A Puisi-Poesy Valentine
Personally, Valentine's Day does not figure much in my calendar, but how could Puisi-Poesy let this day pass in silence? Being single and not having particularly romantic thoughts for anyone today I thought that I'd dedicate a post for our beloved poets and you the reader:
"À Une Passante"Readers of cultural criticism may recall Walter Benjamin's writings on Charles Baudelaire's poems, how he describes a poet who is in perpetual state of shock when confronted with the metropolitan crowds of Paris, a poet whose response to the same anxieties that plagued William Wordsworth who tells us in this excerpt from his autobiographical The Prelude:
The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment,
Swift and noble, with statuesque limb.
As for me, I drank, twitching like an old roué,
From her eye, livid sky where the hurricane is born,
The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills,
A gleam... then night! O fleeting beauty,
Your glance has given me sudden rebirth,
Shall I see you again only in eternity?
Somewhere else, very far from here! Too late! Perhaps never!
For I do not know where you flee, nor you where I am going,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!
Charles Baudelaire in Fleurs du Mal, trans. Geoffrey Wagner.
(Psst: if you think French is la langue d'amour, listen here.)
How oft, amid those overflowing streets,...was the exact opposite. "It is the phantom crowd of the words, the fragments, the beginnings of lines from which the poet, in the deserted streets, wrests the poetic booty," says Benjamin, describing the urban poet as a flâneur whose purpose is "to endow this crowd with a soul...[whose] encounters with it are the experience that he does not tire of telling about."
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, "The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!"
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;
My reference to Wordsworth is only to provide the contrast to Baudelaire's poem, for where Wordsworth is baffled by "how men lived / Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still / Strangers, not knowing each the other's name.", Baudelaire himself seemed to be enraptured by the city, and on one occasion, as we see even the glance of anonymous woman passing by inspires awe—"The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills"—and delight, as if the he was reborn! Because yes! one glance is enough to affirm to the poet that he was also an individual and deserves love, just as he ecstatically proclaims his love for the unknown woman.
For isn't it the feeling of awe that should inspire poets? Awe in the face of an obliterating assault to the senses ("The deafening road around me roared", the hustle and bustle of a city) and to retrieve from it some semblance of memory, if only a fleeting glimpse. Recently, in the comments to "Flight", Sharanya describes her experience of being hyper-aware of everything she observes, and I concur that this must be so: a poet must find ecstasy of the moment and convey to the reader who "...throbbest life and pride and love the same as I", says Whitman.
And so to you, dear reader, poets offer the gift of words wrought of passion. Give a poem to a loved one today, or even to a stranger (here is Whitman's 'To You': "Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? /And why should I not speak to you?") ... or, at least, if you're a singleton like me, be content and smile, for there may be someone there giving you a second glance as you pass by, feeling 'The Catch', whispering on the edges of language: Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais, / Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!