Poetry by Count Lautrèamont
Translated by Mark Spitzer
Isidore Ducasse, alias Count Lautrèamont was a nineteenth-century French writer who wrote in a highly hallucinatory prose-poetry style that is credited with influencing the Surrealist movement. In 1870, he died in obscurity at the age of 24, leaving behind his most well-known work, Les Chants de Maldoror (1869). This book is now celebrated as a perverse excursion into evil that indulges in blasphemy, obscenity, and graphic violence.
First Song of Maldoror
from Les Chants de Maldoror
May it please heaven that the emboldened reader, having become momentarily ferocious like what he reads, swiftly find his wild way, without getting lost, through the lonely marshes of these dark poison pages; for unless he brings into his reading a rigorous logic and attitude at least equal to his distrust, the deadly emanations of this book will soak up his soul like water does sugar. It is no good for everyone to read the pages which follow; only a few will safely savor this bitter fruit. Therefore, timid soul, before penetrating any further into such unexplored moors, direct your heels backwards, not forward. Listen closely to what I tell you: direct your heels backwards, not forward – like the eyes of a son who respectfully turns away from the noble gaze of his mother’s face; or rather, like an angle, stretching as far as the eye can see, of intensely concentrating cranes, who, chilled by the winter, fly powerfully through the silence, full-sail toward a specific point on the horizon, from where a strange strong sudden wind takes off ahead of the tempest. Seeing this, the oldest crane, who forms the vanguard by herself alone, shakes her head like a rational person, causing her beak to click, and (like me, if I were in her place) is not content that her old neck (as featherless as those of the other elder cranes) rustles with waves of agitation that foreshadow the approaching storm. After having calmly observed both sides several times through experienced eyes, the leader (for it is she has the privilege of displaying her tail feathers to the mentally inferior cranes) wisely cries the enemy-repelling call of the melancholy sentinel, and bending the point of a hypothetical triangle with an invisible side (formed in space by this odd migration), flexibly veers from starboard to port like a skillful captain, maneuvering with wings that appear no larger than a sparrow’s, and thus, because she isn’t stupid, she takes a more determined and philosophic path.
Mark Spitzer is a literary translator and novelist who teaches creative writing and literature at Truman State University in Missouri. His most recent publications include The Church, by L.-F. Celine, From Absinthe to Abyssinia (new Rimbaud translations), and his controversial novel Chum. He is a contributing editor to the online journal Exquisite Corpse (www.corpse.org ).