One O’Clock in the Morning, Crowds, Be Drunk
Translated by: Burl Horniachek
Artwork by Agata Lawrynczyk
One O’Clock in the Morning
At last I am alone! Nothing can be heard except the rumbling of a few belated and worn out cabs. For a few hours, we will have silence, if not rest. At last! The tyranny of the human face is gone and I alone will be the cause of my suffering.
At last, I am allowed to let myself go in a bath of darkness! First, a double turn of the lock. It's as though this turn of the key will increase my solitude and fortify the barricades that, for the moment, separate me from the world.
Horrible life! Horrible city! Let’s go over the day: saw several men of letters, one of whom asked if you could get to Russia by land (he, no doubt, thought Russia was an island); argued acridly with the editor of a review, who, to each of my objections, replied, “We here are on the side of respectable people,” implying that all other papers are run by scoundrels; said hello to some twenty people, fifteen of which I did not know; doled out handshakes in roughly the same proportion, all without the precaution of buying gloves; to kill time during a downpour, went to see an acrobat who asked me to design a costume for Venustre; paid my respects to a theatre director, who, in getting rid of me, said, “You might do well to contact Z. . .; he is the dullest, the most stupid, and the most celebrated of all my authors; perhaps you’ll get somewhere with him; go see him and then we’ll talk”; boasted, I don't know why, of several vile misdeeds I had never committed; and cravenly denied some others I did commit, and with great delight; an offense of bravado, a crime against convention; refused an easy favour for a friend, and wrote a letter of recommendation for a complete idiot. God! let’s hope that’s all.
Discontented with everything, discontented with myself, I long to redeem myself, and restore my pride a little in the silence and solitude of the night. Souls of those I have loved, souls of those I have sung, give me strength, sustain me, banish from me the lies and corrupting vapours of the world. And you, oh Lord my God! grant me the grace to write a few fine poems, so that I may know that I am not the least of men, that I am not inferior to those I despise.
Not every man can bathe in the multitude. Enjoying the crowd is an art. Only the man who, in his cradle, a fairy has inspired with a love of masks and masquerades, a hatred of home, and a passion for traveling, can gorge himself on life, at the expense of the human race.
Multitude, solitude: terms that for the active and fruitful poet are synonymous and interchangeable. He who cannot people his solitude, cannot know either how to be alone in a busy crowd.
The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege that he can, at will, become himself or another. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters, at will, into the person of any man. For him alone, everything is empty. And if certain places seem to exclude him, it is only because, to his eyes, they seem not worth the bother.
The solitary and thoughtful stroller derives a unique intoxication from this universal communion. That man who can easily wed himself to the crowd knows feverish delights eternally denied to the egoist, locked up in his box, and to the lazy fool, shut up like a clam. He adopts as his own every profession, every joy, and every misery that circumstance offers.
What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing, compared to this ineffable orgy, this holy prostitution of the soul which gives itself totally, poetry and charity, to the unexpected which comes, to the unknown who walks on by.
It is good to occasionally bring home to the happy people of this world, if only to humble for an instant their stupid pride, that there is a happiness superior to theirs, vaster and more refined. Founders of colonies, pastors of peoples, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtless they know something of this mysterious intoxication; and, in the midst of that vast family which their genius has created for its own sake, they must sometimes laugh at those who pity them for their destinies so troubled and their lives so chaste.
One should always be drunk. Everything depends on it, it is the only question. So as to never feel the horrible burden of time, that breaks your shoulders and lowers you down to the ground, one should be drunk ceaselessly.
But on what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish. Just get drunk!
And if sometime you should find yourself waking up, on the steps of a palace, on the green grass of a ditch, in the bleak solitude of your room, with your drunkenness already going or gone, ask the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, the clock, ask everything that flies, everything that moans, everything that moves, everything that sings, everything that speaks, ask them what time it is. And the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, and the clock will all reply, “It is time to get drunk! So as not to become martyred slaves of time, get drunk, and be perpetually drunk! On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”
Charles Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867) was a French poet and essayist. His book of poems Les Fleurs du Mal remains one of the most influential in French poetry.
Burl Horniachek is a poet and translator from Edmonton, Alberta. He has studied creative writing with Derek Walcott at the University of Alberta, and has published poems and translations in Literary Imagination, TransLit, and The Dark Mountain Project.