Jules Laforgue

By Benjamin De Casseres

JULES LAFORGUE, Frenchman, who died at twenty-seven, left three volumes—a book of poems, a book of legendary moralities and a book of epigrams and meditations.

Three great poets of modern times have left for us in their work mirrors of the beauty that is ghastly—Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudeclaire [sic], and Jules Laforgue. The beauty of the ghastly—whence comes it? In the poems of Laforgue one is in the midst of death and in the midst of life at once. The ghastly, the cynical, the Ideal and the Absolute make up the monstrous arabesque of his nature. Moored to the wharf of the flesh, the sails of his spirit strain with breezes from the Open. What Open? The cimmerian Open of the Néant or the light-blasting Open of a boreal Absolute? Down the spine of the gods themselves there runs a chill at the reading of his poems and satires. And yet from them drifts a beauty, nameless and unconsecreated, ethereal and super-Chopinesque.

This unshriven Dante whose moods were the rungs to his secret hell was touched with moon-madness. He was an immigrant from the moon. He was a moon botanist. He tells us of its flora, its fauna, its metaphysical opalescence, its incandescent and stalactitic marvels, its bloodless arteries, its arcanum of Nothing and its sadic chastity.

All speculation, all thought, all of life with its utter wisdom are in these poems, satires and thoughts. Laforgue was one of those strange beings born at the ends of time. He was one of the pre-destined, a nomad of metaphysical countries, the unfaithful lover of Isis, Astoreth and Astarte. He was a voluptuary of contrarieties. He volplaned with his metaphor-machine from the highest altitudes to the bogs and gutters. His anticlimaxes were more tremendous than Heine’s and his flights were to the very ridge of Nirvana—where he played Pierrot!

But he came back sometimes from those heights with a fistful of stars and in tears composed a requiem for the living. His heartlessness was mystical and literary. The chastity of his satanism made him at once a Joseph and a Don Juan. Exotic to earth, sentenced to eternity, commanded by his demon to engrave a Z on all he saw and touched, yet rammed into a sack of flesh and blood, do we wonder that in Jules Laforgue the adulterous relations of Sneer and Sob broke the bed of his brain?

To such minds, dowered with the wit of eternity, to whom all todays are ancient and all tomorrows coffins in the making, there is one escape: cosmophobia. Wing the soul with poetry and metaphysics. That flight into the azure is the magnificent eloquence of fatigue. And then there is the rapturous delight of an eternal sabotage against the instincts and manners of the average man and woman. Cruel? Yes, divinely cruel. It is the revenge on the race, on the species, for the birth of the seraphic demon that we call the great poet. Pierrot Fumiste? Pierrot-Parabrahma rather! Even Time, with its suckers of the Hours, is spat upon in the miracle of Laforgue’s art.

Laforgue was always trying to puncture the carapace of the relative with the stiletto of his absolutism. He was supremely a bovaryst, as Jules de Gaultier, the greatest living thinker, would say. Chevalier of the Holy Grail, another great French Writer has called Jules Laforgue. His aspiration to be nothing was his aspiration for absorption in the All. He put into poetry and satire what Hegel put into unreadable prose.

At the last nothing could satisfy that soul but God—and yet he would have ventured into the Presence dressed as Harlequin—with a crown of thorns on his head. Imprisoned in the aura of his metaphysical passion, rolling from boreal hell to boreal hell, the carapace of Reality stood against the battering of that mighty soul. He stanched the flow of thought and drove it back into the arteries of the subconscious. Still no answer.

The moon, that floating pole, was silent. Silent the brain, silent the heart; and so his dreams congealed in death, as happens to all of us.

And now the soul of Jules Laforgue is become a magnificent butterfly imprisoned in the center of an iceberg on the moon.


Source: The International, May 1914, Vol. VIII No. 5, p. 158