Tag Archives: Hieronymus Bosch

“Destruction” by Charles Baudelaire

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

At my side the Demon writhes forever,
Swimming around me like impalpable air;
As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever
And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

Knowing my love of Art, he snares my senses,
Appearing in woman’s most seductive forms,
And, under the sneak’s plausible pretenses,
Lips grow accustomed to his lewd love-charms.

He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue into
The wilderness of Ennui, deserted and broad,

And into my bewildered eyes he throws
Visions of festering wounds and filthy clothes,
And all Destruction’s bloody retinue.

(Translated by C. F. MacIntyre)

This sonnet describes Baudelaire’s source of inspiration in the decadent and decayed. In the first stanza, he addresses his artistic desire as a demon, something that haunts him and lures him down dark pathways in search of inspiration. He continues in the second stanza, acknowledging that his love for artistic expression is what tempts him to succumb to his physical desires, seeking to capture that carnal feeling in his poetry.

In the third stanza, he describes himself as entering the “wilderness of Ennui.” I love this metaphor. Through the lens of ennui, the world around him seems bleak and deserted, void of beauty and lacking spirituality. I also see the wilderness as a symbol of our subconscious mind, or the shadow part of ourselves. Baudelaire is probing the darker regions of his psyche in search of inspiration. And he finds this in the images of decay and destruction in the final stanza.

It’s important to note that the horrific visions that Baudelaire describes are sources of beauty. Just like the Phoenix rises from the ashes, as life grows from the dead and decaying, and as the old must be destroyed to create the new, so the destruction he sees is the first stage in the birth of new artistic expression.

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“Sonnet 4: Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend” by William Shakespeare

"Death and the Miser" by Hieronymus Bosch

“Death and the Miser” by Hieronymus Bosch

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.

Similar to Shakespeare’s first three sonnets, this one also deals with the theme of procreation, but the tone is different. I know there is a lot of debate about whether these sonnets were written for a young man or a young woman. While I feel that the first three sonnets are speaking to a woman, based upon the use of metaphors regarding flowers, mothers, and childbirth, for this one I will adhere to the consensus and say that he composed this for a male youth.

The metaphors used here are primarily associated with business, particularly accounting and money-lending. This would certainly be more within the realm of men during Shakespeare’s time. The entire poem is strewn with words associated with business: unthrifty, spend, lend, profitless, usurer, sums, audit, executor.

The person to whom the speaker is addressing is clearly obsessed with business affairs and is directing all his energy into the pursuit of financial success. The speaker is letting him know that he is wasting his youth in the quest for material gains and that he should shift his focus towards finding a wife and starting a family. If he fails to do so, he will die a lonely, solitary miser, and after his death, the only legacy he will have left will be some money which a lawyer will dispense with.

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