Thursday’s poem

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.

Commentary
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.

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3 Responses to Thursday’s poem

  1. Angele Ellis says:

    Baudelaire did not write this poem as prose, although it has been the subject of many translations. I think it is interesting to compare Louis Simpson’s translation to others.

    Below is the original French, “Enivrez-Vous,”followed by an English translation. I think that the poem has more force when the lines are broken, as in this translated excerpt:

    …in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
    your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
    ask the wind,
    the wave,
    the star,
    the bird,
    the clock,
    ask everything that flees,
    everything that groans
    or rolls
    or sings,
    everything that speaks,
    ask what time it is;
    and the wind,
    the wave,
    the star,
    the bird,
    the clock
    will answer you:
    “Time to get drunk!…

    Enivrez-Vous

    Il faut être toujours ivre.
    Tout est là:
    c’est l’unique question.
    Pour ne pas sentir
    l’horrible fardeau du Temps
    qui brise vos épaules
    et vous penche vers la terre,
    il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
    Mais de quoi?
    De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise.
    Mais enivrez-vous.
    Et si quelquefois,
    sur les marches d’un palais,
    sur l’herbe verte d’un fossé,
    dans la solitude morne de votre chambre,
    vous vous réveillez,
    l’ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue,
    demandez au vent,
    à la vague,
    à l’étoile,
    à l’oiseau,
    à l’horloge,
    à tout ce qui fuit,
    à tout ce qui gémit,
    à tout ce qui roule,
    à tout ce qui chante,
    à tout ce qui parle,
    demandez quelle heure il est;
    et le vent,
    la vague,
    l’étoile,
    l’oiseau,
    l’horloge,
    vous répondront:
    “Il est l’heure de s’enivrer!
    Pour n’être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps,
    enivrez-vous;
    enivrez-vous sans cesse!
    De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise.”

    Get Drunk

    Always be drunk.
    That’s it!
    The great imperative!
    In order not to feel
    Time’s horrid fardel
    bruise your shoulders,
    grinding you into the earth,
    Get drunk and stay that way.
    On what?
    On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.
    But get drunk.
    And if you sometimes happen to wake up
    on the porches of a palace,
    in the green grass of a ditch,
    in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
    your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
    ask the wind,
    the wave,
    the star,
    the bird,
    the clock,
    ask everything that flees,
    everything that groans
    or rolls
    or sings,
    everything that speaks,
    ask what time it is;
    and the wind,
    the wave,
    the star,
    the bird,
    the clock
    will answer you:
    “Time to get drunk!
    Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
    Get drunk!
    Stay drunk!
    On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”

  2. […] nothing in return other then their appreciation of the fact that you care about them. To steal from Baudelaire, that gesture alone will get you “drunk on virtue” and help keep your clients regulars. Posted […]

  3. […] nothing in return other then their appreciation of the fact that you care about them. To steal from Baudelaire, that gesture alone will get you “drunk on virtue” and help keep your clients […]

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