I felt like I was on the edge of…something garishly fabulous; that I was about to take a final step into a mind full of horrors, quagmires and beauty. Really, I felt like Dorian Gray when he was reaching out to the debauched wit and sensibility of Lord Henry Wotton. Kind of. Not so pretty, maybe.
I had in my hand a book, a poem, actually, by Arthur Rimbaud called "A Season in Hell".
Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine – a trifecta representing symbolism, unspeakable (for the 19th century) acts, despair, drugs, absinthe and remarkable thoughts expressed in a way that both attracted and appalled. Their thinking was internal, so internal, so determined to get to the core of the meaning of their own behavior that they came close to suffocating in the close air of a mind befuddled by opiates. (Aubrey was a near contemporary of these men, but his thoughts were so out there, that the free air his imagination encountered - albeit trapped in a TB-polluted body – was actually liberating).
Anyway, these lives – riddled with anguish and brilliance – fascinated me, but I always stopped short from reading the works these lives created.
This past Saturday I was at the Iliad Bookstore – a fine establishment I wrote about last November. Zola, the bookish tortie kitteh – missing an eye and some teeth from two years of abuse – was in residence: she was napping on top of a box piled high with books. She had chosen as well one of the day's last shafts of sunlight to bathe in.
I wandered about, which is the best thing to do in a bookstore. In the literature section, I found the book pictured above. I liked the look of it. It was small, easy to hold. It had the original dust jacket, and was published in 1952. The cover graphics and colors were highly unusual – indicative of the graphic design of the late ' 40's and early '50's. I later did some research and found that the artist was Alvin Lustig, a well known designer of textiles and book jackets. Looks-wise, this little honey was a find.
But did I want to read it? Rimbaud, yes, I wanted to read his works; but now? Or would I keep the name hanging over me like a kind of literary Damocles sword, dangerous and delicious?
I carelessly opened the book and began to read:
"Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One Evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I
Found her bitter. And I cursed her.
I armed myself against justice."
I paid in cash.