‘If it be permitted us to assign sex to nations as to individuals, we should have to say without hesitance that the Celtic race… is an essentially feminine race. […]
Ireland above all would offer a religious physiognomy quite peculiar to itself, which would appear singularly original, were history in a position to reveal it in its entirety. When we consider the legions of Irish saints who in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries inundated the Continent and arrived from their isle bearing with them their stubborn spirit, their attachment to their own usages, their subtle and realistic turn of mind, and see the Scots (such was the name given to the Irish) doing duty, until the twelfth century, as instructors in grammar and literature to all the West, we cannot doubt that Ireland, in the first half of the Middle Ages, was the scene of a singular religious movement. Studious philologists and daring philosophers, the Hibernian monks were above all indefatigable copyists; and it was in part owing to them that the work of the pen became a holy task. Columba, secretly warned that his last hour is at hand, finishes the page of the psalter which he has commenced, writes at the foot that he bequeaths the continuation to his successor, and then goes into the church to die. Nowhere was monastic life to find such docile subjects. Credulous as a child, timid, indolent, inclined to submit and obey, the Irishman alone was capable of lending himself to that complete self-abdication in the hands of the abbot, which we find so deeply marked in the historical and legendary memorials of the Irish Church. One easily recognises the land where, in our own days, the priest, without provoking the slightest scandal, can, on a Sunday before quitting the altar, give the orders for his dinner in a very audible manner, and announce the farm where he intends to go and dine, and where he will hear his flock in confession. In the presence of a people which lived by imagination and the senses alone, the Church did not consider itself under the necessity of dealing severely with the caprices of religious fantasy.’
Ernest Renan, The Poetry of the Celtic Races, translated by W. G. Hutchison.
‘From my ancestors the Gauls I have pale blue eyes, a narrow brain, and awkwardness in competition. I think my clothes are as barbaric as theirs. But I don’t butter my hair.
The Gauls were the most stupid hide-flayers and hay-burners of their time.
From them, I inherit: idolatry, and love of sacrelige; – oh! all sorts of vice, anger, lechery, – terrific stuff, lechery; – lying, above all, and laziness.
I have a horror of all trades and crafts. Bosses and workers, all of them peasants, and common. The hand that holds the pen is as good as the one that holds the plow. – What a century for hands! – I’ll never learn to use my hands. And then, domesticity goes too far. The propriety of beggary shames me. Criminals are as disgusting as men without balls: I’m intact, and I don’t care.
But! who has made my tongue so treacherous, that until now it has counseled and kept me in idleness? I have not used even my body to get along. Out-idling the sleepy toad, I have lived everywhere. There’s not one family in Europe that I don’t know. – Families, I mean, like mine, who owe their existence to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. – I have known each family’s eldest son!
If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!
But instead, nothing.
I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder: to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.
I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments. – I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. – And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.
Ah! one thing more: I dance the Sabbath in a scarlet clearing, with old women and children.
I don’t remember much beyond this land, and Christianity. I will see myself forever in its past. But always alone; without a family; what language, in fact, did I used to speak? I never see myself in the councils of Christ; nor in the councils of the Lords, – Christ’s representatives.
What was I in the century past: I only find myself today. The vagabonds, the hazy wars are gone. The inferior race has swept over all – the People, as they put it, Reason; Nation and Science.
Ah, Science! Everything is taken from the past. For the body and the soul, – the last sacrament, – we have Medicine and Philosophy, household remedies and folk songs rearrainged. And royal entertainments, and games that kings forbid! Geography, Cosmography, Mechanics, Chemistry!…
Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world moves!… And why shouldn’t it?
We have visions of numbers. We are moving toward the Spirit. What I say is oracular and absolutely right. I understand, and since I cannot express myself except in pagan terms, I would rather keep quiet.
Pagan blood returns! The Spirit is at hand, why does Christ not help me, and grant my soul nobility and freedom. Ah! but the Gospel belongs to the past! The Gospel! The Gospel.
I wait gluttinously for God. I have been of an inferior race for ever and ever.
And now I am on the beaches of Brittany. Let cities light their lamps in the evening. My daytime is done; I am leaving Europe. The air of the sea will burn my lungs; lost climates will turn my skin to leather. To swim, to pulverize grass, to hunt, above all to smoke; to drink strong drinks, as strong as molten ore, – as did those dear ancestors around their fires.
I will come back with limbs of iron, with dark skin, and angry eyes: in this mask, they will think I belong to a strong race. I will have gold: I will be brutal and indolent. Women nurse these ferocious invalids come back from the tropics. I will become involved in politics. Saved.
Now I am accursed, I detest my native land. The best thing is a drunken sleep, stretched out on some strip of shore.
But no one leaves. – Let us set out once more on our native roads, burdened with my vice, that vice that since the age of reason has driven roots of suffering into my side – that towers to heaven, beats me, hurls me down, drags me on.
Ultimate innocence, final timidity. All’s said. Carry no more my loathing and treacheries before the world.
Come on! Marching, burdens, the desert, boredom and anger.
Hire myself to whom? What beasts adore? What sacred images destroy? What hearts shall I break? What lie maintain? – Through what blood wade?
Better to keep away from justice. – A hard life, outright stupor, – with a dried-out fist to lift the coffin lid, lie down, and suffocate. No old age this way, no danger: terror is very un-French.
– Ah! I am so forsaken I will offer at any shrine impulses toward perfection.
Oh my self-denial, my marvelous Charity! my Selfless love! And still here below!
De Profundis Domine, what an ass I am!
When I was still a little child, I admired the hardened convict on whom the prison door will always close; I used to visit the bars and the rented rooms his presence had consecrated; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flower-filled work of the fields; I followed his fatal scent through city streets. He had more strength than the saints, more sense than any explorer – and he, he alone! was witness to his glory and his rightness.
Along the open road on winter nights, homeless, cold, and hungry, one voice gripped my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: you exist, that is strength. You don’t know where you are going or why you are going, go in everywhere, answer everyone. No one will kill you, any more than if you were a corpse.” In the morning my eyes were so vacant and my face so dead, that the people I met may not even have seen me.
In cities, mud went suddenly red and black, like a mirror when a lamp in the next room moves, like treasure in the forest! Good luck, I cried, and I saw a sea of flames and smoke rise to heaven; and left and right, all wealth exploded like a billion thunderbolts.
But orgies and the companionship of women were impossible for me. Not even a friend. I saw myself before an angry mob, facing a firing squad, weeping out sorrows they could not understand, and pardoning! – like Joan of Arc! – “Priests, professors and doctors, you are mistaken in delivering me into the hands of the law. I have never been one of you; I have never been a Christian; I belong to the race that sang on the scaffold; I do not understand your laws; I have no moral sense; I am a brute; you are making a mistake…”
Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am an animal, a nigger. But I can be saved. You are fake niggers; maniacs, savages, misers, all of you. Businessman, you’re a nigger; judge, you’re a nigger; general, you’re a nigger; emperor, old scratch-head, you’re a nigger: you’ve drunk a liquor no one taxes, from Satan’s still. – This nation is inspired by fever and cancer. Invalids and old men are so respectable that they ask to be boiled. – The best thing is to quit this continent where madness prowls, out to supply hostages for these wretches. I will enter the true kingdom of the sons of Cham.
Do I understand nature? Do I understand myself? No more words. I shroud dead men in my stomach…. Shouts, drums, dance, dance, dance! I can’t even imagine the hour when the white men land, and I will fall into nothingness.
Thirst and hunger, shouts, dance, dance, dance!
The white men are landing. Cannons! Now we must be baptized, get dressed, and go to work.
My heart has been stabbed by grace. Ah! I hadn’t thought this would happen!
But I haven’t done anything wrong. My days will be easy, and I will be spared repentance. I will not have had the torments of the soul half-dead to the Good, where austure light rises again like funeral candles. The fate of a first-born son, a premature coffin covered with shining tears. No doubt, perversion is stupid, vice is stupid; rottenness must always be cast away. But the clock must learn to strike more than hours of pure pain! Am I to be carried away like a child, to play in paradise, forgetting all this misery!
Quick! Are there any other lives? – Sleep for the rich is impossible. Wealth has always lived openly. divine love alone confers the keys of knowledge. I see that nature is only a show of kindness. Farewell chimeras, ideals and errors.
The reasonable song of angels rises from the rescue ship: it is divine love. – Two loves! I may die of earthly love, die of devotion. I have left behind creatures whose grief will grow at my going! You choose me from among the castaways, aren’t those who remain my friends?
I am reborn in reason. The world is good. I will bless life. I will love my brothers. There are no longer childhood promises. Nor the hope of escaping old age and death. God is my strength, and I praise God.
Boredom is no longer my love. Rage, perversion, madness, whose every impulse and disaster I know, – my burden is set down entire. Let us appraise with clear heads the extent of my innocence.
I am no longer able to ask for the consolation of a beating. I don’t imagine I’m off on a honeymoon with Jesus Christ as my father-in-law.
I am no prisoner of my own reason. I have said: God. I want freedom within salvation: how shall I go about it? A taste for frivolity has left me. No further need for divine love or for devotion to duty. I do not regret the age of emotion and feeling. To each his own reason, contempt, Charity: I keep my place at the top of the angelic ladder of good sense.
As for settled happiness, domestic or not… no, I can’t. I am too dissipated, too weak. Work makes life blossom, an old idea, not mine; my life doesn’t weigh enough, it drifts off and floats far beyond action, that third pole of the world.
What an old maid I’m turning into, to lack the courage to love death!
If only God would grant me that celestial calm, etherial calm, and prayer, – like the saints of old. – The Saints! They were strong! Anchorites, artists of a kind we no longer need!
Does this farce have no end? My innocence is enough to make me cry. Life is the farce we all must play.
Stop it! this is your punishment. – Forward march!
Ah! my lungs burn, my temples roar! Night rolls in my eyes, beneath this sun! My heart… my arms and legs…
Where are we going? To battle? I am weak! the others go on ahead. Tools, weapons… give me time!…
Fire! Fire at me! Here! or I’ll give myself up. – Cowards! – I’ll kill myself! I’ll throw myself beneath the horses’ hooves!
– I’ll get used to it.
That would be the French way, the path of honor!’
Arthur Rimbaud, Mauvais Sang, translated by Paul Schmidt.