So, What is Love, Then?

Your voice, your eyes, your hands, your lips… Our silences, our words… Light that goes, light that returns. A single smile between us. In quest of knowledge, I watched night create day while we seemed unchanged. O beloved of all, beloved of one alone, your mouth silently promised to be happy. Away, away says hate; Closer, closer says love. A caress leads us from our infancy. Increasingly I see the human form as a lovers’ dialogue. The heart has but one mouth. Everything by chance. All words without thought. Sentiments adrift. Men roam the city. A glance, a word. Because I love you, everything moves. We must advance to live. Aim straight ahead towards those you love. I went toward you, endlessly toward the light. If you smile, it enfolds me all the better. The rays of your arms pierce the mist.

Paul Eluard

The Dancing Serpent

How I love to look, dear indolent one, at your beautiful body and see, like a shot silk, the changing gleam of your skin!

On your deep hair, with its bitter perfumes, a scented and wandering sea of blue and brown waves,

Like a ship stirring with the wind of morning my dreamy soul sets sail for a distant sky.

Your eyes, in which nothing is revealed, sweet or bitter, are two cold jewels in which gold mingles with iron.

Seeing your rhythmic walk, beautiful in its abandon, one thinks of a serpent dancing at the end of a stick.

Under the weight of your laziness, your child’s head hangs with the soft looseness of a young elephant’s.

And your body sways and stretches like an elephant ship rolling from side to side and pitching its yards in the water.

Like a stream swollen by the melting of grinding glaciers, when the water of your mouth rises to the edge of your teeth,

I feel I am drinking a Bohemian wine, bitter and overpowering, a liquid sky which scatters my heart with stars.

Charles Baudelaire

A Finite Image of Infinity

A finite image of Infinity:
This is the nature of all poetry.
all human work to its last limit tends;
Its archetype in Heaven never ends.

What is the sense of Beauty and of Art?
To show the way into our inmost Heart.

The singing of a bird came from the sky;
The world had been a dream; the song was I.

Frithjof Schuon, The Garland (1994)

The Voyage

But the real travelers are those who leave for leaving’s sake; their hearts are light as balloons, they never diverge from the path of their fate and, without knowing why, always say, ‘Let’s go.’

They are the ones whose desires have the shape of clouds, and who dream as a new recruit dreams of cannon fire, of limitless pleasures, ever-changing, unknown, which the human mind has never been able to name.

Charles Baudelaire

The End of the Day

Under a bleak white light she runs, dances and writhes without reason – Life, shameless and shrill. And so, as soon as on the horizon

Voluptuous night rises, calming everything, even hunger, blotting out everything, even shame, the Poet says to himself, ‘At last!

‘My spirit, like my spine, ardently prays for rest; with a heart full of funeral dreams,

‘I shall lie down on my back and roll myself up in your curtains, o refreshing darkness!’

Charles Baudelaire

The Death of Lovers

We shall have beds filled with light odours, couches deep as tombs, and, set out on shelves, rare flowers which bloomed for us under more beautiful skies.

Vying to use up their last heats, our hearts will be two great torches, which will reflect their double lights in our two spirits, those twin mirrors.

One evening made of mystic blue and rose, we shall exchange a single bolt of lightning, like a long sob, laden with farewells;

And later an Angel, gently opening the doors, will come, faithful and joyous, to revive the dulled mirrors and the dead flames.

Charles Baudelaire

The Death of the Poor

It is Death which consoles men, alas, and keeps them alive. Death is the aim of life; it is the only hope which, like an elixir, raises our spirits and intoxicates us, and gives us the heart to march until evening;

Through the storm, and the snow, and the frost, it is the light pulsating on our black horizon; it is the famous inn promised in the book where we shall eat, and sleep, and sit down;

It is an Angel who holds in his magnetic fingers sleep and the gift of ecstatic dreams, who makes up the bed of the poor and naked;

It is the glory of the gods, the mystic granary, the poor man’s purse and his ancient fatherland, it is the portico open on to the unknown Heavens!

Charles Baudelaire


…poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. you ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. for poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences. for the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. you must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else—); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quite, retrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,—and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. you must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. but you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. and it is not yet enough to have memories. you must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. for the memories themselves are not important. only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

Listening to the Reed Flute

There’s a blind man on the road saying,
Allah, Allah. Sheikh Nuri runs to him,
‘What do you know of Allah? And if you know,
why do you stay alive?’ The sheikh keeps on,
beside himself with ecstatic questions.
Then he runs into a low place, where
a reedbed has recently been cut down.

He falls and gets up, falls again,
floundering on the sharp reed-ends.
People come and find him dead, the ground
wet with blood and written on every reed-tip,
the word Allah. This is the way one must
listen to the reed flute. Be killed
in it and lie down in the blood.

Attar, Persian Poet

trans. coleman barks