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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Translated from his beautiful lyric Rappelle toi


[Sidenote:

De Musset's pessimism]

[Sidenote: "Rappelle-toi"]

As a lyric poet, Alfred de Musset claims foremost rank among the modern writers of France. His verse, like that of his contemporaries, Byron, Lermontov, Leopardi, Lenau and Heine, is tinged with sadness and pessimism. Like them, too, he excels in the mastery of the subtile beauties of his native tongue. Characteristic of the spirit of his verse, if not of its outward form, are these lines, translated from his beautiful lyric "Rappelle-toi!"

Recall our love when the shy dawn unfoldeth The enchanted radiance of the morning sun-- Recall our love when darkling night beholdeth Veiled trains of silvery stars pass one by one, When wild thy bosom palpitates with pleasure, Or when the shades of night lull thee in dreamy measure; Then lend a willing ear To murmurings far and near: Recall our love!

Recall our love when fate hath separated Thy heart and mine, estranged for evermore-- When by the grief of exile ever mated The soul is crushed that soared so high before-- Remember our sad love, remember how we parted-- Time, absence, grief, are naught for love full-hearted, So long as fond hearts beat, They ever must repeat: Recall our love!

Recall our love when under earth reposes This heart at last lulled in eternal sleep-- Recall

our love when on my grave dark roses In solitude their tender petals weep. You will not see me more, but in immortal anguish My stricken soul will ever near you languish; Under the midnight sky A spirit voice will sigh, Recall our love!

[Sidenote: "Les Fleurs de Mal"]

[Sidenote: Baudelaire's Litany]

During this same year in France the pessimism of Alfred de Musset was outdone by Baudelaire's famous collection of poems "Les Fleurs de Mal." Baudelaire, as a poet, took a unique place in French literature. Following in the footsteps of Victor Hugo, and the American, Poe--whose works he was the first to translate into French--he outdid both these masters of the grotesque in bizarre creations. He was the founder of diabolism in French letters. As Sainte-Beuve wrote of Baudelaire: "S'est pris l'enfer et s'est fait diable." The lucubrations of the so-called Satanic School of Byron, Shelley and Hugo were surpassed by Baudelaire's rapt worship of evil as the great power of the world. Take his famous Litany to Satan:

O thou the wisest and most beautiful of cherubim, A god betrayed by fate and reft of worshipping, O Satan, have pity on my endless woe!

Thou, who dost save the bones of the old sot That reels 'twixt prancing steeds and heeds them not, O Satan, have pity on my endless woe!

Adopted father of those whom in his rage on high The God of Vengeance banished from his paradise, O Satan, have pity on my endless woe!

Baudelaire's worship of evil was genuine, since he cared nothing for any virtue save the crowning virtue of artistic excellence. From beginning to end his "Fleurs de Mal" may be said to have blossomed in defiance of all that the world has accepted as virtuous. Baudelaire's unusual sense of the grotesque is believed to have been fostered by his early voyages in the Far East.


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