Esteemed reader Copithorne, entering the New Year in a nitpicky mood, was moved by our end of year poetry, “Be Drunk,” to investigate its author, Charles Baudelaire, and offer this Caveat Lector
Evidently the man died at age 46 a syphilitic laudanum addict having spent fortunes of inherited money on prostitutes and wine
as if a man might not be forgiven a few peccadilloes. Especially in honor of the New Year!
I can report that I had the opportunity a few years back to visit the grave of the dissolute dandy in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and he was, by all appearances, resting sans the pounding strike of conscience.
Copithorne directed us alternatively to T.S. Eliot’s sublime Four Quartets, while avowing that he has nonetheless never, in the Baudelairean vein, been intoxicated by poetry. Surely, for a reader of Eliot, someone who has walked
….through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent
this cannot be.
Rather, in the vein of Eliot, Copithorne suggests that
it is only in submission to time — not in escape from it — that liberation can be glimpsed.
Maybe it is so that, to revise Matthew, straight is the gate and broad the way, and it is possible for escape and submission to converge on one another in enduring time and ultimately leaving it. Eliot points toward such an understanding of what is the same, but perceived and understood differently, at the end of “Little Gidding,” the fourth of his Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.