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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Be always drunken" continually, with wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will: Charles Baudelaire (1857)

Yesterday an Anonymous reader posted what I consider the most interesting and profound Comment posted on "Bobs blog" since I started this project last July.  The reader was responding to my post about the young woman who hates my being present, dancing, in the dance clubs.  The entire Comment consisted of Charles Baudelaire's poem "Enivrez-vous" from his 1857 poetry collection, "Les Fleurs du Mal" ("The Flowers of Evil").    One English translation of the title "Envivrez-vous" is "Be always drunken."  The literal translation of the French would be "Get drunk" or "Be drunk," as an exhortation.

I will give you, below, the original poem, in French, followed by an English translation which was recited by the actor Dean Stockwell to the actor Ralph Richardson in a 1962 movie version of Eugene O'Neil's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."  The Google Translate version is a bad translation.

If you read the poem, you'll see that the poet is not primarily interested in persuading people to get drunk on alcohol.  Instead, the idea is, get drunk on life, however you need to do that.  The last stanza of the poem sums it up:

"Be drunken continually,
with wine, with poetry, or with virtue, 
as you will."

The poem aptly describes what happens in the dance clubs I spend four nights a week performing in.  Everybody other than me drinks a lot of alcohol and pretty much gets inebriated, high.  I drink water almost exclusively.  Occasionally I'll have one drink (vodka with cranberry juice) or a beer, but that's really the rare exception.

But I DO get drunk: on the music, the atmosphere, my dancing, and the energy I absorb from my audience's reaction to my uninhibited dancing.

Until the onlookers get to know me, they frequently come up to me and ask what I'm "on."  "What are you taking?" is a frequent question.  "Nothing.  I'm just drinking water.  I'm high on life.  I'm a retired lawyer.  I got sick of feeding my law firm's money machine.  Now I dance, write, do stand-up comedy, and generally find the fun and humor in life, rather than the money and tragedy."  When I still get stares of skeptical unbelief, I call over friends of mine, young men who have seen me over many weeks in the clubs, and ask them to convince the unbelievers.

People wonder where I get the energy to dance without a break of any kind for three or four hours at a time.  "All that energy I put into making money for my law firm and into the anxiety I sustained to maintain my intense focus on all the details of all the cases I handled is now free for dancing and writing and comedy," I explain.  And then I return to The Dance.

When I perform, which is frequently, in the dance clubs, on the streets, in the stores (dancing, comedy, showing off), I become highly energized, intoxicated, drunk, really.  But the power supply is God-given, not drug-induced.

When I seriously thought of killing myself, during the three months of my severe depression, from September through December of 2010, I was like the man the poet describes in the poem, the man lying in the dreary solitude of his own room, who awakens, and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from him.  Somehow, by mid-January of 2011, as in the poem, I somehow found out how, as the poem says:


"to ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock,
of whatever flies or sighs or rocks or sings or speaks,
ask what hour it 'tis,
and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock 
will answer you:
'It is the hour to be drunken.' "


At first, my family, law partners, strangers, and friends thought I was too drunken for their taste.  Perhaps I was, but I found that state far preferable to where I had been in "the dreary solitude of [my] own room," 
contemplating how I could end my life the previous Fall.  

Then, what I considered "Job-like Comforters" entreated me to take mood-stabilization medication.  They thought I was too drunk and needed external means to make me more "sober."  I refused, reacted angrily, even viciously to my friends who made this suggestion.  I was confident that I could adjust my level of emotional, psychological, and spiritual intoxication with life by myself, using the resource of talking every week with my social worker psycho-therapist, Ray Oakes, without taking mood-stabilizing medication.  

Over time I HAVE moderated my mood, learned to turn the "inebriation" on or off depending on who I'm with and what the context is.  I haven't yet struck the perfect, Goldilocks, balance, but I'm on the road to achieving that goal.

In the meantime, Anonymous, I plan to memorize Charles Baudelaire's wonderful poem.  And I will continue to dance, no matter how many people hate me for it or feel anxious about it.

Here's the original French poem, followed by a link to a YouTube video of Dean Stockwell's film performance of it, and the English translation which Stockwell recited in the film:

Charles Baudelaire

Enivrez-vous (Paris Spleen, 1864)

Il faut être toujours ivre. Tout est là: c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise. Mais enivrez-vous.
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d'un palais, sur l'herbe verte d'un fossé, dans la solitude morne de votre chambre, vous vous réveillez, l'ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez au vent, à la vague, à l'étoile, à l'oiseau, à l'horloge, à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est et le vent, la vague, l'étoile, l'oiseau, l'horloge, vous répondront: "Il est l'heure de s'enivrer! Pour n'être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps, enivrez-vous; enivrez-vous sans cesse! De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise."

 Be Always Drunken

Be always drunken,
nothing else matters,
that is the only question.

If you would not feel the horrible burden of time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken, continually.

Be drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue,
as you will,
but be drunken.

And sometimes,
if on the stairs of a palace
or on the green side of a ditch
or in the dreary solitude of your own room
you should awaken,
and the drunkenness
be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock,
of whatever flies or sighs or rocks or sings or speaks,
ask what hour it 'tis,
and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock
will answer you:
"It is the hour to be drunken."

Be drunken continually,
with wine, with poetry, or with virtue,
as you will.

http://youtu.be/0Zlzl4uUWjw      The YouTube link to Dean Stockwell's lovely recitation of the poem in the
                                                  movie

5 comments:

  1. Bob, Glad you like the poem. Should I stay anonymous or ID myself when we cross paths?

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous (February 1, 2012 at 12:29 p.m.),
      My goodness, almost two years later I ran into you the other day and you identified yourself as the Anonymous poster of that wonderful poem! Thanks for letting me know who you were/are!

      Best,

      Bob

      Delete
  2. Dear erudite and supportive Anonymous,
    I would very much like you to identify yourself when our paths cross. If you would like, I will of course respect your privacy and not reveal your identity to anyone. But I am most curious about you. I love the fact you posted that wonderful poem, without any explanation or comment of your own. None was needed. Your intelligence in your selection, your obvious aesthetic sensibility, was apparent to anyone who read my post and then the Baudelaire work.
    When I went to France as a 16-year-old boy, in the summer of 1966, I loved the Baudelaire poem we studied which begins, "Songe a la douceur, d'aller la bas, vivre ensemble.....aimer et loisir......" I'm not sure I've spelled the fragment I remember, correctly, but I loved the SOUND of that poem. And now, 46 years later, as an old man who has recaptured the happiness of his youth, you have given me the greatest gift a person can receive: a beautiful poem, in French, which perfectly captures the spirit which left me when I lay on my couch in Fall of 2010, dreaming up ways I might kill myself, and which now, in my dotage, I have recaptured and find ways to live out each day God decides to give me another chance to......."Be drunken" and dance, dance, dance.....
    Whoever you are, Anonymous, I have great affection and admiration for you.

    All best,

    The Drunken Dancer

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    Replies
    1. William Johnson, my wonderful brother-in-law and second-in-time brother (my first being biological brother Bill Dutcher), wrote the following email to me in response to my above Comment mentioning another poem by Baudelaire which I first discovered and learned on a trip to France when I was a babe of 16 years. Here's William's Comment:

      Hey, Bob-e-ree-Bob, the Drunken Dancer,

      It is a great poem, by one of my favourite poets.

      By the way, what you quoted was the second line of the poem: When I went to France as a 16-year-old boy, in the summer of 1966, I loved the Baudelaire poem we studied which begins, "Songe a la douceur, d'aller la bas, vivre ensemble.....aimer et loisir......" I'm not sure I've spelled the fragment I remember, correctly, but I loved the SOUND of that poem.

      It begins (from memory):
      Mon enfant, ma sœur,
      Songe à la douceur
      D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble.
      Aimer à loisir
      Aimer à mourir
      Au pays qui te ressemble.
      La douce clarté
      De ces nuits d’été
      Pour mon esprit a les charmes
      Si mystérieux
      De tes traîtres yeux

      I’m off to bed. At what time do you head off to dance?

      Stumblebum Billy

      And my answer to William's question about the dance departure time is: between 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., depending on what else is going on before the dancing (e.g. dinner with "old fart" friends), what the club's closing time is (usually 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.), and when I've told various people I've seen around time The Bob Show will start at a particular dance club. I certainly don't want to disappoint my fans by having them show up and me not being there, ready to perform.

      All best,

      Bob

      Delete
  3. I love this poem the more I read it and begin to commit it to memory. But I found the third line in the first stanza puzzling. It finally made sense to me as I was cutting wood in the back lot this afternoon.

    The first stanza goes like this:

    Be always drunken,
    nothing else matters,
    that is the only question.

    But why the "that is the only question"? And then it dawned on me. The poet was thinking of Hamlet's "To be or not to be, that is the question." Hamlet was contemplating whether to live or kill himself.

    In "Be always drunken," the poet is saying, in that third line, "that is the only question," don't ever think about whether or not to kill yourself. That should be out-of-the-question for all people. Life is too precious, too rare, too wonderful, to give it up voluntarily. No, the poet says, the ONLY question is how do I make oneself ALIVE to life, EXCITED by life, ENRAPTURED of life? And the rest of the poem answers that question.
    Ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, for they never contemplate ending their existences. Only humans think about such irrelevant (to the poet) questions. The ONLY question is: am I ALIVE to life and, if not, how can I regain that attitude?
    Perhaps you have a different interpretation of the poem or that third line. If so, please let us hear your ideas.

    Best,

    Bob Dutcher

    ReplyDelete