity of the
firmament and I, who was so young, dared to penetrate the mysteries of heaven! Not finding
what I was seeking, I lifted my eyes higher, and higher still, until I saw a throne made of human
excrement and gold, on which was sitting–with idiotic pride, his body draped in a shroud of
unwashed hospital linen–he who calls himself the Creator! He was holding in his hand the rotten
body of a dead man, carrying it in turn from his eyes to his nose and from his nose to his mouth;
and once it reached his mouth, one can guess what he did with it. His feet were dipped in a huge
pool of boiling blood, on the surface of which two or three cautious heads would suddenly rise up
like tapeworms in a chamber-pot, and as suddenly submerge again, swift as an arrow. A kick on
the bone of the nose was the familiar reward for any infringement of regulations occasioned by
the need to breathe a different atmosphere; for after all, these men were not fish. Though
amphibious at best, they were swimming underwater in this vile liquid!…until, finding his hands
empty, the Creator, with the first two claws of his foot, would grab another diver by the neck, as if
with pincers, and lift him into the air, out of the reddish slime, delicious sauce. And this one was
treated in the same way as his predecessor. First he ate his head, then his legs and arms, and,
last of all the trunk, until there was nothing left; for he crunched the bones as well. And so it
continues, for all the hours of his eternity. Sometimes, he would shout: ‘I have created you, so I
have the right to do whatever I like to you. You have done nothing to me, I do not deny it. I am
making you suffer for my own pleasure.’ And he would continue his savage meal, moving his
lower jaw, which in turn moved his brain-bespattered beard. Oh reader, does not this lastmentioned detail make your mouth water? Cannot whoever wishes also eat brains just the same,
which taste just as good and just as fresh, caught less than a quarter of an hour before in the
lake–the brains of a fish? My limbs paralysed, utterly dumb, I contemplated this sight for some
time. Thrice I nearly keeled over, like a man in the throes of an emotion which is too strong for
him; thrice I managed to keep my feet. No fibre of my body was still; I was trembling like the lava
inside the volcano. Finally, my breast so constricted that I could not breathe the life-giving air
quickly enough, my lips opened slightly and I uttered a cry…a cry so piercing…that I heard it! The
shackles of my ears were suddenly broken, my ear-drum cracked as the shock of the sounding
mass of air which I had expelled with such energy, and a strange phenomenon took place in the
organ condemned by nature. I had just heard a sound! A fifth sense had developed in me! But
what pleasure could I have derived from such a realization? Since then, no human sound has
reached my ears without bringing with it the feeling of grief which pity for great injustice arouses.
Whenever anyone spoke to me, I remembered what I had seen one day above the visible
spheres, and the translation of my stifled feelings into a violent yell, the tone of which was
identical to that of my fellow-beings! I could not answer him; for the tortures inflicted on man’s
weakness in that hideous red sea passed before my eyes roaring like scorched elephants and
brushing with their wings against my singed hair. Later, when I knew mankind better, this feeling
of pity was coupled with intense rage against this tiger-like stepmother whose hardened children
know only how to curse and do evil. The brazen lie! they say that evil is the exception among
them! That was long ago; since then I have not spoken a word to anyone. Oh you, whoever you
may be, when you are beside me, do not let any sound escape your vocal cords; do not with your
larynx strive to outdo the nightingale; and, for yourself, do not on any account attempt to make
your soul known to me by means of language. Maintain a religious silence, uninterrupted by the
least sound. Cross your hands humbly on your breast, and lower your eyelids. I have told you
this, and since that vision revealed to me the supreme truth, too many nightmares have sucked
my throat, by day and by night, for me to have any courage left to renew, even in thought, the
sufferings I underwent in that infernal hour, the memory of which remorselessly pursues me. Oh!
when you hear the avalanche of snow falling from the high mountain; the lioness in the barren
desert lamenting the disappearance of its cubs; the tempest accomplishing its destined purpose;
the condemned man groaning in prison on the eve of his execution; and the savage octopus
telling the waves of the sea of his victory over swimmers and the shipwrecked, then you have to
acknowledge it: are not these majestic voices finer than the sniggering of men?
There exists an insect which men feed at their own expense. They owe it nothing; but they
fear it. This insect, which does not like wine but prefers blood, would, if its legitimate needs were
not satisfied, be capable, by means of an occult power, of becoming big as an elephant and
crushing men like ears of corn. And one has to see how respected it is, how it is surrounded with
fawning veneration, how it is held in high esteem, above all the other animals of creation. The
head is given it as its throne, and it digs its claws solemnly into the roots of the hair. Later, when
it is fat and getting on in age, it is killed, following the custom of an ancient race, to prevent it from
suffering the hardships of old age. It is given a magnificent hero’s funeral, with prominent citizens
bearing the coffin on their shoulders straight to the grave. Above the damp earth which the
grave-digger is shrewdly moving with his spade, multicoloured sentences are combined on the
immortality of the soul, the emptiness of life, the incomprehensible will of Providence, and the
marble closes for ever on this life, filled with such toil, and which is now but a corpse. The crowd
disperses, and night soon covers the walls of the cemetery with shadows.
But be consoled, human beings, for this grievous loss. Look at his countless family, which he
so freely bestowed on you and which is advancing, that your despair should be less bitter, should
be, so to speak, sweetened by these surly abortions, which will later grow into magnificent lice of
remarkable beauty monsters of wise demeanour. Under its maternal wing it has incubated
several dozen beloved eggs in your hair, dried by the unremitting suction of these fearsome
strangers. And now the time has come for the eggs to hatch. Do not fear, these youthful
philosophers will soon grow, in the course of this ephemeral life. They will grow so much that
they will soon make you aware of it with their claws and their suckers.
And yet you still do not know why they do not devour the bones of your head, why they are
satisfied with ceremoniously extracting the quintessence of your blood. Wait a moment and I will
tell you: it is because they do not have the strength. You may be sure that if their jaws conformed
to the measure of their infinite desires, your brain, the retinas of your eyes, your spinal column
and all your body would be consumed. Like a drop of water. Take a microscope and examine a
louse at work on a beggar’s head; you will be surprised. Unfortunately these plunderers of long
hair are tiny. They would be no good for conscription; for they are not the size which the law
requires. They belong to the short-legged lilliputian world, and the blind do not hesitate to classify
them among the infinitesimally small. But woe to the sperm-whale that fought against a louse!
Despite his size, he would be devoured in a trice. Not even his tail would remain to tell the news.
An elephant can be stroked. But not a louse. I would not advise you to try this dangerous
experiment. Beware, if you have a hairy hand, or even if it is only flesh and bone. Your fingers
have had it, they are beyond hope. They will crack as if they were on the rack. By a strange
enchantment, the skin disappears. Lice are incapable of doing as much evil as their imagination
contemplates. If you find a louse, go on your way, do not lick its papilla with your tongue. An
accident would happen to you. Cases have been known. Never mind, I am already content with
the amount of harm it has done you, O human race; but I would like it to do you even more harm.
How much longer will you keep up the worm-eaten cult of this god, who is insensible to your
prayers and to the generous sacrifices that you offer him as expiatory holocaust? Can you not
see that this horrible manitou is not grateful for the bowls of blood and brains which you lay on his
altars, piously decorated with garlands of flowers? He is not grateful…for earthquakes and
tempests have been raging uninterruptedly since the beginning of all things. And nonetheless
(this is a spectacle worthy of observations), the more indifferent he is, the more you admire him.
It is clear that you are wary of his attributes, which he hides; and your reasoning is based on the
consideration that a divinity of such extreme power can only show such disdain for the faithful
who obey the commandments of his religion. For that reason different gods exist in each country:
here, the crocodile, there, the prostitute. But when it comes to the louse, of holy name, the
nations of the earth, one and all kissing the chains of their slavery, kneel together in the august
sanctuary before the pedestal of this shapeless and bloodthirsty idol. Any people that did not
obey its own groveling instincts and made as if to rebel, would sooner or later disappear from the
face of the earth like an autumn leaf, destroyed by the vengeance of the inexorable god.
O louse of the shriveled-up eyes, as long as rivers pour their waters into the depths of the
sea; as long as the stars gravitate along their fixed orbits; as long as the dumb emptiness has no
horizon; as long as humanity tears its own sides apart with disastrous wars; as long as divine
justice hurls its avenging thunderbolts down on this selfish globe; as long as man denies his
creator and, not without reason, snaps his fingers at him, combining insolence and disdain, your
reign over the universe will be assured, and your dynasty will extend its influence throughout the
centuries. I salute you, rising sun, heavenly liberator, you, the invisible enemy of man. Continue
to tell lewdness to couple with in impure embraces and swear to him with oaths not written in
powder that she will be his faithful lover until eternity. Kiss from time to time the dress of the
great unchaste, in memory of the important services she does not fail to render you. If she did
not seduce man with her lascivious breasts, it is improbable that you would exist, you, the product
of this reasonable and logical coupling. O son of lewdness! tell you mother that is she abandons
man’s bed and thenceforward walks a solitary way, alone and without support, she will put your
existence at risk. And let her fragrant womb, which has borne you for nine months, be stirred at
the thought of the dangers which her tender fruit, so gentle and peaceful, but already cold and
savage, would run as a result. Lewdness, queen of empires, keep before my hate-filled eyes the
sight of your starving offspring’s imperceptible growth. To achieve this goal, you know that you
have only to stick more closely to man’s sides. And you may do this without compromising
modesty, since both of you have been married for a long time.
As for me, if I may be permitted to add a few words to this hymn of glorification, I will say that
I have had a grave built, forty square leagues in area, and of a corresponding depth. There, in its
foul virginity, lies a living mine of lice. It fills the bottom of the pit, and thence it spreads out in
wide thick veins in all directions. This is how I built this mine. I pulled a female louse out of the
hair of man. I slept with it for three consecutive nights, then I threw it into the pit. Destiny saw to
it that human fecundation, which would have been impossible in other similar cases, was
successful this time; and after a few days, thousands of monsters, crawling in a compact mass of
matter, first saw the light of day. This hideous mass became more and more immense in time,
acquiring the liquid property of mercury, and branched out into several groups which at the
moment sustain themselves by eating one another (the birth-rate being higher than the mortalityrate), unless I throw them as fodder a new-born bastard whose mother wished its death, or the
arm of some young girl which I cut off during the night, after drugging her with chloroform. Every
fifteen years, the generations of lice which live off men diminish noticeably and infallibly predict
the approaching era of their complete destruction. For man, more intelligent than his enemy, has
managed to conquer him. Then, with an infernal spade which increases my strength, I extract
blocks of lice from this inexhaustible mine, break them up with axe-blows, and transport into the
arteries of cities. There they dissolve on contact with human temperature as in the first days of
their formation in the winding galleries of the underground mine, they dig down into the gravel and
spread like little streams into the dwelling-places of men like malign spirits. The watchdog gives a
low bark, for it seems to him that a legion of unknown beings is penetrating the pores of the walls,
bringing terror to the bed of sleep. Perhaps, at least once in your life, you have heard one of
these wailing, prolonged barks. With his feeble eyes he tries to pierce the darkness of the night;
for all this passes the understanding of his dog-brain. This humming irritates him, he feels he has
been betrayed. Millions of the enemy swoop down thus on each city, like clouds of locusts. That
will be enough for fifteen years. They will fight against man, and inflict sharp wounds on him.
After this period, I will send others. When I am smashing the block of living matter, it may happen
that one fragment is denser than another. Its atoms are striving furiously to break off from the
agglomeration and go and torment mankind; but the cohesion of the whole is such that it resists
all their efforts. In a supreme convulsion, they make such an effort that the block, unable to
scatter its living elements, soars right into the air as if set off by gunpowder, then falls again, and
buries itself firmly in the ground. Sometimes, a pensive peasant sees an aerolith vertically
rending space, moving downwards towards a cornfield. He does not know where the stone
comes from. Now you have, clearly and succinctly, the explanation of the phenomenon.
If the face of the earth were covered with lice as the seashore is covered with grains of sand,
the human race would be destroyed, a prey to dreadful pain. What a sight! With me, motionless
on my angel wings in the air to contemplate it!
Oh rigorous mathematics, I have not forgotten you since your wise lessons, sweeter than
honey, filtered into my heart like a refreshing wave. Instinctively, from the cradle, I had longed to
drink from your source, older then the sun, and I continue to tread the sacred sanctuary of your
solemn temple, I, the most faithful of your devotees. There was a vagueness in my mind,
something thick as smoke; but I managed to mount the steps which lead to your altar, and you
drove away this dark veil, as the wind blows the draught-board. You replaced it with excessive
coldness, consummate prudence and implacable logic. With the aid of your fortifying milk, my
intellect developed rapidly and took on immense proportions amid the ravishing lucidity which you
bestow as a gift on all those who sincerely love you. Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Aweinspiring trinity! Luminous triangle! He who has not known you is a fool! He would deserve the
ordeal of the greatest tortures; for there is blind disdain in his ignorant indifference; but he who
knows you and appreciates you no longer wants the goods of the earth and is satisfied with your
magical delights; and, borne on your sombre wings, wishes only to rise in effortless flight,
constructing as he does a rising spiral, towards the spherical vault of the heavens. Earth only
offers him illusions and moral phantasmagoria; but you, concise mathematics, by the rigorous
sequence of your unshakable propositions and the constancy of your iron rules, give to the
dazzled eyes a powerful reflection of that supreme truth whose imprint can be seen in the order of
the universe. But the order surrounding you, represented by the perfect regularity of the square,
Pythagoras’ friend, is greater still; for the Almighty has revealed himself and his attributes
completely in this memorable work, which consisted in bringing from the bowels of chaos the
treasures of your theorems and your magnificent splendours. In ancient epochs and in modern
times more than one man of great imagination has been awe-struck by the contemplation of your
symbolic figures traced on paper, like so many mysterious signs, living and breathing in hidden
ways not understood by the profane multitudes; these signs were only the glittering revelations of
eternal axioms and hieroglyphs, which existed before the universe and will remain after the
universe has passed away. And then this man of vision wonders, leaning towards the precipice
of a fatal question-mark, how it is that mathematics contains so much imposing grandeur and
undeniable truth, whereas, when he compares it with mankind, he finds among the latter only
false pride and deceitfulness. And then this saddened superior spirit, whose noble familiarity with
your precepts has made him even more aware of the pettiness and incomparable folly of
mankind, buries his white-haired head in his fleshless hands and remains engrossed in his
supernatural meditations. He kneels before you and in his veneration pays homage to your
divine face, the very image of the Almighty. In my childhood you appeared to me one May night
by the light of the moonbeams in a green meadow beside a clear stream, all three equal in grace
and modesty, all three full of the majesty of queens. You took a few steps towards me in your
long dresses floating like mist and lured me towards your proud breasts like a blessed son. Then
I ran up eagerly, my arms clenched around your white throats. I fed gratefully on your rich
manna, and I felt humanity growing within me, becoming deeper. Since that time, rival
goddesses, I have not abandoned you. How many mighty projects, since that time, how many
sympathies which I had believed to be engraved on the pages of my heart as on marble, have
been slowly effaced from my disillusioned reason by their configurative lines, as the oncoming
dawn effaces the shadows of the night! Since that time, rival goddesses, I have seen death
whose intention, clear to the naked eye, was to people graveyards, I have seen him ravaging
battlefields fertilized by human blood from which morning flowers grow above human remains.
Since then I have witnessed revolutions on this globe, earthquakes, volcanoes with their blazing
lava, the simoun of the desert and tempest-torn shipwrecks have known my presence as an
impassive spectator. Since that time I have seen several generations of human beings lift up
their wings in the morning and move off into space with the inexperienced joy of the chrysalid
greeting its first metamorphosis, only to die in the evening before sunset, their heads bowed like
withered flowers blown by the plaintive whistling of the wind. But you remain always the same.
No change, no foul air disturbs the lofty crags and immense valleys of your immutable identity.
Your modest pyramids will last longer than the pyramids of Egypt, those anthills raised by
stupidity and slavery. And at the end of all the centuries you will stand on the ruins of time, with
your cabbalistic ciphers, your laconic equations and your sculpted lines, on the avenging right of
the Almighty, whereas the stars will plunge despairingly, like whirlwinds in the eternity of horrible
and universal night, and grimacing mankind will think of settling its accounts at Last Judgment.
Thank you for countless services you have done me. Thank you for the strange qualities with
which you enriched my intellect. Without you in my struggle against man I would perhaps have
been defeated. Without you, he would have made me grovel in the dust and kiss his feet. If it
had not been for you, he would have flayed my flesh and bones with his perfidious claws. But I
have kept on my guard, like an experienced athlete. You gave me the coldness of your sublime
conceptions, free of all passion. And I used it to reject scornfully the ephemeral pleasures of my
short journey, and spurn the well-meaning but deceptive advances of my fellows. You gave me
the dogged prudence which can be deciphered at every step of your admirable methods of
analysis, synthesis and deduction. I used it to outdo the pernicious wiles of my mortal enemy and
to attack him skillfully in turn, plunging into his entrails a sharp dagger which will forever remain
buried in his body; for it is a wound from which he will never recover. You gave me logic which is,
as it were, the soul itself of your teachings, full of wisdom, and with its syllogisms, the complex
labyrinth of which makes it nonetheless intelligible, my intellect felt its audacious strength
increasing twofold. By means of this terrible auxiliary, I discovered in mankind, as I swam
towards the depths, opposite the reef of hatred, the black and hideous wickedness which lurked
amidst the noxious miasmata admiring its navel. First I discovered in the darkness of his entrails
that nefarious vice, evil! superior in him to good. With the poisonous weapon you lent me I
brought down from his pedestal, built by man’s cowardice, the Creator himself! He gnashed his
teeth and was subjected to this ignominious insult; for he had as adversary one stronger than he.
But I will leave him aside like a bundle of string, in order to fly down lower…The thinker Descartes
once observed that nothing solid has ever been built on you. That was an ingenious way of
pointing out that not just anybody can immediately discover your inestimable value. In fact, what
could be more solid than the three principal qualities above mentioned which rise up, joined in a
single crown, to the august summit of your colossal architecture? A monument which is
incessantly growing as discoveries are made daily in your diamantine mines, and with all the
scientific researchers carried out in your domains. O holy mathematics, may I for the rest of my
days be consoled by perpetual intercourse with you, consoled for the wickedness of man and the
injustice of the Almighty!
‘O lamp with the silver burner, my eyes perceive you in the air, companion of cathedral vaults,
and they ask why you are hanging there. It is said that at night your light illuminates the rabble
who come to adore the Almighty, that you show the repentant the way to the altar. Listen, that is
very probable; but…do you need to perform such services for those to whom you owe nothing?
Let the columns of the basilica remain plunged in darkness; and when a blast of the tempest, on
which the demon is borne whirling through space, penetrates with him into the holy place,
spreading terror, instead of struggling courageously against the foul gust of the Prince of Evil, go
out, suddenly as he blows feverishly on you, so that he may select his victims unseen from
among the kneeling believers. If you do that, you may say I owe you all my happiness. When
you shine thus, spreading your dull but adequate light, I dare not succumb to the promptings of
my character and I remain standing beneath the sacred portico, looking through the half-open
door at those who escape my vengeance by hiding in the bosom of the Lord. O poetic lamp! you
who would be my friend if you could understand me, when my feet are treading the basalt of
churches in the night hours, why do you begin to shine in a way which, I must confess, seems
extraordinary to me? Your gleams are then tinged with the white hue of electric light; the eye
cannot look at you; and you illuminate with a new and powerful flame every detail of the Creator’s
kennel, as if you were in the throes of holy wrath. When, having blasphemed you, I withdraw, you
become imperceptible, pale and modest again, sure in the knowledge that you have
accomplished an act of justice. Tell me now; would it be because you know all the windings of
my heart, that when I happen to appear where you are keeping watch, you eagerly indicate my
pernicious presence, drawing the attention of the worshippers to the direction where the enemy of
man has just appeared. I am inclined towards this view; for I, too, am beginning to know you; and
I know you who you are, old witch, keeping watch so well over sacred mosques where your
curious master struts like a cock’s crest. Watchful guardian; your mission is a mad one; I warn
you; the first time you point me out to my cautious fellow-beings by increasing the strength of your
phosphorescent light (I do not like this optical phenomenon which is not, by the way, mentioned in
any textbook of physics), I will take you by the skin of your breast hooking my claws into the
scabs of your scurvy nape, and I will fling you into the Seine. I do not intend, when I leave you
alone, that you should deliberately behave in a manner harmful to me. There I will allow you to
shine as much as I please; there you will defy me with your inextinguishable smile; there,
convinced of the ineffectiveness of your criminal oil, you will urinate bitterly.’ Having spoken thus,
Maldoror does not leave the temple and remains with his eyes fixed on the lamp of the holy
place…He believes there is a kind of provocation in the attitude of this lamp, which he finds in the
highest degree irritating because of its untimely presence. He says to himself that if there is a
soul enclosed in the lamp it is cowardly of it not to answer his honest attack with sincerity. He
beats the air with his sinewy arms, wishing the lamp would change into a man; and then it would
have a hard time for a quarter of an hour, he could promise it that. But by what means can a
lamp change into man; it is unnatural. He does not give up, and goes in search of a flat stone
with a filed-down edge on the floor of the wretched pagoda. He hurls it violently into the air; the
chain is cut in the middle like grass by a scythe, and the implement of worship falls to the ground,
spreading its oil on the tiles. He seizes that lamp to take it outside with him, but it resists and
grows bigger. He seems to see wings at its sides, and the top part takes on the shape of an
angel. The whole thing is trying to rise into the air and fly off; but he holds it back with a firm
hand. A lamp and angel forming one and the same body, that is something one does not often
see. He recognizes the form of the lamp; he recognizes the form of the angel; but he cannot
separate them in his mind; in fact they are in reality cleaving to one another, and form only one
free and independent body; but he thinks that some cloud has passed before his eyes; causing
him to lose something of the excellence of his eyesight. Nevertheless, he prepares courageously
for the struggle, for his adversary shows no fear. The naive tell those credulous enough to
believe them that the sacred portal closed of its own accord, turning on its anguished hinges lest
anyone should witness the impious struggles whose changes of fortune were going to occur
within the walls of the profaned sanctuary. The man in the coat, though serious wounds are
being inflicted on him by an invisible sword, tries to bring his mouth near to the angel’s face; he
thinks only of that, and all his efforts tend towards this goal. The angel’s energy is ebbing, and he
seems to have a presentiment of his fate. He only struggles weakly now and one can see the
moment coming when his adversary will be able to kiss him with ease, if that is what he wishes to
do. Well, the moment has come. With his muscles he strangles the angel who can no longer
breathe. For a moment he is moved at the thought of the fate which awaits this celestial being
whose friend he would gladly have become. But he says that he is the Lord’s envoy and cannot
control his wrath. It is done; something horrible is going to return to the cage of time! He leans
over and puts his tongue, dripping with saliva, on to the cheek of the angel, who is looking up
imploringly. For some time, he moves his tongue up and down his cheek.
Oh!…Oh…look…look!…the white and pink cheek has become black as coal! It is emitting putrid
miasmata. It is gangrene; there is no longer any room for doubt. The gnawing evil spreads all
over his face and from there ravages the lower parts; soon the whole body is nothing but one vast
vile sore. He himself, terror-stricken (for he did not think that his tongue contained such strong
poison), picks up the lamp and rushes out of the church. Once outside, he sees a blackish shape
with burnt wings laboriously flying towards the regions of heaven. They look at one another as
the angle climbs towards the serene regions of the good, whereas he, Maldoror, descends into
the vertiginous abysses of evil…What a look! All that mankind has thought for sixty centuries, all
that it has yet to think in the centuries to come, could easily be contained in that supreme adieu,
so much did it say! But it is obvious that these were thoughts far higher than those which spring
from human intelligence; first of all because of the two characters and then because of the
circumstances. This look bound them in eternal friendship. He is astounded that the Creator can
have such noble envoys. For a moment, he thinks that he has made a mistake and wonders if he
ought to have followed that road of evil as he has done. His disquiet has passed; he persists in
his resolution; and it is glorious, according to him, to conquer the Almighty sooner or later, in
order to reign in his stead over the entire universe, and over legions of such beautiful angels.
The angel makes it clear without speaking that he will reassume his original form as he flies
nearer heaven; and he lets fall a tear which cools the brow of him who gave him gangrene; and
gradually disappears, rising like a vulture amidst the clouds. The guilty one looks at the lamp, the
cause of all the preceding events. He runs like a madman through the streets towards the Seine
and flings the lamp over the parapet. It whirls around for a few seconds and then plunges down
into the murky waters. Since that day, every evening from nightfall onwards a shining lamp can
be seen which rises and floats gracefully on the water, passes beneath the arches just off the
Pont Napoleon, bearing instead of handles two charming little angel’s wings. It moves forwards
slowly on the water, passes beneath the arches of the Pont de la Gare and the Pont d’Austerlitz,
and continues on its silent course along the Seine as far as the Pont d’Alma. Once there it turns
easily again to follow the course of the river, returning after four hours to its starting point. Its
light, white as electric light, eclipses that of the gas-lamps bordering the banks between which
she advances like a queen, solitary, inscrutable, with and inextinguishable smile, not bitterly
spilling its oil. In the beginning, the boats gave it chase; but it foiled these vain efforts, escaped
from all pursuits, diving like a coquette to reappear a long way further on. Now superstitious
sailors stop singing when they see it, and row in the opposite direction. When you are crossing a
bridge by night, be careful; you are bound to see the lamp shining somewhere or other; although
it is said that it does not show itself to everyone. When a human being with something on his
conscience crosses the bridge, its light suddenly goes out, and the man, terror-stricken, vainly
and desperately peers at the surface and the mudbanks of the river. He knows that that means.
He would like to believe that he has seen the celestial light; but no, he says that the light only
came from the front of the boats or from the reflection of the gas-lamps; and he is right…He
knows that he is the cause of the lamp’s disappearance; and, plunged in sad reflections, he
quickens his step to arrive at his house. Then the lamp with the silver burner reappears on the
surface and continues on its way with elegant and capricious arabesques.
Listen, human beings, to the thoughts which came to me in my childhood when I awoke with
my red verge: ‘I have just awoken; but my thoughts are still dull. Each morning I feel a heaviness
in my head. It is rare for me to be able to rest at night; for frightful dreams torment me when I
manage to get to sleep. In the day my mind is weary with strange meditations, while my eyes
gaze aimlessly into space; and at night I cannot sleep. When shall I sleep then? And yet nature
needs to insist on its rights. Since I disdain her, she makes me face pale and makes my eyes
glow with the bitter flame of fever. Besides, there is nothing I would like better than to be spared
exhausting my mind by continual reflection; but even if I did not want to, my dismayed feelings
would irresistibly drag me down this slope. I have noticed that the other children are like me; but
they are even paler and their faces are distorted by permanent frowns, like grown men, our elder
brothers. O Creator of the universe, I will not fail to offer you up this morning the incense of my
childish prayer. Sometimes I forget it and I have noticed that on these days I feel happier than
usual; my heart opens out, free of all constraint, and I breathe more easily the balmy air of the
fields; whereas whenever I accomplish this painful duty, imposed on me by my parents, of
addressing a song of praise to you every day, I am always bored by the tedious necessity of
laboriously inventing new versions, and so I feel sad and irritated for the rest of the day; for it
does not seem to me to be either logical or natural to invent what I do not really think, and then I
seek isolation, immense solitudes. If I ask them for an explanation of this state of soul, they do
not answer me. I should like to love and adore you; but you are too powerful, and there is fear in
all my prayers. If simply by the manifestation of your thought you can destroy or create worlds,
my weak prayers will be of no use to you; if whenever you wish you can send cholera to ravage
cities, or send death to carry away in its claws, indiscriminately, people of all ages, then I wish to
have no truck with one so fearsome! Not that hatred dictates the thread of my arguments; on the
contrary, it is your hatred I fear which, at a capricious command, may suddenly emerge from
within you and become vast as the wing-span of the Andean condor. Your questionable
amusements are beyond me, I would probably be their first victim. You are the Almighty. I am
not disputing your right to that title, since you alone have the right to bear it and you are yourself
the end and limit of your own desires, be their consequences disastrous or beneficial. That is
precisely why it would be painful for me to walk beside you in your cruel, sapphire-inlaid tunic, not
as your slave but with the risk of becoming your slave from one moment to the next. It is true that
when you look into your soul to examine your sovereign conduct, if the ghost of a past injustice
towards wretched mankind, which has always obeyed you as your most loyal friend, should raise
up before you the motionless vertebrae of and avenging backbone, then, too late, your haggard
eyes weep tears of remorse, and then your hair standing on end, you really believe in the
resolution you make; which is: to suspend forever in the undergrowth of nothingness the
inconceivable diversions of your tigerish imagination; an idea which would be ludicrous if it were
not pitiable; but I also know that constancy has never fixed like strong marrow in your bones the
harpoon of its eternal habituation, and that quite often you and your thoughts, covered in the
black leprosy of error, relapse into the dismal lake of dark maledictions. I would like to believe
that these maledictions are unconscious (although that would in no way dilute the deadliness of
their venom) and that good and evil joined together burst in reckless leaps from your gangrened
breast, like the mountain stream from the rock, by the secret spell of some blind force; but I have
no proof that this is the case. Too often I have seen your vile teeth chattering with rage and your
august face, covered with the moss of time, reddening like a burning coal because of some trivial
misdemeanor of men; I have seen this too often to be able to stand for long before the signpost of
this innocent hypothesis. And so, every day, my hands devoutly joined, I shall offer up to you my
humble prayer, since it has to be. But, I implore you, do not include me among the objects of
your providence; leave me out of consideration, like the worm which crawls beneath the ground. I
would prefer to feed greedily on marine plants, washed by tropical waves on to the shores of wild
an unknown islands in the heart of those foaming regions; I would prefer this to the knowledge
that you are observing me and that your sneering scalpel is probing my consciousness. It has
just revealed to you the totality of my thoughts, and I hope that you, in your prudence, will
generously approve of the good sense ineffaceably stamped on them. Apart from these
reservations about the more or less intimate relations between us, my mouth is ready at any hour
of the day to exhale, like an artificial wind, the wave of lies which reverence for your halo
rigorously requires of each human being, from the moment when bluish dawn breaks; seeking the
light in the satin folds of twilight as I seek good deeds, spurred on by love of the Good. My years
are not many and yet I already sense that goodness is nothing more than a couple of sonorous
syllables. I have not found it anywhere. Your character is easy to read; you make it too blatant.
You ought to hide it more skillfully. Yet perhaps I am mistaken and you are doing it deliberately;
for you know better than anyone else how ought to act. Men pride themselves on imitating you;
that is why holy goodness finds no tabernacle in their wild eyes: like father, like son. Whatever
one should think of your intelligence, I am only speaking as an impartial critic. I would be
delighted to be shown that I have been led into error. I do not wish to show you the hatred I bear
you, which I lovingly brood on like a cherished daughter; it is better to hide it from your eyes and
in your presence only to assume the appearance of a severe censor, with the duty of checking on
all your foul actions. Thus you will break off all active intercourse with my hatred, you will forget it
and you will destroy completely this maggot which is gnawing at your liver. Rather I would prefer
you to hear words of reverie and meekness… Yes, it is you who created the world and all that is
in it. You are perfect. There is no virtue which you do not possess. You are very mighty, as
everyone knows. May the entire universe sing your eternal hymn through every hour of time.
May the birds bless you as they soar over the countryside. The stars are yours. Amen!’ How
astonished you will find me as I really am!
I sought a soul akin to mine, but I could not find one. I searched every corner of the earth;
my perseverance brought no reward. Yet I could not remain alone. Someone had to approve of
my character; someone had to have the same ideas as I. It was morning; the sun rose in all its
magnificence on the horizon and before my eyes a young man also arose whose presence made
flowers grow as he passed. He approached me and, holding out his hand, said: ‘I have come to
you who seek me. Let us bless this happy day.’ But I answered: ‘Go away. I did not call you; I
do not need your friendship.’ It was evening; night was beginning to spread the veil of its
blackness over nature. A lovely woman, whose form I could only just make out, was exerting a
spellbinding influence over me, and looking at me, I said: ‘Come closer, that I may make out
clearly the features of your face; for the light of the stars is not strong enough to show them, at
this distance.’ Then, with her eyelids lowered, she stepped chastely across the lawn in my
direction. As soon as I saw her I said: ‘I see that goodness and justice have dwelt in your heart.
We could never live together. Now you admire my beauty, which has distracted more than one;
but sooner or later you would repent of having given your love to me; for you do not know my
soul. Not that I would ever be unfaithful to you; to her who gives herself to me with such trust and
abandon I will give myself with equal trust and abandon; but get this into your head and do not
ever forget it: wolves and lambs do not look lovingly at one another.’ What did I need, I who had
rejected with such disgust the loveliest of mankind! What I needed I could not say. I was not yet
in the habit of keeping strict note of my mental phenomena according to the methods
recommended by philosophy. I sat down on a rock, by the sea. A ship had just set all sails to
leave those parts: an impenetrable point had just appeared on the horizon and was gradually
approaching, driven on by the gust of wind, and growing rapidly in size. The tempest was about
to begin its assaults, already the sky was growing dark, until it became black, almost as hideous
as the heart of man. The ship, which was a big man-of-war, had just dropped anchor to avoid
being swept on to the rocks. The wind was whistling furiously from all directions, tearing the sails
to shreds. Thunder was bursting amid the lightning flashes, and could not drown the sounds of
lamentations heard in this house with no foundations, this moving sepulchre. The rolling of those
watery masses had not yet broken the anchor-chains; but their buffetings had opened a way for
the water in the ship’s sides. It was an enormous breach; the pumps are unable to bail out the
flood of salt water which comes foaming and beating down on the bridge like mountains. The
ship in distress fires the cannon to give the alarm; but it sinks slowly…majestically. He who has
not seen a ship sinking in a hurricane, and flashes of lightning alternating with the deepest
darkness, while those who are in it are overwhelmed with the despair you know of, that man
knows nothing of the accidents of life. At last a universal wail of immense pain goes up from the
sides of the ship, while the sea redoubles its dreadful attacks. It is the cry of men who have no
strength left. Each man wraps himself in the cloak of resignation and leaves his fate in God’s
hands. They huddle up together like a flock of sheep. The ship in distress fires the cannon to
give the alarm; but it sinks slowly…majestically. The pumps have been going all day long. Vain
efforts. Night, thick and implacable, has come to put the finishing stroke to this gracious
spectacle. Everyone says inwardly that once he is in the water he will not be able to breathe; for
as far as he can recall, he knows of no fishes among his ancestors. But he resolves to hold his
breath for as long as possible, to prolong his life by two or three seconds; that is the avenging
irony with which he wishes to confront death…The ship in distress fires the cannon to give the
alarm; but it sinks slowly…majestically. He does not know that the sinking vessel causes a
powerful circumvolution of waves; that murky undercurrents have joined the troubled waters and
a force from below, the counterpart of the tempest raging above, is making the movements of the
element nervous and spasmodic. Thus, despite the store of composure which he is gathering in
advance, the future drowned man, after mature consideration, ought to feel happy if he can even
prolong his life amid the eddying deeps by the space of half a normal breath for good measure.
He will not be able to flout death, which is his supreme wish. The ship in distress fires the cannon
to give the alarm; but it sinks slowly…majestically. I am wrong. It is no longer firing its cannon, it
is not sinking. No! the cockle shell has been completely engulfed. O heaven! how can one go on
living after experiencing such delights! I had just been given the privilege of witnessing the deaththroes of several of my fellow-beings. Minute by minute I followed the vicissitudes of their agony.
Now the bawling of some old woman, mad with fear, was at a premium. Now only the yelling of a
child at breast prevented the steering orders from being heard. The vessel was too far away for
me to hear distinctly the sound of groans carried on the gust; but I brought it nearer by an act of
will, and the optical illusion was perfect. Every quarter of an hour, when a gust stronger than the
others, uttering its mournful tones above the cries of fear-stricken petrels, broke up the ship in a
longitudinal crunching movement, increasing the laments of those about to be offered as
sacrifices to death, I dug a sharp metal point deep in my cheek and secretly thought: They are
suffering more! In this way I at least had a point of comparison. I apostrophized them from the
shore, hurling threats and imprecations at them. It seemed that they ought to hear me! It
seemed that my hatred and my words, over-leaping the distance, were abolishing the physical
laws of sound and distinctly reaching their ears which had been deafened by the roaring of the
angry ocean. It seemed that they ought to think of me, and breathe vengeance in impotent rage!
From time to time I looked up towards the cities slumbering on firm land; and seeing that nobody
suspected that a ship was going to sink some miles from shore, with birds of prey for a crown and
ravenous aquatic giants for a pedestal, I took courage again and hope returned to me: so I was
certain of their destruction! They could not escape! To make assurance doubly sure, I had gone
to fetch my double-barreled rifle so that if some survivor was tempted to approach the rocks of
the shore to escape imminent death, a bullet in the shoulder would shatter his arm and prevent
him from carrying out his plan. At the moment of the tempest’s greatest fury, I saw a head, its
hair standing on end, frantically bobbing up and down in the water. The swimmer was swallowing
litres of water and, buoyed up like a cork, was sinking into the deep. But soon he would
reappear, his hair streaming, his eyes riveted on the shore; he seemed to be challenging death.
His composure was admirable. A huge bleeding wound caused by the jagged point of a hidden
reef had gashed his brave and noble face. He could not have been more than sixteen years old;
for the peach-like down on his upper lip could just be made out by the flashes which lit up the
night. And now he was only two hundred yards from the cliff. I could easily get a clear view of
him. What courage! What indomitable spirit! How the determined set of his head seemed to
flout destiny as he vigorously cleaved the waves which did not easily give way before him. I had
made up my mind in advance. I owed it to myself to keep my promise; the last hour had tolled for
all; none must escape. That was my resolution; nothing would change it…a sharp sound was
heard, the head went down, and did not reappear. I did not take much pleasure in this murder as
one might think; it was precisely because I was sated with all this killing which I was doing out of
pure habit; one cannot do without it, but it provides only a slight enjoyment. The sense is dulled,
hardened. What pleasure could I feel at the death of this human being when there were more
than a hundred who, once the ship had gone down, would provide me with the spectacle of their
deaths and their last struggle against the waves? This death did not even have the appeal of
danger; for human justice, rocked by the hurricane of this dreadful night, was slumbering within
doors, a few steps from me. And now that the years are weighing down on me, I can sincerely
speak this simple and solemn truth: I was never as cruel as men afterwards said I was; whereas
many times their persistent acts of wickedness went on wreaking havoc for years on end. Then
my rage knew no bounds; I was possessed by fits of cruelty and I became fearsome to anyone
who came within sight of my haggard eyes–that is, if he was of my race. If it was a horse or a
dog, I let it pass: have you heard what I have just said? Unfortunately, on the night of that
tempest, one of those fits had come upon me, my reason had abandoned me (for normally I was
just as cruel, but more cautious); everything which fell into my hands that night would have to die;
I am not claiming that this excuses my misdeeds. The fault is not entirely with my fellowcreatures. I am only stating things as they are while I wait for the last judgment, which makes me
scratch my head in advance…What does the last judgment matter to me! My reason never
abandons me, as I have just claimed in order to deceive you. And when I commit a crime, I know
what I am doing: I did not want to do something else! Standing on the rocks as the hurricane
lashed my hair and my cloak, I watched ecstatically as the tempest’s might bore down on a ship
beneath a starless sky. I followed all the peripeteias of this drama, from the moment when the
vessel dropped anchor until the moment when it was swallowed up, a deadly garment which
dragged into the bowels of the sea all those who had put it on as a cloak. But the moment was
approaching when I myself was to be involved in these scenes of nature in tumult. When the
place where the vessel had been struggling clearly showed that it had gone to spend the rest of
its days on the ground-floor of the sea, some of those who had been carried off by the waves
began to reappear on the surface. They held one another around the waist, in twos and threes; it
was a good way of not saving their lives; for their movements became entangled and they went
down like leaking jugs. What is this army of sea-monsters cleaving the water so rapidly? There
are six of them; their fins are strong and they are forcing their way through the heaving seas. The
sharks soon make an omelette without eggs of all the human beings moving their limbs on the
unstable continent; they share it out according to the law of the strongest. Blood mixes with
water, and the water mixes with the blood. Their wild eyes light up well enough the scene of
carnage. Yet what tumult is that there, yonder on the horizon? You would take it for a whirlwind
approaching! What flailing! I see what it is. A huge female shark is coming to partake of the pate
de foie of duck and cold beef. She is wild with anger; for when she arrives, she is starving. A
struggle ensures between her and the other sharks, fighting over the few palpitating limbs which
are floating here and there dumbly on the surface of the red cream. She snaps and bites to the
right and to the left, wounding fatally all that she gets her teeth into. But there are still three living
sharks around her and she is obliged to turn in all directions to foil their tricks. With increasing
emotion, such as he has never felt, the spectator follows this new kind of naval battle from the
shore. He is staring at the courageous female shark, whose teeth are so strong. He no longer
wavers, but shoulders the rifle and, with his customary skill, lodges his second bullet in the gills of
one of the sharks as it appeared above the waves. Two sharks remain who, seeing this, go to it
all the more eagerly. From the top of the rock the man with the briny saliva flings himself into the
sea and swims towards the pleasantly-coloured carpet, holding in his hand the steel dagger
which he always carries with him. From now on each shark has an enemy to deal with. He
advances on his weary adversary and, taking his time, buries the sharp blade of his knife in its
belly. The moving citadel easily accounts for her last adversary. The swimmer is now in the
presence of the female shark he has saved. They look into each other’s eyes for some minutes,
each astonished to find such ferocity in the other’s eyes. They swim around keeping each other
in sight, and each one saying to himself: ‘I have been mistaken; here is one more evil than
I.’ Then by common accord they glide towards one another underwater, the female shark using its
fins, Maldoror cleaving the waves with his arms; and they hold their breath in deep veneration,
each one wishing to gave for the first time upon the other, his living portrait. When they are three
yards apart they suddenly and spontaneously fall upon one another like two lovers and embrace
with dignity and gratitude, clasping each other as tenderly as brother and sister. Carnal desire
follows this demonstration of friendship. Two sinewy thighs press tightly against the monster’s
viscous flesh, like two leeches; and arms and fins are clasped around the beloved object, while
their throats and breasts soon form one glaucous mass amid the exhalations of the seaweed;
amidst the tempest which was continuing to rage; by the light of lightning-flashes; with the
foaming waves for marriage-bed; borne by an undersea current and rolling on top of one another
down into the unknown deeps, they joined in a long, chaste and ghastly coupling!…At last I had
found one akin to me…from now on I was no longer alone in life…! Her ideas were the same as
mine…I was face to face with my first love!
A human body is dragged along in the Seine. In the circumstances, she flows solemnly. The
swollen body is buoyed up on the water; it disappears beneath the arch of a bridge; but further on
it can be seen turning round and round like a mill-wheel and going under now and then. A
boatman hooks it with a rod as it goes by and brings it back to earth. Before it is brought to the
morgue the body is left on the bank for some time to revive it if possible. A dense crowd gathers
around the body. Those who cannot see because they are at the back push those in front, as
much as they can. Everyone says to himself: ‘I would never have drowned myself.’ They pity the
young man who has killed himself; they admire him; but they do not imitate him. And yet he
found it quite natural to take his life, judging that there was nothing on earth capable of satisfying
him, and aspiring towards higher things. His face is distinguished, his clothes are expensive. Is
he seventeen yet? That is dying young! The stunned crowd continues to gape at him. Night is
coming on. Everyone moves quickly away. No one has dared to turn the drowned man over and
make him throw up the water which fills his body. They are afraid of showing any feeling, and no
one has moved, they all keep to themselves. One of them goes away singing discordantly an
absurd Tyrolean air; another snaps his fingers like castanets…Troubled by his dark thoughts,
Maldoror, on horseback, passes near the place with the speed of lightning. He sees the drowned
man; that is enough. Immediately, he brings his courser to a halt and gets down from the stirrup.
He lifts up the young man with no sign of squeamishness, making him throw up large amounts of
water. At the thought that this inert body could re revived by his hands he feels his heart leap and
under this excellent impression his courage redoubles. Vain efforts! Vain efforts, I said, and it is
true. He rubs his temples; he rubs this limb and that; he breathes into his mouth for an hour,
pressing his lips against the unknown young man’s. At last he seems to feel a slight beating of
the young man’s breast. The drowned man lives! At this supreme moment several wrinkles
could be seen disappearing from the horseman’s forehead, making him ten years younger. But
alas! the wrinkles will return, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps as soon as he has left the banks of the
Seine. Meanwhile the drowned man opens his lusterless eyes and thanks his benefactor with a
wan smile; but he is still very weak, and he cannot move at all. How fine it is to save someone’s
life! And how many faults are redeemed by this action! The bronze-lipped man, preoccupied till
then with snatching him from the arms of death, looks at the young man more attentively, and his
features are not unfamiliar to him. He says inwardly that there is not much difference between the
blond-haired young man who had just nearly drowned and Holzer. Look how effusively they
embrace one another. It is nothing! The man with the pupils of jasper is anxious to maintain a
harsh an undemonstrative appearance. Saying nothing, he takes his friend and puts him up
behind him on the saddle, and the steed moves off at a gallop. O Holzer, who thought you were
sensible and strong, do you not see, from your very own example, how difficult it is, in a fit of
despair, to maintain the composure you boast of! I hope you will not cause me such grief again,
and I for my part have promised you never to take my life.
There are moments in life when man with his louse-ridden hair casts wild staring looks at the
green membranes of space; for he believes he hears, somewhere ahead, the ironic hoots of a
phantom. He staggers and bows his head; what he has heard is the voice of conscience. Then
with the speed of a madman he rushes out of the house, takes the first direction his wild state
suggests and bounds over the rough plains of the countryside. But the yellow phantom never
loses sight of him, pursuing him with equal speed. Sometimes on stormy nights, while legions of
winged octopi, which look like ravens at a distance, hover above the clouds, moving ponderously
towards the cities of men, their mission to warn them to change their conduct; on such nights the
dark-eyed pebble sees two things pass by, lit up by the flashes of lightning, one after another;
and wiping a furtive tear of compassion which flows from its frozen eye, it shouts out: ‘Yes, he
certainly deserves it; it is only justice being done.’ Having said that he reassumes his grim
attitude and continues to watch, trembling nervously, the manhunt, and the big lips of the
shadowy vagina from which immense dark spermatozoids flow unceasingly like a river and then
soar up into the lugubrious ether, hiding all nature with the vast span of their bat’s wings,
including the solitary legions of octopi, now gloomy at the sight of these dumb inexpressible
fulgurations. But all the time the steeplechase between these two tireless runners is going on,
and the phantom hurls torrents of fire from his mouth on to the singed back of the human
antelope. If, while he is accomplishing this duty, he comes upon pity trying to bar his way, he
gives in disgustedly to her supplications, and allows the man to escape. The phantom makes a
clicking sound with its tongue, as if to tell itself that it is giving up the chase, and then returns to its
kennel for the time being. His is the voice of the condemned: it can be heard even in the furthest
layers of space; and when its dreadful shrieking penetrates the human heart, then man would
prefer, as the saying goes, to have death as his mother than remorse as his son. He buries his
head up to his neck in the earthy windings of a hole; but conscience volatilizes this ostrich-trick.
The hole disappears, a drop of ether; light appears with its train of beams, like a flight of curlews
swooping down on lavender; and man, his eyes open, is face to face with his pale and ghastly
self again. I have seen him making for the sea, climbing a jagged promontory, lashed by the
eyebrow of the surge; and flinging himself arrow-like down into the waves. The miracles is this:
the corpse reappeared next day on the surface of the ocean, which had brought this flotsam of
flesh back to the shore. The man freed himself from his body’s imprint in the sand, wrung the
water from his drenched hair, and silently, stoopingly, returned to the way of life. Conscience
judges our most secret thoughts and acts severely, and is never wrong. Being powerless to
prevent evil, it never ceases to hunt man down like a fox, especially in the hours of darkness.
Avenging eyes, which ignorant science calls meteors, shed a livid flame of light, revolving on
themselves as they pass and uttering mysterious words…which he understands! Then his bed is
battered by the convulsions of his body, burdened by the weight of insomnia, and he hears the
sinister breathing of night’s vague rumours. The angel of sleep himself, having been struck a
mortal blow on the forehead from a stone whose thrower is unknown, abandons his task and
reascends towards heaven. Now this time I am here to defend man; I, the scorner of all virtues; I,
whom the Creator has never forgotten since the day when I knocked from their pedestal the
annals of heaven where by some infamous intrigue his power and his eternity had consigned, and
I applied my four hundred suckers to his armpits, making him utter dreadful cries. They changed
into vipers as his mouth uttered them and went and hid in the undergrowth, among ruined old
walls, on the watch by day, on the watch by night. These cries crawled, endowed with countless
rings and a small flat head, and wickedly gleaming eyes. They have vowed to stop at the sight of
human innocence. But when men in their innocence are out walking in the tangles of the maquis,
on steep slopes or on the dunes of the sand, they soon change their mind, something makes
them want to go back. If, that is, there is still time; for, at times, men notice the poison is creeping
along the veins of their leg by means of an almost imperceptible bite, before they have had time
to turn back and escape into the open. Thus it is that the Creator, admirably cool even in the
presence of the most appalling sufferings, extracts from the very breasts of men the germs which
are harmful to those who live on earth. Imagine his astonishment when he saw Maldoror
changed into an octopus coming towards him with his eight monstrous tentacles, each one of
them which was a solid lash which could easily have encompassed a planet’s circumference.
Caught unawares, he struggled for some moments against the viscous embrace, which was
getting tighter and tighter…I feared some foul trick on his part; having fed copiously on the
globules of his sacred blood, I suddenly pulled away from his majestic body, and went and hid
deep in a cave, which has been my abode since then. After many fruitless searches, he was still
unable to find me. That was a long time ago; but I think he knows now where I live; he is wary of
entering; the two of us live like monarchs of neighbouring lands, who know their respective
strengths, cannot defeat one another, and are weary of the useless battles of the past. He fears
me, and I fear him; each of us, though undefeated, has felt the savage blows of his adversary,
and it is stalemate. However, I am ready to take up the struggle again whenever he wishes. But
I advise him not to wait for the right moment for his hidden schemes. I will always be on guard, I
will always keep my eye on him; let him not visit the earth with conscience and its torments. I
have taught men what weapons to use to combat it successfully. They have not yet grown
accustomed to conscience; but you know that, for me, it is as the wind-blown straw. And I treat it
as such. If I wanted to used the opportunity to indulge in subtle poetic discussion, I would add
that a straw is more to me than conscience; for straw is useful for the ox chewing the cud,
whereas conscience has only its claws of steel to show. These claws suffered a painful setback
the day they came before me. As conscience had been sent by the Creator, I did not think fit to
allow it to bar my way. If it had come to me with the modesty and humility proper to its rank
(which it ought never to have tried to rise above), then I would have listened to it. I did not like its
pride. I stretched out my hand and ground its claws with my fingers; they fell as dust to the
ground, beneath the pressure of this new kind of mortar. I stretched out my other hand and
pulled off its head. Then I hunted that woman out of my house with a whip, and I never saw her
again. I have kept her head as a souvenir of my victory…Gnawing the skull of the head which I
held in my hand, I stood on one leg, like a heron, beside a precipice on the side of a mountain. I
was seen going down the valley, while the skin of my breast remained as still and calm as the lid
of a tomb! Gnawing the skull of the head which I held in my hand, I swam in the most dangerous
gulfs, along by lethal reefs, and I dived deeper than any current, to witness, as a stranger, the
combats of sea-monsters; I swam so far the shore that it was out of my piercing sight; and
hideous cramps, with their paralysing magnetism, prowled around my limbs as they cleaved the
waves with their forceful movements, but they did not dare to approach. I was seen returning
safe and sound to the beach, while the skin of my breast remained as still and calm as the lid of a
tomb! Gnawing the skull of the head which I held in my hands, I mounted the steps of a high
tower. I reached the platform, high above the ground. I looked out over the countryside and the
sea; I looked at the sun, the firmament; kicking hard against the granite which did not give way, I
challenged death and divine vengeance with a supreme howl of contempt and then hurled myself
like a paving-stone into the mouth of space. Men heard the painful resounding thud which
occurred as the head of conscience, which I had abandoned as I fell, hit the ground. I was seen
descending, slow as a bird, borne on an invisible cloud, and picking up the head, so that I could
force it to witness a triple crime, which I was to commit that day, while the skin of my breast
remained as still as the lid of a tomb! Gnawing the skull of the head which I held in my hands, I
made for the place where the guillotine is. Beneath the blade, I placed the smooth and delicate
necks of three young girls. Executor of fine works, I released the rope with the apparent deftness
of a lifetime’s experience; and the triangular blade, falling obliquely, lopped off three heads which
were looking at me sweetly. Then I put my own head beneath the weighty razor, and the
executioner prepared to do his duty. Thrice the blade slid along the grooves with renewed force;
thrice, my material carcass was moved to the very depths, especially at the base of my neck, as
when one dreams that one has been crushed to death beneath a collapsing house. The stunned
crowd let me pass and leave the gloomy square. It saw me opening up with my elbows its
undulating waves, carrying the head straight in front of me, while the skin of my breast remained
as still and as calm as the lid of a tomb! I said I wanted to defend man, this time; but I fear my
apologia is not an expression of the truth; and consequently I prefer to remain silent. Mankind will
applaud this prudence with gratitude!
The time has come to draw in the reins of my inspiration and to stop for a moment along the
way, as when one looks at a woman’s vagina; it is wise to look over the ground I have covered,
and then, having rested my weary limbs, to soar off with a bold leap. To cover such a stretch in a
single breath is by no means easy; one’s wings get very tired, flying high, without hope or
remorse…No, let us not lead any further the haggard pack of pickaxes and spades across the
explosive mines of this impious song. The crocodile will not change a word of the vomitings from
beneath his skull. So much the worse, if some lurking shade, excited by the praiseworthy object
of avenging mankind whom I have so unjustly attacked, stealthily opens the door of my room, and
brushing against the wall like a seagull’s wing, buries a dagger in the side of the plunderer of
heavenly wrecks! The atoms of clay may just as well be dispersed in this way as any other.
Let us recall the names of those imaginary beings of angelic nature, creations of a single
mind, who, in the second song, shone with a light of their own. Once born, they die, like the
sparks whose swift extinction on the burning paper the eye can hardly follow.
Leman!…Lohengrin!…Lombano!…Holzer! for a moment you appeared on my charmed horizon
covered in the insignia of youth; but I let you fall back into chaos, like diving bells. You will never
come forth again. It is enough for me to keep the memory of you; you must give way to other
substances, less beautiful perhaps, engendered by the stormy flood of a love resolved not to
quench its thirst with the human race. A hungering love, which would devour itself, if it did not
seek sustenance in celestial fictions: creating, in the long run, a pyramid of seraphim more
numerous than the insects which swarm in a drop of water, he will weave them into an ellipse
which he will whirl around himself. During this time, the traveler, who has stopped at the sight of
a cataract, will, if he looks up, see a human being in the distance, borne towards hell’s depths on
a garland of living camellias! But…silence! The floating image of the fifth ideal slowly takes
shape, like the blurred nuances of the aurora borealis, on the vaporous forefront of my intellect,
where it takes on more and more of a precise consistency…Mario and I were going along the
strand. Our horses, with straining necks, rent the membranes of space and struck sparks from
the stones on the beach. The cold blast struck us full in the face, billowing out our cloaks; and
the hair of our twin heads was blowing in the wind. The seagull, by its cries and the beating of its
wings, tried to warn us of the possible proximity of the tempest. It cried: ‘Where are they going, at
this mad gallop?’ We said nothing; plunged in reverie, we let ourselves be borne along on the
wings of this wild career; the fisherman, seeing us pass by, swift as the albatross, and believing
that here, fleeing before him, were the two mysterious brothers, so called because they were
always together, hastened to make the sign of the cross and hid with his petrified dog behind a
huge boulder. Those who lived on the coast had heard strange things told of these two
characters, who would appear on earth amid the clouds in times of great calamity, when a
dreadful war threatened to thrust its harpoon into the breasts of two enemy countries, or cholera
with its sling was preparing to hurl death and corruption into entire cities. The oldest
beachcombers would frown gravely as they explained that these two phantoms, the vast span of
whose black wings everyone had noticed in hurricanes, above sandbanks and reefs, were the
spirit of the earth and the spirit of the sea, whose majestic forms would appear in the sky during
the great revolutions of nature, and who were joined together by eternal friendship, the rarity and
glory of which have astonished the endless cable of generations. It was said that, flying side by
side, like two Andean condors, they liked to hover in concrete circles among the layers of the
atmosphere nearest to the sun; that in those regions they lived on the purest essence of light; that
with great reluctance they decided to direct their vertical light down towards the orbit in which the
fear-stricken human globe deliriously revolves, inhabited by cruel spirits who massacre one
another on the fields where battle rages (when they are not treacherously and perfidiously killing
one another with the dagger of hatred or ambition in the middle of towns), and who feed on
beings as full of life as themselves, but lower down in the scale of existence. Or when, to urge
men to repentance by the strophes of their prophecies, they firmly resolved to swim with huge
and powerful strokes towards the sidereal regions where a planet moved amid the thick
exhalations of greed, pride, imprecations and sneers which rose like pestilential vapours from its
hideous surface; this planet seemed only as big as a bowl, being almost invisible because of the
distance; and there, sure enough, there were many opportunities for them to regret bitterly their
spurned and misunderstood kindness; and they went and hid in the bowels of volcanoes to
converse with the enduring fires of lava which bubble in vats in the center of the earth, or at the
bottom of the sea, where their disillusioned gaze could linger pleasantly on the fiercest monsters
of the depths, who seemed models of gentleness in comparison with the bastards of mankind.
And then when the propitious darkness of night fell, they would rush out of the porphyry-crested
craters and from the undersea currents, leaving behind them the stony chamber-pot where the
constipated anus of the human cockatoo strains, till they could no longer make out the shape of
the vile planet suspended in space. Distressed at their fruitless attempt, the spirit of the earth and
the spirit of the sea embraced and wept, amid the stars who shared their grief, and beneath
God’s eye. Mario and he who galloped by his side were not unaware of the vague and
superstitious rumours spread by fishermen as, with doors bolted and windows closed, they
whispered to one another around the fireside of an evening; while the night wind, wishing to warm
itself, whistles around the straw cabin, shaking with its force the fragile walls, surrounded at the
base with shells brought in by the dying undulations of the waves. We were not speaking. What
have those who love to say to one another? Nothing. But our eyes expressed everything. I told
him to pull his cloak around him more and he remarked that my horse was moving too far from
his; each of us was as much concerned for the other’s life as for his own; we are not laughing.
He tries to force a smile. But I notice hat his face is deeply lined, and bears the terrible weight of
reflection, which is constantly struggling with the sphinxes who, with their squinting eyes, baffle
mortal intelligence in all its anguished endeavours. Seeing that his attempts are futile, he averts
his eyes and bites his earthly rein, raging and foaming at the mouth and looking towards the
horizon, which flees at our approach. In turn, I try to remind him of his gilded youth, which need
only advance like a queen in the palace of pleasures; but he notices how difficult it is for my thin
mouth to utter these words, how the years of my own spring have passed, sad and glacial, like an
implacable dream passing over banquet tables, satin beds where love’s pale priestess sleeps,
paid with the glitter of gold, the bitter pleasures of dis-solitude and the torches of sorrow. Seeing
that my attempts are futile, I am not surprised that I cannot make him happy; the Almighty
appears with his instruments of torture in the resplendent aureole of his horror. I avert my eyes
and look towards the horizon which flees at our approach…Our horses were galloping along the
shores, as if they fled the eyes of men…Mario is younger than I; the dampness of the weather
and the salt water which spurts up on us bring cold to his lips. I said to him: ‘Take care!…Take
care!…close your lips on one another; do you not see the sharp claws of the cold which will chap
your skin, furrowing it with its smarting wounds?’ He fixed his eye on my brow and answered with
the movements of his tongue: ‘Yes, I see these green claws, but I will not alter the natural position
of my mouth to get rid of them. Since this appears to be the will of Providence, I wish to submit to
it. Its will could have been less harsh.’ And I exclaimed: ‘I admire this noble revenge.’ I wanted to
tear out my hair, but he forbade me with such a stern look that I obeyed him respectfully. It was
getting late, the eagle was returning to its nest amid the jagged mountain rocks. He said: ‘I will
lend you my cloak to protect you from the cold. I do not need mine.’ I replied: ‘Woe to you, if you
do as you say. I do not want another to suffer instead of me, and especially not you.’ He did not
answer, because I was right; but I began to comfort him, because of the violent and hasty tone in
which I had spoken. Our horses were galloping along the shore, as if they fled from the eyes of
men…I looked up, like the prow of a ship borne upon a huge wave and I said to him: ‘Are you
crying? Tell me, king of the snows and the fog. I see no tears on your face, lovely as the cactus
flower, and your eyes are dry as the bed of the stream; but in the depths of your eyes I see a
blood-filled vessel in which your innocence boils, bitten in the neck by a scorpion of the largest
kind. A violent wind blows down on the fire beneath the cauldron, spreading the dark flames
outside your sacred eyeball. I moved close to you, my hair near your rosy brow, and I smelt
burning, because my hair had been singed. Close your eyes; for, if you do not, your face, burning
like the lava of the volcano, will fall in ashes into the palm of my hand.’ And he turned towards
me again, heedless of the reins he was holding in his hands, gazing at me tenderly, raising and
lowering his lily eyelids like the ebb and flow of the sea. He wished to reply to my bold question,
and did so as follows: ‘Do not worry about me. Just as the mists of rivers drift over hillsides and
on reaching the top rise into the atmosphere to form clouds; so have your anxieties on my
account increased imperceptibly without any reasonable grounds, forming the illusory shape of a
desolate mirage in your imagination. I assure you there is no fire in my eyes, although I feel as if
my skull had been plunged into a basin of burning coals. How could my innocent flesh be burning
in the cauldron, since I can hear only weak and indistinct cries which are but the moans of the
wind passing over our heads. A scorpion could not have taken up residence and fixed his sharp
pincers in my torn sockets; rather I feel as if there are more powerful tentacles grinding my optic
nerves. Yet I am of your opinion, that the blood which fills the cauldron was extracted from my
veins by an invisible torturer as I slept at night. I waited a long time for you, beloved son of the
ocean; my sleep-weakened arms engaged in vain combat with the One who had stolen into the
vestibule of my house…Yes, I feel my soul padlocked in the bolt of my body and it cannot get out
and flee from the shores lashed by human waves, no longer witness to the livid pack of miseries
relentlessly pursuing the human lizards over the sloughs and pits of immense despair. But I shall
not complain. I received life as a wound, and I have forbidden suicide to heal the scar. I want the
Creator to contemplate the gaping crevasse for every hour of his eternity. That is the punishment
I inflict on him. Our coursers slow down, their bodies trembling like the hunter set upon by
peccaries. They must not start listening to what we are saying. By dint of attention, their
intelligence would increase and they might understand us. Woe to them! for they would suffer
more. Just think, in fact, of the boars of mankind: does it not seem that the degree of intelligence
which separates them from other beings has only been granted at the irremediable price of
incalculable suffering? Follow my example and dig your spur into your courser’s side. ‘Our
horses were galloping along the shore, as if they fled the eyes of men.’
Behold the madwoman dancing along, with a vague memory of something in her mind.
Children chase after her and throw stones at her, as if she were a blackbird. She brandishes a
stick and makes as if to chase them, then continues on her way. She has left a shoe behind her
on the path, and does not notice it. Long spiders’ legs move on her nape; they are none other
than her hair. Her face no longer looks like a human face, and she bursts into fits of laughter, like
a hyena. She utters scraps of sentences in which, when they are put together, few would be able
to find any clear meaning. Her dress has holes in several places and moves jerkily to show her
bony and mud-bespattered legs. She moves forward in a daze, her youth, her illusions and her
past happiness, which she glimpses through her ruined mind’s haze, all swept along like a poplar
leaf by the whirl of unconscious powers. She has lost her former grace and beauty; the way she
walks is mean and low, her breath reeks of gin. If men were happy on this earth, it would surprise
us. The madwoman reproaches no one, she is too proud to complain, and she will die without
revealing her secret to those who are interested in her, but whom she has forbidden even to
speak to her. Children chase after her and throw stones at her, as if she were a blackbird. She
has dropped a roll of paper from her breast. A stranger picks it up, shuts himself in his room all
night, and reads the manuscript, which contains the following: ‘After many years of barrenness,
Providence blessed me with a child, a girl. For three whole days I knelt in churches and never
ceased thanking Him who had at last granted my wishes. With my own milk I suckled the child,
who meant more to me than my own life. She was endowed with all the good qualities of body
and soul, and she grew quickly. She would say to me: “I would like to have a little sister to play
with; ask the good Lord to send me one; and I, in return, will wreathe a garland of violets, mint,
and geraniums.” My answer was to sit her on my lap, press her to my breast and kiss her
lovingly. She was already interested in animals and used to ask me why it was that the swallow
merely brushed against the cottages of men with its wings, without ever daring to enter. But I
would put my finger on my mouth, as if to tell her to keep silent on this grave questions, the
rudiments of which I did not wish to explain to her and perhaps over-excite her childish
imagination with too vivid a sensation; and I was anxious to change the subject, which is a painful
one for every being who belongs to the race which has imposed its unjust dominion on all the
other animals of creation. Whenever she spoke to me of the graves in the cemetery, saying how
there one could breathe the pleasant perfumes of cypresses and immortelles, I was careful not to
contradict her; but I said to her that it was the town where the birds lived, that they sang there
from morning till dusk, that the graves were their nests where, lifting up the gravelids, they slept at
night with their family. It was I who sewed all the pretty little clothes she wore, as well as the
lace-dress, with its thousand arabesques, which was reserved for Sundays. In winter, she had
her special place by the hearth; for she considered herself an important person. In summer, the
meadows felt the gentle pressure of her steps when she ventured out with her silk net on the end
of a rush, chasing the wild, free hummingbird, and butterflies with their frustrating, zig-zagging
motion. “What have you been doing, you little scamp, your soup has been waiting for you for
over and hour?” But she exclaimed as she flung her arms around my neck that she would never
go back there. The next day she was off again, skipping over the daisies and the mignonettes;
among the sunbeams and the whirling flight of the ephemera; knowing only life’s prismatic glass,
none of its rancour yet; glad to be no bigger than the bluetit; innocently teasing the warbler, which
does not sing as well as the nightingale; slyly putting her tongue out at the nasty raven which was
looking at her in a fatherly way; graceful as a young cat in her movements. I was not to enjoy her
company for much longer; the time was coming near when she would unexpectedly have to say
goodbye to life’s enchantments, abandoning forever the company of turtledoves, grouse and
greenfinches, the babbling of the tulip and the anemone, the counsel of the marsh-grass, the
sharp wit of the frogs, the coolness of the streams. I was told what happened; for I was not
present at the event of which my daughter’s death was the result. If I had been, I would have
defended that angel at the cost of my blood…Maldoror was passing with his bulldog; he sees a
young girl sleeping in the shade of a plane-tree, and at first he took her for a rose. It is impossible
to say which came first to his mind: the sight of this young girl, or the resolution which followed.
He undresses rapidly, like a man who knows what he is going to do. Stark naked, he flung
himself upon the girl, lifting her dress to commit an assault upon modesty…in broad daylight…that
will not worry him, you may be sure. But let us not dwell on this impure act. Discontented in
mind, he hurriedly gets dressed again, casts a prudent glance towards the dusty pathway where
no one is walking, and orders the bulldog to strangle a blood-bespattered young girl with a snap
of his jaws. He points out to the mountain-dog the place where the suffering victim is breathing
and shrieking, and withdraws from the scene, not wishing to be present as the sharp teeth enter
the pink veins. It seemed to the dog that the execution of this order was harsh. He thought he
was being asked to do what had already been done, and contented himself, this monstrous
snouted wolf, with violating in turn the virginity of this delicate child. From her torn belly the blood
flows again along her legs, over the meadow…Her moans join the whining of the animal. The
young girl gives him the golden cross which adorned her neck, so that he would spare her. She
had not dared to show it to the wild eye of him who had first thought of taking advantage of the
weakness of her age. But the dog knew well that if he disobeyed his master, a knife-thrust from
his sleeve would open up his entrails without a word of warning. Maldoror (how revolting to
pronounce the name!) heard the agonized cries of pain, and was astonished that the victim was
so tenacious of life that she was not already dead. He approaches the sacrificial altar and sees
the behaviour of his bulldog, gratifying his base instincts, rising above the young girl, as a shipwrecked man raises his head above the waves. He kicks him and cuts out one of his eyes. The
maddened bulldog flees across the countryside, dragging after him along a stretch of the road,
which though it is short, is still too long, the body of the young girl which is hanging from him and
which only comes free as a result of the jerky movements of the fleeing dog; but he is afraid of
attacking his master, who will never set eyes on him again. He takes an American penknife from
his pocket, consisting of twelve blades which can be put to different uses. He opens the angular
claws of this steel hydra; and armed with a scalpel of the same kind, seeing that the green of the
grass had not yet disappeared beneath all the blood which had been shed, he prepares, without
blenching, to dig his knife courageously into the unfortunate child’s vagina. From the widened
hole he pulls out, one after one, the inner organs; the guts, the lungs, the liver and at last the
heart itself are torn from their foundations and dragged through the hideous hole into the light of
day. The sacrificer notices that the young girl, a gutted chicken, has long been dead. He stops
his ravages, which had gone on until then with increasing eagerness, and lets the corpse sleep,
again, in the shade of the plane-tree. The knife was picked up where it had been left, a few steps
away. A shepherd, a witness of the crime whose author was never discovered, waited until long
afterwards before telling the tale, until he had made sure that the criminal had reached the frontier
and that he no longer had to fear the revenge which would be taken on him if he told the truth. I
pitied the madman who had committed this appalling crime which the legislators had not foreseen
and for which there were no precedents. I pitied him, because it is likely that his reason deserted
him as he went to work with the twelve-bladed knife, ripping the viscera from top to bottom. I pity
him because, if he was not mad, his shameful behaviour shows that he must be harbouring
intense hatred against his fellow-beings, to swoop so savagely down on to the flesh and arteries
of a harmless child, my daughter. I was present at the burial of the last remains, silently resigned;
and every day I come and pray over a grave.’ When he has finished reading this, the stranger’s
strength fails him and he faints. He comes to, and burns the manuscript. He had forgotten this
memory of his youth (how habit dulls the memory!); and after an absence of twenty years, he had
returned to this fateful land. He will not buy a bulldog!…He will not converse with shepherds!…He
will not sleep in the shade of plane-trees!…Children chase after her and throw stones at her, as if
she were a blackbird.
Tremdall, for the last time, has touched the hand of him who is deliberately going away,
always fleeing onwards, the image of man always pursuing him! The wandering Jew says to
himself that he would not be fleeing thus if the sceptre of the earth belonged to the race of
crocodiles. Tremdall, standing in the valley, puts his hand before his eyes to concentrate the
solar rays and make his sight more penetrating, while the other touches the breast of space with
his horizontal unmoving hand. Leaning forward, the statue of friendship, his eyes mysterious as
the sea, he contemplates the traveler’s garters as (with the aid of a metal walking stick) they
make their way up the hillside. The earth seems to give way beneath his feet and even if he
wished, he could not hold back his tears and his feelings: ‘He is far away; I see his form making
its way along a narrow path. Where is he going, with that slow and heavy step? He does not
know himself…Yet I am convinced that I am not asleep: who is it approaching, and going to meet
Maldoror? How huge the dragon is…bigger than an oak. You would think that its whitish wings,
joined firmly to its body, had sinews of steel, such was the ease with which they cleft the air. Its
body begins with a tiger’s head and ends in a long serpent’s tail. It was not accustomed to seeing
such things. What is that on his brow? I see a word there, written in a symbolic language which I
cannot decipher.’ With one last wing-beat, he repaired to a place near him whose tone of voice I
know. He said to him: ‘I have been waiting for you, as you for me. The hour is come. Here I
am. Read on my brow my name written in hieroglyphic signs.’ Scarcely had he seen the enemy
coming than Maldoror changed into an immense eagle, and prepared for the combat, contentedly
clacking his hooked beak, by which he means that he will take it upon himself alone to eat the
dragon’s lower parts. Now they are describing circles of diminishing concentricity, as each
weighs up the other’s strengths. They are wise to do so. The dragon seems to me to be
stronger; I should like him to gain victory over the eagle. I shall experience great emotions at this
spectacle in which a part of my being is involved. Powerful dragon, I will, if necessary, spur you
on with my shouts. For it is in the eagle’s interest that he should be defeated. Why are they
waiting before they attack? I am in mortal terror. Come on, dragon, you attack first. You have
just landed a sharp blow with your claw: that is not too bad. I can assure you that the eagle has
felt it; the wind blows away his beautiful, blood-stained feathers. Oh! the eagle has plucked out
one of your eyes with his beak, whereas you have only torn off his skin; you should have been
looking out for that. Bravo! take your revenge, and smash one of his wings; there is no denying
how strong and sharp your tiger’s teeth are. If you could only approach the eagle as he whirls in
space and swoops down towards earth. I notice that even when he is falling you are wary of this
eagle. He is on the ground, he will not be able to get up again. The sight of all these gaping
wounds intoxicates me. Fly around him at ground level and finish him off, if you can, with the
blows of your scaly serpent’s tail. Courage, my fine dragon. Dig your powerful claws deep into
him, and let blood mix with blood to form streams in which no water flows. It is easier said than
done. The eagle has just devised a new strategic plan of defence, occasioned by the unfortunate
risks of this memorable struggle; he is wise. He is sitting solidly in an unshakeable position, on
his remaining wing, on his haunches, and on his tail, which had previously served as a rudder.
He defies attacks even more extraordinary than those which have hitherto been flung at him.
Now he turns with the speed of the tiger, and does not seem to flag; now he is on his back with
his two strong claws in the air, coolly and ironically weighing up his adversary. I must know who
the victor will be; the combat cannot go on for ever. I am thinking of the consequences! The
eagle is fearsome; he is making enormous leaps which shake the earth, as if he were about to
take off; yet he knows that is impossible. The dragon does not trust appearances. He believes
that at any moment the eagle will attack him on the side where he has lost his eye…O wretch that
I am! This is what happens. How could the dragon have let himself be caught by the breast? In
vain he uses his strength and his cunning. I see that the eagle, clinging to him with all his limbs
like a bloodsucker, is burying his beak, and indeed his entire neck, deeper and deeper in the
dragon’s belly. Only his body can be seen. He appears perfectly at ease; he is in no hurry to
come out. No doubt he is looking for something, while the tiger-headed dragon utters groans
which awaken the forests. Behold the eagle, as he comes out of that cave. Eagle, how revolting
you are! You are redder than a pool of blood! Though you hold a palpitating heart in your beak,
you are so covered with wounds that you can hardly stand upright on your feathered claws; and,
without relaxing the tight grip of your beak, you are staggering beside the dragon which is dying in
the throes of frightful pain. Victory has been hard to achieve; no matter, you have won it; one
must at least tell the truth…You are acting according to the laws of reason as, moving away from
the dragon’s corpse, you divest yourself of the eagle’s form. And so, Maldoror, you are the
victor! And so, Maldoror, you have defeated Hope! From this moment, despair will prey on your
purest substance! From this moment you will return, with a firm step, to your career of evil!
Although I have become, so to speak, dulled to suffering, the last blow you struck the dragon did
not fail to have its effect on me. Judge for yourself if I am suffering! But you frighten me. See,
see that man fleeing in the distance. The busy foliage of malediction has grown on him, excellent
soil; he is accursed and accursed. Where are your sandals taking you? Where are you going,
tottering forward like a sleepwalker on a roof? May your perverse destiny be fulfilled! Maldoror,
adieu! Adieu, until eternity, when we will not be together!
It was a spring day. The birds were pouring forth their warbling songs, and human beings
were going about their different duties, bathed in the holiness of toil. Everything was working
towards its destiny: trees, planets, dogfish. Everything, that is, except the Creator! He was lying
stretched out on the road, with his clothes all torn. His lower lip was hanging down like a heavy
chain; his teeth had not been cleaned, and the blond waves of his hair were full of dust. His
body, benumbed by heavy sluggishness, pinned down on the stones, was making futile attempts
to get up. His strength had deserted him and he was lying there, weak as an earthworm,
impassive as the bark of a tree. Floods of wine filled the ruts which had been hollowed out by the
nervous jerkings of his shoulders. Pig-snouted brutishness covered him with its protective wings
and cast loving glances at him. His legs, their muscles slack, swept across the ground like two
flapping sails. Blood flowed from his nostrils: as he fell he had knocked his face against a
post…He was drunk! Horribly drunk! Drunk as a bug which in one night has gorged three barrels
of blood; his incoherent words resounded all around; I shall refrain from repeating them here, for
even if the supreme drunkard has no self-respect, I must respect men. Did you know that the
Creator was drunk? Have pity on the lip, soiled in the cups of debauch. The hedgehog which
was passing stuck his needles into his back and said: ‘Take that. The sun has run half its
course. Just wait till I call the cockatoo with its hooded beak.’ The woodpecker and the owl, who
were passing, buried their necks in his belly and said: ‘Take that. What are you up to on this
earth? Is it to offer the spectacle of this lugubrious comedy to animals? But I promise that
neither the mole, nor the cassowary, nor the flamingo will imitate you.’ The ass, which was
passing by, gave him a kick in the temple and said: ‘Take that. What had I done to you to
deserve such long ears? Even the crickets despise me.’ The toad, which was passing by, spat a
fountain of slime on to his brow and said: ‘Take that. If you had not given me such big bulbous
eyes and I had seen you in the state you are in now, I would chastely have hidden the beauty of
your limbs beneath a shower of ranunculi, myositis, and camelias, so that no on would see you.’
The lion, who was passing by, inclined his royal head and said: ‘For my part, I respect him, even
though his radiance now seems to be eclipsed. You others, so proud and superior, are mere
cowards, since you attacked him while he was asleep. How would you like to be in his place and
to have to endure from passers-by the insults which you have not spared him’? Man, who was
passing by, stopped before the unrecognizable Creator; and for three full days, to the applause of
the crab-louse and the viper, he shat on his august face! Woe to man, for this insult; for he did
not respect the enemy, sprawled out in a mixture of blood and wine; defenceless, and almost
lifeless! Then the sovereign God; awoken at last by all these mean jibes, got up as best he could;
staggering, he went and sat down on a stone, with his two hands hanging down like the
consumptive’s two testicles; and cast a glassy, lack-lustre glance over all of nature, which
belonged to him. Oh human beings, you are enfants terribles; but let us spare, I implore you, this
great being who has not yet finished sleeping off the vile liquor and who has not got enough
strength left to stand up straight; he has slumped down on to the boulder, on which he is sitting
like a weary traveler. Look closely at the passing beggar; he saw the dervish stretching out a thin
and hungry hand and, without knowing to whom he was giving alms, threw a piece of bread into
the hand of him who was begging for mercy. The Creator expressed his gratitude with a nod of
the head. Oh! you will never know how difficult it can be to keep on holding the reins of the
universe! Sometimes the blood rushes to one’s head when one is seriously trying to conjure a
last comet from nothingness, and with it a new race of spirits. The intellect, stirred to the depths,
yields like a beaten man and, for once in its life, lapses into the aberrations which you have
A red lantern, the flag of vice, hanging from the end of a tringle, rocking its carcass, lashed by
the four winds, above a massive, worm-eaten door. A dingy corridor, smelling of human thighs,
led to a yard where cocks and hens, scrawnier than their own wings, were looking for food. On
the wall which surrounded the yard, on the east side, several very small openings had been made
and were closed off by a metal grating. Moss covered this main part of the building which had no
doubt once been a convent and was now used as a residence for all those women who, every
day, showed the inside of their vagina to the clients in return for a little money. I was on a bridge,
the piers of which went down into the muddy water of the moat. From its raised surface I
contemplated the old ramshackle building and I could observe the minutest details of its inner
architecture. Sometimes a grating would rise with a creak, as if by the impulsion of a hand which
did violence to the metal; a man’s head would appear in the half-open space; then his shoulders
emerged with flakes of plaster falling on them, followed in this laborious extraction by his cobwebcovered body. Putting his hands like a crown on the filth of all kinds which pressed the ground
with its weight, his feet still caught in the twists of the grating, he resumed his natural posture and
went to dip his hands in a rickety bucket whose soapy water had seen entire generations come
and go; then he made off as quickly as possible, away from these suburban side-streets, to
breathe the purer air nearer the town-centre. When the client had gone, a completely naked
woman came out in the same manner, and went over towards the same bucket. Then the cocks
and the hens rushed up in a crowd from all parts of the yard, attracted by the smell of semen,
forced her on to the ground despite her vigorous resistance, swarmed all over her body as if it
were a dung-heap and tore at the flaccid lips of her swollen vagina with their beaks until the blood
came out. The hens and cocks, sated, went back to scratch around in the grass of the yard; the
woman, now clean, got up, trembling and covered in wounds, as when one awakes after a
nightmare. She dropped the cloth she had brought to wipe her legs with; no longer needing the
communal bucket, she went back to her lair to await the next client. At this sight I, too, wanted to
enter that house. I was about to come down from the bridge when I saw, on the coping of the
column, the following inscription in Hebrew characters: ‘You who cross this bridge, do not go in
there. There crime sojourns with vice; one day, the friends of a young man who had passed
through the fatal door waited in vain for his return.’ My curiosity overcame my fear; a few
moments later, I was standing before a grating of solid, intercrossing metal bars, with narrow
spaces between them. I wanted to look inside, through that dark screen. At first I could see
nothing; but I was soon able to make out the objects in the dark room by means of the rays of the
sun, which was setting and would soon disappear on the horizon. The first and only thing which
struck my sight was a blond stick consisting of horns which fitted into one another. The stick was
moving! It was walking in the room! Its jerking was so violent that the floor shook; with its two
ends it was making huge holes in the wall and seemed like a ram battering the gates of a
besieged town. Its efforts were in vain; the walls were made of freestone, and when it hit the wall
I saw it bend like a steel blade and rebound like an elastic ball. Then this stick was not made of
wood! I noticed later that it coiled and uncoiled easily, like an eel. Although it was as tall as a
man, it did not stand upright. Sometimes it would try and then its ends could be seen through the
grating. It was leaping up wildly and violently, then falling to the ground again. It could not break
down the obstacle. I began to look at it more and more carefully, and I saw that it was a hair!
After its great struggle with the matter which surrounded it like a prison, it went and rested against
the bed which was in the room, with its root on the carpet and its tip against the head of the bed.
After a few moments of silence, during which I heard broken sobs, it raised its voice and spoke
thus: ‘My master has left me in this room and forgotten all about me. He has not come back to
look for me. He got up from this bed on which I am lying, combed his perfumed hair and did not
realize that I had already fallen to the ground. Yet if he had picked me up, there would have been
nothing surprising in such a simple act of justice. He has abandoned me in the confines of this
room after being enfolded in a woman’s arms. And what a woman! The sheets are still damp
from their warm, moist embraces and bear, in their untidiness, the stamp of a night of love…’ And
I wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my face even harder against the grating.
‘While all of nature was slumbering chastely, he coupled with a degraded woman in lewd, impure
caresses. He demeaned himself so far as to allow those withered cheeks, despicable in their
habitual shamelessness, to approach his august face. He did not blush, but I blushed for him.
There is no doubt that he was happy to spend a night with such a spouse. The woman, struck by
his majestic appearance, seemed to be enjoying incomparable delights, and kissed his neck
madly.’ And I wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my face even harder against
the grating! ‘During this time, irritant pustules began to appear and grow in number as a result of
his unaccustomed eagerness for fleshly pleasures; I felt them surrounding my roots with their
deadly gall and imbibing with their suckers the generative substance of my life. The more they
abandoned themselves to their wild, insane movements, the more I felt my strength diminishing.
At the moment when their bodily desires were reaching the paroxysm of passion, I noticed that
my root had slumped, like a soldier wounded by a bullet. The torch of life had gone out in me and
I fell from his illustrious head like a dead branch; I fell to the ground, without courage, without
strength, without vitality; but with deep pity for him to whom I had belonged; but with eternal
sorrow for his willful aberration!’ And I wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my
face even harder against the grating! ‘If he had at least taken to himself the innocent breast of a
virgin! She would have been worthier of him, and the degradation would not have been so great.
With his lips he kisses that mud-covered brow, on which men have trampled, full of dust…he
breathes in, with his shameless nostrils, the emanations of those two moist armpits!…I saw the
membranes of the latter shrink in shame while, for their part, his nostrils shrunk from the infamous
inhalation. But neither he nor she paid any attention to the solemn warnings of the armpits, to the
dull, pale revulsion of the nostrils. She raised her arms higher and he, thrusting more strongly,
buried his face deeper into their hollow. I was obliged to be a party to this profanation. I was
obliged to be a spectator at this unspeakable contortion; to be present at the unnatural alloying of
these two beings, whose different natures were separated by an immeasurable gulf…’ And I
wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my face even harder against the grating!
‘When he was sick of breathing his woman, he wanted to wrench off her muscles one by one; but
as she was a woman, he forgave her, preferring to make one of his own sex suffer. He called in
a young man from an adjoining cell. This young man had come to spend a few carefree
moments with one of these women; he was enjoined to come and stand one step from his face. I
had been lying on the ground for a long time now. Not being strong enough to get up on my
burning root, I could not see what they did. All I know is that the young man was hardly within
arm’s reach when bits of flesh began to fall at the feet of the bed and came to rest on both sides
of me. They told me in hushed tones that my master’s claws had ripped them off the adolescent’s
shoulders. The latter, after some hours in which he had struggled against one of greater
strength, got up from the bed and withdrew majestically. He was literally flayed from head to foot;
he trailed his skin, which had been turned inside out, over the flagstones of the room. He said
that his own character was full of goodness; that he liked to believe that his fellow-beings were
good too; for that reason he had agreed to the wish of the distinguished stranger who had called
him in; but that he would never have expected to be flayed by such a torturer. By such a torturer,
he added after a pause. At last he went towards the grating which compassionately opened to
ground level in the presence of this body deprived of an epidermis. Without abandoning his skin,
which could still be useful to him, if only as a cloak, he was trying to escape from this cut-throat;
once he left the room, I could no longer see if he had had the strength to reach the gate which let
out of that building. Oh, how the hens and the cocks moved respectfully away from the long trail
of blood on the drenched ground, despite their hunger!’ And I wondered who his master could
be! And I pressed my face even harder against the grating! ‘Then he who should have thought
more of his dignity and his righteousness sat up and leant, with some difficult, on his tired
elbows. Alone, dark, disgusted, and hideous! He dressed slowly. The nuns, buried for centuries
in the convent’s catacombs, having been awoken with a start by the noises of that dreadful night,
the crashing and the shaking in the cell above the vaults, now held hands, and came and formed
a funeral circle around him. And while he looked for the ruined remnants of his former splendour;
while he washed his hands with spittle, then wiping them in his hair (for it was better to wash
them with spittle than not to wash them at all, after and entire night of vice and crime), they
intoned the laments for the dead, which are sung when someone has been buried. And in fact
the youth was not to survive the tortures inflicted on him by a divine hand, and his agonies came
to an end during the nuns’ songs.’ I remembered the inscription on the column; I understood
what had become of the pubescent dreamer whose friends had been waiting for him since his
disappearance…And I wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my face even harder
against the grating! ‘The walls opened to let him pass; the nuns, seeing him soar into the sky
with wings till then hidden beneath his emerald robe, returned to their places beneath the lid of
the tomb. He has returned to his celestial dwelling, leaving me here; it is not fair. The other hairs
are still on his head; and I am lying in this dismal room on a floor covered with clotted blood and
bits of dried meat; this room is damned since he came in; nobody enters; yet I am locked in. It is
all over now. I shall never again see the legions of angels marching in thick phalanxes, nor the
stars moving in the gardens of harmony. Well…let it be…I shall be able to bear my woe with
resignation. But I shall not fail to tell men what happened in this cell. I shall give them permission
to discard their dignity like a useless coat, since they have my master’s example before them; I
shall advise them to suck the verge of crime, since another has already done so.’ The hair
stopped speaking…And I wondered who his master could be! And I pressed my face even harder
against the grating!…Immediately, thunder clapped; a phosphorescent light penetrated into the
room. In spite of myself I stepped back, warned by an inexplicable instinct; although I had moved
away from the grating, I heard another voice, but this time insinuating, quiet, for fear of being
heard: ‘Stop leaping up and down! Be quiet…be quiet…if anyone should hear you! I will put you
back with the other hairs; but first wait for the sun to set on the horizon, that night may cover your
steps…I have not forgotten you; but you would have been seen as you left, and I would have
been compromised. Oh! if only you knew how much I have suffered since that moment! When I
returned to heaven, my archangels surrounded me inquisitively; they did not want to ask me the
motive for my absence. They, who had never dared to look up at me, cast looks of utter
amazement on my downcast face as they tried to solve the riddle; although they could not see
into the heart of this mystery, their whispered thoughts expressed the fear that an unusual
change had come about in me. They were shedding silent tears; and they had a vague sense
that I was no longer the same, that I was now inferior to my previous self. They wanted to know
what disastrous resolution could have made me cross the frontiers of heaven and come down to
earth to indulge in pleasures which they themselves despised. They noticed on my brow a drop
of sperm and a drop of blood. The first had shot from the thighs of the courtesan! The second
had spurted from the martyr’s veins! Odious stigmata! Indestructible rosaces! My archangels
found the flaming remnants of my opal tunic in the thickets of space, floating above the wide-eyed
people of the earth. They could not piece it together again, and my body remains naked before
their innocence; a memorable punishment for abandoned virtue. See the furrows which have
hollowed out a bed in my discoloured cheeks: it is the drop of sperm and the drop of blood, slowly
oozing down over my dry wrinkles. Reaching my upper lip, they make an enormous effort and
penetrate the sanctuary of my mouth, attracted, like a lover, by the irresistible throat. They are
suffocating me, these implacable drops. Until now I had considered myself the Almighty; but no; I
must bow my head before remorse which cries out to me: “You are only a wretch!” Stop leaping
up and down! Be quiet…be quiet…if anyone should hear you! but first wait for the sun to set on
the horizon, that night may cover your steps…I have seen Satan, my great enemy, rouse himself
from his larva-like torpor and, lifting up the bony tangle of his massive frame, harangue his
assembled troops; as I deserved, he poured scorn upon me. He said he was very surprised that
his proud rival, caught in the act by one of his perpetual spying missions which had at last met
with success, could so debase himself as to kiss the dress of human debauch, after a long
voyage over the reefs of ether; and that he should brutally torture and kill a member of the human
race. He said that this young man, crushed in the machinery of my refined tortures, might have
been a genius; might have consoled men on this earth for the blows of misfortune with wondrous
songs of poetry and courage. He said that the nuns of the convent-brothel were no longer quiet
in their graves; but prowled around the yard, gesticulating like automata, crushing buttercups and
lilacs underfoot; that their indignation had driven them mad, but not so made as to forget the
cause of the malady which afflicted their brains…(See them advancing, dressed in their white
shrouds; they do not speak; they hold hands; their disheveled hair falls on their naked shoulders;
a bouquet of black flowers in their bosom. Nuns, go back to your vaults. Night has not yet
completely fallen; it is only evening twilight…Oh hair, you can see for yourself; on all sides I am
attacked by the maddening feeling of my depravity!) He said that the Creator, who boasts of
being Providence for all that exists, has behaved, to say the least, with great negligence, in
presenting such a spectacle to the starry worlds; for he clearly expressed his plan to report to all
the orbiting planets on how, by my own example, I maintain virtue and goodness in the immensity
of my realms. He said that the great esteem in which he had held such a noble rival had
vanished from his imagination; and that he would prefer to put his hand on a young girl’s breast,
although this is an act of execrable wickedness, than to spit in my face, covered in three layers of
mingled blood and sperm; he would rather not defile his slimy spittle by such an act. He said he
justly felt superior to me, not in vice, but in virtue and modesty; not in crime, but in justice; he said
I should be strung up for my countless faults; that I should be burned slowly over a blazing fire
and that I should then be thrown into the sea, provided the sea was willing to receive me. That
since I boasted of being just, I, who had condemned him to eternal pain for a slight revolt which
had not had grave consequences, then I ought to be severely just with myself, and judge my
conscience impartially, laden as it was with heinous crimes!…Stop leaping up and down! Be
quiet…be quiet…if anyone should hear you! I will put you back with the other hairs; but first wait
for the sun to set on the horizon, that night may cover your steps.’ He paused for a moment;
although I could not see him at all, I judged from the length of the pause that a surge of emotion
was heaving in his breast, like a whirlwind arousing a family of whales. Divine breast, defiled one
day by the bitter touch of a shameless woman’s nipples! Royal soul, which in a moment of
forgetfulness abandoned itself to the crab of debauchery, to the octopus of weakness, to the
shark of individual abjection, to the boa of amorality, and to the monstrous snail of imbecility! The
hair and its master hugged one another close, like two friends who meet one another again after
a long absence. The Creator continued, the accused appearing before his own tribunal: ‘And
what will men think of me, of whom they thought so highly, when they find out about the
aberrations of my behaviour, my sandals’ hesitant march over the muddy labyrinths of matter, the
direction of the dark route I took over the stagnant waters and damp rushes of the pool where
dark-footed crime, shrouded in fog, turns blue and roars…I see that i will have to work hard to
rehabilitate myself in the future and regain their esteem. I am the Almighty; and yet in one
respect I am inferior to the men I created with a grain of sand! Tell them a bold lie, tell them that I
have never left heaven, where I am constantly enclosed, with all the cares of the throne, among
the marbles, the statues and the mosaics of my palaces. I appeared before the celestial sons of
mankind and I said to them: “Hunt evil away from your cottages, and let the cloak of good come
in to your hearths. He who lays a hand on one of his fellow men, fatally wounding him in the
chest with a murderous knife, let him not hope for any mercy from me, let him fear the scales of
my justice. He will go and hide his sorrow in the woods; but the rustling of the leaves through the
grove will sing the ballad of remorse in his ears; and he will flee those parts, stung in the hips by
bushes, holly, and blue-thistles, his rapid steps caught up in the supple creepers, bitten by
scorpions. He will make for the pebbles of the beach; but the rising tide with its spray and its
dangerous surge will tell him that it is not unaware of his past; and he will rush blindly towards the
cliff tops, while the strident equinoctial winds, whistling down into the natural caves of the gulf and
the huge holes gouged in the rock-face, bellow like the huge herds of buffalo on the pampas.
The lighthouses will pursue him to the northern limits with their sarcastic lights, and the will o’ the
wisps of the maremma, simple burning lights dancing in a fantastic style, will make the hairs of his
pores shiver and make the iris of his eyes green. Let modesty thrive in your huts, and may it be
safe in the shade of your fields. Thus will your sons become handsome and bow down in
gratitude to their parents; if not, sickly and stunted as the scrolls of parchment in libraries, they
will be led to revolt, and will step forward and curse the day of their birth and the lewd clitoris of
their mother. How can men be brought to obey these strict laws if the legislator himself refuses to
be bound by them…and my shame is as immense as eternity.’ I heard the hair humbly forgive
him for confining him, since his master had acted from discretion, and not from carelessness; and
the last pale ray of the sun which gave me light disappeared into the ravines of the mountain.
Turning towards it, I saw it coil round, like a shroud…’Stop leaping up and down! Be quiet…be
quiet…if anyone should hear you! He will put you back with the other hairs. And now that the sun
has set on the horizon, cynical old man and soft strand of hair, creep away from the brothel, while
night, spreading its shadow over the convent, covers the lengthening of your furtive steps over
the plain.’ Then the louse, suddenly emerging from behind a promontory, says to me,
brandishing its claws: ‘What do you think of that?’ But I did not want to reply. I withdrew and
came back on to the bridge. I effaced the original inscription, and replaced it with this: ‘It is
painful to keep such a secret, like a dagger, in one’s heart; but I swear never to reveal what I
witnessed when, for the first time, I entered this terrible dungeon.’ I threw the knife I had used to
carve out these letters over the parapet. And making a few rapid reflections on the character of
the Creator who was in his infancy and who was destined, alas! to make mankind suffer for quite
a while (eternity is long) whether by his own acts of cruelty or by the ignoble spectacles of the
chancres caused by a great vice, I closed my eyes like a drunken man at the thought of having
such a being as my enemy, and sadly went on my way through the mazes of the streets.
A man, a stone, or a tree is going to begin this fourth song. When the foot slips on a frog
which it has crushed, one has a feeling of disgust; but when one merely brushes against the
human body with one’s hand, the skin of one’s fingers cracks like fragments of a block of mica
smashed by hammer-blows; and just as, on ship’s deck, the heart of a shark, though it has been
dead for an hour, goes on beating with dogged vitality, so too our entrails are stirred to the depth
long after that touch. Such is the horror which man inspires in his fellow-beings! Perhaps in
suggesting this I am mistaken; but it may be that I am right. I know, I can conceive of a malady
more terrible than the puffiness of the eyes which comes from long hours of meditation on the
strange character of man: but I am still seeking it…and I have not been able to find it! I do not
think I am less intelligent than the next man, but who would dare to declare that I have succeeded
in my investigation? What a lie his lips would be telling! The ancient temple of Denderah is one
and a half hours’ journey from the left bank of the Nile. Today countless swarms of wasps have
taken possession of its gutters and cornices. They fly around the columns like the thick waves of
a head of black hair. Sole inhabitants of the cold porch, they guard the entrance to the vestibule
as if it were a hereditary right. I compare the buzzing of their metallic wings to the incessant
crashing of ice-floes flung against one another when the ice breaks up in polar seas. But when I
consider the conduct of him who providence gave the throne of this earth three pinions of my
sorrow make a far louder hum! When, after eighty years’ absence, a comet reappears in some
part of the heavens, it displays its brilliant nebulous trail for men and for crickets to behold. No
doubt it is unaware of this long journey; the same is not true of me: sitting up in bed while the
jagged shapes of a gloomy and arid horizon loom up in force from the depths of my soul, I give
myself up to dreams of compassion, and I blush for man! The sailor, cut by the blasts of the north
wind, hurries back to his hammock when he has finished his night watch: why am I not granted
this consolation? The thought that I have willfully fallen as low as my fellow-beings, that I have
less right than the next man to bewail our fate, which remains shackled to the hardened crust of a
planet, or the essence of our perverse souls, pierces me like a massive nail. We have seen
whole families wiped out by fire-damp explosions; but the pain they felt must have been short,
since death is almost instantaneous, amid the ruins and the noxious gasses…I…I still exist, like
basalt. In the middle as at the beginning of their lives angels still look the same: yet it is ages
since I looked myself. Man and I, confined within the bounds of our understanding, as often a
lake is amid a circle of coral islands, instead of joining forces to defend ourselves against chance
and misfortune, avoid each other, and, trembling with hate, take opposite roads, as if we had
stabbed one another with the point of a dagger. You would think that each one realizes the scorn
the other feels for him; motivated by a feeling of relative dignity, we are anxious not to mislead
our adversary; each one keeps to himself and is aware that peace, if it were proclaimed, would be
impossible to keep. Well, then, let it be! Let my war against man go on for eternity, since each
recognizes his own degradation in the other…since we are both mortal enemies. Whether I am
destined to win a disastrous victory or to succumb, the struggle will be good: I alone against
mankind. I shall not use weapons made of wood or iron; I shall spurn all the minerals of the
earth; the powerful and seraphic resonance of the harp will be a formidable talisman in my
hands. In several ambushes man, the sublime monkey, has already pierced my breast with his
porphyry lance: a soldier does not show his wounds, however glorious they may be. This terrible
war will bring sorrow to both sides: two friends stubbornly seeking to destroy one another, what a
Two columns, which it was not difficult, far less impossible, to take for baobabs, could be
seen in the valley, bigger than two pin. In fact, they were two huge towers. Now though, at first
sight, two baobobs do not look like two pins, or even like two towers, nevertheless, by adroit use
of the strings of prudence, one may affirm, without fear of error (for if this affirmation were
accompanied by the least scrap of such fear, it would be no affirmation; although a single name
expresses these two phenomena of the soul whose characteristics are sufficiently well-defined as
not to be easily confused), one may affirm that a baobob is not so very different from a column
that comparison between these two architectural forms should be forbidden…or geometrical
forms…or both…or neither…or rather high and massive forms. I have just discovered, I do not
deny it, the epithets appropriate to the nouns column and baobob: and I want you to know that it
is not without a feeling of joy mingled with pride that I make this observation to those who, after
raising their eyelids, have made the very praiseworthy resolution to look through these pages,
while the candle burns if it is night, while the sun casts its light, if it is day. And yet, even if a
higher power were to command us, in the clearest possible terms, to cast this judicious
comparison, which everyone has been able to relish with impunity, into the abyss of chaos, even
then, and especially then, let us not lose sight of this main axiom, that the habits acquired over
years through books and contact with one’s fellows, and the innate character of each individual,
which develops in rapid efflorescence all these would impose on the human mind the irreparable
stigma of relapse into the criminal use (criminal, that is, if we momentarily and spontaneously
take the point of view of the superior power) of a rhetorical figure which several people despise,
but many adore. If the reader finds this sentence too long, let him accept my apologies; but let
him expect no groveling on my part. I may acknowledge my mistakes; but I will not make them
more serious by my cowardice. My reasoning will sometimes jingle the bells of madness and the
serious appearance of what is, after all, merely grotesque (although, according to some
philosophers, it is quite difficult to tell the difference between the clown and the melancholic man,
life itself being but a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy); however, each of us is free to kill flies
and even rhinoceri from time to time as a relaxation from too demanding labours. The speediest
way of killing flies, though it may not be the best, is this: you crush them between the first two
fingers of your hand. The majority of writers who have gone into this subject have calculated,
apparently convincingly, that it is preferable in several cases to cut off their heads. If anyone
should reproach me for speaking of such an absolutely trivial subject as pins, I should like him to
note, without bias, that the greatest effects are often produced by the smallest causes. And
without straying more from the setting of this piece of paper, can one not see that the laborious
piece of literature which I have been composing since the beginning of this strophe would
perhaps be relished less if were based on a problem in chemistry or internal pathology. Besides,
in nature there all kinds of tastes; and when at the beginning I compared the columns to the pins
with such exactitude (certainly I did not think I would one day be reproached for it), I based this on
the laws of optics which have proved that the further away from an object one stands, the smaller
the image of its reflection on the retina.
Thus it is that what our mind’s tendency to farce takes for a wretched attempt at wit is simply,
in the author’s own mind, an important truth, solemnly proclaimed! Oh that mad philosopher who
burst into laughter when he saw an ass eating a fig! I am not making this up; ancient books have
recounted in the fullest detail this willful and shameful derogation of human nobility. I cannot
laugh. I have never been able to laugh, though I have tried to do so several times. It is very
difficult to learn to laugh. Or rather I think that a feeling of loathing for this monstrosity is an
essential feature of my character. Now I have witnessed something even more outrageous: I
have seen a fig eating as ass! And yet I did not laugh; honestly, not a muscle on my face
moved. The need to cry took such violent possession of me that my eyes shed a tear. ‘Nature!
Nature!’ I cried, sobbing. ‘The hawk tears the sparrow to pieces, the fig eats the ass, and the
tapeworm devours man.’ Before deciding to go on, I wonder if I have spoken of the way to kill
flies. I have, have I not? And yet it is equally true that I had not previously spoken of the
destruction of rhinoceri. If certain of my friends were to claim the contrary, I would not listen to
them and I would bear in mind that praise and flattery are two great stumbling-blocks. However,
in order to appease my conscience as far as possible, I cannot help observing that this
dissertation on the rhinoceros would carry me beyond the limits of patience and composure and
would probably (let us even be so bold as to say certainly) daunt the present generation. To think
of not speaking of the rhinoceros after the fly! At least as a passable excuse I ought to have
mentioned (but I did not!) this unpremeditated omission, which will not surprise those who have
studied in depth the real and inexplicable contradictions which abide in the lobes of the human
brain. Nothing is unworthy of a great and simple understanding; the least phenomenon in nature,
if there is anything mysterious about it, can be an inexhaustible subject of reflection for the wise
man. If someone sees an ass eating a fig or a fig eating an ass (these two circumstances do not
often occur, unless it be in poetry), you may be sure that after reflecting for two or three minutes
on what course to adopt, he will abandon the path of virtue and start laughing like a cock! Yet it is
not exactly proven that cocks deliberately open their mouths to imitate men and to grin anxiously.
I am applying to birds the same word grimace that we use for men. The cock does not change
his nature, not because he is unable to do so, but because he is too proud. Teach them to read
and they refuse. No parrot would go into such raptures at its own ignorant and inexcusable
weakness. Oh execrable debasement! how like a goat one looks when one laughs! The smooth
calmness of the brow has disappeared and given way to enormous fish-eyes which (isn’t it
deplorable?)…which…start to shine like lighthouses! It will often happen that I solemnly make the
most clownish statements…I do not consider this a sufficiently decisive motive for me to open my
mouth wide! I cannot help laughing, you will reply; I accept this absurd explanation, but then let it
be a melancholy laugh. Laugh, but cry at the same time. If even that is impossible, urinate; but I
warn you that some kind of liquid is necessary here, to counteract the dryness that laughter, with
its creased features, bears in its womb. For my part, I shall not be put out by the ludicrous
chuckles and strange bellowings of those who always find fault with a character which is not like
their own, because it is one of the countless intellectual variation which, without departing from
his primordial model, God created for the guidance of this bony frame of ours. Until our times,
poetry has taken the wrong path; rising up to the sky or crawling along the ground, it has failed to
recognize the principles of its existence and has with good reason been scorned by honest
people. It has not been modest…and modesty is the noblest quality which can exist in an
imperfect being! I wish to display my good qualities; but I am not hypocritical enough to hide my
vices. Laughter, evil, pride and madness will appear in turn along with sensibility and the love of
justice, and will be an example, to the utter astonishment of all men: everyone will recognize
himself in my work, not as he ought to be, but as he is. And perhaps this simple ideal which my
imagination has conceived will yet surpass all that has been held most magnificent and most
sacred in poetry up to now. For if I let my vices seep through in these pages, people will believe
even more in the virtues which shine through in them; and I shall put such high and glorious
haloes around those virtues that the greatest geniuses of the future will be sincerely grateful to
me. Thus hypocrisy will be categorically hunted out of my abode. And there will be impressive
evidence of power in my songs, in the way I disdain received ideas. He sings for himself alone,
not for his fellow-beings. He does not put the measure of his inspiration in the scales of human
judgement. Free as the tempest, one day he ran aground on the indomitable strand of his terrible
will. He fears nothing, unless it be himself. In his supernatural combats he will attack man and
the Creator to his advantage, as when the swordfish thrusts its sword deep into the whale’s belly:
accursed be him by his children and by my fleshless hand who persists in not understanding the
implacable kangaroos of laughter and the bold lice of caricature!…The two huge towers could be
seen in the valley; I said so at the beginning. Multiplying them by two, the result was four…but I
could not see very clearly the necessity of this arithmetical operation. I continued on my way, my
face flushed with fever, and cried out incessantly: ‘No…no…I cannot see very clearly the
necessity of this arithmetical operation!’ I had heard the clanking of chains and groans of pain.
May no one find it possible, when passing through that place, to multiply the towers by two, that
the result be four! There are some who suspect that I love mankind as much as if I were its own
mother and had borne it nine months in my perfumed womb; that is why I never go back to the
valley where two units of the multiplicand stand!
A gallows rose up from the ground. A yard above the ground a man was hanging from his
hair, with his hands tied behind him. To increase his agony, and make him want anything but to
have his hands tied, his feet had been left to dangle freely. The skin of his brow had been so
stretched by his hanging that his face, condemned by the circumstances to the absence of its
natural expression, looked like the stony concretion of a stalactite. For three days he had
endured this torture. He shouted out: ‘Who will untie my hands? Who will untie my hair? I am
dislocated by movements which only separate my head further from the root of my hair. Hunger
and thirst are not the main reasons which prevent me from sleeping. It is impossible for me to
live for more than an hour. Someone to slit my throat with a sharpened stone!’ Each word was
prefaced and followed by vehement shrieks. I darted from the bush behind which I was sheltering
and went towards the puppet or piece of lard hanging from the yardarm. But now two drunken
women came dancing along from the other side. One was carrying a bag and two whips with
ropes of lead and the other was carrying a barrel full of pitch, and two paint-brushes. The greying
hair of the older woman blew in the wind like the tatters of a torn sail and the legs of the other one
clacked like the beating of a tunny on the deck of a ship. Their eyes shone with such a strong
black flame that I did not think at first that these two women belonged to my species. They were
laughing with such selfish unconcern and their features were so loathsome that I did not for a
moment doubt that I had before my eyes the two most hideous specimens of the human race.
Once more I hid behind the bush, and kept quiet, like the acanthophorus serraticornis, which only
shows its head above its nest. They were approaching with the speed of the tide; putting my ears
to the ground, the sound which I clearly heard brought me the lyrical clatter of their walk. When
the two female orang-outangs arrived beneath the gallows, they sniffed the air for a few seconds.
They showed by their absurd gestures the truly remarkable extent of their amazement at the
result of their experiment, when they noticed that nothing had changed in these parts: the
denouement of death had not, in conformity with their wishes, occurred. They had not deigned to
look up to see if the mortadella was still in the same place. One of them said: ‘Is it possible that
you are still breathing? You are hard to kill, my well-beloved husband.’ And as when two
choristers, in a cathedral, sing the alternate verses of a psalm, the second one answered: ‘You do
not want to die then, my gracious boy. Tell me how you have managed (surely it was by some
spell) to scare off the vultures? Your body really has got so thin. The wind blows it like a
lantern.’ They each took a brush and tarred the hanging man’s body…they each took a whip and
raised their arms…I was admiring (it was absolutely impossible to do otherwise) the powerful
accuracy with which the blades of metal, instead of sliding along the surface, as when one is
fighting a negro and making vain efforts, as in a nightmare, to grab him by the hair, went, thanks
to the pitch, right into the flesh, which was marked with furrows as deep as the bones’ resistance
would reasonably permit. I refrained from the temptation of taking pleasure in this excessively
curious spectacle, which was less profoundly comic than one had the right to expect. And yet
despite the good resolutions I had made in advance, how could I not acknowledge the strength of
these women, the muscles of their arms? Their skill, which consisted in striking the most
sensitive parts, will not be mentioned by me, unless my ambition is to aspire to total truth!
Unless, putting my lips against one another (not everyone is unaware that this is the most
common manner of bringing about this pressure). I prefer to maintain a tear-swollen and
mysterious silence, the painful manifestation of which would be unable to hide, not only as well as
but even better than my words (for I do not believe I am mistaken, although one must not, at the
risk of failing to comply with the most elementary rules of cleverness, deny the hypothetical
possibilities of error) the baleful results caused by the rage which sets the dry metacarpi and the
strong joints to work: even if one were to take the viewpoint of the implacable observer and
experienced moralist (it is almost quite important that you should know that I do not at least
entirely admit this more or less fallacious restriction), even then doubt would not be able to
spread its roots in this matter; since I do not at the moment suppose him to be in the hands of a
supernatural power and he would inevitably perish, though not suddenly perhaps, due to the lack
of a sap which fulfilled the simultaneous conditions of being nutritious and free of poisonous
matter. It is understood (if not, then do not read me) that in saying this I am merely introducing
the timid personality of my own opinion: yet far be from me the thought of renouncing rights which
are indisputable! And I most assuredly do not intend to take exception to this statement in which
the criterion of certitude glitters, that there is a simpler means of reaching agreement; this would
consist, I express it in but a few words, which are worth more than a thousand, in not discussing
anything; and this is far more difficult to put into practice than the generality of men would like to
think. Discuss is the grammatical word, and many persons will find that they should not
contradict what I have just set down on paper without a voluminous dossier of proofs. But the
matter is significantly different, if one may allow one’s instinct to use rare sagacity in the service
of circumspection, when it formulates judgements which, I can assure you, would otherwise be so
bold as to coast the shore of braggadocio. To close this incident, which has been deprived of its
vein-stone by an act of frivolity as irremediably deplorable as it is fatally interesting (a fact which
everyone will certainly attest to, once he has sounded out his most recent memories), it is good, if
one’s faculties are in perfect equilibrium, or better if the scale of imbecility does not outweigh by
too much the scale on which the noble and magnificent attributes of reason are placed, that is to
say, to be clearer (for hitherto I have merely been concise, a fact which several will not even
admit, because of my longueurs which are only imaginary, since they achieve their goal, which is
to track down with the scalpel of analysis the fleeting appearances of truth, even in their last
entrenchments), if the intellect still sufficiently predominates over the defects with which habit,
education and nature have weighed it down and choked it, it is good; I repeat for the second and
last time, for, by dint of repetition, one would end up in most cases by understanding each other,
to return with my tail between my legs (if it is even true that I have a tail) to the dramatic subject
wedged in this strophe. It is wise to drink a glass of water before I attempt to continue my work. I
prefer to drink two rather than do without. Thus, when a runaway negro is being pursued through
the forest, each member of the party hangs his rifle from the bindweed and they all meet in the
shade of a thicket to quench their thirst and stay their hunger. But the halt only lasts a few
seconds, the chase is eagerly taken up again, and the wild cries of the pursuers are soon heard
once more. And just as oxygen is recognized by the property which it unassumingly possesses
of lighting up a match which is still flickering in places, so will the accomplishment of my duty be
recognized by the haste with which I return to the matter in hand. When the two females were no
longer able to hold the whip, which exhaustion forced them to drop, they wisely called of this
gymnastic labour which they had been engaged in for nearly two hours, and withdrew with an
expression of joy on their faces which was not without menace for the future. I went towards the
man who was calling out to me for help (for his loss of blood was so great that weakness
prevented him from speaking and my opinion, although I was not a doctor, was that a
haemorrhage had set in his head and in his loins), and, having freed his hands, I cut his hair with
a pair of scissors. He told me that one evening his mother had called him into her room and
ordered him to undress and spend the night in her bed, and that then, without waiting for his
answer, motherhood had stripped off its clothes and had made the most indecent movements in
front of him. Then he had left the room. Moreover by his persistent refusals he had brought upon
himself the anger of his wife who had lulled herself into the hope of a reward if she could get her
husband to use his body to satisfy the old woman’s passions. They had plotted and resolved to
hang him from a gibbet in some unfrequented region, and there to let him perish by degrees,
wretched and exposed to all kinds of dangers. It was only after numerous and serious reflections
that they had at last hit upon this clever torture which had only been brought to an end by my
unhoped-for intervention. Each expression was accompanied by signs of the most heartfelt
gratitude and this was not the least merit of his confidences. I carried him to the nearest cottage;
for he had just fainted, and I did not leave the ploughmen until I had given them my purse that
they might attend to the wounded man and until I had made them promise to be as consistently
compassionate to the poor wretch as if he were their own son. And I in turn told them what had
happened and went towards the gate to set off again along the path; but after I had gone a
hundred yards I came back to the hut again and, addressing its simple owners, I shouted:
‘No…no…do not think that that surprises me!’ This time, I went away for good; but I could not get
a proper foothold: another man might not have noticed this! The wolf no longer passes beneath
the gibbet erected one day by the hands of a wife and a mother, as when his charmed
imagination would take the path towards an illusory meal. When he sees that black hair blowing
in the wind on the horizon, he starts and, without losing any time, takes flight with incomparable
speed. Should one see in this psychological phenomenon an intelligence superior to the
common instinct of mammals? Without certifying or even anticipating anything, it seems to me
that the animal realized what crime was. How could it fail to understand, when human beings
have rejected the rule of reason to such an unspeakable extent leaving only savage vengeance in
the place of this dethroned queen!
I am filthy. I am riddled with lice. Hogs, when they look at me, vomit. My skin is encrusted
with the scabs and scales of leprosy, and covered with yellowish pus. I know neither the water of
rivers nor the dew of clouds. An enormous, mushroom with umbelliferous stalks is growing on my
nape, as on a dunghill. Sitting on a shapeless piece of furniture, I have not moved my limbs now
for four centuries. My feet have taken root in the ground; up to my belly, they form a sort of
tenacious vegetation, full of filthy parasites; this vegetation no longer has anything in common
with other plants, nor is it flesh. And yet my heart beats. How could it beat, if the rottenness and
miasmata of my corpse (I dare not say body), did not nourish it abundantly? A family of toads
has taken up residence in my left armpit and, when one of them moves, it tickles. Mind one of
them does not escape and come and scratch the inside of your ear with its mouth; for it would
then be able to enter your brain. In my right armpit there is a chameleon which is perpetually
chasing them, to avoid starving to death: everyone must live. But when one party has completely
foiled the cunning tricks of the other, they like nothing better than to leave one another in peace
and suck the delicate fat which covers my sides: I am used to it. An evil snake has eaten my
verge and taken its place; the filthy creature has made me a eunuch. Oh if only I could have
defended myself with my paralysed hands; but I rather think they have changed into logs.
However that may be, it is important to state that my red blood no longer flows there. Two little
hedgehogs, which have stopped growing, threw the inside of my testicles to a dog, who did not
turn up his nose at it: and they lodged inside the carefully washed epidermis. My anus has been
penetrated by a crab; encouraged by my sluggishness, he guards the entrance with his pincers,
and causes me a lot of pain! Two medusae crossed the seas, immediately enticed by a hope
which was not disappointed. They looked attentively at the two fleshy parts which form the
human backside, and, clinging on to their convex curve, they so crushed them by constant
pressure that the two lumps of flesh have disappeared, while two monsters from the realm of
viscosity remain, equal in color, shape, and ferocity. Do not speak of my spinal column, as it is a
sword…Yes, yes…I was not paying attention…your request is a fair one. You wished to know, did
you not, how it came to be implanted vertically in my back. I cannot remember very clearly;
however, if I decide to take for a memory what was perhaps only a dream, I can tell you that man,
when he found out that I had vowed to live disease-ridden and motionless until I had conquered
the Creator, crept up behind me on tiptoe, but not so quietly that I did not hear him. For a short
moment, I felt nothing. This sword was buried up to the hilt between the shoulder-blades of the
festive bull, and his bones shuddered like an earthquake. Athletes, mechanical experts,
philosophers and doctors have tried, in turn, all kinds of methods. They did not know that the evil
man does cannot be undone! I forgave them for the depth of their native ignorance, and
acknowledged them with a slow movement of my eyelids. Traveller, when you pass near by me,
do not address the least word of consolation to me, I implore you. You will weaken my courage.
Leave me to kindle my tenacity at the flame of voluntary martyrdom. Go away…let me not inspire
in you any act of piety. Hatred is stranger than you think; its action is inexplicable, like the broken
appearance of a stick in water. Such as you see me, I can still make sorties as far as the walls of
heaven at the head of a legion of murderers, and then come back and, resuming this posture,
meditate again on noble projects of vengeance. Adieu, I shall delay you no longer; and, so that
you may learn a lesson and keep out of harm’s way, reflect on the fatal destiny which led me to
revolt, when I was perhaps born good! You will tell your son what you have seen; and, taking him
by the hand, you will make him admire the beauty of the stars and the wonders of the universe,
the robin’s nest and the temples of the Lord. And you will be surprised to see how amenable he
is to your paternal advice, and you will reward him with a smile. But as soon as he knows he is
unobserved, take a look at him and you will see him spitting his slime on virtue; he has deceived
you, he who is descended from the human race, but he will deceive you no longer; thenceforward
you will know what is to become of him. Oh unfortunate father, prepare, to accompany the steps
of your age, the ineffaceable guillotine which will cut off the head of a precocious criminal, and the
sorrow which will show you the way which leads to the grave.
What is the shadow which casts the projection of its horned silhouette with incomparable
power on to the wall of my room? When I put this dumb raving question to myself, the sobriety of
my style is striving less for majesty of form than to give a picture of reality. Whoever you are,
defend yourself; for I am going to hurl at you the sling of a terrible accusation: those eyes are not
yours…Where did you get them from? One day, I saw a blonde woman pass by me; she had
eyes like yours: you plucked them out. I see you want people to believe that you are beautiful;
but no one is fooled; and I even less than the others. I am telling you this so that you do not take
me for a fool. A whole group of scavenger birds, lovers of the flesh of others and defenders of
the value of hunting, lovely as the skeletons which take the leaves from Arkansas panoccos,
hover around your brow, like submissive and favoured servants. But is it a brow? It is not difficult
to hesitate before answering this question. It is so low that it is impossible to check the small
number of proofs for its doubtful existence. I am not telling you this for fun. Perhaps you have no
brow, you who cast the image of your buoying movement, like a dimly reflected symbol of a
fantastic dance, on the wall? Who scalped you then? If it was a human being whom you locked
away in a prison for twenty years and who then escaped to prepare a revenge which could not be
a fitting reprisal, he did as he ought to, and I applaud him; the only thing is, he was two lenient.
Now you look like a Red-Indian prisoner, at least (let us note this a preliminary point) by your
expressive lack of hair. Not that it could not grow again, as physiologists have shown that, in the
case of animals, even brains that have been removed eventually reappear; but my thoughts,
stopping at this simple affirmation, which is not, as far as I can see, unmixed with enormous
delight, do not even in their boldest extremes go as far as reach the bounds of a wish for your
recovery; on the contrary, my thoughts operate on the basis of an extremely suspect neutrality
which regards what for you is merely a temporary loss of hair as the presage of greater woes to
come (or at least wishes it to be so). I hope you have understood me. And even if, by an absurd
but sometimes unreasonable miracle, chance allowed you to find the precious skin which your
enemy has religiously and vigilantly kept as the intoxicating souvenir of his victory, it is almost
extremely possible that, even if one had only studied the law of probability in its relation to
mathematics (now we know that analogy can easily bring the application of this law into other
domains of the understanding), your justifiable but somewhat exaggerated fear of a partial or total
chill would not spurn the important, and even unique, opportunity which would arise so
expediently, though suddenly, of protecting the different parts of your brain from contact with the
atmosphere, especially in winter, by means of a head-piece which rightly belongs to you because
it is natural and which you would besides be allowed (it would be incomprehensible if you were to
deny it) to keep constantly on your head, without running the always unpleasant risks of infringing
the simplest rules of elementary decency. You are listening attentively to me, are you not? If you
go on listening, your sadness will be far from escaping from the inside of your red nostrils. But as
I am very impartial and as I do not detest you as much as I ought to (tell me if I am mistaken), you
lend an ear to my speech despite yourself, as if impelled by a superior force. I am not as evil as
you: that is why your genius bows down before mine…Really, I am not as evil as you. You have
just cast a glance at that city on the mountainside. And now what do I see? All its inhabitants are
dead! I have as much pride as the next man, perhaps even more. Well, listen…listen, if the
confession of a man who recalls having lived for half a century as a shark in the undersea
currents along the coast of Africa interests you deeply enough to pay attention to him, if not with
bitterness, at least without the irreparable fault of showing the revulsion you feel for me. I shall
not throw the mask of virtue at your feet, but shall appear before you as I am; for I have never
worn it (if that is an excuse); and from the first moments, if you examine my features closely, you
will recognize me as your respectful disciple in perversity, but not as your formidable rival. Since
I do not dispute the palm of evil with you, I doubt if another will do so; for he would first have to be
my equal, which is not easy. Listen, unless you are but the weak condensation of a fog (you are
hiding your body somewhere, and I cannot find it): one morning, I saw a little girl leaning over the
edge of a lake to pick a pink lotus; she steadied herself with precocious experience; she was
stretching towards the flower when her look met mine (it is true that on my part the look was not
unpremeditated). She immediately staggered like the whirlpool the tide causes around a rock,
her legs gave way beneath her and, wonder to behold, a phenomenon which occurred as truly as
I am talking to you now, she fell to the bottom of the lake; strange to say, she did not pick any
more nymphaeceae. What is she doing down there?…I did not trouble to find out. No doubt her
will; having joined the ranks under the flag of deliverance, is fighting desperate battles against
decay. But, oh my master, at your look the inhabitants of the earth are wiped out, like an anthill
crushed beneath the elephant’s heel. Have I not just witnessed an example which demonstrates
this? See…the mountain is no longer full of joyful sounds…it is as forlorn as an old man. The
houses still stand, it is true; but it is not a paradox to state, in hushed tones, that the same cannot
be said for those who were inside them and no longer exist. Already the emanations from the
corpses have reached me. Can you not smell them? Look at those birds of prey waiting for us to
go away, so that they may begin this giant meal; there is an endless cloud of them coming from
the four corners of the earth…Alas, they had already come, since I saw you, as if to spur you on
to speed up your crime. Does not your sense of smell perceive the least emanation? The
impostor is nothing but…at least your olfactory nerves are disturbed by the perception of aromatic
atoms rising up from the city, though you do not need me to tell you this. I would like to kiss your
feet, but my arms clasp only transparent vapour. Let us look for this untraceable body which my
eyes nonetheless perceive: it deserves the most numerous tokens of sincere admiration on my
part. The phantom is mocking me: it is helping me to look for its own body. If I gesture to it to
remain in its place, it makes the same gesture back. The secret has been discovered; but not, I
must frankly say, to my greatest satisfaction. Everything has been explained, the most significant
as well as the most trivial details; these last are too unimportant to bring to mind; as, for example,
the plucking out of the blonde woman’s eyes: that is almost nothing! Did I not recall that I, too,
had been scalped, though it was only for five years (the exact length of time had escaped me)
that I had locked a human being up in prison so that I might witness his suffering, because he
had, rightly, refused me a friendship which cannot be granted to beings such as me? Since I
pretend not to know that my look can bring death even to the planets revolving in space, he who
claims that I do not possess the faculty of memory is not mistaken. What remains for me to do is
to smash this mirror to pieces with a stone…it is not the first time the nightmare of temporary loss
of memory has taken hold of my imagination whenever, by the inflexible laws of optics, I happen
to stand before my own unrecognizable image!
I had fallen asleep on a cliff. He who has unsuccessfully pursued the ostrich across the
desert all day has had no time to take any food or to close his eyes. If it is he who is now reading
me, he can guess how heavy was the sleep into which I fell. But when the tempest with the palm
of its hand has vertically pushed a small vessel to the bottom of the sea; if, on the raft, but one
man of all the crew remains, broken by weariness and privations of all kinds; if, for hour which
seem longer than the life of man, he is tossed like flotsam on the waves; and if, some time later, a
frigate’s long curved keel should plough through those desolate regions and sight the wretch’s
fleshless carcass on the ocean, bringing help which almost came too late, I think this shipwrecked
man will be even better able to guess the extent to which my senses were deadened.
Mesmerism and chloroform, when they take the trouble, can also produce such lethargic
catalepsies. They are not at all like death; it would be lie to day they are. But let us come
straightaway to the dream, lest eager readers, starving for reading matter of this kind, begin to
roar like a shoal of macrocephalic whales fighting among themselves for a pregnant female. I
dreamt I had entered the body of a hog, that I could not easily get out again, and that I was
wallowing in the filthiest slime. Was it a kind of reward? My dearest wish had been granted, I no
longer belonged to mankind. For my part I understood this to be the correct interpretation, and I
felt the deepest joy. And yet I actively inquired into this to see what deed of virtue I had done to
deserve this remarkable boon from Providence. Now that I have gone over in my mind the
different phases of my frightful prostration on the granite belly, during which, unknown to me, the
tide flowed twice over this irreducible mixture of living flesh and dead matter, it is perhaps not
unprofitable to proclaim that this degradation was only a punishment inflicted on me by divine
justice. But who knows his inmost needs or the causes of his pestilential joys? The
metamorphosis was always in my eyes the high and magnanimous resonance of the perfect
happiness which I had long been awaiting. At last the day had come when I was a hog! I tested
my teeth on the barks of trees; with pleasure I contemplated my snout. Not the slightest trace of
divinity remained: I raised my soul to the excessive height of that unspeakable delight. Listen
then to me, and do not blush, inexhaustible caricatures of the Beautiful, who take seriously the
laughable brayings of your supremely despicable souls; and who do not understand why the
Almighty, in a rare moment of excellent buffoonery which certainly did not transgress the great
general laws of the grotesque, one day took amazing pleasure in peopling a planet with strange
microscopic beings called humans, made of matter resembling pink coral. Certainly, flesh and
bone, you have reason to blush, but listen to me. I do not invoke your understanding; it would
spit blood at the horror you cause it: forget it, and be consistent with yourselves…There were no
constraints there. Whenever I wanted to kill, I killed. I even wanted to quite often and no one
stopped me. The vengeance of human laws still pursued me, although I did not attack the race I
had so calmly abandoned; but my conscience did not reproach me at all. During the day, I fought
my new fellows, and the ground was often bespattered with many layers of congealed blood. I
was the strongest, and I won all the victories. Biting wounds covered my body; I pretended not to
notice them. The animals of the earth shunned me and I remained alone in my dazzling
grandeur. What was my astonishment when, having swum across a river, leaving behind me
lands which my fury had depopulated to find other countries in which to plant my customs of
carnage and murder, I tried to walk on that flowery bank. My feet were paralysed; and no
movements of any kind belied this enforced immobility. It was then, amid supernatural efforts to
continue on my way, that I awoke and realized that I was turning back into a man. Thus
Providence made clear to me, in a not inexplicable way, that she did not want my sublime
projects to be realized even in a dream. Reverting to my original form was such a great grief for
me that I still weep at nights. My sheets are constantly wet, as if they had been dipped in water,
and every day I have them changed. If you do not believe me, come and see me. Then you will
be able to check with your own experience not only the likelihood but the truth of my assertion.
How often since that night spent in the open on the cliff have I not joined herds of hogs to take on
my ruined metamorphosis as a right! It is time to give up these glorious memories, which only
leave the milky way of eternal regrets in their wake.
It is not impossible to witness an abnormal deviation in the hidden or visible operations of the
laws of nature. Indeed, if everyone takes the trouble of ingeniously investigating the different
phases of his existence (not forgetting a single one, for it might be just that one which furnished
the proof of what I am suggesting), it would not be without a certain astonishment, which in other
circumstances would be comic, that he recalls that, on such a day, to speak first of objective
matters, he witnessed a phenomenon which seemed to go beyond, and positively did go beyond,
the common notions of observation and experience, such as showers of toads for example, the
magic spectacle of which was not at first understood by scientists. And that on another day, to
speak in the second and last place of subjective matters, his soul presented to the inquiring gaze
of psychology, I will not will not go so far as to say an aberration of reason (which, however,
would be no less curious; on the contrary, it would be more so), but at least, so as not to cause
offence to certain cold individuals who would never forgive me for the flagrant lucubrations of my
imagination, an unusual state, quite often very grave, which indicates that the bounds which good
sense prescribes for the imagination are, despite the ephemeral pact between these powers,
unfortunately overstepped by the powerful force of the will, but also more often than not by the
absence of its effective collaboration. To prove the point let us give two examples, the timeliness
of which it is easy to appreciate: that is if one has attentive moderation as one’s guide. I give you
two: the outbursts of anger and the disease of pride. I warn him who reads me to beware of
forming a vague and a fortiori wrong idea of the beauties of literature I am shedding like leaves
before me in the excessively rapid unfolding of my sentences. Alas! I should like to develop my
arguments and comparisons slowly and magnificently (but who is master of his own time?), so
that everyone could understand if not my dread at least my stupefaction when, one summer
evening, as the sun seemed to be setting on the horizon, I saw a human being swimming in the
sea, with the large webbed feet of a duck instead of arms and legs and a dorsal fin proportionally
as long and streamlined as a dolphin’s, strong of muscle, and followed by numerous shoals of
fish (in the procession, among other water-dwellers, I saw the torpedo, the Greenland ananark,
and the horrible scorpaena), all of whom showed signs of the greatest admiration. Sometimes he
would dive and his slimy body would reappear almost immediately two hundred metres away.
The porpoises, who in my opinion have well deserved their reputation as swimmers, could
scarcely keep up with this new kind of amphibian, and followed at some distance. I do not think
the reader will have cause to regret it if he brings to my narration less the harmful obstacle of
stupid credulity then the supreme service of profound confidence, examining lawfully and with
secret sympathy the poetic mysteries, too few in number in his opinion, which I undertake to
reveal to him as and when the opportunity arises, as it unexpectedly did today, inwardly imbued
with the tonic scents of aquatic plants which the freshening wind blows into this strophe, which
contains a monster who has appropriated the distinguishing features of the palimped family. Who
speaks here of appropriation? Let it be known that man, by his multiple and complex nature, is
not unaware of the means of extending his frontiers; he lives in the water, like the hippocamp;
flies through the higher layers of the air, like the osprey; burrows in the earth, like the mole, the
woodlouse, and the sublime maggot. Such is, in its more or less succinct form (but rather more
than less), the exact criterion of the extremely invigorating consolation which I strove to conceive,
when I thought that the human being whom I saw so far off swimming with his four limbs on the
surface of the waves as the most magnificent cormorant had ever done, had perhaps only
acquired this novel change in the extremities of his arms and legs as a punishment in expiation of
some unknown crime. It was not necessary for me to trouble my head attempting to manufacture
in advance the melancholy pill of pity; for I did not know that that man, whose arms, one after the
other, were beating the bitter waves, while his legs, with all the power of the nar-whale’s spiral
tusks, were forcing back the aquatic layers, had neither deliberately appropriated these
extraordinary powers nor had they been imposed on him as a punishment. From what I learnt
later, here is the simple truth: prolonged existence in this fluid element had imperceptibly brought
about important but not essential changes in the human being who had exiled himself from the
stony continents; these I had noticed in that object which a hurried and indistinct look had, in the
primordial moments of his appearance (by and unspeakable act of thoughtlessness, the
aberrations of which will be well understood by psychologists and lovers of prudence), made me
take for a fish of a strange form but not yet described in the naturalists’ classifications; but
perhaps in their posthumous works, although I do not make the excusable claim of tending
towards this supposition, imagined under conditions which are too hypothetical. In fact, this
amphibian (since amphibian it is, the contrary cannot be proved) was visible only to me (leaving
out of consideration the fish and the cetacea); for I observed that some peasants, who had
stopped to contemplate my face, which was troubled by this supernatural phenomenon, and who
were vainly trying to explain why my eyes were constantly fixed, with a persistency which seemed
invincible but in reality was not so, on a point in the sea where they themselves could only see an
appreciable but limited number of shoals of fish of all kinds, distended the apertures of their huge
mouths almost as much as a whale. ‘It makes us smile, but it does not make us turn pale, as it
does him’; they said in their picturesque language. ‘And we are not so stupid as not to notice that
he is not exactly looking as the bucolic frolickings of the fish, but much farther into the distance.’
So that, for my part, mechanically turning my eyes towards the spread of those two mouths, I said
to myself that unless in the entire universe one found a pelican as big as a mountain or at least as
big as a promontory (marvel, if you please, at this restriction which does not waste a single inch
of ground), no beak of bird of prey or jaw of wild animal would ever be able to surpass or even
equal each of these gaping, but too dismal, craters. And yet, though I am fully in favour of the
positive use of metaphor (this rhetorical figure does far more service to human aspirations
towards the infinite than those who are riddled with prejudices and false ideas–which comes to
the same thing–are prepared to acknowledge), it is nonetheless true that the risible mouths of
these three peasants are still big enough to swallow three sperm-whales. Let us shrink this
comparison somewhat, let us be serious and content ourselves with saying that they were like
three little elephants which have only just been born. In a single stroke, the amphibian left a
foamy wake one kilometre long behind him. In the brief instant when his forward-straining arm
remains suspended in the air before plunging down again, his fingers, outspread and joined
together by a fold of skin in the form of membrane, seemed to be soaring up towards the heights
of space and grasping the stars. Standing on the rocks, I used my hands as a speaking-trumpet
and exclaimed, while crabs and crayfish fled into the darkness of the most secret crevices: ‘Oh
you who swim faster than the winged frigate in its flight, if you still understand the meaning of
these loud sounds which mankind utters as the faithful translation of its inner thoughts, deign for a
moment to halt your swift movements and tell me briefly the phases of your true story. But I warn
you that you do not need to address me at all, if your bold design be to arouse in me that feeling
of friendship and reverence which I felt for you the moment I saw you for the first time moving
through the waves with the grace and the strength of a shark on your indomitable and rectilinear
pilgrimage.’ A sigh, which made me shudder to the bone and made the rock on which the soles
of my feet rested stagger (unless it was I who staggered, violently pierced by the sound-waves
which brought such a cry of despair to my ears), could be heard even in the bowels of the earth;
the fish dived beneath the waves with noise of an avalanche. The amphibian did not dare
approach too close to the shore; but as soon as he had ascertained that his voice reached my
eardrum distinctly enough, he slowed down the movement of his palmate limbs and lifted his
wrack-covered head up from the roaring waves. I saw him bow his head, as if, by a solemn
command, to summon the wandering pack of memories. I did not dare interrupt him in this holy
and archaeological occupation; absorbed in the past, he looked like a rock. At last he spoke, as
follows: ‘The centipede is not short of enemies. The fantastic beauty of its countless legs, instead
of attracting the admiration of other animals, is perhaps only a powerful stimulus to their jealous
irritation. I should not be surprised to find out that this insect is exposed to the intensest hatred. I
shall not disclose my place of birth to you; it is of no account in this story; but it is my duty to
prevent the disgrace which would spring from my disclosure from befalling my family. After one
year, heaven granted the wish of my father and mother (God forgive them!): two twins, my brother
and I, were born. All the more reason for us to love one another. But it was not to be so.
Because I was the more intelligent and handsomer of us two, my brother hated me, and made no
attempt to hide his feelings: that is why my mother and father lavished most of their love on me,
since by my genuine and constant friendship I was trying to appease a soul which had no right to
bear ill-will against his own flesh and blood. Then my brother’s fury knew no bounds, and he
damned me in our parents’ hearts with the most unbelievable calumnies. I lived for fifteen years
in a dungeon, with maggots and foul water for my only food. I shall not tell you the unspeakable
torments I endured during my long and unjust confinement. Sometimes, at any moment of the
day, one of my three tormentors would take turns to come into my room, carrying tongs, pincers
and different instruments of torture. The cries which the tortures wrung from me left them
unmoved; my abundant loss of blood made them smile. Oh my brother, I have forgiven you, first
cause of all my ills! Is it not possible that one day, in your blind rage, you may see the light?! I
reflected much in my eternal prison. You can guess how strong my hatred of mankind in general
became. My progressive enervation, my solitude of body and soul, had not yet deprived me of
reason to the point where I felt resentment against those whom I had not ceased to love: the
threefold iron collar in which I was enslaved. I managed, by means of a cunning trick to regain
my freedom! Disgusted by those who lived on land and who, though they called themselves my
fellow-beings, appeared to resemble me in nothing (if they found that I resembled them, why did
they hurt me?), I made my way towards the pebbles of the beach, firmly resolved to kill myself in
the sea should in any way remind me of my previous unhappy existence. Would you believe your
own eyes? Since the day I fled from my father’s house, I have not had as much reason as you
might think to complain of my life in the sea with its crystal grottoes. Providence, as you see, has
given me in part the nature of a swan. I live in peace with the fish and they provide me with all
the food I need as if I were their monarch. I shall whistle in a special way so as not to set your
teeth on edge, and you will see them all reappear.’ It happened just as he had predicted. He
went on swimming regally, surrounded by his train of loyal subjects. And though after a few
seconds he had completely disappeared from sight, using a telescope I could still see him on the
furthest limits of the horizon. With one hand he swam and with the other he wiped his eyes,
made bloodshot by the terrible self-control he had had to muster to approach the shore. He had
done this to please me. I threw the tell-tale instrument against the steep and jagged rocks; it
leapt from rock to rock, and its broken pieces were swallowed by the waves. Such were the final
gesture and supreme adieu by which I bowed down, as in a dream, before a noble and
unfortunate mind. Yet everything that happened was real, that summer evening.
Every night, swooping with the vast span of my wings into the death-throes of my memory, I
summoned up the memory of Falmer. His blond hair, his oval face, his noble features, were still
imprinted on my imagination…indestructibly…especially his blond hair. Away, away with that
hairless head, shining like a tortoise shell. He was fourteen, I was only a year older. Let that
mournful voice be silent! Why does it come to denounce me? But it is I who am speaking. Using
my own tongue to utter my thoughts, I notice that my lips are moving and that it is I who am
speaking. And it is I who, as I tell a story of my youth, feeling remorse pierce my heart…it is I,
unless I am mistaken…it is I who am speaking. I was only a year older. Who is he to whom I am
referring? It was a friend I had in the past, I think. Yes, yes, I have already told you his name…I
do not want to spell out these six letters again, no, no. And there is no point either in repeating
that I was six years older. Even then my superior physical strength was all the more reason for
helping him who had given himself to me across life’s rough way, rather than ill-treating a being
who was obviously weaker. Now I think he was weaker in fact…Even then. He was a friend I had
in the past, I think. My superior physical strength…every night…Especially his blond hair. Bald
heads have been seen by more than one human being; age, illness, sorrow (the three together,
or separately) satisfactorily explain this negative phenomenon. That at least is the answer a
scientist would give me, if I questioned him about it. Age, illness, sorrow. But I know well (I, too,
am a learned man) that one day, because he had caught my hand as I was raising my dagger to
stab a woman in the breast, I grabbed him by the hair with my hand of iron and sent him whirling
through the air with such speed that his hair remained in my hand, while his body, hurtling with
centrifugal force, went crashing against the trunk of an oak. I know well that one day his hair
remained in my hand. I, too, am learned. Yes, yes, I have already said what his name was. I
know well that one day I committed a dastardly deed, as his body was flung through the air by
centrifugal force. He was fourteen. When in a fit of madness I run across fields, pressing to my
heart a bleeding thing which I have long kept as a revered relic, the little children who pursue
me…the little children and the old women who pursue me, flinging stones after me, utter these
mournful groans: ‘There is Falmer’s hair.’ Away, away with that bald head, shining like a tortoise
shell…A bleeding thing. But it is I myself who am speaking. His oval face, his noble
features…Now I think in fact he was the weaker. The old women and the little children. Now I
think in fact…what was I going to say?…now I think in fact he was the weaker. With my hand of
iron. That impact, did that impact kill him? I am afraid of finding out the truth about what eyes did
not witness. In fact…Especially his blond hair. In fact, I fled into the distance with a conscience
thenceforward implacable. He was fourteen. With a conscience thenceforward implacable.
Every night. When a young man who aspires to fame, bent over his desk on the fifth floor, at the
silent hour of midnight, hears a rustling sound which he cannot account for, he turns his head,
heavy with meditation and dusty manuscripts, and looks round in all directions. But nothing, no
start, no sign, reveals the cause of what he so faintly hears, though hear it he does. At last he
notices that the smoke of the candle, soaring up towards the ceiling, causes in the surrounding air
the almost imperceptible rustling of a piece of paper pinned by a nail to the wall. On the fifth
floor. Just as a young man who aspires to fame hears a rustling which he cannot account for so I
hear a melodious voice saying in my ear: ‘Maldoror!’ But before correcting his error, he thought
he heard a mosquito’s wings…leaning over his desk. Yet I am not dreaming; though I am lying on
my satin-sheeted bed, what of it? I coolly make the shrewd observation that my eyes are open,
though it be the hour of pink dominoes and masked balls. Never…oh! no, never!…did mortal
voice give utterance to those seraphic tones, pronouncing with such sorrowful elegance the
syllables of my name! The wings of a mosquito…How kind and gentle his voice is. Has he
forgiven me? his body smashed against the trunk of an oak…’Maldoror!’
Let the reader not be angry with me, if my prose does not have the good fortune to appeal to
him. You will agree that my ideas are at least singular. And what you say, respectable man, is
the truth; but a partial truth. now what an abundant source of errors and confusion all partial
truths are! Flocks of starlings have a way of flying which is peculiar to them, and seem to move
according to a regular and uniform plan such as that of a well-drilled company of soldiers
punctiliously obeying the orders of their one and only leader. The starling obey the voice of
instinct, and their instinct tells them to keep on approaching the centre of the main body, whereas
the rapidity of their flight takes them incessantly beyond it; so that this multitude of birds, thus
joined in their common movement towards the same magnetic point, incessantly coming and
going, circling and criss-crossing in all directions, forms a kind of highly turbulent eddy, the entire
mass of which, though not moving in any definable direction, seems to have a general tendency
to turn in upon itself, this tendency resulting from the individual circling movements of each one of
its parts, in which the centre, endlessly tending to expand but continually pressed down and
repulsed by the opposing force of the surrounding lines which weigh down on it, is constantly
tighter, more compact, than any one of these lines which themselves become more and more so,
the nearer they come to the centre. In spite of this strange way of eddying, the starlings
nonetheless cleave the ambient air with rare speed and every second perceptibly gain precious
ground as they move towards the end of their weary migration and the goal of their pilgrimage.
Neither should you take any notice of the bizarre way in which I sing each of these strophes. But
let me assure you that the fundamental accents of poetry retain unabated their intrinsic rights
over my understanding. Let us not generalize about exceptional cases, that is all I ask: yet my
character is in the order of possible things. no doubt between the two furthest limits of your
literature, as you understand it, and mine, there is an infinity of intermediate points, and it would
be easy to multiply the divisions; but there would be no point at all in that, and there would be the
danger of narrowing and falsifying an eminently philosophic conception which ceases to be
rational, unless it is taken as it was conceived, that is, expansively. So, observer of a thoughtful
disposition, you can combine enthusiasm with inner coolness; well then, for me you are
ideal…and yet you refuse to understand me! If you are not in good health, take my advice (it is
the best I can give you), and go take a walk in the country. A poor compensation you say?
When you have taken the air, come back to me. Your senses will be less weary. Do not cry any
more; I did not want to hurt you. Is it not true, my friend, that to a certain extent these songs have
met with your approval? Now what prevents you from going all the way? The boundary between
your taste and mine is invisible; you will never be able to grasp it: which proves that this boundary
itself does not exist. Reflect that in that case (I am only touching on the question here) it would
not be impossible that you had signed a treaty of alliance with stubbornness, that pleasant
daughter of a donkey, such a rich source of intolerance. If I did not know that you were no fool, I
would reproach you thus. It is not good for you to become encrusted in the cartilaginous
carapace of an axiom you believe to be unshakeable. There are other axioms, too, which are
unshakeable and which run parallel to yours. If you have a strong liking for caramel (an
admirable practical joke on nature’s part), no one will think of it as a crime; but those whose
intellect, more dynamic and more capable of great things, is such that it prefers pepper and
arsenic, have good reasons for acting this way, without the least intention of imposing their mild
rule on those who tremble at the sight of a shrew-mouse, or the telling expression of a cube’s
surfaces. I speak from experience. I have not come here to play an agitator’s part. And just as
rotifera and tardigrades may be heated to boiling point without losing any of their vitality, it will be
the same with you if you can cautiously assimilate the sour suppurative serosity which slowly
emerges from the irritation which my interesting lucubrations cause. Well, have they not
managed to graft the tail from one rat’s body on to another living rat’s back? Try then, similarly, to
transport the several modifications of my cadaverous reason into your imagination. But be
cautious. At the moment, as I write, new tremors are being felt in the intellectual atmosphere: it is
simply a matter of having the courage to face them. Why are you pulling that face? And even
accompanying it with a gesture of which it would take a long apprenticeship to imitate: you may
be sure that habit is necessary in everything and since the instinctive revulsion you felt at the first
pages has noticeably slackened off in intensity in inverse ratio to the attentiveness of your
reading, like a boil which is lanced, it must be hoped, even though your head is still groggy, that
your recovery will shortly enter its final phase. There is no doubt at all in my mind that you are
already verging on a complete recover; and yet your face is still very thin, alas! But…courage!
you have an uncommon spirit within you, I love you, and I do not despair of your complete
deliverance, provided you take a few medicines which will but hasten the disappearance of the
last symptoms of the disease. First, as an astringent and tonic food, you will tear off your
mother’s arms (if she is still alive), cut them up into little pieces, and you will then eat them in a
single day with not the slightest trace of emotion on your face. If your mother was too old, choose
another surgical subject, younger, fresher, and consumptive, whose tarsal bones are good at
springing from the ground when one is see-sawing: your sister, for example. I cannot help feeling
pity for her fate, and I am not one of those in whom cold enthusiasm merely puts on a show of
goodness. You and I will shed for her, for this beloved virgin (but I have no proofs that she is a
virgin), two spontaneous tears, two tears of lead. That will be all. The most soothing potion I can
suggest is a bowl full of granular and blennorhagic pus in which the following will previously have
been dissolved: a hairy cyst from the ovary, a follicular chancre, an inflamed foreskin turned back
from the gland by paraphimosis, and three red slugs. If you follow my prescription, my poetry will
welcome you with open arms, as when a louse by its embraces cuts off the root of a hair.
I saw an object on a mound before me. I could not clearly make out its head; but already I
guessed it was not of any common shape, without however being able to state precisely the exact
proportions of its contours. I did not dare approach this motionless column; and even if I had had
the ambulatory legs of three thousand crabs (not to mention those used for prehension and the
mastication of food) I would still have remained in the same place if an event, very trivial in itself,
had not levied a heavy tribute on my curiosity, and made its dikes burst. A beetle was using its
mandibles and its antennae to roll along the ground a ball, the principal element of which was
excremental matter, and rapidly advancing towards the aforesaid mound, going out of his way to
make his determination to take that direction quite clear. This articulated animal was not very
much bigger than a cow! If anyone should doubt what I am saying, let him come to me, and I will
satisfy the most incredulous amongst you with reliable eye-witness accounts. I followed at a
distance, obviously intrigued. What did he intend to do with that big black ball? Oh reader, who
are continually boasting of your insight (and not without reason), could you tell me? But I do not
wish to put your well-known passion for riddles to such a severe test. Suffice it for you that the
mildest punishment I can inflict on you is to point out that this mystery will not be revealed to you
(it will be revealed to you) until later, at the end of your life, when you will open philosophic
discussions with your death-pangs at your bed-side…and perhaps even at the end of the
strophe. The beetle had arrived at the foot of the mound. I had fallen in behind it and was
following it at the same pace, though I was still a long way from the scene of the action; for, just
as stercoraceous birds, restless, as if they were always starving, thrive in the seas which lap the
two poles, and only accidentally drift into temperate zones, so I, too, felt uneasy and began to
walk forward very slowly. But what was the corporeal substance towards which I was
advancing? I knew that the family of the pelicanides consists of four distinct genera: the gannet,
the pelican, the cormorant, and the frigate-bird. The greyish shape which appeared before me
was not a gannet. The plastic block I perceived was not a frigate-bird. The crystallized flesh I
observed was not a cormorant. I saw him now, the man whose encephalon was entirely devoid
of an annular protuberance! I vaguely sought in the recesses of my memory for the torrid or
glacial country in which I had already observed this long, wide, convex, arched beak with its
marked unguicular edge, curved at the end; these scalloped sides; this lower mandible with its
sections separate till near the tip; this interstice filled with membranous skin; this large, yellow and
sacciform pouch, taking up all the throat and capable of distending considerable; and these very
narrow, longitudinal, almost imperceptible nostrils in the groove at the base of the beak! If this
living being with its pulmonary and simple respiration and body decked with hairs had been
entirely a bird down to the soles of its feet and not just as far as its shoulders, it would not then
have been so difficult for me to recognize it: an easy thing to do, as you will see for yourself. Only
this time i shall spare myself the trouble; for to make my demonstration clear, I should need to
have one of those birds placed on my own desk, even if it were only a stuffed one. now I am not
rich enough to buy one for myself. Following a previous hypothesis step by step I should
immediately have determined the true nature and found a place in the annals of natural history for
him the nobility of whose sickly pose I admired. With what satisfaction at not being completely
ignorant of the secrets of his dual organism, and what eagerness to know more, I contemplated
him in his permanent metamorphosis! Though he did not have a human face, he seemed to me
as handsome as the two long tentacular filaments of an insect; or, rather, as a hasty burial; or,
again, as the law of the restoration of mutilated organs; and, above all, as an eminently
putrescible liquid. But, heedless of what was happening round about, the stranger kept looking
straight ahead with his pelican-head. Some other day I shall resume the final part of this story.
Yet I shall continue my narrative with sullen eagerness; for if on your part you are anxious to
know what my imagination is driving at (would to heaven that it were only imagination!) for my
own part I have resolved to finish all at once (and not twice) what I wanted to tell you. Although,
nonetheless, no one has the right to accuse me of lack of courage. But when one finds oneself in
such circumstances, more than one will feel the throbbing of his heart against the palm of his
hand. A coasting ship’s master, an old sailor and the hero of a dreadful story, has just died
almost unknown in a little port in Brittany. He was the captain of a sea-going ship, working for a
privateer, and was away from home for a long time at a stretch. Now after an absence of thirteen
months he returned to the conjugal home at the moment when his wife, who was still confined,
had just presented him with an heir whom he felt he had no right to acknowledge as his. The
captain gave no sign at all of astonishment or anger; he coldly asked his wife to get dressed and
come for a walk with him along the town ramparts. It was January. The ramparts of St. Malo are
very high and when the north wind blows even the bravest men cower. The wretched woman
obeyed, calm and resigned. When she returned, she became delirious. She died during the
night. But she was only a woman. Whereas I, who am a man, in the face of no less a tragedy, I
do not know if I had enough self-control to stop the muscles of my face from twitching! As soon
as the beetle had reached the foot of the mound, the man raised his arm towards the west (in the
precise direction where a lamb-eating vulture and a Virginian eagle-owl were engaged in combat
in the sky), wiped from his beak a long tear-drop which scintillated like a diamond, and said to the
beetle: ‘Miserable ball! Have you not been pushing it for long enough? You have not yet
satisfied your passion for revenge; and already this woman, whose arms and legs you tied
together with pearl necklaces to form a shapeless polyhedron so that you could drag her by her
tarsal bones through valleys and over paths, over brambles and stones (let me approach, to see
if it is still she) has seen her bones gouged with wounds, her limbs polished by the mechanical
law of rotatory friction, and mingling into a congealed unit, her body presenting instead of its
original outlines and curves the monotonous appearance of a homogeneous whole which but too
much resembles, in the confusion of its several crushed elements, the mass of a sphere! It is a
long time now since she died; leave these remains on the ground and beware of increasing to
irreparable proportions the rage which is consuming you; this is no longer an act of justice; for
egotism, lurking in the teguments of your brow, slowly, like a phantom, raises the sheets which
cover it.’ The lamb-eating vulture and the Virginian eagle-owl, carried away by the vicissitudes of
their struggle, had now approached us. The beetle trembled at these unexpected words and
what at any other time would have been an insignificant movement this time became the
distinguishing mark of a fury which knew no bounds; for he rubbed his hind legs dreadfully
against the side of the elytra, making a shrill noise: ‘Who do you think you are, pusillanimous
creature? It seems you have forgotten certain events in the past; you have not kept them in your
memory, my brother. This woman deceived us, one after the other. You first, and then me. It
seems to me that this wrong must not (must not!) disappear so easily from our memories. So
easily! Your magnanimous nature allows you to forgive. But do you know, despite the abnormal
condition of this woman’s atoms, reduced to a pulpy pate (it is not now a question of whether one
would think, on a first investigation, that this body has noticeably increased in density as a result
of the working of the two powerful wheels rather than by the effects of my ardent passion),
whether she is not still alive? Hold your tongue, and leave me to my revenge.’ He resumed his
activity, and went away, pushing the ball in front of him. When he had gone, the pelican
exclaimed: ‘This woman, by her magic power, has given me the head of a pelican and changed
my brother into a beetle; perhaps she deserves even worse treatment than that which I have just
described.’ And I, who was not sure that I was not dreaming, guessing from what I had heard the
nature of the hostile relations which, above my head, joined the lamb-eating vulture and the
Virginian eagle-owl in bloody combat, threw my head back like a cowl to give my lungs the
maximum freedom and elasticity and, looking upwards, shouted to them: ‘You two up there, ease
your strife. You are both right. For she promised her love to both of you; therefore she has
deceived you both. But you are not the only ones. Besides, she has deprived you of your human
form, making cruel sport of your most holy sorrows. And you would still hesitate to believe me?
Besides, she is dead; and the beetle has subjected her to a punishment which has left and
ineffaceable mark, despite the compassion of him who was first deceived.’ At these words, they
put an end to their quarrel, stopped tearing out each other’s feathers and ripping off scraps of
flesh: they were right to ask thus. The Virginian eagle-owl, handsome as the memento which a
dog leaves on the curb as it runs after its master, buried himself in the crevices of a ruined
convent. The lamb-eating vulture, lovely as the law of arrested chest development in adults
whose propensity to growth is not in proportion to the quantity of molecules their organism can
assimilate, vanished into the higher strata of the atmosphere. The pelican, whose generous act
of forgiveness had made a great impression on me because I found it unnatural, resuming on his
mound the majestic impassivity of a lighthouse, as if to warn human mariners to pay attention to
his example, and steer clear of the love of dark sorceresses, kept on looking straight ahead of
him. The beetle, lovely as the alcoholic’s trembling hand, disappeared on the horizon. Four more
lives which could be erased from the book of life. I pulled a whole muscle out of my left arm, for I
no longer knew what I was doing, so moved was I at this quadruple misfortune. And to think that
I believed it was excremental matter. What a fool I am.
The intermittent annihilation of human faculties. Whatever you might be inclined to suppose,
these are no mere words. Or at least these are not words just like any others. let him who
thought that, by asking an executioner to flay him alive, he was doing an act of justice, raise his
hand. Let him who would expose his breast to the bullets of death hold up his head with a smile
of delight. My eyes will seek out the mark of the scar; my ten fingers will concentrate the totality
of their attention on carefully feeling this eccentric’s flesh; I will check to see if the spatterings of
his brain have spurted on to the satin of my brow. The man who would love such martyrdom is
not to be found in their entire universe, is he? I do not know what laughter is, never having
experienced it myself. And yet how imprudent it would be to maintain that my lips would not
widen if it were granted to me to see him who claimed that, somewhere, that man exists. What
no one would wish for himself has fallen to my share by an unfair stroke of fate. Not that my body
is swimming in the lake of sorrow. Let us pass on then. But the mind dries up with the strain of
continual and concentrated reflection; it croaks like the frogs on the marsh when a flight of
ravenous flamingoes and starving herons swoops down to the rushes’ edge. Happy is he who
sleeps peacefully in his bead of feathers plucked from the eider’s breast, without noticing that he
is giving himself away. I have not slept for more than thirty years now. Since the unutterable day
of my birth, I have sworn implacable hatred to the somniferous bedplanks. It was my own wish;
let no one else be blamed. Quickly, abandon the abortive suspicion. Can you make out the pale
garland on my brow? She who wreathed it, with her thin fingers, was tenacity. As long as any
trace of searing sap flows in my bones like a torrent of molten metal, I shall not sleep. Every
night I force my livid eyes to stare at the stars through the panes of my windows. To be surer of
myself, a splinter of wood holds my two swollen eyelids apart. When dawn appears she finds me
in the same position, my body upright against the cold plaster of the wall. However, I do
sometimes happen to dream, but without for a moment losing the unshakeable consciousness of
my personality and my capacity for freedom of movement; you must know that the nightmare
which lurks in the phosphoric corners of the shadow, the fever which feels my face with its stump,
each impure animal which raises its bleeding claw; well, it is my own will which makes them whirl
around, to give a staple food to its perpetual activity. In fact free will, a mere atom avenging itself
for its weakness, does not fear to affirm with powerful authority that it does not count brutishness
among its sons: he who sleeps is less than an animal castrated the night before. Although
insomnia drags these muscles, which already give off a scent of cypress, down into the pit, never
will the white catacomb of my intellect open its sanctuaries to the eyes of the Creator. A secret
and noble justice, into the arms of which I instinctively fling myself, commands me to track down
this ignoble punishment remorselessly. Dreadful enemy of my imprudent soul, at the hour when
the lantern is lit on the coast, I forbid my wretched back to lie on the dew of the sward.
Victoriously I repel the ambushes of the hypocritical poppy. Consequently, it is clear that in this
strange struggle my heart has checked his plans, starving man who eats himself. Impenetrable
as the giants, I have lived incessantly with my eyes staring wide open. It is obvious that, at least
during the day, anyone can offer useful resistance to the Great Exterior Object (who does not
know his name?); for then the will guards its defences with remarkable ferocity. But as soon as
the veil of night mists comes down, even over condemned men about to be hanged, oh, to see
one’s intellect in the sacrilegious hands of a stranger! A pitiless scalpel probes among its
undergrowth. Conscience utters a long rattle of curses; the veil of modesty is cruelly torn away.
Humiliation! Our door is open to the wild curiosity of the Celestial Bandit. I have not deserved
this ignominious punishment, hideous spy of my causality! If I exist, I am not another. I do not
acknowledge this ambiguous plurality in myself. I wish to reside alone in my inner deliberations.
Autonomy…or let me be changed into a hippopotamus. Engulf yourself beneath the earth,
anonymous stigma, and do not reappear before my haggard indignation. My subjectivity and the
Creator, that is too much for one brain. When night spreads darkness over the passage of hours,
who has not fought against the onset of sleep, in his bed soaking with glacial sweat? This bed,
luring the dying faculties to her breast, is nothing but a tomb made of planks of squared fir. The
will gradually gives way, as if in the presence of an invisible force. A viscous was forms a thick
layer over the crystalline lens. The eyelids seek each other like two friends. The body is now no
more than a breathing corpse. Finally, four huge stakes nail all the limbs on to the mattress. And
observe, I beg of you, that the sheets are but shrouds. Here is the cresset in which the incense
of religion burns. Eternity roars like a distant sea and approaches with large strides. The room
has disappeared! Sometimes, vainly trying to overcome the imperfections of the organism in the
midst of the deepest sleep, the hypnotized senses perceive with astonishment that it is now only
a block of sepulchre-stone, and reason admirably, with incomparable subtlety: ‘To get up from
this bed is a more difficult problem than one might think. Sitting in a cart, I am being taken off
towards the binarity of the guillotine posts. Strange to say, my inert arm has knowingly taken on
the stiffness of a chimney stack. It is not at all good to dream that one is going towards the
scaffold.’ Blood flows in wide waves over the face. The breast repeatedly gives violent starts,
heaves, and wheezes. The weight of an obelisk suppresses the free expression of rage. The
real has destroyed the dreams of drowsiness! Who does not know that when the struggle
continues between the ego, full of pride, and the terrible encroachment of catalepsy, the deluded
mind loses its judgment? Gnawed by despair, it revels in its sickness, till it has conquered nature,
and sleep, seeing its prey escape it, retreats, angry and ashamed, far away, never to return.
Throw a few ashes on my flaming eyeballs. Do not stare at my never-ending eyes. Do you
understand the sufferings I endure? (However, pride is gratified.) As soon as night exhorts
humans to rest, a man, whom I know, strides over the countryside. I fear my resolved will
succumb to the onset of old age. Let it come, that fatal day when I fall asleep! When I awake,
my razor, making its way across my neck, will prove that, in fact, nothing was more real.
‘But who can it be?…but who is it who dares like a conspirator to trail the rings of his body
towards my black breast? Whoever you are, eccentric python, by what pretext do you excuse
you ridiculous presence? Are you tormented by vast remorse? For you see, boa, your wild
majesty does not, I suppose, make any exorbitant claim to exemption from the comparison I am
going to make between it and the features of the criminal. This foaming whitish slime is for me
the sign of rage. Listen to me: do you know that you eye is far from absorbing a ray of heavenly
light? Do not forget that if your presumptuous brain thought me capable of offering you a few
words of consolation, then the only motive for your mistake must be an abysmal ignorance of
physiognomic science. For as long, of course, as is necessary, direct the light of your eyes
towards that which I, as much as the next man, have the right to call my face! Can you not see
how it is weeping? You were wrong, basilisk. you will have to seek elsewhere the miserable
ration of comfort which my radical incapacity denies you, despite the numerous protestations of
my good will. Oh, what force which can be expressed in sentences fatally brought you to your
downfall? It is almost impossible for me to get used to the argument that you do not realize that,
by flattening the fleeting curves of your triangular head with a click of my heels, I could knead an
unmentionable putty with the grass of the savannah and the crushed victim’s flesh.
‘Out of my sight immediately, pallid criminal! The fallacious mirage of utter dread has shown
you your own spectre! Dispel these insulting suspicions, unless you want me in turn to charge
you and bring a counter-accusation against you which would certainly meet with the approval of
the reptilivorous serpent. What monstrous aberration of the imagination prevents you from
recognizing me? Don you not recall the important services I did for you, as a favour to an
existence which I had brought out of chaos, and, on your part, the forever unforgettable vow that
you would not desert my flag, that you would remain true to me till death? When you were a child
(your intellect was then in its finest phase), you would be the first to climb the hill with the speed
of the lizard to salute the multicoloured rays of the rising dawn with a motion of your little hand.
The notes of your voice gushed forth from your sweet-sounding larynx like diamantine pearls
resolving their collective personalities into the vibrant aggregation of a long hymn of adoration.
Now you fling to your feet the forbearance which I have shown for too long. Gratitude has seen
its roots dry up like the bed of a pond; but in its place ambition has grown to proportions which it
would be painful to describe. Who is he who is listening to me, that he should have so much
confidence in his own excessive weakness?
‘And who are you, audacious substance? No!…no!…I am not mistaken; and despite the
multiple metamorphoses you have recourse to, your snake’s head will always gleam before my
eyes like a lighthouse of eternal injustice and cruel domination! He wanted to take the reins of
command, but he cannot reign! He wanted to become an abomination to all the beings of
creation, and in this he succeeded. He wanted to prove that he alone is monarch of the universe,
and there it is that he is mistaken. Oh wretch! have you waited till this hour to hear the mutterings
and the plots which, rising simultaneously from the surface of the spheres, come with wildly
beating wings to graze the papillaceous sides of your destructible eardrum? The day is not far off
when my hand will strike you down into the dust which you have infected with your breath, and,
tearing the noxious life from your entrails, will leave your body writhing and contorted to teach the
appalled traveler that this palpitating flesh which strikes his sight with astonishment and nails his
dumb tongue to his palate, must not be compared, if one keeps one’s composure, with the rotten
trunk of an old tree which has decayed and fallen! What thought of pity can it be which makes
me stay here, in your presence? You should rather retreat before me, I tell you, and go wash
your immeasurable shame in the blood of a newborn baby: such are your practices. They are
worthy of you. So on…keep walking straight ahead. I condemn you to become a wanderer. I
condemn you to remain alone and without a family. Wander forever on your way, so that your
feet can no longer hold you. Cross the sands of the desert till the end of the world engulfs the
stars in nothingness. When you pass near the tiger’s lair, he will rush to escape so as to avoid
seeing, as in a mirror, his character mounted on the pedestal of ideal perversity. But when
overmastering weariness commands you to halt before the flagstones of my palace covered with
brambles and thistles, be careful with your tattered sandals and pass through the elegant
vestibule on tiptoe. It is not a futile injunction. You could wake my young wife and my infant son,
sleeping in the leaden vaults which run along by the foundations of the ancient castle. If you did
not take these preliminary precautions, they could make you turn pale with their subterranean
howling. When your inscrutable will deprived them of life, they knew how dreadful your power
was, and were in no doubt at all on that point; but they did not expect (and their last adieux to me
confirmed their belief) that your Providence would prove so merciless! Be that as it may, cross
rapidly these abandoned and silent rooms with their emerald paneling, but tarnished armorial
bearings, in which the glorious statues of my ancestors are kept. These marble bodies are
incensed with you; avoid their glassy looks. It is a word of advice from the tongue of their one
and only descendant. See how their arms are raised in a provocative attitude of defence, their
heads thrust back proudly. Surely they have guessed the wrong you have done me; and, if you
pass within range of the chill pedestals which support these sculpted blocks, vengeance awaits
you there. If there is anything you need to say in your own defence, speak. It is too late for
weeping now. You ought to have wept earlier, on more fitting occasions, when you had the
opportunity. If your eyes have at last been opened, judge for yourself the consequences of your
action. Adieu! I am going to breathe the sea-breeze on the cliffs; for my half-suffocated lungs are
crying out for a sight more peaceful and more virtuous than the sight of you!
Oh incomprehensible pederasts, I shall not heap insults upon your great degradation; i shall not
be the one to pour scorn on your infundibuliform anus. It is enough that the shameful and almost
incurable maladies which besiege you should bring with them their unfailing punishments.
Legislators of stupid institutions, founders of a narrow morality, depart from me, for I am an
impartial soul. And you, young adolescents, or rather young girls, explain to me how and why
(but keep a safe distance, for I, too, am unable to control my passions), vengeance has so
sprouted in your hearts that you could leave such a crown of sores on the flanks of mankind. You
make it blush at its sons by your conduct (which I venerate!); your prostitution which offers itself
to the first comer, taxes the logic of the deepest thinkers, while your extreme sensibility crowns
the stupefaction of woman herself. Are you of a more or less earthly nature than your fellowbeings? Do you possess a sixth sense which we lack? Do not lie, and say what you think. This
is not a question I am putting to you; for since as an observer I have been frequenting the
sublimity of your intelligence, I know how matters stand. Blessed be you by my left hand and
sanctified by my right hand, angels protected by my universal love. I kiss your faces, I kiss your
breasts, I kiss, with my smooth lips, the different parts of your harmonious and perfumed bodies.
Why did you not tell me immediately what you were, crystallizations of superior moral beauty? I
had to guess for myself the innumerable treasures of tenderness and chastity hidden by the
beatings of your oppressed hearts. Breasts bedecked with rose-garlands and vetiver. I had to
open your legs to know you, I had to place my mouth over the insignia of your shame. But (I
must stress this), do not forget to wash the skin of your lower parts with hot water every day for, if
you do not, venereal chancres will infallibly grow on the commissures of my unsatisfied lips. Oh!
if, instead of being a hell, the universe had only been an immense celestial anus, look at the
motion I am making with my loins: yes, I would have thrust my verge into its bleeding sphincter,
shattering, with my jerking movements, the very walls of its pelvis! Misery would not then have
blown into my blinded eyes from entire dunes of moving sand; I should have discovered the
subterranean place where truth lies sleeping and the rivers of my viscous sperm would thus have
found an ocean into which they could gush. But why do I find myself regretting an imaginary
state of affairs which will never bear the stamp of final accomplishment? Let us not trouble to
construct fleeting hypotheses. Meanwhile, let him who burns with ardour to share my bed come
and find me; but I make one condition for my hospitality: he must not be more than fifteen years
old. Let him not, on his part, think that I am thirty; what difference does that make? Age does not
lessen the intensity of emotions, far from it; and though my hair has become white as snow, it is
not from age: on the contrary, it is for the reason you know. I do not like woman! nor even
hermaphrodites! I need beings who are the same as me, on whose brows human nobility is
graven in more distinct, ineffaceable characters. Are you sure that those whose hair is long are
of the same nature as I? I do not believe so, and I will abandon my opinion. Bitter saliva is
flowing from my mouth, I do not know why. Who will suck it for me, that I may be rid of it? It is
rising…it is still rising! I have noticed that when I suck blood from the throats of those who sleep
beside me (the supposition that I am a vampire is false, since that is the name given to the dead
who rise from their graves; whereas I am living), I throw up part of it on the following day: this is
the explanation of the vile saliva. What do you expect me to do, now that my organs, weakened
by vice, refuse to accomplish the functions of digestion? But do not reveal these confidences to
anyone. It is not for my own sake that I am telling you this; it is for yourself and the others, that
the influence of the secret I have imparted should keep within the bounds of duty and virtue those
who, magnetized by the electricity of the unknown, would be tempted to imitate me. Be so good
as to look at my mouth (for the moment I have no time to use a longer formula of politeness); at
first sight it strikes you by its appearance; there is no need to bring the snake into your
comparison; it is because I am contracting the tissue as far as it will possibly go, to give the
impression that I am cold of temperament. But you really know that the diametrical opposite is
true. If only I could see the face of him who is reading me through these seraphic pages. If he
has not passed puberty, let him approach. Hold me tight against you, and do not be afraid of
hurting me; let us contract our muscles. More. I feel it is futile to continue. The opacity of this
piece of paper, remarkable in more ways than one, is a most considerable obstacle to our
complete union. I have always had a perverse fancy for schoolboys and the emaciated children
of the factories. My words are not the recollections of a dream, and I would have too many
memories to disentangle if I were obliged to describe all those events which by their evidence
could corroborate the veracity of my woeful statement. Human justice has not yet caught me in
the act, despite the expertise of its policemen. I even murdered (not long ago!) a pederast who
was not responding adequately to my passion; I threw his body down a disused well, and there is
no decisive evidence against me. Why are you quivering with fear, young adolescent reading
me? Do you think I want to do the same thing to you? You are being extremely unjust…You are
right: do not trust me, especially if you are handsome. My sexual parts perpetually offer the
lugubrious spectacle of turgescence; no one can claim (and how many have approached!) that he
has ever seen them in the normal flaccid state, not even the shoeblack who stabbed me there in
a moment of ecstasy! The ungrateful wretch! I change my clothes twice a week; cleanliness,
however, is not the principal motive for my resolution. If I did not act thus, the members of
mankind would disappear after a few days, in prolonged struggles. In fact, whatever country I am
in, they continually harass me with their presence, and come and lick the surface of my feet. But
what power can my drops of sperm possess, that they attract everything which breathes through
olfactory nerves to them! They come from the banks of the Amazon, they cross the valleys
watered by the Ganges, they abandon the polar lichen on long journeys in search of me, they ask
the unmoving cities whether they have glimpsed, passing along their ramparts, him whose sacred
sperm sweetens the mountains, the lakes, the heaths, the promontories, the immensity of the
seas! Despair at not being able to find me (I secretly hide in the most inaccessible places to
inflame their ardour) drives them to the most deplorable acts. They stand, three hundred
thousand on each side, and the roaring of the cannons serves as a prelude to the battle. Each
flank moves at the same time, like a single warrior. Squares are formed and then immediately
fall, never to rise again. The terrified horses flee in all directions. Cannonballs plough up the
ground like implacable meteors. The scene of the battle is now but a field of carnage, when night
reveals its presence and the silent moon appears through a break in the clouds. Pointing out a
space of several leagues strewn with corpses, the vaporous crescent of that star orders me to
consider for a moment, as the subject of meditative reflections, the fatal consequences which the
inexplicable enchanted talisman that Providence granted me, leaves in its wake. Unfortunately it
will take many more centuries before the human race completely perishes as a result of my
perfidious snare. Thus it is that a clever but by no means bombastic mind uses, to achieve its
ends, the very means which would at first appear to present an insuperable obstacle to their
achievement. My intelligence always soars towards this imposing question, and you yourself are
witness that it is no longer possible for me to remain within the bounds of the modest subject
which I had planned to deal with at the outset. A final word…it was a winter night. While the cold
wind whistled through the firs, the Creator opened his doors in the darkness and showed a
pederast in.
Silence! a funeral procession is passing by you. Bend both your knee-caps to the ground and
intone a song from beyond the grave (if you consider my words rather as a simple form of the
imperative than as a formal order which is out of place, you will be showing your wit, which is of
the best). It is possible that you will thus succeed in extremely gladdening the dead man’s soul,
which is going to rest from this life in a grave. As far as I am concerned, the fact is certain. Note
that I do not say that your opinion might not to a certain extent be the opposite of mine; but what
is extremely important is to have exact notions of the bases of morality, so that everyone should
be imbued with the principle which commands us to do unto others what one would perhaps like
to have done unto oneself. The priest of religions is the first to begin the march, holding in one
hand a white flag, sign of peace, and in the other a golden emblem representing the genitals of
man and woman, as if to indicate that these carnal members are, most of the time, all metaphor
apart, very dangerous instruments in the hands of those who use them, when the blindly
manipulate them for mutually conflicting ends, instead of bringing about a timely reaction against
the well-known passion which causes almost all our ills. To the small of his back is attached
(artificially, of course) a horse-tail with thick hair, which sweeps the dust of the ground. It means
that we should not by our behaviour debase ourselves to the level of animals. The coffin knows
its way and follows behind the floating tunic of the comforter. The parents and friends of the dead
person, to judge from their position, have decided to bring up the rear of the cortege. It advances
majestically like a vessel on the open sea, cleaving the waves, unafraid of the phenomenon of
sinking; for at the present moment, tempests and reefs are conspicuous by their explicable
absence. Crickets and toads follow the funeral, at some paces’ distance; they, too, are not
unaware that their humble presence at the obsequies of whoever it is will one day be counted in
their favour. They converse in undertones in their picturesque language (do not be so
presumptuous, permit me to give you this disinterested piece of advice, as to believe that you
alone possess the precious capacity of conveying your thoughts and feelings), about him whom
they had often seen running over the green meadows and plunging the sweat of his limbs in the
bluish waves of the arenaceous gulfs. At first, life seemed to smile on him without any hidden
intentions; and crowned him with flowers, magnificently; but since your intelligence itself
perceives, or rather guesses, that he has been cut off at the bounds of childhood, I do not need,
until the appearance of a truly necessary retraction, to continue the prolegomena of my rigorous
demonstration. Ten years. A number that can be exactly counted on the fingers of both hands.
It is a little and it is a lot. In the case which now preoccupies us I shall rely on your love of truth
for you to pronounce with me, without a second’s delay, that it is a little. And when I briefly reflect
on these dark mysteries by which a human being disappears from the earth as easily as a fly or a
dragon-fly, without a hope of returning, I find myself brooding with bitter regret on the fact that I
shall probably not live long enough to explain to you what I cannot claim to understand myself.
But since it is proven that by some extraordinary chance I have not yet lost my life, since the
distant moment when, filled with terror, I began the previous sentence, I reckon that it will not be
futile to compose here a complete confession of my total incapacity, especially when, as at
present, it is a question of this imposing and intractable problem. It is, generally speaking, a
strange thing, this captivating tendency which leads us to seek out (and then to express) the
resemblances and differences which are hidden in the most natural properties of objects which
are sometimes the least apt to lend themselves to sympathetically curious combinations of this
kind, which, on my word of honour, graciously enhance the style of the writer who treats himself
to this personal satisfaction, giving him the ridiculous and unforgettable aspect of an eternally
serious owl. Let us therefore follow the current which is carrying us along. The royal kite has
wings which are proportionally longer than a buzzard’s, and a far more effortless flight: so he
spends his life in the air. He hardly ever rests, and every day covers immense distances; and this
vast movement is not at all a hunting exercise, nor the pursuit of prey, nor even a journey of
discovery; for he does not hunt; but it seems that flying is his natural state, his favorite condition.
One cannot help admiring the way in which he carries it out. His long narrow wings do not seem
to move; the tail thinks it is directing operations, and it is not mistaken: it is moving incessantly.
He soars without effort; he swoops as if he were gliding down an inclined plane; he seems to be
swimming rather than flying. He speeds up his career, he slows down and remains hanging,
hovering in the same place for hours on end. One cannot perceive the least movement of his
wings; you can open your eyes as wide as a furnace door, it will do you no good. Everyone will
have the good sense to confess without demure (though a little grudgingly) that he cannot at first
sight perceive the relation, however distant it might be, which I am trying to point out between the
beauty of the royal kite’s flight and that of the child’s face, rising like a water-lily piercing the
surface of the water; and that is precisely in what the unforgivable fault consists: the fault of
permanent impenitence about the deliberate ignorance in which we wallow. This relation of calm
majesty between the two terms of my arch comparison is already a too common and even a
sufficiently comprehensible symbol for me to be surprised any more at what can only be excused
by that very quality of vulgarity which calls down upon everything it touches a deep feeling of
unjust indifference. As if we ought to wonder less at the things we see every day! At the
entrance to the cemetery, the procession is anxious to stop; its intention is to go no further. The
gravedigger puts the final touches to the grave; the coffin is lowered into it with all the precautions
normally taken in such cases; a few shovelfuls of earth over the child’s body. The priest of
religions, amid the deeply-moved audience, pronounces a few words to bury the boy even more
in the imaginations of those present. ‘He says he is very surprised that so many tears are being
shed over such an insignificant act. Those are his exact words. But he fears he cannot
adequately describe what he claims is an unquestionable happiness. If he had believed, in his
innocence, that death was so fearsome, he would have renounced this duty, so as not to increase
the rightful sorrow of the many relatives and friends of the dead child; but a secret voice warns
him to give them some words of consolation, which will not be without effect, even if they only
give them a glimpse of the hope of a reunion in heaven between the dead child and those who
survived him.’ Maldoror was racing along at full gallop and seemed to be heading for the walls of
the cemetery. The steed’s hooves raised a false crown of dust around its master. You cannot
know the name of this horseman; but I do. He was coming nearer and nearer; his platinum face
was beginning to be visible, although its lower half was completely enveloped in a cloak which the
reader has taken care not to let slip from his memory, and which meant that only his eyes could
be seen. In the middle of his speech, the priest of religions suddenly turns pale, for his ear
recognizes the fitful gallop of the famous horse which never abandoned its master. ‘Yes,’ he
added once more, ‘I have great confidence that you will meet again; then we will understand
better than ever before how to interpret the temporary separation of body and soul. Whoever
believes that he is truly living on this earth is lulling himself with an illusions which it is essential to
dispel, and quickly.’ The sound of the gallop grew louder and louder; and as the horseman,
hugging the horizon, came into the field of vision of the cemetery gate, rapid as a tornado, the
priest of religions, in more solemn tones, resumed: ‘You do not seem to realize that this child,
whom sickness allowed to know only the first phases of life, and whom the grave has just taken to
its breast, is indubitably living; but let me tell you that he whose equivocal outline you see riding
on a sinewy horse, and on whom I ask you as soon as possible to fix your eyes, for he is now but
a dot and will soon disappear into the heath, though he has lived long, is the only dead man.’
Every night, at the hour when sleep has reached its highest degree of intensity, an old spider of
the large species slowly protrudes its head from a hole in the ground at one of the intersections of
the angles of the room. It listens carefully, to hear if any rustling sound is still moving its
mandibles in the atmosphere. Given its insect conformation, it can do no less, if it means to
increase the treasures of literature with brilliant personifications, than to attribute the mandibles to
the rustling sound. When it has ascertained that silence reigns all around, it draws out, one after
the other, without the help of meditation, the several parts of its body, and advances with slow,
deliberate steps towards my bed. And a remarkable thing happens! I, who can repulse sleep
and nightmares, feel paralysed through my entire body when with its long ebony legs it climbs
along my satin bed. It clasps my throat with its legs and with its abdomen it sucks my blood. As
simple as that! How many litres of deep reddish liquor, the same of which you know well, has it
not drunk, since it started going through this same procedure with perseverance worthy of a
nobler cause. I do not know what I have done to it that it should act in this way towards me. Did I
inadvertently tread on one of its legs? Did I take away from some of its little ones? These two
hypotheses, which are both highly suspect, do not bear serious scrutiny; it is even quite easy for
them to make me shrug my shoulders and bring a smile to my lips, though one ought never to
laugh at anyone. Take care, black tarantula; if your behaviour does not have an irrefutable
syllogism to justify it, one night I will awaken with a start, and with a final effort of my dying will, I
shall break the spell by which you paralyse my limbs, and crush you between the bones of my
fingers like a piece of pulpy substance. Yet I vaguely recall that I have been given permission for
your legs to climb over my breast; and from there on to the skin which covers my face; that
consequently I have no right to do violence to you. Oh, who will untangle my disordered
memories? As a reward I will give him whatever is left of my blood; including the last drop, there
will be at least enough to fill the bacchanal cup. He speaks, and takes off his clothes as he does
so. He rests one leg on the mattress and, pressing down on the sapphire floor with the other in
order to raise himself up, he is now in a horizontal position. He has resolved not to close his
eyes, to await his enemy unflinchingly. But does he not make the same resolution each time and
is it not each time frustrated by the inexplicable image of his fatal promise? He says no more,
and sadly resigns himself to what is to come; for to him his oath is sacred. He swathes himself
majestically in the folds of his silk, disdains to tie together the tassels of his curtains and, resting
the wavy ringlets of his long black hair on the velvet of his pillow, touches the wound on his neck
where the tarantula has got into the habit of residing as a second nest, his face breathing
satisfaction all the while. He is hoping that the present night (hope with him!) will see the last
performance of the immense suction; for his only wish is that his torturer should put an end to his
existence; death, that is all he asks. Look at this old spider of the large species, slowly protruding
its head from a hole in the ground at one of the intersections of the room. We are no longer in the
narrative. It listens carefully to hear if any rustling sound is still moving its mandibles in the
atmosphere. Alas! We have now come to reality as far as the tarantula is concerned and, though
one could perhaps put exclamation marks at the end of each sentence, that is perhaps not a
reason for dispensing with them altogether! It has ascertained that silence reigns all around; now
look at it, drawing out, one after the other, without the help of meditation, the several parts of its
body, and advancing with slow, deliberate steps towards the solitary man’s bed. Briefly it pauses;
but its moment of hesitation is short. It says that the time has not yet come for it to cease its
tortures and that it must first give the condemned man some plausible reasons to explain what
determined the perpetuality of his punishment. It has climbed up to the beside the sleeping
man’s ear. If you do not wish to miss a single word of what it is about to say, exclude all the
irrelevant occupations which block up the portico of your mind and be thankful at least for the
interest I am showing in you by enabling you to be present at dramatic scenes which seem to me
to be truly worthy of arousing your attention, for what could stop me keeping to myself the events
I am recounting? ‘Awaken, amorous flame of bygone days, fleshless skeleton. The time has
come to hold back the arm of justice. We will not keep you waiting long for the explanation you
desire. You can hear us, can you not? But do not move your limbs; today you are still under our
magnetic power and your encephalic atony persists: it is the last time. What impression does the
face of Elsseneur make on your imagination? You have forgotten it! And that Reginald, with his
proud bearing, have you graven his features on your retentive brain? Look at him hiding in the
folds of the curtains; his mouth is moving down towards your brow; but he does not dare speak to
you, for he is more timid than I. I am going to recount to you an episode from your youth, and put
you back on the path of memory…’ A long time before this the spider’s abdomen had opened up
and from it two youths in blue robes had sprung out, each with a flaming sword in his hand, and
they had gone to take up their position at the side of the bed, as if from that moment on to guard
the sanctuary of sleep. ‘The latter, who still has not taken his eyes off you, for he loved you very
much, was the first of us two to whom you gave your love. But you often hurt him by the
hardness and abruptness of your character. For his part he continually made every effort to avoid
giving you any cause for complaint: no angel would have succeeded in this. You asked him, one
day, if he would like to come swimming with you near the sea-shore. Like two swans, both at the
same time, you plunged from the high cliff. Eminent divers, you glided into the watery mass, your
outstretched hands joined. For some minutes you swam underwater. You reappeared far from
there, your hair wet and tangled, streaming with salt water. But what mysterious event could
have taken place underwater that a long trail of blood should be seen on the waves?
Resurfacing, you continued to swim, and pretended not to notice the growing weakness of your
companion. He was rapidly losing strength, and you only lengthened your strokes towards the
misty horizon, which appeared as a watery blur. The wounded man was uttering cries of distress,
and you pretended you were deaf. Reginald called out your name three times, so that its
syllables echoed over the sea, and three times you answered with a cry of delight. He was too
far from the shore to reach it and was vainly struggling to follow in your wake, in order to reach
you and rest his hand on your shoulder for a moment. The fruitless pursuit continued for an hour,
with his strength failing and yours perceptibly increasing. Giving up all hope of keeping up with
you, he said a short prayer, and gave himself up into God’s hands, then turned his back as we do
when we are floating, so that his heart could be seen beating violently against his breast. In this
way he waited for death to arrive, that he might have to wait no more. At this moment your
powerful limbs had disappeared from sight and were still moving away, rapid as a plummeting
sound-line. A boat which had been casting nets came into those parts. The fishermen assumed
that Reginald had been shipwrecked and hauled him, unconscious, into their little vessel. The
presence of a wound on his right side was noted: every one of those experienced sailors
expressed the opinion that no jagged reef or splinter of rock was capable of piercing a hole at
once so microscopic and so deep. Only a cutting weapon such as a stiletto of the sharpest kind
could claim the paternity of such a fine wound. He himself always refused to tell of the several
phases of the dive into the bowels of the waves and he has kept his secret until now. Tears now
flow along his rather discoloured cheeks, and fall on the sheets: recollection is often more bitter
than the thing itself. But I shall feel no pity: that would be showing too much respect for you. Do
not roll your wild eyes in their sockets. Remain calm. You know you cannot move. Besides, I
have not finished my tale. Lift up your sword, Reginald, and do not so easily forget revenge.
Who knows? Perhaps one day it could come and reproach you.–Later you imagined yourself
afflicted with remorse, the existence of which must have been ephemeral; you resolved to atone
for your sin by choosing another friend, whom you would revere and honour. By this expiatory
means, you were to efface the stains of the past and lavish on him who was to become your
second victim the affection you had not been able to show to the first. A vain hope; character
does not change from one day to the next, and your will remained consistent with itself. I,
Elsseneur, saw you for the first time and from that moment on I could not forget you. We looked
at each other for a few seconds, and you started to smile. I lowered my eyes, for I saw a
supernatural flame burning in yours. I wondered if, under cover of blackest night, you had not
secretly descended to us from the surface of a star; for I must confess, now that there is no need
for dissimulation, that you were not at all like the boars of mankind; but a halo of glittering rays
surrounded by the periphery of your brow. I would have wished to enter into intimate relations
with you; but I did not dare approach the striking novelty of this strange nobility, and an
unrelenting terror prowled around me. Why did I not listen to these warnings of conscience?
Well-founded presentiments. Noticing my hesitation, you blushed in turn and held out your arms.
I bravely put my hand in yours and after this action I felt stronger; thenceforward the breath of
your intelligence had passed into me. With our hair blowing in the wind and inhaling the breath of
the breeze, we walked on through groves thick with lentiscus, jasmine, pomegranate and orangetrees, the scents of which intoxicated us. A boar in full flight brushed against our clothes as it
rushed past, and a tear fell from its eyes when it saw me with you; I could not explain its
behaviour. At nightfall we arrived at the gates of a populous city. The outlines of the domes, the
spires of the minarets and the marble balls of the belvederes stood out with their sharp
indentations in the darkness against the deep blue of the sky. But you did not wish to rest in that
place, although we were overwhelmed with fatigue. We slunk along the lower part of the outer
fortifications, like jackals of the night; we avoided the sentinels on watch; and we managed, by
the opposite gate, to get clear of that solemn gathering of reasonable animals, civilized as
beavers. The flight of the lantern-fly, the crackling of dry grass, the intermittent howls of a distant
wolf accompanied us in the darkness of our dubious walk across the countryside. What were the
valid motives for fleeing the hives of men? With a certain anxiety I asked myself this question;
besides my legs were beginning to give way under me, having borne me up for too long. At last
we reached the edge of a thick wood, the trees of which were entwined in a mass of high,
inextricable bindweed, parasite plants, and cacti with monstrous spikes. You stopped in front of a
birch. You told me to kneel down and prepare to die; you granted me a quarter of an hour to
leave this earth. Some furtive glances you had secretly stolen while I was not observing you
during our long walk, as well as certain strange and unaccountable gestures, immediately came
to mind, like the open pages of a book. My suspicions had been confirmed. As I was too weak to
put up a struggle, you knocked me to the ground, as the hurricane blows down the leaves of the
aspen. With one of your knees on my breast and the other on the damp grass, while one of your
hands clasped my two arms in its vice, I saw your other hand take a knife from the sheath which
hung from your belt. My resistance was negligible, and I closed my eyes. The dull thud of
cattle’s hooves could be heard in the distance, the sound carried by the wind. It was advancing
like a train, goaded on by the herdsman’s stick and the barking jaws of a dog. There was no time
to lose, and you knew it; fearing you would not be able to achieve your ends, since the
unexpected arrival of help had increased my muscular strength, and seeing that you could only
pin down one of my arms at a time, you merely cut off my right hand with a flick of the steel
blade. The hand, precisely severed, fell to the ground. You took flight, while I was blinded with
pain. I shall not tell of how the herdsman came to my assistance, nor how long I took to recover.
Suffice it to know that this treacherous act which I had not expected made me wish to seek
death. I took part in battles, to expose my breast to fatal blows. I won fame on the fields of
battle; my name struck fear into the very bravest, such carnage and destruction did my artificial
arm sow in the enemy ranks. However, one day, when the shells were thundering far louder than
usual and the squadron of horse, drawn away from their ranks, were whirling around like straws
beneath the tornado of death, a horseman, fearless in his bearing, came towards me to fight for
the palm of victory. The two armies stopped fighting and stood rooted to teh spot in silent
contemplation of us. We fought for a long time, riddled with wounds, our helmets smashed. By
common accord, we ceased the struggle in order to rest and then to take it up again with renewed
ferocity. Filled with admiration for his adversary, each one raises his visor: ‘Elsseneur!’
‘Reginald!’ those were the simple words that our panting hearts uttered, both at once. The latter,
having fallen into despairing and inconsolable gloom, had taken up arms as I had done, and he
too had been spared by the bullets. In what strange circumstances we were now reunited! But
your name was not pronounced! He and I swore eternal friendship; but it was most assuredly
different from the first two occasions, on which you were the main actor! An archangel from
heaven, the Lord’s messenger, commanded us to change into a single spider and come to suck
your throat every night, until an order from on high should put an end to your punishment. For
nearly ten years we have stayed by your bedside, and from today you are delivered from our
persecution. The vague promise of which you spoke was not made to us but to the Being who is
stronger than you: you yourself understood that it was better to submit to this irrevocable decree.
Awake, Maldoror! The hypnotic spell which has weighed on your cerebro-spinal system for two
lustra is broken.’ He awakens as ordered and sees two celestial forms disappearing into the sky,
holding hands. He does not attempt to go back to sleep. Slowly, moving one limb after the other,
he gets out of bed. He goes over to his gothic fireplace, to warm his body by the embers of the
fire. He is wearing only a shirt. He looks around for the crystal carafe, that he may moisten his
dry palate. He opens the shutters of the window. He leans on the window-sill. He contemplates
the moon which sheds on his breast a cone of ecstatic rays which flutter like moths with silver
beams of ineffable softness. He waits for morning with its change of scenery to bring its derisory
relief to his shattered heart.
You whose enviable composure can do no more than embellish your appearance, do not think it
is still a matter of uttering, in strophes of fourteen or fifteen lines, like a third-form schoolboy,
exclamations which will be considered untimely, the resounding clucks of cochin-china fowl, as
grotesque as one could possibly imagine, if one took the trouble. But it is more advisable to
prove by facts the propositions I am putting to you. Would you then assert that because I have
insulted man, the Creator, and myself in my explicable hyperboles, and with such whimsicality,
that my mission is accomplished? No; the the most important part of my work is nonetheless
before me, a task remaining to be done. Henceforward the strings of the novel will move the
three characters mentioned above; they will thus be endowed with a less abstract power. Vitality
will surge into the stream of their circulatory system and you will see how startled you will be
when you encounter, where at first you had only expected to see entities belonging to the realm
of pure speculation, on the one hand the corporeal organism with its ramifications of nerves an
mucous membranes and, on the other, the spiritual principle which governs the physiological
functions of the flesh. It is beings powerfully endowed with life who, their arms folded and holding
their breath, will stand prosaically (but I am sure the effect will be very poetic) before your eyes,
only a few paces away from you, so that the sun’s rays, falling first upon the tiles of the roofs and
the lids of the chimneys, will then come and visibly shine on their earthly and material hair. But
they will no longer be anathemata possessing the special quality of exciting laughter; fictive
personalities who would have done no better to remain in the author’s brain; or nightmares too far
removed from ordinary existence. Note that this very fact will make my poetry finer. You will
touch with your own hands the ascending branches of the aorta and the adrenal capsules; and
then the feelings! The first five songs have not been useless; they were the frontispiece to my
work, the foundation of the structure, the preliminary explanation of my future poetic: and I owed it
to myself, before strapping up my suitcases and setting off for the lands of the imagination, to
warn sincere lovers of literature with a rapid sketch, a clear and precise general picture, of the
goal I had resolved to pursue. Consequently, it is my opinion that the synthetic part of my work is
now complete and has been adequately amplified. In this part you learnt that I had set myself the
task of attacking man and Him who created man. For the moment, and for later, you need to
know no more. New considerations seem to me superfluous, for they would only repeat,
admittedly in a fuller, but identical, form, the statement of the thesis which will have its first
exposition at the end of this day. It follows from the preceding remarks that from now on my
intention is to start upon the analytic part; so true, indeed, is this that only a few minutes ago I
expressed the ardent wish that you should be imprisoned in the sudoriferous glands of my skin in
order to prove the sincerity of what I am stating with full knowledge of the facts. It is necessary, I
know, to underpin with a large number of proofs the argument of my theorem; well, these proofs
exist and you know that I do not attack anyone without good reason. I howl with laughter to think
that you will reproach me for spreading bitter accusations against mankind of which I am a
member (this remark alone would prove me right!), and against Providence. I shall not retract
one of my words; but, telling what I have seen, it will not be difficult for me, with no other object
than truth, to justify them. Today I am going to fabricate a little novel of thirty pages; the
estimated length will, in the event, remain unchanged. Hoping to see the establishment of my
theories quickly accepted one day by some literary form or another, I believe I have, after some
groping attempts, at last found my definitive formula. It is the best: since it is the novel! This
hybrid preface has been set out in a fashion which will not perhaps appear natural enough, in the
sense that it takes, so to speak, the reader by surprise, and he cannot well see quite what the
author is trying to do with him; but this feeling of remarkable astonishment, from which one must
generally endeavour to preserve those who spend their time reading books and pamphlets, is
precisely what I have made every effort to produce. In fact, I could do no less, in spite of my
good intentions: and only later, when a few of my novels have appeared, will you be better able to
understand the preface of the fuliginous renegade.
Before I begin, I must say that I find it absurd that is should be necessary (I do not think that
everyone will share my opinion, if I am wrong) for me to place beside me an open inkstand and a
sheet of vellum. In this way I shall be enabled to begin the sixth song in the series of instructive
poems which I am eager to produce. Dramatic episodes of unrelenting usefulness! Our hero
perceived that by frequenting caves and taking refuge in inaccessible places, he was
transgressing the laws of logic by arguing in a vicious circle. For if, on the one hand, he was
indulging his loathing of mankind by the compensation of solitude and remoteness and was
passively circumscribing his limited horizon amid the stunted bushes, brambles and wild vines, on
the other hand his activity no longer found sustenance to feed the minotaur of his perverse
instincts. Consequently, he resolved to approach the great clusters of population, convinced that,
among so many ready-made victims, his several passions would find objects of satisfaction in
abundance. He knew that the police, that shield of civilization, had for many years, doggedly and
single-mindedly, been looking for him, and that a veritable army of agents and informers was
continually at his heels. Without, however, managing to catch him. Such was his staggering skill
that, with supreme style, he foiled tricks which ought indisputably to have brought success, and
arrangements of the most cunning meditation. He had a particular gift for taking on forms which
were unrecognizable to the most experienced eyes. Superior disguises, if I speak as an artist.
Truly base accoutrements, speaking from a moral standpoint. In this respect his talent bordered
on genius. Have you not observed the slenderness of the charming cricket, moving with agile
grace in the drains of Paris? It was Maldoror! Mesmerizing the towns with a noxious fluid, he
brings them into a state of lethargy in which they are unable to be as watchful as they ought to
be. A state which is all the more dangerous because they do not realize they are in it. Today he
is in Madrid; tomorrow he will be in Saint Petersburg; yesterday he was in Peking. But to make a
precise statement as to the place which this poetic Rocambole is at present terrorizing with his
exploits is a task beyond the possible strength of my dull ratiocination. That bandit is perhaps
seven hundred leagues from land; perhaps he is a few paces away from you. It is not easy to kill
off completely the whole of mankind, and the laws are there; but, with a little patience, the
humanitarian ants can be exterminated, one by one. Now since the first days of my infancy when
I lived among the first ancestors of our race and was still inexperienced in setting traps; since
those distant times before recorded history when, in subtle metamorphoses, I would at different
periods ravage the nations of the globe by conquests and carnage, and spread civil war among
the citizens, have I not already crushed underfoot, individually or collectively, entire generations,
the precise sum of which it would not be impossible to conceive? The dazzling past has given
brilliant promises to the future: they will be kept. To rake my sentences together, I shall perforce
use the natural method of going back to the savages, that I may learn from them. Simple and
imposing gentlemen, their gracious mouths ennoble all that flows from their tattooed lips. I have
just proved that there is nothing ridiculous on this planet. Adopting a style which some will find
naive (when it is so profound), I shall use it to interpret ideas which will not perhaps appear aweinspiring! In this very way, throwing off the frivolous and sceptical manner of ordinary
conversation and prudent enough not to put…but I have forgotten what I was going to say, for I do
not recall the beginning of the sentence. But let me tell you that poetry is everywhere where the
oafishly mocking smile of man, with his duck’s face, is not to be found. First of all, I am going to
blow my nose, because I need to; and then, powerfully assisted by my hand, I shall pick up the
penholder which my fingers had dropped. How can the Carroussel bridge maintain its relentless
neutrality when it hears the harrowing cries which the sack seems to be uttering!
The shops of the Rue Vivienne display their riches to wondering eyes. Lit by numerous gaslamps, the mahogany caskets and gold watches shed showers of dazzling light through the
windows. Eight o’clock has struck by the clock of the Bourse: it is not late! Scarcely has the last
stroke of the gong been heard than the street, the name of which has already been mentioned,
starts to tremble, and is shaken to its foundations from the Place Royale to the Boulevard
Montmartre. Those who are out walking quicken their steps and thoughtfully retire to their
houses. A woman faints and falls on the pavement. Nobody helps her up; everyone is anxious to
get away from those parts…Shutters are closed with a slam, and the inhabitants bury themselves
under their blankets. One would think that the bubonic plague had broken out. Thus, while the
greater part of the town is getting ready to plunge into the revels of night, the Rue Vivienne is
suddenly frozen in a kind of petrifaction. Like a heart which has ceased to love, the life has gone
out of it. But soon the news of the phenomenon spreads to other parts of the populace, and a
grim silence hovers over the august capital. What has happened to the gas-lamps? What has
become of the street-walkers? Nothing…dark and empty streets! A screech owl, its leg broken,
flying in a rectilinear direction, passes over the Madelaine and soars up towards the Trone,
shrieking: ‘Woe to us.’ Now in that place which my pen (that true friend, who acts as my
accomplice) has just shrouded in mystery, if you look in the direction where the Rue Colbert turns
into the Rue Vivienne, you will see, in the angle formed by the intersection of those two streets,
the profile of a character moving with light footsteps towards the boulevards. But if you come
closer, in such a way as not to attract the attention of this passer-by, you will observe with a
pleasant surprise that he is young! From a distance one would in fact have taken him for a
mature man. The total number of days no longer counts when it is a matter of appreciating the
intellectual capacity of a serious face. I am an expert at judging age from the physiognomic lines
of the brow: he is sixteen years and four months of age. He is as handsome as the retractility of
the claws in birds of prey; or, again, as the unpredictability of muscular movement in sores in the
soft part of the posterior cervical region; or, rather, as the perpetual motion rat-trap which is
always reset by the trapped animal and which can go on catching rodents indefinitely and works
even when it is hidden under straw; and, above all, as the chance juxtaposition of a sewing
machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table! Mervyn, that son of fair England, has just had a
fencing lesson from his teacher, and, wrapped in his Scotch plaid, is returning home to his
parents. It is eight-thirty, and he hopes to be home by nine. It is a great presumption on his part
to pretend to know the future. Who knows what unforeseen obstacle might stop him on the way?
And however uncommon this circumstance might be, ought he to take it upon himself to consider
it an exception? Should he not rather consider as an abnormal fact the capacity he has shown up
to now to feel completely free of anxiety, and, so to speak, happy? By what right, in fact, would
he claim to reach his abode unscathed when someone is in fact lying in wait for him and following
his intended prey? (I would be showing little knowledge of my profession as a sensational writer
if I did not, at least, bring in the restrictive limitations which are immediately followed by the
sentence I am about to complete.) You have recognized the imaginary hero for who a long time
has been shattering my intellect by the pressure of his individuality. Now Maldoror approaches
Mervyn, to fix in his memory the features of the youth; now, backing away, he recoils like an
Australian boomerang in the second phase of flight, or rather like a booby-trap. Undecided as to
what he should do. But his consciousness feels not the slightest trace of the most embryonic
emotion, as you would mistakenly suppose. For a moment I saw him moving off in the opposite
direction; was he overwhelmed with remorse? But he turned back with renewed eagerness.
Mervyn does not know why his temporal veins are beating so violently and he hurries on,
obsessed with a dread of which he, and you, vainly seek the cause. He must be given credit for
the determination he shows in trying to solve the riddle. But why does he not turn round? Then
he would understand everything. Does one ever think of the simplest means of putting an end to
an alarming state of mind? When a loiterer goes through the outskirts of town with a salad-bowl
full of wine in his gullet and a tattered shirt, if in some shady corner he should see a sinewy cat,
contemporary of the bloody revolutions witnessed by our fathers, melancholically contemplating
the moonbeams which fall on the sleeping plain, he slinks forward in a curved line and gives a
sign to a mangy dog, which leaps. The noble animal of the feline race bravely awaits in its
adversary and fights dearly for its life. Tomorrow a rag-and-bone man will buy its electrifiable
skin. Why did it not flee? It would have been so easy. But in the case which concerns us at the
moment, Mervyn compounds the danger of his own ignorance. He has, as it were, a few
exceedingly rare glimmerings, it is true, the vagueness of which I shall not now stop to
demonstrate; yet it is impossible for him to guess the reality. He is no prophet, I do not deny it,
and he makes no claims to be one. Arriving on the main arterial road, he turns right and crosses
the Boulevard Poissniere and Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. At this point along his way he goes
into the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, leaving behind him the platform of Strasbourg railway
station, and stops before a raised portal, before reaching the perpendicular superposition of the
Rue Lafayette. Since you advise me to end the first strophe at this point, I am quite willing, this
once to accede to your wish. Do you know that when I think of the iron ring hidden under a stone
by a maniac’s hand, an uncontrollable shudder runs through my hair?
He pulls the copper knob, and the gate to the modern town house turns on its hinges. He strides
across the courtyard, strewn with fine sand, and mounts the eight steps leading up to the front
door. The two statues on each side, like guardians of the aristocratic villa, do not bar his way.
He who has denied everything, father, mother, Providence, love, and the ideal, in order to think
only of himself, has taken good care to follow the steps which went before him. He saw him enter
a spacious ground-floor salon, with cornelian wainscoting. The son of the family flings himself on
the sofa, and emotion chokes his speech. His mother, in a long flowing dress, smothers him with
her loving attention, taking him in her arms. His brothers, younger than he, stand around the
sofa, their hearts heavy; they do not know life well enough to be able to form a precise notion of
the scene before them. At last the father raises his cane and looks with great authority at those
present. His hands on the arm of the chair, he slowly gets up and, moving away from his
accustomed seat, advances anxiously, though weakened by years, towards the motionless body
of his first born. He speaks in a foreign language and they all listen to him in devout and
respectful silence: ‘Who did this to you, my boy? The foggy Thames will shift a notable amount of
mud yet before my strength is completely exhausted. Protective laws do not seem to exist in this
inhospitable land. If I knew who was responsible, he would feel the force of my hand. Though I
have retired and am now far from the scene of maritime combat’s, my commodore’s sword on the
wall is not yet rusty. Besides, it is easy to sharpen the blade. Mervyn, be calm. I shall give
orders for the servants to start tracking down him who, henceforward, I intend to seek and kill with
my own hands. Wife, begone from here, go and weep in a corner; your eyes move me, and you
would do better to close up the ducts of your lachrymal glands. My son, I implore you, come to
your senses, recognize your family. This is your father speaking to you…’ His mother stands
apart and in obedience to her master’s orders has taken up a book and is trying to remain calm in
face of the danger facing the son to whom her womb gave birth. ‘Children, go and play in the
park and take care, as you admire the swans swimming, not to fall into the water…’ The brothers,
their arms dangling by their sides, remain silent; they all, with feathers of the Carolina fern-owl in
their hats, velvet breeches to the knees and red silk stockings, take one another by the hand and
leave the room, taking care to touch the parquet floor only with the tips of their toes. I am sure
they will not have much fun, but will walk solemnly between the plane-trees. They are
precociously intelligent. So much the better for them. ‘All my loving care is in vain, I lull you in
my arms and you are impervious to my supplications. Will you lift up your head? I will kiss your
knees, if necessary. But no…his head falls back again, inert.’ ‘My gentle master, if you will permit
your slave, I shall go and look in my room for a phial of turpentine spirit which I habitually use
when migraine invades my temples after I have returned from the theatre or when reading a
stirring chronicle of British chivalric history throws my dream-laden mind into bogs of
drowsiness.’ ‘Wife, I did not invite you to speak, and you had no right to do so. Since our lawful
union, no cloud has come between us. I am content with you, I have never had a complaint to
make against you; nor have you against me. Go and look in your room for the phial of turpentine
spirit. I know there is one in the drawers of your dressing-table, there is no need to tell me. Hurry
and mount the steps of the spiral staircase and then return to me with a look of gladness on your
face.’ But scarcely has this sensitive London woman reached the first step (she does not run as
quickly as a member of the lower classes) than she sees one of her ladies-in-waiting coming
down the stairs, her cheeks red with sweat, bringing the phial which perhaps contains the liquid of
life within its crystal walls. The lady curtsies gracefully as she hands her the phial, and his mother
moves towards the fringes of the sofa, where lay the sole object of her tenderness. The
commodore, with a proud but kindly gesture, accepts the phial from his wife’s hands. An Indian
foulard is dipped in it, and Mervyn’s head is swathed in orbicular windings of silk. He breathes
the salts; he moves an arm. His circulation improves, and the joyous cries of a Philippine
cockatoo, perching in the embrasure of a window, are heard. ‘Who goes there?…Do not stop
me…Where am I? Is this a coffin bearing up my heavy limbs? The wood seems soft. Is the
locket with my mother’s portrait in it still around my neck? Back, evil-doer with your hair awry. He
could not catch me and was left with a piece of my doublet in his hands. Let the bulldogs off their
chains, for this night a recognizable thief may break into our home while we are plunged in sleep.
My father and mother, I recognize you, and thank you for your pains. Call my little brothers. I
bought sugared almonds for them, and I wish to kiss them.’ With these words, he falls into a
deep lethargic state. The doctor, who had been hastily sent for, rubs his hands and exclaims:
‘The crisis is over. Everything is all right. Tomorrow your son will wake up fit and well. Go now
all of you to your respective beds, that I may remain beside the patient till the coming of dawn and
the nightingale’s song.’ Maldoror, hidden behind the door, heard every word. Now he knows the
character of those who live in this town-house, and will act accordingly. He knows where Mervyn
lives, and wishes to know no more. He has noted in a pocket0book the name of the street and
the number of the building. That is the main thing. He is sure to remember them now. He
advances like a hyena, unseen, and slinks along the walls of the courtyard. He climbs the iron
railing with agility, and for a moment his feet are caught in the iron spikes; in a leap, he is on the
road. He creeps stealthily away. ‘He took me for an evil-doer!’ he exclaims. ‘He is an imbecile. I
should like to find a man to whom the accusation the sick boy has made against me does not
apply. I did not tear off a piece of his doublet as he said. A simple hypnagogic illusion, brought
on by fear. It was not my intention to seize him; for I have far different designs on this shy youth.’
Make your way towards the lake where the swans are. And I will tell you later why there is a
completely black one among them, with an anvil on his body on top of which is the putrefying
corpse of a great crab, and I will tell you also why he rightly inspires mistrust in his aquatic
Mervyn is in his room. He has received a letter. Who could this be writing to him? His perplexity
was such that he forgot to thank the postman. The envelope has a black border, and the words
are written in a hurried hand. Will he go and take the letter to his father? And what if the
signatory should expressly forbid it? Full of anxiety, he opens the window to breathe in the
fragrance of the atmosphere; the sun’s rays reflect their prismatic irradiations on to the Venetian
mirrors and the damask curtains. He throws the missive to one side amongst the gold-edged
books and the albums with their mother-of-pearl bindings, all strewn over the repousse leather
which covers the surface of his desk. He lifts the lid of the piano and runs his slender fingers
along the ivory keys. The brass chords scarcely make a sound. This indirect warning induces
him to pick up the vellum paper again; but it shrank away, as if offended by the addressee’s
hesitancy. Caught in this snare, Mervyn’s curiosity increases, and he opens the piece of
processed paper. Until that moment the only handwriting he had seen was his own. ‘Young
man, I am interested in you; I wish to make you happy. I will take you as my companion and we
will go on long peregrinations in the isles of Oceania. Mervyn, you know I love you, and I do not
need to prove it. I am sure you will grant me your friendship. When you know me better, you will
not regret the trust you have placed in me. I will protect you from the dangers which your
inexperience exposes you. I will be a brother to you, and you shall not lack good advice. For a
more detailed explanation of my plans, be at the Carrousel bridge the day after tomorrow at five
o’clock in the morning. If I have not arrived, wait for me; but I hope to be there at the right time.
Make sure you do so too. An Englishman will not lightly pass by and opportunity to see clearly
into his own affairs. You man, I remain, until we meet, your humble servant. Do not show this
letter to anyone.’
‘Three stars instead of a signature,’ exclaims Mervyn; ‘and a bloodstain at the bottom of the
page!’ His tears fall profusely on the strange pages which his eyes have so eagerly devoured
and which open to his mind an unlimited field of new and vaguely-apprehended horizons. It
seems to him (but only since he has finished reading the letter), that his father is rather strict and
his mother is too superior. He has reasons which have not come to my knowledge, and which I
consequently cannot communicate to you, for hinting that he cannot remain on good terms with
his brothers, either. He hides this letter in his breast. His teachers noticed that on that day he did
not seem to be himself. His eyes were unusually dark and the veil of excessive reflection had
descended on his peri-orbital region. Each teacher blushed for fear of not being able to reach the
intellectual level of his pupil, and yet he, for the first time, neglected his exercises and did no work
at all. In the evening the family came together in the dining-room, adorned with ancient portraits.
Mervyn admires the dishes laden with succulent meats and odoriferous fruits but he does not eat;
the polychromatic streaming of Rhine wine and the frothy ruby of champagne are both enshrined
in tall, narrow Bohemian stone goblets, and, even at the sight of this, Mervyn remains indifferent.
He leans his elbow on the table and remains absorbed in his thoughts like a sleep-walker. The
commodore, his face brown and weather-beaten from sea-surf, whispers in his wife’s ear: ‘Our
eldest has changed since the day of the crisis; even before then he was far too prone to absurd
ideas; today he is dreaming even more than usual. I was not at all like that when I was his age.
Pretend you do not notice anything. An effective remedy, material or moral, is called for here.
Mervyn, fond as I know you are of travel books and natural history, I am going to read you a story
which will not displease you. I want you all to listen attentively; it will be to everyone’s
disadvantage, most of all to mine. And the rest of you, my children, learn by paying attention to
my words, how to perfect the construction of your style and to understand the author’s most
subtle intentions.’ As if this brood of adorable brats could have understood what rhetoric is! He
speaks and, at a sign from his father, one of the brothers goes to the paternal library and returns
with a volume under his arms. During this time the table has been cleared, the silver removed,
and then the father takes up the book. At the electrifying sound of the word ‘travel’, Mervyn
looked up and endeavoured to put an end to his untimely meditations. The book is opened in the
middle, and the metallic voice of the commodore proves that he has remained capable, as in the
days of his glorious youth, of controlling the fury of men and tempests. Well before the end of this
reading, Mervyn has leant back on his elbows again, unable to follow the reasoned development
of sentences which have been passed under the screw-plate and been subjected to the
saponification of obligatory metaphors. The father exclaims: ‘This does not interest him; let us
read something else. Read, wife. Perhaps you will be more fortunate than I in chasing away the
chagrin which hangs over our son’s days.’ The mother no longer has any hope; yet she has
picked up another book and the pleasant sound of her soprano voice echoes melodiously in the
ears of her offspring. But after a few words she is overwhelmed with a disheartening sense of
failure and she too gives up the rendition of the literary work. Her first-born exclaims: ‘I am going
to bed.’ He retires, his eyes lowered, staring coldly down, without another word. The dog begins
to let out a mournful bark, for he does not find this behaviour natural, and the wind from outside
rushed fitfully through the longitudinal crack in the window, making the flame under the two rosecrystal cupolas of the lamp flicker. His mother puts her hands to her forehead, and his father
looks up to the sky. The children cast frightened glances at the old mariner. Mervyn doublelocks the door of his room and his hand moves quickly over the paper: ‘I received your letter at
midday, and hope you will forgive me for the delay in my reply. I do not have the honour of
knowing you personally and I did not know whether I ought to write to you. But as impoliteness
has no place in our home, I resolved to take up my pen and thank you warmly for the interest you
are taking in one who is a complete stranger to you. God forbid that I should fail to show
gratitude for the sympathy with which you overwhelm me. I know my imperfections but I am
nonetheless proud. But if it is fitting to accept the friendship of an older person, it is fitting also
that he should understand that our characters are not the same. In fact, you seem to be older
than I, since you call me young man, and yet I have my doubts about your real age. For how can
I reconcile the coldness of your syllogisms with the passion which emanates from them? I shall
certainly not abandon the country of my birth to accompany you to foreign lands. That would only
be possible on the condition that I asked the authors of my days for the permission which I
eagerly await. But as you have enjoined me to keep the secret (in the cubic sense of the word) of
this spiritually mysterious affair, I shall eagerly obey you in your incontestable wisdom. It would
seem that you are reluctant that this affair should see the light of day. Since you appear to wish
that I should have confidence in your person (a wish that, I am delighted to say, is not misplaced),
be so good, I beg you, as to show an analogous trust in me, and not to affect to believe that I
shall be so far from your way of thinking as not to be scrupulously punctual at our rendezvous the
day after tomorrow at the appointed hour. I shall climb the wall which surrounds the park, for the
iron gate will be closed, and no one will see me leaving. To speak frankly, there is nothing I
would not do for you, who revealed your inexplicable attachment so suddenly to my dazzled eyes,
amazed above all by such a proof of goodness, which I most assuredly would never have
expected. Because I did not know you. Now I do know you. Do not forget the promise you have
made me to be on the Carrousel bridge. Assuming I walk along it, I am more certain than I have
ever been of anything that I shall meet you there and touch your hand, provided that this innocent
demonstration, from a youth who only yesterday knelt at the altar of modesty, does not offend you
by its respectful familiarity. Now is not familiarity permissible in the case of a powerful and ardent
intimacy, when perdition is absolute and assured? And what harm would there be, after all, in my
bidding you adieu as I go by, when, the day after tomorrow, whether it is raining or not, the clock
strikes five? You yourself, gentleman, will appreciate the discretion with which I have conceived
this letter; for I shall certainly not permit myself to say more on a loose sheet of paper which is
liable to go astray. Your address at the bottom of the page is almost illegible. It took me almost a
quarter of an hour to decipher it. I think you acted wisely in writing the words out in such a
microscopic hand. I shall follow your example and refrain from signing this: we live in a time
which is too eccentric for us to be in the least surprised at what could happen. I should like to
know how you found out the place where, in glacial immobility, I live surrounded by long rows of
deserted rooms, the vile charnel houses of my hours of ennui. How can I put it? Whenever I
think of you, my breast heaves, resounding like the collapse of a decaying empire; for the shadow
of your love forms a smile which perhaps does not exist: it is so vague, and moves its scales so
tortuously. I surrender to you my vehement feelings, new slabs of marble, virgin to mortal touch.
Let us be patient till the first light of morning dusk, and, in expectation of the moment which will
fling me into the hideous embrace of your pestiferous arms, I bow down humbly before your
knees, which I press.’ Having written this tell-tale letter, Mervyn went out to post it, then returned
and went to bed. Do not expect to find his guardian angle at his bedside. True, the fish’s tail will
only fly for three days; but, alas, the beam will be burnt just the same; and a conical-cylindrical
bullet will pierce the skin of the rhinoceros, despite the snow-daughter and the beggar! For the
crowned madman will have spoken the truth about the loyalty of the fourteen daggers.
I observed that I had only one eye in the middle of my forehead! Oh silver mirrors, set in the
panels of vestibules, how many services you have done me by your reflecting power! Since the
day when, for an hour, and angora cat gnawed at my parietal protuberance like a trepan
puncturing my brain, having jumped suddenly on my back because I had boiled its young in a
copper vat full of alcohol, since then I have not ceased to shoot the arrows of self-torment at
myself. Today, beneath the weight of wounds which have been inflicted on my body in different
circumstances, either by the fatality of my birth or by my own fault; overwhelmed by the
consequences of my moral decline (some of which have already befallen me; who will predict
those yet to come?); the unmoved observer of the acquired or natural monstrosities which adorn
the aponeuroses and the intellect of him who speaks, I cast a long look of satisfaction on the
duality of which I am composed…and I find myself beautiful! Beautiful as the vice of congenital
deformation of the male sexual organs, consisting in the relative shortness of the urethral canal
and the division, or absence, of its lower wall, with the result that this canal opens at a varying
distance from the gland and below the penis; or again as the fleshy wattle, conic in shape and
furrowed by quite long transverse wrinkles, which rises from the base of the turkey cock’s upper
beak; or rather as the truth which follows: ‘The system of scales, modes and their harmonic
succession is not dependent upon natural invariable laws but is, on the contrary, the
consequence of aesthetic principles which have varied with the progressive development of
mankind and which will continue to vary’; and, above all, as a corvet armed with turrets! Yes, I
maintain the exactitude of my assertion. I can boast that I have no presumptuous illusions, and I
would gain no advantage from lying; therefore you should not in the least hesitate to believe what
I say. For why should I inspire horror in myself, when I have the laudatory testimony of my
conscience. I envy the Creator nothing; but let him allow me to go down the river of my destiny in
an increasing series of glorious crimes. Otherwise raising my brow to the height of his and
glaring angrily at his face which obscures my view, I shall make him understand that he is not
alone the master of the universe; that several phenomena directly deriving from a deeper
knowledge of the nature of things speak in favour of the contrary view and formally contradict the
viability of the unity of power. For we are both contemplating one another’s eyelashes, you
see…and you know that the clarion of victory has sounded more than once on my lipless mouth.
Adieu, illustrious warrior; your courage in misfortune wins you the respect of your bitterest enemy;
but Maldoror will be with you soon again in contention for the prey called Mervyn. Thus the
prophecy of the cock, when it caught a glimpse of the future in the candelabra, will be fulfilled.
Please heaven that the giant crab will rejoin the caravan of pilgrims in time, and tell them in a few
words the Clignancourt ragman’s tale!
On a bench of the Palais Royal, on the left side and not far from the lake, an individual, emerging
from the Rue de Rivoli, has come to sit. His hair is tousled and his garments reveal the corrosive
effect of prolonged poverty. He has made a hole in the earth with a piece of pointed wood and
has filled the palm of his hand with earth. He brought this sustenance to his mouth and then flung
it quickly away. He stood up again and, placing his head against the bench, tried to put his feet
up in the air. But as this rope-walking position did not conform to the laws of gravity, he fell back
heavily on to the bench again, his arms flailing, his cap covering half his face, and his feet
touching the gravel very unsteadily, so that he was more and more precariously poised. He
remains in this position for a long time. Towards the middle entrance at the north, beside the
rotunda which houses the little coffee-room, the hand of our hero is pressed against the railing.
He surveys the surface of the rectangle, with such thoroughness that nothing escapes him. His
investigation complete, he looks around near and sees, in the middle of the garden, a man
staggering as he practices gymnastics on a bench on which he is endeavouring to steady himself
by performing miracles of strength and skill. But what good are the best intentions, in service of a
just cause, against the derangements of mental alienation? He approached the madman and
kindly helped him to resume a more normal and dignified position, held out his hand to him, and
sat down beside him. He observes that his madness is only intermittent; his fit has passed; his
interlocutor replies logically to all his questions. Is it necessary to relate the meaning of his
words? Why should I, at random, reopen, at a given page, with blasphemous eagerness, the
folio of human miseries? There is nothing more fruitfully instructive. Even if I had no true event
to recount to you, I would invent imaginary tales and decant them into your brain. But the lunatic
did not go mad for his own amusement. And the sincerity of his account is marvelously allied to
the reader’s credulity. ‘My father was a carpenter in the Rue de la Verrerie…on his head be the
death of the three Daisies and may the beak of the canary eternally gnaw the axis of his ocular
bulb! He had contracted the habit of drunkenness; at those times, after he had been through all
the bars, his rage became almost immeasurable, and he would hit out indiscriminately at
everything in sight. But soon, in face of his friends’ reproaches, he reformed, and became of a
taciturn disposition. Nobody could go near him, not even our mother. A secret resentment
seethed within him at this notion of a duty, which prevented him from behaving in his own way. I
had bought a canary for my three sisters; for my three sisters I had bought a canary. They had
put it in a cage above the door, and the passers-by would stop each time to listen to the bird’s
songs, admire its fleeting grace, and study its clever variations. More than once my father had
given orders for us to get rid of the cage and its contents, for he imagined that the canary was
mocking him as it offered him its ethereal cavatinas sung with a vocalist’s talent. He went and
took the cage down from the nail on the wall and slipped of the chair, blinded by rage. A slight
graze on his knee was the reward for this attempt. Having spent several seconds pressing a chip
of wood on the swollen part, he rolled down his trousers, and, much more cautious this time, took
the cage under his arm and went towards the other end of the workshop. There, despite the cries
and entreaties of his family (we were very attached to that bird who was, to us, the genius of the
house), he crushed the wickerwork cage with his metal heels, while a jointing-plane which he
whirled about his head kept those who were present at bay. Chance would have it that the
canary did not die straightaway; the flurry of feathers was still alive, despite its bloody mutilation.
The carpenter went out, slamming the door behind him. My mother and I tried to prolong the
bird’s life, which was about to ebb away; it was drawing to its close, and the movement of its
wings presented us only the spectacle, the mirror, as it were, of the supreme convulsion, of
death-throes. During this time, the three Daisies, perceiving that all hope would soon be gone, by
common accord took one another by the hand, and the living chain went and crouched in a
corner, pushing a barrel of fat some feet away beside our bitch’s kennel. My mother kept on at
her task, and was holding the canary in her fingers, trying to revive it with her warm breath. But I
was running distraught through all the rooms, knocking against the furniture and the tools. From
time to time one of my sisters would show her head at the bottom of the stairs to inquire after the
fate of the unhappy bird, and she would then sadly withdraw. The bitch had come out of her
kennel, and, as if she understood the enormity of our loss, was licking the dress of the three
Daisies in a sterile attempt to comfort them. The canary now had only a few moments to live.
One of my sisters in turn (it was the youngest) appeared in the penumbra formed by the
rarefaction of light. She saw my mother turn pale, and the bird, having raised its head as the
lightning flashed in a final convulsive gesture of its nervous system, fell back again between her
fingers, for ever inert. She told her sisters the news. They did not make the slightest murmur of
complaint, the slightest whisper. Silence reigned in the workshop. All that could be heard was
the occasional sharp creak of the pieces of the cage, which, by virtue of the wood’s elasticity,
partly sprang back into their original position. The three Daisies did not shed a single tear, their
faces lost none of their ruddy freshness. They just stood still. They crawled into the inside of the
kennel and stretched out beside each other on the straw; while the bitch, a passive spectator of
this procedure, looked at them in amazement. Several times my mother called them; they did not
make sound. Tired by the emotions they had just been through, they would probably be asleep!
She searched in every corner of the house, but could not see them anywhere. She followed the
bitch, who was pulling her by the dress, towards the kennel. This woman knelt down and put her
head to the kennel door. The spectacle which presented itself to her, allowing for the unhealthy
exaggerations of maternal fear, must have been very harrowing, by my reckoning. I lit a candle
and held it out to her; in this way, not a single detail escaped her. She came out of the premature
grave, her head covered in straw, and said to me: “The three Daisies are dead.” As we could not
take them out there, for you must bear well in mind that they were tightly entwined together, I
went to the workshop to look for a hammer with which to smash the canine abode. I immediately
set about the work of demolition, and the passers-by could well believe if they had any
imagination, that we were hard at work in the house. My mother, impatient at the delays which
were, however, necessary, was breaking her nails against the wood. At last the operation of
negative release came to an end. The kennel, now split, fell apart on all sides, and we took the
daughters of the carpenter, one after the other, from the ruins, having had great difficulty in
prising them apart. My mother left the country. I never saw my father again. As for me, they say
that i am mad and live by begging. What I do know is that the canary no longer sings.’ The
listener inwardly approves of this new example which bears out his disgusting theories. As if,
because of one man whose crime was committed under the influence of wine, one had the right
to accuse the whole of mankind! Such at least is the paradoxical reflection which he tries to take
into account; but he cannot get out of his mind the important lessons to be learnt from this grave
experience. He consoles the madman with affected words of commiseration and wipes away his
tears with his own handkerchief. He takes him to a restaurant and they eat at the same table.
Then they go off to a fashionable tailor where the protégé is bought clothes fit for a prince. They
knock at the conciergerie of a big house in the Rue de Saint Honore, and the madman is installed
in a sumptuous third-floor apartment. The bandit forces him to accept his purse and, taking the
chamber-pot from under the bed, puts it on Aghone’s head. ‘I crown you king of the intellect,’ he
exclaimed with premeditated solemnity. ‘At your least call I shall come running; take as much as
you wish from my coffers; I am yours, body and soul. At night, you will put the alabaster crown
back into its usual place, and you have my permission to use it; but by day, once dawn has lit up
the cities, put it back on your head as the symbol of your power. The three Daisies will live again
in me, not to mention that I will be a mother to you.’ Then the madman took a few steps back, as
if he were the plaything of a malicious nightmare; lines of joy crossed his grief-ridden face; he
knelt in self-abasement at his protector’s feet. Gratitude, like poison, had entered the crowned
madman’s heart. He wanted to speak, but his tongue was tied. He leant forward, and fell on the
floor. The man wit the bronze lips retires. What was his object? To find a thoroughly
dependable friend, naive enough to obey the least of his commandments. He could not have
found a better one, chance had been kind to him. He whom he found on a bench, has not, since
an incident in his youth, known for the difference between good an evil. Aghone is just the man
he needs.
The Almighty had sent one of his archangels down to earth to save the youth from certain death.
He will be forced to come down himself! But we have not yet reached that point in our story and I
find myself obliged to shut up, because I cannot say everything at once: every stage-trick will
appear in its due place, as soon as the thread of this work of fiction considers the moment right.
To avoid recognition, the archangel had taken the shape of a great crab, as big as a vicuna. He
was standing on the jagged point of a reef out in the middle of the sea, and was awaiting the
moment when the tide would recede, so that he could make his descent to the shore. The man
with lips of jasper, hidden where the beach curved out of sight, was watching the animal, holding
a stick in his hands. Who would have wished to read the thoughts of those two beings? The first
was well aware that he had a difficult mission to accomplish: ‘And how shall I succeed,’ he
exclaimed, with the swelling waves beating against his temporary refuge, ‘where the courage and
strength of my master have more than once failed him? I am only a being of finite substance,
whereas no one knows where he is from, or what is his final purpose. The celestial armies
tremble at his name; and in the regions from which I have just come, there are those who say that
Satan himself, Satan, the incarnation of evil, is not more dreadful than he.’ The other made the
following reflections; they found an echo even in the azure cupola which they defiled: ‘He appears
to be completely inexperience; I shall swiftly settle his account. No doubt he comes from on high,
sent by him who is so fearful of coming himself. We shall see, in the even, if he is as imperious
as he seems; he is not an inhabitant of the terrestrial apricot; he betrays his seraphic origin by his
wandering irresolute eyes.’ The great crab, who for some time had been surveying a limited
stretch of the coast, perceived our hero (who then drew himself up to his full Herculean height),
and apostrophized him in the following terms: ‘Do not attempt to struggle, give yourself up. I have
been set by one who is superior to us both, to fetter you and make it impossible for the limbs
which are the accomplices of your thoughts to move. Henceforward you will be forbidden to hold
knives and daggers between your fingers, believe me; as much in your interest as in others.
Dead or alive, I shall take you; my orders are to bring you back alive. Do not force me to have
recourse to the power which has been vested in me. I shall behave with great tact; do not, on
your part, attempt to resist. Thus I shall recognize, with alacrity and delight, that you have taken
a first step towards repentance.’ When our hero heard this harangue, bearing the stamp of such
a profoundly comic wit, he had difficulty in keeping a serious expression on his rough and
sunburnt features. But at last no one will be surprised if I add that he ended by bursting out
laughing. It was too much fun for him! He did not mean any harm by it! He certainly did not wish
to bring upon himself the great crab’s reproaches! What efforts he made to contain his mirth!
How often he pressed his lips against one another so as not to appear to offend his stunned
interlocutor! Unfortunately, his character partook of human nature, and he laughed as sheep do!
At last he stopped! And just in time! He had almost choked to death! The wind bore this answer
to the archangel on the reef. ‘When your master stops sending me snails and crayfish to settle
his affairs, and deigns to parley with me personally, a means will, I am sure, be found for us to
reach agreement, since I am inferior to him who sent you, as you have so rightly said. Until then,
any idea of a reconciliation appears to me premature and likely to produce an illusory result. I am
far from underestimating the good sense of every syllable you speak; and as we are uselessly
wearing out our voices by shouting to one another at three kilometres’ distance, it seems to me
you would be wise to descend from your impregnable fortress and swim to dry land where we
shall be able to discuss in greater comfort the conditions of a surrender which, however justifiable
it may be, is still a disagreeable prospect for me.’ The archangel, who had not been expecting
such good will, withdrawing his indented head from the crevasse, answered: ‘Oh Maldoror, has
the day at last come when your abominable instincts will see the extinction of the torch of
unjustifiable pride which is leading you to your damnation. I shall be the first to recount this
laudable change of heart to the phalanges of cherubim, delighted to welcome back one of their
own. You yourself know and have not forgotten, that there was once a time when you had the
first place among us. Your name was on everyone’s lips; at present you are the subject of our
solitary conversations. Come then…come and make lasting peace with your former master; he
will welcome you back like a prodigal son, and will not notice the enormous amount of guilt you
bear, like a mountain fo moose antlers piled up by Indians in your heart.’ He speaks, and his
body emerges completely from the depths of the dark opening. He appears, radiant, on the
surface of the reef; thus a priest appears when he is certain of retrieving a lost sheep. He is
about to leap into the water, to swim towards the man who has just been forgiven. But the man
with lips of sapphire had calculated his perfidious move. His stick has been violently hurled
through the air; after skipping over many waves, it strikes the head of the benificent angel. The
crab, mortally wounded, falls into the water. The tide washes the floating wreck up on to the
shore. He was waiting for the tide so that it would be easier for him to swim to shore. Well, the
tide came. It lulled him with its songs and set him down gently on the shore: is not the crab
happy? What more does he want? And Maldoror, stooping down over the sand on the beach,
takes two friends in his arms, inseparably united by the vagaries of the waves’ movements; the
corpse of the giant crab, and the murderous stick! ‘I have not yet lost my skill,’ he cries, ‘all I need
is practice; my arm has lost none of its strength, and my eyes are as sharp as ever.’ He looks at
the inanimate animal. He fears he will be brought to account for the blood he has shed. Where
will he hide the archangel? And at the same time he wonders whether death was instantaneous.
He put an anvil and a corpse on his back; he makes his way towards a vast lake, all the banks of
which are covered and, so to speak, immured by an inextricable tangle of large rushes. He
wanted at first to take a hammer, but it is too light an instrument, whereas with a heavier object, if
the corpse gives any sign of life, he will put it on the ground and smash it to powder with blows of
the anvil. No, it certainly is not strength his arm lacks; that is the least of his problems. Arriving in
sight of the lake, he sees it peopled with swans. He says that it is a safe retreat for him; by
means of a metamorphosis, without setting down his burden, he mingles with the rest of the
company of birds. Observe the hand of Providence where one was tempted to say it was absent,
and draw profit from the miracle of which I am about to speak. Black as a raven’s wing, three
times he swam among the group of palmipeds in their dazzling whiteness; three times that
distinctive colour which made him look like a lump of coal failed to disappear. It is because God
in his justice would not allow him to deceive even this flight of swans. So that he remained
openly in the middle of the lake; but they all kept clear of him, and no bird approached his
shameful plumage to keep him company. And so he confined his dives to a remote bay at one
end of the lake, alone among birds as he had been among men. This was his prelude to the
incredible event which took place in the Place Vendome!
The corsair with golden hair has received Mervyn’s answer. Reading the strange page, he
follows the intellectual anxiety of its writer, left as he was to the weak powers of his own
suggestion. He would have done better to consult his parents before answering the stranger’s
protestations of friendship. no good will come of his being involved, as the principal actor, in this
equivocal intrigue. But after all, he asked for it. At the agreed time Mervyn left the door of his
house and went straight ahead, following the Boulevard Sebastopol to the Fontain Saint-Michel.
He takes the Quai des Grands-Augustins and crosses the Quai Conti; as he passes along the
Quai Malaquais, he sees an individual walking parallel with him, going in the same direction along
the Quai du Louvre, carrying a sack under his arm. The man appears to be scrutinizing him. The
morning mists have disperse. The two passers-by both come on to the Pont du Carrousel at the
same time, one from each side! Though they had never met before they recognized one
another! Truly it was touching to see the souls of these two beings, so different in age, coming
together in the nobility of their feelings. Such at least would have been the opinion of anyone
who had stopped at this spectacle which many, even if mathematically minded, would have found
moving. Mervyn, his face covered in tears was reflecting that he would find, so to speak at the
entrance to his life, a precious support in future adversity. You may be sure that Maldoror said
nothing. This is what he did: he took the sack from under his arm, unfolded it, unclasped it, and
forced the youth’s entire body down into the rough cloth envelop. With his handkerchief he
knotted the top end. As Mervyn was uttering loud and piercing cries, he picked up the sack like a
laundry-bag and smashed it several times against the parapet of the bridge. Then the patient,
perceiving that his bones were snapping, became silent. A unique scene, which no novelist will
ever again rediscover! A butcher was passing, sitting on top of the meat in his cart. An individual
runs up to him, enjoins him to stop, and says to him: ‘There is a dog in this sack; it has mange:
put it down as soon as possible.’ The butcher is glad to oblige. The man who hailed him sees,
as he walks away, a young girl holding out her hand. To what heights of audacity and impiety
can he go? He gives her alms. Tell me if you wish me to take you to the door of a remote
slaughterhouse, some hours later. The butcher has returned, and said to his friends as he threw
his load to the ground: ‘Let us hurry up and kill this mangy dog.’ There are four of them, and each
one picks up the hammer which he normally uses. And yet they do not set about their work
straightaway, because the sack is moving violently. ‘What is coming over me?’ one of them
shouts, slowly lowering his arm. ‘This dog is uttering cries of pain,’ said another, ‘you would think
it knew the fate which awaits it.’ ‘They always do that,’ a third answered, ‘even when they are not
sick as in this case, it is enough for their master to be away from home for a few days and they
start howling in a manner which is truly painful to endure.’ ‘Stop!…stop!…’ the fourth shouted,
before all their arms had risen in unison, ready, this time, to strike decisively at the sack. ‘Stop I
tell you; there is a point here which has escaped us. What makes you so sure that this cloth sack
contains a dog? I want to find out what is inside.’ Then, despite the jibes of his companions, he
untied the bundle and took out one after another the limbs of Mervyn! He had almost suffocated
in his cramped position. He fainted when he saw the light of day again. A few moments later, he
gave unmistakable signs of life. His rescuer said: ‘Let this teach you, in the future, to be cautious,
even in your own work. You almost found out for yourselves that it does not pay to fail to observe
this law!’ The butchers fled. Mervyn, heavy-hearted and full of dire forebodings, returns home
and shuts himself up in his room. Do I need to dwell on this strophe? Ah! Who will not deplore
the events which have occurred? Let us wait until the end to pass an even harsher judgment.
The denouement is about to rush in on us; and, in tales of this sort, where a passion, whatever its
nature, is given, and fears no obstacle as it makes its way, there is no occasion for diluting in a
godet the shellac of eighty banal pages. What can be said in a half-a-dozen pages must be said,
and then, silence.
In order to construct mechanically the brain of a somniferous story, it is not enough to dissect the
reader’s understanding with all kinds of folly and brutalize it completely with renewed doses, so
as to paralyse his faculties for the rest of his life, by the infallible law of fatigue; one must, apart
from this, by means of a good mesmerizing fluid, ingeniously reduce him to a somnambulic state
in which it is impossible for him to move, forcing him to close his eyes against his inclination by
the fixity of your own. I mean, and I say this not to make myself clear but only to develop my
thoughts which interest and torment you at the same time by their most penetrating of harmonies,
that I do not think it necessary, to achieve the goal one has set before one, to invent a poetry
completely outside the laws of nature, and the pernicious breath of which seems to overthrow
even absolute truths; but, to bring about such a result (consistent, moreover, with the rules of
aesthetics, if one reflected well on it), is not as easy as you think. That is why I will make every
possible effort to do so! If death put a stop to the fantastic movement of the two long gossamerthin arms on my shoulders which I use in the lugubrious crushing of my literary gypsum, I at least
want the reader, in the mourning, to be able to say: ‘You have to do him justice. He has made
me very stupid. What might he not have done if he could have lived longer! He is the best
professor of hypnosis I know!’ These few touching words will be carved on the marble of my
tomb, and my shades will be content!–I shall continue! There was a fish’s tail moving at the
bottom of a hole, beside a down-at-the-heel boot. It was not natural to wonder: ‘Where is the
fish? I only see the tail moving.’ For precisely since one was implicitly admitting one’s inability to
see the fish, it was because it was not really there. The rain had left a few drops of water in the
bottom of this funnel in the sand. As for the down-at-heel boot, there have been those who
thought that it was left there deliberately by someone. By divine power the great crab was to be
reborn from his disintegrated elements. He took the fish’s tail from the well and promised to put it
back on to its lost body again if it announced to the Creator his proxy’s inability to tame the waves
of the raging Maldorean sea. He gave it two albatross wings, and the fish’s tail took flight. But it
flew up to the renegade’s abode, to tell him what was happening and betray the great crab. But
the latter guessed the spy’s designs and, before the third day had drawn to its close, pierced the
fish’s tail with a poisoned dart. The spy’s gullet uttered a feeble sigh and it gave up the ghost
before it hit the ground. Then an ancient beam in the roof of a chateau drew itself up again to its
full height, springing back on itself and crying out aloud for vengeance. But the Almighty changed
into a rhinoceros, told him that this death was deserved. The beam calmed down and went back
to its place in the heart of the manor, took up its horizontal position again and called back to it the
frightened spiders, that they might continue, as in the past, to spin their webs in its corners. The
man with lips of sulphur learnt of his ally’s weakness; that is why he ordered the crowned
madman to set fire to the beam and reduce it to ashes. Aghone carried out this harsh order.
‘Since, according to you, the moment has come,’ he exclaimed, ‘I have gone and taken out the
ring which I had buried beneath the stone, and I have attached it to the end of the rope. Here is
the bundle.’ And he held out a thick rope, rolled up and sixty metres long. His master asked him
what the fourteen daggers were doing. He replied that they remained loyal and were ready for
any event, if need be. The desperado nodded his head as a sign of approval. But he evinced
surprise and even anxiety when Aghone added that he had seen a cock split a candelabra in two
with its beak, look closely at each of the parts and cry out, as it beat its wings in a frenzied
movement: ‘It is not as far as you think from the Rue de la Paix to the Place du Pantheon. Soon
we shall see the lamentable proof of these words.’ The great crab, mounted on a fiery steed, was
hurtling at full speed in the direction of the reef which had seen the stick flung by the tattooed
arm, the reef which was his refuge the first day he came down to earth. A caravan of pilgrims
was making its way to visit this place, thenceforward hallowed by an august death. He hoped to
reach it, to beg urgently for help against the plot which was being hatched and of which he had
been informed. You will see a few lines further on with the aid of my glacial silence that he did
not arrive in time to tell them what a ragman had recounted to him of the day when, hidden
behind the scaffolding of a house being built, he had looked towards the Pont Carrousel, still
stained with the damp dew of night. The bridge had witnessed with horror the matinal sight of an
icosahedron sack being rhythmically kneaded against its limestone parapet, and its notion of the
possible had been confusedly enlarged in ever widening concentric circles. Before he arouses
their compassion with the memory of that episode, they will do well to destroy the seed of hope
within themselves…To shake yourself out of your inertia, put the resources of your good will to
use, walk beside me and do not lose sight of that madman, his head covered in a chamberpot,
pushing along, with a stick in his hand, one whom you would have difficulty in recognizing unless
I took the trouble to warn you and to recall to your ear the name pronounced Mervyn. How he
has changed! With his hand tied behind his back he is walking straight ahead as if he were going
to the scaffold, and yet he is guilty of no crime. They have arrived at the circular enclosure of the
Place Vendome. On the entabulature of the column, leaning against the square balustrade more
than fifty metres above the ground, a man has flung and uncoiled a rope which falls to the ground
a few steps from Aghone. With practice, a thing is quickly done; but I can say that the latter did
not take much time to tie Mervyn’s feet to the end of the rope. The rhinoceros had learnt of what
was going to happen. Bathed in sweat, he appeared, gasping, at the corner of the Rue
Castiglione. He did not even have the satisfaction of joining combat. The individual, who was
surveying the area from the top of the column, loaded his revolver, carefully took aim, and pulled
the trigger. The commodore, who had been begging in the streets since the day when what he
believed to be his son’s madness had begun, and his mother, called the snow-daughter because
of her extreme pallor, thrust forward and flung themselves in front of the rhinoceros to protect it.
Vain attempt! The bullet went through his skin as if it were a tendril; one would have thought, with
all the appearance of logic, that death must inevitably follow. But we knew that this pachyderm
had been endued with the substance of the Lord. He withdrew in sorrow. If it were not decisively
proved that he is too merciful to everyone of his creatures, I should pity the man on the column.
The latter, with a flick of his wrist, draws in the rope, which has been weighted in the manner
described. Now out of the perpendicular, its swinging movements sway Mervyn, who is looking
downwards. Suddenly he snatches up in his hands a long garland of immortelles which joins the
consecutive angles of the base against which his head smashes. He carries off into the air with
him that which was not a fixed point. Having piled a large part of the rope at his feet in the shape
of superposed ellipses, so that Mervyn remains hanging half way up the bronze obelisk, the
escaped convict, with his right hand, forced the youth into an accelerated motion of uniform
rotation, in a plane parallel to the column’s axis, and gathered up in his left hand the serpentine
coils of the rope, which lay at his feet. The sling whistles through space; Mervyn’s body follows it
everywhere, always kept away from the centre by centrifugal force, always maintaining an
equidistant and moving position in a aerial circumference independent of matter. The civilized
savage gradually lets out the rope until he comes to the end, which he holds in his firm
metacarpus, which bears a strong, but deceptive, resemblance to a bar of steel. He starts to run
round the balustrade, holding on to the ramp by one hand. This operation has the effect of
changing the original plane of the rope’s revolution, and increasing its already considerable
tensile force. Thereafter he turns majestically in a horizontal plane, having passed successively
and by imperceptible degrees through several oblique planes. The right angle formed by the
column and the vegetable string has equal sides. The renegade’s arm and the murderous
instrument merge in linear unity, like the atomistic elements of a light penetrating a dark room.
The theorems of mechanics allow me to speak thus; alas! we know that one force added to
another force will produce a resultant consisting of the two original forces! Who would dare to
assert that the linear cordage would not already have snapped, had it not been for the strength of
the athlete and the good quality of the hemp? The golden-haired corsair, all at once and quite
suddenly, stops running, opens his hand and releases the rope. The recoil of this operation, so
opposite to those that had preceded it, makes the balustrade creak in its joints. Mervyn, followed
by the rope, is like a comet trailing behind it its flaming tail. The iron ring of the running knot,
glittering in the sun’s rays, invites one to complete this illusion for oneself. In the course of his
parabola, the condemned youth cleaves the atmosphere up to the left bank, goes past it by virtue
of the impulsive force which I suppose to be infinite, and his body strikes the Dome of the
Pantheon, while the rope coils itself partly around the upper wall of the immense cupola. On its
spherical and convex surface, which resembles an orange only in its form, one can, at any hour
of the day, see a dried skeleton hanging. When the wind blows it, they say that the students of
the Quartier Latin, fearing a similar fate, say a short prayer: these are insignificant rumours which
one is by no means obliged to believe, and which are only fit for scaring little children. It holds in
its clenched hands a kind of large ribbon of old yellow flowers. One must bear the distance in
mind, an nobody, despite the evidence of his good eyesight, can state that they are really the
immortelles of which I have spoken and which were snatched from an imposing pedestal near the
Nouvel Opera in the course of a one-sided struggle. It is nevertheless true that the crescentmoon shaped garments no longer take the expression of their definitive symmetry from the
quaternary number: go and see for yourself, if you do not believe me.

Isidore Ducasse
The poetic whines of this century are nothing but sophisms.
The first principles must be beyond dispute.
I accept Euripides and Sophocles; but I do not accept Aeschylus.
Do not show bad taste and lack of the most elementary decency towards the Creator.
Abandon incredulity: that will please me.
There are not two kinds of poetry: there is only one.
There is a far from tacit convention between author and reader by which the former says he
is sick and takes the latter as his nurse. The poet consoles mankind! The roles have been
arbitrarily reversed.
I do not wish to be decried as a poseur.
I shall leave no memoirs.
Poetry is not the tempest, nor is it the tornado. It is a majestic and fertile river.
Only by accepting the physical presence of the night have we come to accept it morally. O
Night Thoughts of Young, many is the headache you have caused me!
One only dreams when one is asleep. It is only words such as a dream, the futility of life,
the earthly journey, the preposition perhaps, the misshapen tripod, which have infiltrated this
dank languorous poetry like the corruption into your souls. There is only one step from the words
to the ideas.
Upheavals, anxieties, deprivation, death, exceptions in the physical and moral order, the
spirit of negation, brutishness, hallucinations willfully induced, torture, destruction, sudden
reversals of fortune, tears, insatiability, servitude, wildly burrowing imaginations, novels, the
unexpected, the forbidden, the mysterious, vulture-like chemical peculiarities which watch over
the carrion of some dead illusion, precocious and abortive experiments, bug-like obscurities, the
terrible monomania of pride, the inoculation of profound stupors, funeral orations, jealousies,
betrayals, tyrannies, impieties, irritations, acrimonies, aggressive outbursts, dementia, spleen,
reasoned terrors, strange anxieties which the reader would prefer to be spared, grimaces,
neuroses, the bloody screw-plates by which logic is forced to retreat, exaggerations, lack of
sincerity, catch-words, platitudes, the sombre, the lugubrious, creations worse than murders,
passions, the clan of assize-court novelists, tragedies, odes, melodramas, extremes perpetually
present, reason howled down with impunity, odours of milksops, mawkishness, frogs octopi,
sharks, the simoun of the deserts, all that is somnambulous, shady, nocturnal, somniferous,
noctambulous, viscous, speaking seals, the ambiguous, the consumptive, the spasmodic, the
aphrodisiac, the anaemic, the one-eyed, hermaphrodite, bastard, albino, pederast, abortions from
the aquarium, bearded women, the drunken hours of silent depression, fantasies, sourness,
monsters, demoralizing syllogisms, excrement, those who do not think with the innocence of a
child, desolation, that intellectual manchineel, perfumed chancres, thighs covered with camellias,
the culpability of the writer who rolls down the slope of the abyss, despising himself with cries of
joy, remorse, hypocrisy, vague perspectives which crush you in their imperceptible works, spitting
on sacred axioms, vermin and their insinuating titillations, extravagant prefaces, such as those to
Cromwell, those by Mlle Daupin and Dumas the younger, decay, impotence, blasphemy,
asphyxia, suffocation, fits of rage–it is time to react against these repulsive charnel-houses which
I blush to name, to react against everything which is supremely shocking and oppressive.
Your mind is perpetually unhinged, lured into, and trapped inside the darkness created by
the crude art of egoism and amour-propre.
Taste is the fundamental quality which epitomizes all others. It is the nec plus ultra of the
understanding. By virtue of this faculty alone can genius maintain the health and balance of all
the other faculties. Villemain is thirty-four times more intelligent than Eugene Sue and Frederic
Soulie. His preface to the Dictionary of the Academy will outlive the novels of Walter Scott and
Fenimore Cooper, and all the novels conceivable and imaginable. The novel is a false genre,
because it describes the passions for their own sake: the moral conclusion is absent. To
describe the passions is nothing: it is enough to have been born with something of the nature of a
jackal, a vulture, a panther. It is a task we do not care for. But to describe them and then subject
them to a high moral concept, as Corneille did, is another thing. He who refrains from doing the
former but remains capable of admiring and understanding those who do the second surpasses
him who writes the former by as much as virtue surpasses vice.
A sixth-form teacher, simply by saying: ‘Not for all the treasures in the universe would I wish
to have written novels such as those of Balzac and Alexander Dumas’ proves himself to be more
intelligent than Alexander Dumas and Balzac. Simply by realizing that one should not write of
moral and physical deformity, by this alone, a fifth-year pupil shows that he is stronger, more
able, and more intelligent than Victor Hugo, if he had only written novels, dramas, and letters.
Alexander Dumas the younger will never, absolutely never, make a speech at a school-prize
day. He does not know what morality is. It makes no compromises. If he did, he would have to
cross out, in a single stroke, every word he has written up to now, starting with absurd prefaces.
Find me a jury of competent men and let them decide: I maintain that a good sixth-former is better
than Dumas in anything you care to mention, including the filthy question of courtesans.
The chefs d’oeuvre of the French language are school prize-day speeches, and academic
speeches. In fact, the instruction of youth is perhaps the finest practical expression of duty, and a
good appreciation of Voltaire’s works (I stress the word appreciation) is preferable to those works
themselves. Naturally!
The best novelists and dramatists would eventually distort the famous idea of good, if the
teaching profession, that conservatory of clarity and precision, did not keep the younger and the
older generations of the path of honest and hard work.
In his own name and in spite of it, I have come to disown, with implacable will and the
tenacity of iron, the hideous past of whining humanity. Yes: I wish to proclaim the Beautiful on my
golden lyre, having eliminated the goitral sadness and the stupid outbursts of pride which corrupt
the swampy poetry of this century! I will crush underfoot the bitter stanzas of scepticism which
have no right to exist. Judgment, in the full bloom of its strength, imperious and resolute, without
for a second hesitating in the derisory uncertainties of misplaced pity, condemns them, fatidically,
like an Attorney General. We must relentlessly be on our guard against the purulent insomnia
and atrabilious nightmares. I despise and execrate pride and the indecent delights of that
extinguishing irony which disjoints the precision of our thought.
Some excessively intelligent characters–there is no reason to dispute it with palinodes of
doubtful taste–flung themselves headlong into the arms of evil. It is the absinthe (savorous? no, I
don’t think so, but noxious) which morally destroyed the author of Rolla. Woe to its connoisseurs!
Scarcely has the English aristocrat reached maturity than his harp is shattered beneath the walls
of Missolonghi, having gathered on his way only the flowers which brood on the opium of gloomy
Though he was more gifted than ordinary geniuses, if there had been at his time another
poet, gifted as he was, with the same measure of exceptional intelligence, and capable of rivaling
him, he would have to have been the first to admit the futility of his efforts to produce incongruous
multitudes of maledictions; and to acknowledge that the sole and exclusive good worthy of being
striven for is, by unanimous agreement, to win our esteem. The fact is that there was no one
who could successfully compete with him. And this is a point that no one has ever made.
Strange to say, even perusing the miscellanies and books of his age, no critic ever thought of
mentioning the rigorous syllogism of the preceding sentence. And I, who surpass him in this,
cannot have been the first to think of this. So full were they of stupor and apprehension, rather
than reflective admiration, in the face of works written by a perfidious hand which nevertheless
revealed imposing aspects of a soul which did not belong to the common mass, which was freely
able to face the last consequences of one of the two least obscure problems which interest nonsolitary minds: good and evil. It is granted only to a few to approach this problem, either in the
one direction, or in the other. That is why, while praising without reservation the marvelous
intelligence which he, one of the four or five beacons of humanity, shows at every moment, one
must have numerous silent reservations about the unjustifiable application and use which he
made of that intelligence. He should not have passed through the satanic realms.
The fierce revolt of the Troppmanns, the Napoleon, the firsts, the Papvoines, the Victors
Noirs, and the Charlotte Cordays will be kept a good distance from my cold and severe look. In
one quick movement I push aside all these major criminals with their different titles. Who do they
think they are fooling here? I ask, I slowly interpose. Hobby-horses of penal colonies! Soapbubbles! Ridiculous dancing-jacks! Worn-out strings! Let them approach, the Conrads, the
Manfreds, the Laras, the sailors who resemble the Corsair, the Mephistopheles, the Werthers, the
Don Juans, the Fausts, the Iagos, the Rodins, the Caligulas, the Cains, he Iridions, the megaerae
a la Columba, the Ahrimanes, the manichean manitous, bespattered with human brains, who
ferment the blood of their victims in the sacred pagodas of Hindustan, the serpent, the toad and
the crocodile, divinities, now considered abnormal, of ancient Egypt, the sorcerers and the
demoniac powers of the Middle Ages, the Prometheuses, the mythological Titans thunderstruck
by Jupiter, the evil gods vomited up by the primitive imagination of barbarian peoples–the whole
noisy stack of paper devils. Certain of overcoming them, I grasp the whip of indignation and
concentration, and, feeling its weight in my hand, I stand my ground and await these monsters as
their preordained tamer.
There are a number of degraded writers, dangerous buffoons, jokers and clowns, sombre
hoaxers, genuine lunatics, who deserve to be locked up in Bedlam. Their cretinizing heads,
which have a screw loose somewhere, create gigantic phantoms which go down instead of going
up. A scabrous exercise, a specious form of gymnastics. Away with the grotesque nonsense,
quick as can be. Please withdraw from my presence, fabricators by the dozen of forbidden
enigmas, in which I could not previously, as I can today, find the trivial solution at the first glance.
A pathological case of dreadful egotism. Fantastic automata: point out to each other, my
children, the epithet which puts them in their place.
If, beneath the plastic reality, they existed somewhere, they would be, in spite of their
undoubted, but false, intelligence, the disgrace, the opprobrium and the shame of the planets
where they lived. Imagine them all gathered together with beings of their own kind. There would
be an uninterrupted succession of combats, such as bulldogs, forbidden in France, sharks, and
hammer-headed whales cannot dream of. There would be torrents of blood in those chaotic
regions full of hydras and minotaurs, from which the dove, terrified beyond all hope, flees as fast
as its wings will carry it…They are a bunch of apocalyptic beasts, who know quite well what they
are doing. There are the conflicts of the passions, mortal enmities, ambition, and through it all the
howlings of a pride which it is impossible to read, which restrains itself, and of which nobody can
even approximately sound out the reefs and the shallows.
But they will no longer impress me. Suffering is a weakness, when one doesn’t need to do
so, when one can find something better to do. But, suffocating in the marshes of perversity, to
exhale sufferings of deranged splendour, is to show even less resistance and less courage! With
the voice and with all the solemnity of my great days, I call you to my hearth, glorious hope.
Wrapped in the cloak of illusions, come and sit beside me on the reasonable tripod of
appeasement. With a whip of scorpions I chased you, like an unwanted piece of furniture from
my abode. If you wish me to believe that, in returning, you have forgotten all the grief which my
short-lived repentance caused you in the past, well, then bring along with you the sublime
procession–hold me up, I am fainting!–of the virtues which I offended, and their everlasting
With bitterness I have to state that there are only a few drops of blood left in the arteries of
our phthisic age. Ever since the bizarre and odious whinings of the Jean-Jacques Rosseaus, the
Chateaubriands, and the Obermanns, wet nurses of chubby babies, and all the other poets who
have wallowed in the filthy slime, up to the dreams of Jean-Paul the suicide of Dolores de
Veintemilla, Allan’s Raven, the Pole’s Infernal Comedy, the bloody eyes of Zorilla, and the
immortal cancer, a carrion, lovingly painted once by the morbid lover of the Hottentot Venus, the
incredible sorrows which this century has created for itself, in their deliberate and disgusting
monotony, have made it consumptive. Wet through with tears in their intolerable torpor!
And so on, the same old story.
Yes, good people, I order you to burn, on a spade red-hot from the fire, and with a little
yellow sugar for good measure, the duck of doubt with its vermouth lips, which, in the melancholy
struggle between good and evil, shedding tears which are not heartfelt, creates everywhere,
without the aid of a pneumatic machine, universal emptiness. It is the best thing you can do.
Despair, feeding, as it always does, on phantasmagoria, is imperturbably leading literature
to the rejection, en masse, of all divine and social laws, towards practical and theoretical evil. In
a word, in all its arguments, it glorifies the human backside. Let me speak! You are becoming
evil I say, and your eyes are taking on the colour of men sentenced to death. I will not retract
what I have just said. I want to write poetry that can safely be read by fourteen-year-old girls.
True sorrow is incompatible with hope. However great this sorrow may be, hope rises a
hundred cubits higher. But spare me these seekers, leave me in peace. Down with them, down,
paws off, droll bitches, troublemakers, poseurs. That which suffers, that which dissects the
mysteries which surround us, does not hope. Poetry which discusses necessary truths is less
beautiful than that which does not discuss it. Extreme vacillations, talent misused, waste of time:
nothing could be easier to demonstrate.
It is puerile to praise Adamastor, Jocelyn, Rocambole. It is only because the author takes it
for granted that the reader will forgive his villainous heroes that he gives himself away, relying on
the good to justify his description of the bad. It is in the name of those same virtues which Frank
disdained that we wish to uphold it, oh mountebanks of incurable diseases!
Do not imitate those shameless explorers of melancholy, magnificent in their own eyes, who
find hidden ‘treasures’ in their minds and in their bodies.
Melancholy and sadness are the beginning of doubt; doubt is the beginning of despair;
despair is the cruel beginning of the different degrees of evil. To confirm this you need only read
the Confession of a Contemporary. The slope is fatal, once you begin to go down it. You are
bound to end with evil. Beware of that slope. Destroy the evil at its roots. Reject the cult of
adjectives such as indescribable, unspeakable, brilliant, incomparable, colossal, which
shamelessly lie to the nouns which they disfigure: for they are followed by lubricity.
Second-rate intellects such as Alfred de Musset may doggedly push one or two of their
faculties further than the corresponding faculties of first-rate intellects, Lamartine, Hugo. We are
witnessing the derailment of an old and worn-out locomotive. A nightmare is holding the pen.
But the soul has twenty faculties. So don’t talk to me of the beggars who have magnificent hats,
and nothing else but sordid rags!
Here is a means of proving Musset’s inferiority to the other two poets. Read Rolla, Night
Thoughts, Cobb’s Madmen, or, failing that, the descriptions of Gwynplaine and Dea, or the Tale
of Theramene from Euripides, translated into French verse by Racine the Elder, to a young girl.
She trembles, frowns, raises and lowers her hands with no apparent object, like a man drowning;
her eyes glow with a greenish light. Read her the Prayer For Us All, by Victor Hugo. The effect is
the diametrical opposite. The kind of electricity is no longer the same. She bursts into laughter,
she asks you to read more.
Of Hugo’s work, the only poems about children will survive, and they are not all good.
Paul and Virginie offends against our deepest aspirations to happiness. In the past, this
episode which is riddled with gloom from beginning to end, especially the final shipwreck, used to
set my teeth on edge. I would roll on the carpet and kick my wooden horse. The description of
sorrow is an error. We should see the beauty in everything. Had this incident been recounted in
a simple biography, I would not attack it. That would change its character altogether. Misfortune
is ennobled by the inscrutable will of Him who created it. But man should not create misfortune in
his books. That is only to see one side of things. Oh maniacal howlers that you are!
Do not deny the immortality of the soul, God’s wisdom, the value of life, the order of the
universe, physical beauty, the love of the family, marriage, social institutions. Ignore the following
baneful pen-pushers: Sand, Balzac, Alexander Dumas, Musset, Du Terrail, Feval, Flaubert,
Baudelaire, Leconte and the Greve des Forgerons!
Communicate to your readers only the experience of sorrow, which is not the same as
sorrow itself. Do not cry in public.
One must be able to grasp the literary beauty even in the midst of death; but these beauties
are not part of death. Death here is only the occasional cause. It is not the means, but the end,
which is not death.
The immutable and necessary truths which are the glory of nations and which doubt vainly
strives to shake have existed since the beginning of time. They should not be touched. Those
who wish to create anarchy in literature on the pretext of change are making a serious error.
They do not dare to attack God; they attack the immortality of the soul. But the immortality of the
soul is itself as old as the crust of the earth. What other belief will replace it, if it is to be
replaced? It will not always be a negation.
If one recalls the one truth from which all others follow, God’s greatness and His absolute
ignorance of evil, sophisms break down of themselves. So too, and just as quickly, does the
literature which is based on them. All literature which disputes external axioms is condemned to
live by itself alone. It is unjust. It devours its own liver. The novissima Verba bring haughty
smiles to the faces of the snot-nosed filth-formers. We have no right to interrogate the Creator on
any subject whatsoever.
If you are unhappy, you must not tell the reader. Keep it to yourself.
If these sophisms were corrected by their corresponding truths, only the corrections would
be true; while the work which had been thus revised would no longer have the right to be called
false. The rest would be outside the realm of the true, tainted with falsehood, and would thus
necessarily be considered null and void.
Personal poetry has had its day, with its relative sleights of hand and its contingent
contortions. Let us gather up again the thread of impersonal poetry, rudely interrupted since the
birth of the manqué philosopher of Ferney, since that great abortion Voltaire.
It appears beautiful and sublime, on the pretext of humility or pride, to discuss final causes,
and to falsify their known and lasting consequences. Do not believe it, because nothing could be
more stupid! Let us link up again the great chain which connects us with the past; poetry is
geometry par excellence. It has lost ground. Thanks to whom? To the Great Soft-heads of our
age. Thanks to the sissies, Chateaubriand, the Melancholy Mohican; Senancourt, the Man in
Petticoats; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Surly Socialist; Anne Radcliffe, the Spectre-Crazed;
Edgar Poe, the Mameluke of Alcoholic Dreams; Mathurin, the Crony of Darkness; George Sand,
the Circumcised Hermaphrodite; Theophile Gautier, the Incomparable Grocer; Leconte, the
Devil’s Captive; Goethe, the Suicide who makes you weep; Sainte-Beuve, the Suicide who
makes you laugh; Lamartine, the Tearful Stork; Lermontov, the Roaring Tiger; Victor Hugo, the
Gloomy Green Echalas; Misckiewicz, the Imitator of Satan; Musset, the Fop who didn’t wear an
intellectual’s shirt; and Byron, the Hippopotamus of Infernal Jungles.
From the beginning of time doubt has been in the minority. In this century it is in the
majority. Through our pores we breathe in the dereliction of duty. This has only ever happened
once; it will never happen again.
So clouded are the simplest notions of reason nowadays that the first thing third-form
teachers do when they are teaching their pupils Latin verse–these young poets whose lips are
still wet from mother’s milk–is to reveal to them in practice the name of Alfred de Musset. Well, I
ask you! Fourth-form teachers set two bloody episodes for their pupils to translate into Greek
verse. The first is the repulsive comparison of the pelican. And the second will be the dreadful
catastrophe which happened to a ploughman. What is the use of looking at evil? Is it not in the
minority? Why turn these schoolboys’ heads towards subjects which, unable to understand them,
men such as Pascal and Byron were driven mad by?
A schoolboy told me that his sixth-form teacher had set his class, day after day, these two
carcasses to translate into Hebrew verse. These two blots on human and animal nature made
him so ill for a month that he had to go to the hospital. As we were friends, he asked his mother
to ask me to come and see him. He told me, though somewhat naively, that his nights were
troubled by recurring dreams. He thought he saw an army of pelicans swooping down on him
and tearing his breast to pieces. Then they would fly off to a burning cottage. They ate the
ploughman’s wife and children. His body blackened with burns, the ploughman came out of the
cottage and joined dreadful combat with the pelicans. Then they all rushed into the cottage which
fell to pieces. And from the pile of ruins–without fail–he would see his teacher emerging, holding
his heart in one hand and in the other a piece of paper on which could be made out the
sulphurous lines of the comparison of the pelican and the ploughman as Musset had himself
composed them. It was not at first easy to diagnose what kind of illness this was. I urged him to
be meticulously silent, and not speak to anyone, least of all his teacher. I shall advise his mother
to keep him at home for a few days and will make sure she does so. In fact, I made a point of
going there for several hours every day, and the illness passed.
Criticism must attack the form but never the content of your ideas, your sentences. Act
All the water in the sea would not be enough to wash away one intellectual bloodstain.
Genius guarantees the faculties of the heart.
Man is no less immortal than his soul.
Reason is the source of all great thoughts!
Fraternity is not a myth.
Children, when born, know nothing of life, not even its greatness.
In misfortune, the number of our friends increases.
Abandon despair, all ye who enter here.
Goodness, your name is man.
Here dwells the wisdom of nations.
Every time I read Shakespeare, it seemed I was cutting in pieces the brain of a jaguar.
I shall write my thoughts methodically, according to a clear plan. If they are exact, each one
will be the consequence of the others. This is the only true order. It indicates my object despite
the untidiness of my handwriting. I would be debasing my subject, if I did not treat it methodically.
I reject evil. Man is perfect. Our soul never fell from a state of grace. Progress exists.
Good is irreducible. Anti-christs, accusing angels, eternal torment, religions, are the product of
Dante and Milton, hypothetically describing the infernal regions, proved that they were
hyenas of the first order. The proof is excellent. The result is poor. Their works do not sell.
Man is an oak. There is nothing more robust in all of nature. The universe does not have to
take up arms to defend him. A drop of water is not enough to save him. Even if the universe
were to defend him, he would no more be dishonoured than that which does not save him. Man
knows that his reign is without end, and that the universe has a beginning. The universe knows
nothing: it is, at the very most, a thinking reed.
I think Elohim as being cold rather than sentimental.
Love of a woman is incompatible with love of mankind. Imperfection must be rejected.
There is nothing more imperfect than egotism a deux. In life, mistrust, recriminations, and oaths
are written in a powder pullulate. We no longer hear of the lover of Chimene; now it is the lover of
Graziella. No longer of Petrarch; not it is Alfred du Musset. At the moment of death, a rocky
region near the sea, a lake somewhere, the forest of Fontainebleau, the isle of Ischia, a raven in
a study, a Chambre Ardente with a crucifix, a cemetery where in the predictable and tedious
moonlight, the beloved rises from her grave, stanzas in which a group of young girls whose
names we do not know, take turns to make an appearance, giving the measure of the author,
uttering their regrets. In both cases, all dignity is lost.
Error is the sorrowful legend.
By singing hymns to Elohin, poets, in their vanity, get into the habit of not bothering with the
things of this earth. That is the great danger with these hymns. Mankind grows out of the habit of
counting on the writer. It abandons him. It calls him a mystic, an eagle, a traitor to his mission.
You are not the dove they seek.
A student could acquire a considerable amount of literary knowledge by saying the opposite
of what the poets of this century have said. He would replace their affirmations with negations. If
it is ridiculous to attack first principles it is even more ridiculous to defend them against the same
attacks. I will not defend them.
Sleep is a reward for some, a torture for others. It is, for everyone, a sanction.
If Cleopatra’s morality had been less free, the face of the earth would have changed. But
her nose wouldn’t have become any longer.
Hidden actions are the most admirable. When I see so many of them in history I like them a
lot. They have not been completely hidden. They have become known. And this little by which
they have become known increases their merit. It is the finest quality of all that they wouldn’t be
kept hidden.
The charm of death exists only for the brave.
Man is so great that his greatness shows above all else in his refusal to admit that he is
miserable. A tree does not know its own greatness. To be great is to know that one is great. To
be great is to refuse to admit one’s misery. His greatness rejects his miseries. The greatness of
a king.
When I write down my thoughts, they do not escape me. This action reminds me of my
strength which at every moment I forget. I learn as I link my thoughts together. But I am only
moving towards the realization of one thing: the contradiction between my mind and nothingness.
The heart of man is a book which I have learnt to esteem.
Not imperfect, unfallen, man is no longer the greatest mystery.
I allow no one, not even Elohim, to doubut my sincerity.
We are free to do good.
Man’s judgment is infallible.
We are not free to do evil.
Man is the conqueror of chimeras, the novelty of tomorrow, the regularity which makes
chaos groan, the subject of conciliation. He judges all things. He is not an imbecile. He is not a
maggot. He is the depository of truth, the epitome of certitude, the glory and not the scum of the
universe. If he humbles himself, I praise him. If he praises himself, I praise him more. I win him
over. He is beginning to realize that he is the sister of the angel.
There is nothing incomprehensible.
Thought is no less clear than crystal. A religion whose lies are based on it can trouble it for
a few minutes, to speak of long-term effects. To speak of short term effects, the murder of eight
people at the gates of a capital city will trouble it–certainly–to the point where the evil is
destroyed. Thought soon regains its limpidity.
Poetry must have for its object practical truth. It expresses the relation between the first
principles and the secondary truths of life. Everything remains in place. The mission of poetry is
difficult. It is not concerned with political events, with the way a people is governed, makes no
allusion to historical periods, coups d’etat, regicides, court intrigues. It does not speak of those
struggles which, exceptionally, man has with himself and his passions. It discovers the laws by
which political theory exists, universal peace, the refutations of Machiavelli, the cornets of which
the work of Proudhon consists, the psychology of mankind. A poet must be more useful than any
other citizen of his tribe. His work is the code of diplomats, legislators, and teachers of youth.
We are far from the Homers, the Virgils, the Klopstocks, the Camoens, the liberated imaginations,
the ode-producers, the merchants of epigrams against the deity. Let us return to Confucius,
Buddha, Jesus Christ, those moralists who went hungry through the villages. From now on we
have to reckon with reason which operates only on those faculties which watch over the category
of the phenomena of pure goodness.
Nothing is more natural than to read the Discourse on Method after reading Berenice.
Nothing is less natural than to read Biechy’s Treatise on Induction or Navill’s Problem of Evil after
reading Autumn Leaves or the Contemplations. There is no continuity. The mind rebels against
rubbish, mystagogy. The heart is appalled at those pages some puppet has scrawled. This
violence suddenly makes everything clear. He closes the book. He sheds a tear in memory of
the barbaric authors. Contemporary poets have abused their intelligence. Philosophers have not
abuse theirs. The memory of the former will fade. The latter are classics.
Racine, Corneille would have been capable of writing the works of Descartes, Malebranche,
Bacon. The spirit of the former is one with that of the latter. Lamartine, Hugo would not have
been capable of writing the Treatise on the Intellect. The mind of its author is not equal to that of
the former. Fatuity has made them lose the central qualities. Lamartine, Hugo although superior
to Taine, possess, like him–it is painful to admit this–only secondary faculties.
Tragedies excite the obligatory qualities of pity and terror. That is something. It is bad. It is
not as bad as modern lyric poetry. Legouve’s Medea is preferable to a collection of the works of
Byron, Capendu, Zaccone, Feliz, Gagne, Gaboriau, Lacordaire, Sardou, Goethe, Ravignana,
Charles Diguet. Which one of you writers can produce works to compare with–what is it? What
are these snorts of disagreement?–the Monologue of Augustus! Hugo’s barbaric vaudevilles do
not proclaim duty. The melodramas of Racine and Corneille, the melodramas of La Calprenede
do not proclaim it. Lamartine is not capable of producing Pradon’s Phedre; nor Hugo the
Venceslas of Rotrou; nor Sainte-Beuve the tragedies of Laharpe or Marmontel. Musset is
capable of producing proverbs. Tragedy is an involuntary error, it accepts the idea of struggle, it
is the first step towards the good, it will not appear in this work. It maintains its prestige. The
same cannot be said of the sophistries–the belated metaphysical gongorism of the self-parodists
of my heroico-burlesque age.
The principle of all forms of worship is pride. It is ridiculous to address Elohim, as the Jobs,
the Jeremiahs, the Davids, the Solomons, the Turquetys have done. Prayer is a false act. The
best way of pleasing him is indirect, more consistent with our own powers. It consists in making
our race happy. There are no two ways of pleasing Elohim. The idea of the good is one. That
which is good in smaller things being also good in greater, I cite the example of the mother. To
please his mother, a sone will nto tell her that she is wise, radiant, that he will behave in such a
way as to deserve most of her praise. He acts otherwise. He convinces by his actions, not by
protestations, he abandons the sadness which swells up the eyes of the Newfoundland dog. The
goodness of Elohim must not be confused with triviality. Everyone is plausible. Familiarity
breeds contempt; reverence breeds the contrary. Hard work prevents us from indulging our
feelings and passions.
No thinking man believes what contradicts his reason.
Faith is a natural virtue by which we accept the truths which Elohim has revealed to us
through conscience.
I know no other grace than that of being born. An impartial mind finds this adequate.
Good is the victory over evil, the negation of evil. If one writes of the good, evil is eliminated
by this fitting act. I do not write of what must not be done. I write of what must be done. The
former does not include the latter. The latter includes the former.
Youth listens to the advice of its elders. It has unlimited confidence in itself.
I know of nothing which is beyond the reach of the human mind, except truth.
The maxim does not need to be proved. One point in an argument requires another. The
maxim is a law which contains a number of arguments. The closer the argument comes to the
maxim, the more perfect it becomes. Once it has become a maxim, its perfection rejects the
evidence of a transformation.
Doubt is a homage to hope. It is not a voluntary homage. Hope would never consent to be
a mere homage.
Evil revolts against the good. It can do no less.
It is a proof of friendship not to notice the increase in our friends’ friendship.
Love is not happiness.
If we had no faults we would not take so much pleasure in curing ourselves of them and in
praising in others what we ourselves lack.
Those men who have resolved to detest their fellow-beings have forgotten that one must
start by detesting oneself.
Those who never take part in duels believe that those who fight duels to the death are
How the turpitudes of the novel crouch in the bookshop windows! Just as some men would
kill for a hundred sous, it sometimes seems to a man who is lot that a book should be killed.
Lamartine believed that the fall of an angel would mean the Elevation of Man. He was
wrong to believe so.
A banal truth contains more genius than the works of Dickens, Gustave Aymard, Victor
Hugo, Landelle. With the aid of the latter a child who had survived the destruction of the universe
would not be able to reconstruct the human soul. With the former it could. I suppose it would not
discover the definition of sophism sooner or later.
Words expressing evil are destined to take on a more positive meaning. Ideas improve.
The sense of words takes part in this process.
Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps an author’s sentence
tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.
To be well wrought, a maxim does not need to be corrected. It needs to be developed.
As soon as dawn comes, young girls go picking roses. A breath of innocence crosses the
valleys, the capital cities, inspiring the most enthusiastic poets, bringing peace and protection to
cradles, crowns to youth, belief in immortality to old men.
I have seen men wearing out the moralists who attempted to discover their heart, and
bringing upon themselves blessings from above. They were uttering meditations as vast as
possible, bringing joy to the author of our felicity. They showed respect to childhood and to age,
to all that breathes and all that does not breathe, they paid homage to woman and consecrated to
modesty the parts of the body which we refrain from naming. The firmament, whose beauty I
acknowledge, the earth, image of my heart, were invoked by me, in order to represent myself as
a man who did not believe himself good. The sight of this monster, had it ever proved to be real,
would not have killed me with shock: it takes more than that to kill a man. All this needs no
Reason and feeling counsel and supplement each other. Whoever knows only one of thse,
renouncing the other, id depriving himself all of the aid which has been granted us to guide our
actions. Vauvenargues said: ‘is depriving himself of a part of the aid.’
Though his sentence and mine are based on the personification of the soul in feeling and
reason, the one I chose at random would be no better than the other, if I had written both. The
one cannot be rejected by me. The other could be accepted by Vauvenargues.
When a predecessor uses a word from the domain of evil to describe the good, it is
dangerous for this sentence to subsist alongside the other. It is better to leave the word’s evil
meaning unchanged. Before one can use a word from the domain of evil for the good, one must
first have the right. He who uses for evil words from the domain of good does not have this right.
He is not believed. no one would wish to use Gerard de Nerval’s tie.
The soul being one, sensibility, intelligence, will, reason imagination and memory can be
introduced into our discourse.
I spent a great deal of time studying abstract sciences. Because one only has to
communicate with a small number of people in such studies, I did not tire of them. When I began
the study of man, I saw that these sciences were particular to him, that by flinging myself into
these studies I was less able to change my condition than others who knew nothing of them. I
forgave them their lack of interest! I did not believe I would find many fellow-students of this
subject of man. I was wrong. There are more students of man than of geometry.
We die joyfully, provided no one talks about it.
The passions become weaker with age. Love, which should not be classified among the
passions, becomes weaker, too. What is loses on one hand, it gains on the other. It is no longer
so demanding towards the object of its desires, it does justice to itself: a certain expansion is
accepted. The senses no longer excite the organs of the flesh. The love of mankind begins. On
days when man feels he is an altar adorned with his own virtues, and recollects all the sorrows he
has ever felt, the soul, in a recess of the heart where everything seems to be born, feels
something which is no longer beating. I have just described memory.
The writer can, without separating one from the other, indicate the laws which govern each
one of his poems.
Some philosophers are more intelligent than some poets. Spinoza, Malebranche, Aristotle,
Plato are not Hegesippe Moreau, Malfilatre, Gilbert, Andre Chenier.
Faust, Manfred, Konrad are archetypes. They are not yet reasoning types. They are the
archetypes of the agitator.
A meadow, three rhinoceroses, half a catafalque, these are descriptions. They may be
memory or prophecy. They are not the paragraph which I am about to complete.
The regulator of the soul is not the regulator of a soul. The regulator of a soul is the
regulator of the soul when these two kinds of souls are so commingled that it is possible to state
that a regulator is only a regulatress in the imagination of a joking madman.
The phenomenon passes. I seek the laws.
There are men who are not archetypes. Archetypes are not men. One must not be
dominated by the accidental.
Judgments on poetry are worth more than poetry itself. They are the philosophy of poetry.
Philosophy, in this sense, includes poetry. Poetry cannot do without philosophy. Philosophy can
do without poetry.
Racine is not capable of condensing his tragedies into precepts. A tragedy is not a precept.
To one and the same mind, a precept is a more intelligent act than a tragedy.
Put a goose-quill pen in the hands of a moralist who is a first-class writer. he will be superior
to poets.
Hide, war.
Feelings express happiness, make us smile. The analysis of feelings expresses happiness,
all personality apart; makes us smile. The former elevates the soul, dependently of space and
time, to the conception of mankind considered in itself and in it illustrious members. The latter
elevates the soul independently of time and space to the conception of mankind in its highest
expression, the will! The feelings are concerned with vice and virtue; the latter is concerned only
with virtue. The feelings are not aware of the course they follow. The analysis of feelings makes
this known, and increases the strength of our feelings. With the former, all is uncertainty. They
are the expression of happiness and sorrow, two extremes. With the latter, all is certainty. It is
the expression of the happiness derived, at a given moment, from being able to restrain oneself
amidst good and bad passions. In its composure it blends the description of the passions into a
principle which informs its pages: the non-existence of evil. Feelings overflow when necessary,
and also when it is not necessary. The analysis of feelings does not weep. It possesses a latent
sensibility which takes us by surprise, helps us transcend our woes, teaches us to do without a
guide, provides us with a weapon. Feelings, the sign of weakness, are not Feeling! The analysis
of feeling, sign of strength, engenders the most magnificent feelings I know. The writer who is
deceived by his feelings cannot be put on a par with the writer who is deceived neither by his
feelings, nor by himself. Youth indulges in sentimental lucubrations. Maturity begins to reason
clearly. Whereas once we only felt, now we think. We allowed our sensations to roam freely;
now we give them a guide. If I consider mankind as a woman, I will merely say that her youth is
on the ebb, that her maturity is approaching. Her mind is changing for the better. The ideal of
poetry will change. Tragedies, poems elegies will no longer take first place. The coldness of the
maxim will dominate! In the time of Quinault, they would have been capable of understanding
what I have just said. Thanks to certain faint glimmerings in reviews and folios in the last few
years, I can understand it in myself. My genre is as different from that of the moralists who
merely state the evil without suggesting the remedy than theirs is from the melodramas, the
funeral orations, the ode and the religious stanza. The sense of struggle is lacking.
Elohim is made in man’s image.
Several certainties have been contradicted. Several falsehoods remain uncontradicted.
Contradiction is the sign of falsehood. Non-contradiction is the sign of certainty.
A philosophy for the sciences exists. But not for poetry. I know of no moralist who is a firstrate poet. It is strange, someone will say.
It is a horrible thing to feel what is yours falling to pieces. One even only hangs on to it in
the wish to find out if there is anything permanent.
Man is a subject devoid of errors. Everything shows him the truth. Nothing deceives him.
The two principles of truth, reason and sense, apart form being reliable each for itself, enlighten
each other. The senses enlighten reason by true appearances. And this same service which
they perform for her, they also receive it from her. Each one takes it in turn. The phenomena of
the soul pacify the senses, making impressions on the which I cannot assert to be unpleasant.
They do not lie. They do not vie with each other in deception.
Poetry must be made by everyone. Not by one. Poor Hugo! Poor Racine! Poor Coppee!
Poor Corneille! Poor Boileau! Poor Scarron! Tics, tics, and tics.
The sciences have extremities which touch. The first is the state of ignorance all men are in
when born. The second is the ignorance attained by great souls. They have surveyed all that
men can know, find that they know everything, and are yet in the same state of ignorance as
when they set out. Theirs is a knowing ignorance, self-aware. Those who, having left the first
ignorance behind, have some smattering of this sufficient knowledge, act as if they know all the
answers. The former do not trouble the world, their judgment is no worse than all the others’.
The people and the clever determine the course of a nation. The others, who respect it, are no
less respected by it.
To know things, it is not necessary to know the details. As they are limited, our knowledge
is solid.
Love is not to be confused with poetry.
Woman is at my feet!
We must not in describing heaven, use the materials of the earth. We must leave the earth
and its materials where they are, in order to embellish life by its ideal. To speak in familiar tones
to Elohim, to address him at all, is seemly buffoonery. The best means of showing our gratitude
towards him is not to trumpet into his ears that he is mighty, that he created the world, that we are
worms in comparison with his greatness. He knows all that better than we. Men can refrain from
telling him these things. The best means of showing our gratitude to him is to console mankind, to
relate everything we do to mankind; to take it by the hand and treat is as a brother. It is more
To study order, one must not study disorder. Scientific experiments, like tragedies, stanzas
to my sister, gibberish about misfortune, have got nothing to do with life on earth.
It is not good for all laws to be known.
To study evil in order to extract the good from it is not the same as to study the good. Given
an instance of good, I will seek its cause.
Up to now, misfortune has been described in order to inspire terror and pity. I will describe
happiness, to inspire the opposite.
A logic for poetry exists. It is not the same as the logic of philosophy. Philosophers are not
on a par with poets. Poets have the right to consider themselves above philosophers.
I do not need to bother about what I will do later. What i am doing now I had to do. I do not
need to discover the things that I will discover later. In the new science, everything comes in its
place—that is its excellence.
There are the makings of the poet in moralists an philosophers. The poet contains the
thinker. Each caste suspects the other, developing its own qualities at the expense of those
which bring it closer to the other caste. The pride of the latter proves incompetent to do justice to
tenderer minds. Whatever a man’s intelligence may be, the process of thinking must be the same
for all. The existence of tics having been established, we are not surprised to see the same
words recurring more often than their due: in Lamartine, the tears which fall from his horse’s
nostrils, the colour of his mother’s hair; in Hugo, the shadow and the madman are part of the
The science I am establishing is a science distinct from poetry. I am not writing the latter. I
am trying to discover its source. Across the helm which directs all poetic thought, billiards and
teachers will distinguish the development of sentimental theses.
The theorem is in its nature a form of mockery. It is not indecent. The theorem does not
insist on being applied. The application we make of it debases it, becomes indecent. Call the
struggle of matter against the ravages of the mind application.
To struggle against evil is to pay it too great a compliment. If I allow men to despise it, I
hope they do not forget to say that that is all I can do for them.
Man is certain that he is not wrong.
We are not content with the life within us. We wish to lead an imaginary life in other
people’s minds. We strive to appear to be what we are. We make every effort to preserve this
imaginary being, which is simply the real one. If we are generous, faithful, we are eager not to let
it be known, we wish to attribute these virtues to this being. We do not get rid of them and then
attach them to this being. We are brave in order to avoid the reputation of being cowards. A sign
of our being’s incapacity to be satisfied with the one without the other, to renounce either. That
man who did not live to defend his virtue would be a scoundrel.
Despite the sight of our greatness, which has caught us by the throat, we have an instinct
which corrects us, which we cannot repress, which exalts us!
Nature has perfections to show that it is the image of Elohim, faults to show that it is
nonetheless only an image.
It is right that laws should be obeyed. The people understand what makes it just. It does
not break the laws. Were we to make their justice depend on anything else, it is easy to cast
doubt on it. Peoples are not subject to revolt.
Those who are out of order tell those who are in order that they are straying from nature.
They believe they are right. One must have a fixed standpoint in order to judge. And where else
is this standpoint to be found but in morality?
Nothing is less surprising than the contradictions in man. he is made to know truth. He
seeks it. When he tries to grasp it, he is so dazzled an confused that no one would envy him the
possession of it. Some wish to deny man’s knowledge of truth, others to assert it. Each side
uses such dissimilar arguments that they dispel his confusion. There is no other guiding-light
than that which is to be found in nature.
We are born just. Everyone seeks his own good. It is the wrong way round. We must aim
for the general good. The descent towards self if the end of all disorder, in war, in economics.
Men, having conquered death, misery and ignorance, have, in order to be happy, taken it
into their heads not think of these things. It is the only method they have devised to console
themselves for so few ills. Most rich consolation. It does not cure the ill. It hides it for a short
while. In hiding it, it gives the impression that it is being cured. By a legitimate reversal of man’s
nature, it is not the case that ennui, which is man’s most deeply felt evil, is his greatest good. It
can contribute more than anything else to help him seek his redemption. That is all. Amusement,
which he regards as his greatest good, is his least ill. More than anything else, he seeks in this
the remedy to all his ills. Both are a counter-proof of the misery, the corruption of man, apart from
his greatness. Man in his boredom seeks this multitude of activities. He has a notion of the
happiness he has gained; finding it within himself, he seeks it in external things. He is content.
Unhappiness is not in us, nor is in other creatures. It is in Elohim.
Nature makes us happy in all states. Our desires represent to us an unhappy state. They
add to our present state the afflictions of the imaginary one. Yet if we ever experience these
sorrows, we still would not be unhappy, we would have other desires corresponding to our new
The strength of reason appears greater in those who know it than in those who do not know
We are so far from being presumptuous that we would wish to be known all over the earth,
and even by those who come after us when we are dead. We are so far from being vain that the
esteem of five—let us make it six—people amuses and honours us.
The least thing consoles us. The greatest things afflict us.
Modesty is so natural in the heart of man that a worker carefully avoids boasting, yet wishes
to have his admirers. Philosophers want theirs, too. And poets most of all! Those who write for
glory wish to have the distinction of having written well. Those who read wish to have the
distinction of having read. I, who write this, boast that I have this wish. Those who read it will do
the same.
The mind of the greatest man is not so dependent that he is liable to be troubled by all the
hurly-burly around him. It does not take the silence of the cannon to hinder his thoughts. It does
not take the noise of a weather-vane or a pulley. The fly cannot gather its thoughts at present. A
man is buzzing at its ears. It is enough to make it incapable of good counsel. If I want to
discover the truth, I will chase away this animal which keeps its reason in check, troubling this
intelligence which governs realms.
The purpose of these people playing tennis with such concentration of the mind and
movement of the body is to boast to their friends that they have played better than their opponent.
That is the reason for their love of the game. Some sweat in their studies to prove to the
mathematical experts that they have solved an algebraical problem which was no problem at all
until then. Others expose themselves to dangers to boast of what they have achieved by what, in
my opinion, are less spiritual means. The last group try desperately hard to see these things.
They are certainly no less wise. It is above all to show that they know how worth-while it is. They
are the least foolish of the whole lot. They know hat they are doing. Perhaps the others would
not be the same if they did not have this knowledge.
The example of Alexander’s continence has made no more converts to chastity than that of
his drunkenness has made teetotalers. People are not ashamed to not be as virtuous as he.
They believe their virtues are not quite the same as the generality of men’s when they see these
same virtues practised by the great. They cling on to that which he has in common with them.
However exalted they may be, they always have a point which connects them with the rest of
mankind. They do not hover in the air, separated from our society. If they are greater than we, it
is because they are flesh and blood as we are. They are on the same level, they stand on the
same ground. At this extremity, they are as exalted as we, as children, a little more than animals.
The best means of persuading consists in not persuading.
Despair is the smallest of our errors.
Whenever we hear of a thought, a truth which is on everyone’s lips, we only need to develop
it and we find that it is a discovery.
One can be just, if one is not human.
The storms of youth precede the brilliant days.
Unawareness, dishonour, lubricity, hatred and contempt for men all have their price.
Liberality multiplies the advantages of riches.
Those who are honest in their pleasures are also honest in their other dealings. it is the sign
of a gentle disposition, since pleasure humanizes.
The moderation of great men limits only their virtues.
We offend me by praising them beyond their strict deserts. Many people are modest
enough not to object in the least to being well thought of.
We must expect everything, fear nothing, from time, from men.
If merit and glory do not make men unhappy, then what we call misfortune is not worth their
grief. A soul deigns to accept fortune, respite, if it can superimpose on them the strength of its
feelings, the flight of its genius.
We admire great designs when we feel capable of great successes.
Reserve is the apprenticeship of minds.
We say sound things when we do not attempt to say extraordinary things.
Nothing which is true is false; nothing which is false is true. All is the contrary of a dream, of
We must not think that those whom nature has made lovable are vicious. There has never
been a century or a people which has inaugurated imaginary virtues and vices.
One can only judge the beauty of life by the beauty of death.
A playwright can give to the word ‘passion’ a meaning of utility. But he is then no longer a
playwright. A moralist can give to any word whatsoever a meaning of utility. He remains a
moralist just the same!
Whoever examines the life of a man will find it in the history of the species. Nothing has
been able to vitiate it.
Do I have to write in verse to set myself apart from other men? Let charity decide!
The pretext of those who make others happy is that they are seeking their good.
Generosity shares in the joys of others as if it were responsible for them.
Order dominates among the human species. Reason and virtue are not the strongest.
Princes have few ungrateful subjects. They give all they can.
We can love with all our heart those in whom we find great faults. It would be impertinent to
think that only imperfections have the right to please us. Our weaknesses attach us to each other
as much as that which is not virtue could do.
If our friends do favours for us, we think that, as friends, they owe us them. We do not at all
think they owe us their enmity.
He who was born to command, would command, even on the throne.
When our duties have exhausted us we think we have exhausted our duties. We say that
the heart of man can contain everything.
Everything lives by action. Communication between beings, the harmony of the universe,
come from action. We find that this fecund law of nature is a vice in man. He is obliged to obey
it. Unable to rest for a moment, we conclude he is left in his place.
We know what the sun and the heavens are. We possess the secret of their movements. In
the hands of Elohim, a blind instrument, an imperceptible spring, the world compels our homage.
The revolutions of empires, the phases of time, the nations, the conquerors of knowledge, all this
comes from a crawling atom, lasts only a day, destroys the spectacle of the universe through all
the ages.
There is more truth than errors, more good qualities than bad, more pleasures than pains.
We like t examine our character. We exalt ourselves above our species. We adorn ourselves
with the esteem which we lavish on it. We think we cannot separate our own interest from that of
mankind, that we cannot slander our race without compromising ourselves. This ridiculous vanity
has filled books with hymns in favour of nature. Man is in disgrace with all those who think. It is a
question of who can accuse him of the most vices. When was he not about to pick himself up, to
piece together his virtues?
Nothing has been said. We have come too early. Man has existed for seven thousand
years. In the matter of morals, as in everything else, that which is the least good is the most
highly thought of. We have the advantage of working after the ancients, after the ablest of the
We are capable of friendship, justice, compassion, reason. Oh my friends! What then is the
absence of virtue?
As long as my friends are still alive, I will not speak of death.
We are dismayed by our relapses and to see that our misfortunes have corrected our faults.
One can only judge the beauty of death by the beauty of life.
The three full stops make me shrug my shoulders with pity. Does one really need that to
prove that one is a man of wit, i.e. an imbecile? As if clarity was not as good as vagueness, in
the matter of full stops!