Poetry Wednesday

Poetry Wednesdays: “Get Drunk” by Charles Baudelaire

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about time — about its fleetingness, about all those Latin sayings (tempus fugit – time flies; tempus edax rerum – time, devourer of all things; carpe diem – seize the day), about how little time I have in this world to do all that I want to do.

2012 was a terrible year in many ways. Several people I know died or were left by their loved ones. Three conversations from that year particularly stand out. One was with a colleague whose wife had died at such a young age. He said that he might have rushed many things like their marriage, but he was glad he did as he was at least able to spend her life’s close with her. Another was with an aunt, who told me that when he’d been about to die, my loving uncle said that he regretted being unable to show his family the world. Finally, a friend, who has had a near-death experience, told me that when you are on your deathbed, you do not regret the things you did, but you will regret the things you didn’t do.

So what my uncle had said to my aunt and cousin is not true: we humans, after all, do not have all the time in the world.

The (prose) poem below does not exhort its readers to be inebriated all the time, but be “drunk” on those things you enjoy: “on wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.” I think that when we’re aware of time passing, we are more alive than ever; we do not simply wait for the future — as waiting implies a static, passive action — but cause that desired future to come to fruition. How true that we cannot be “martyred slaves of Time!” We’d be so sober and achingly dull otherwise.

Get Drunk
Charles Baudelaire

Always be drunk.
That’s it!
The great imperative!
In order not to feel
Time’s horrid fardel
bruise your shoulders,
grinding you into the earth,
Get drunk and stay that way.
On what?
On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.
But get drunk.
And if you sometimes happen to wake up
on the porches of a palace,
in the green grass of a ditch,
in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
ask the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock,
ask everything that flees,
everything that groans
or rolls
or sings,
everything that speaks,
ask what time it is;
and the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock
will answer you:
“Time to get drunk!
Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”

Enivrez-Vous

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.

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