Charles Baudelaire – “Be Drunk”
You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
Translated by Louis Simpson
From Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, translated and edited by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of the author and Story Line Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
Before the solemnity of Easter weekend, I figured I would throw in this call to indulgence and passion. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the prose poem, but here I think it works well. Baudelaire’s being didactic, yet at the same time, reveling in his work.
It’s odd to imagine being drunk on virtue, but I can think of people who were/are, for good and for ill.
I like the incantatory direction this takes: “ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock….” Even the non-human, the forces of nature, even human-made things know that passion is vital to life, to existence. Without passion, we perish; we become “martyred slaves of time” (love that phrase). We need more poems like this: didactic but playful, non-imagistic but poetic.