Folly and error, avarice and vice,
Employ our souls and waste our bodies' force.
As mangey beggars incubate their lice,
We nourish our innocuous remorse.
Our sins are stubborn, craven our repentance.
For our weak vows we ask excessive prices.
Trusting our tears will wash away the sentence,
We sneak off where the muddy road entices.
Cradled in evil, that Thrice-Great Magician,
The Devil, rocks our souls, that can't resist;
And the rich metal of our own volition
Is vaporised by that sage alchemist.
The Devil pulls the strings by which we're worked:
By all revolting objects lured, we slink
Hellwards; each day down one more step we're jerked
Feeling no horror, through the shades that stink.
Just as a lustful pauper bites and kisses
The scarred and shrivelled breast of an old whore,
We steal, along the roadside, furtive blisses,
Squeezing them, like stale oranges, for more.
Packed tight, like hives of maggots, thickly seething
Within our brains a host of demons surges.
Deep down into our lungs at every breathing,
Death flows, an unseen river, moaning dirges.
If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life —
It is because we are not bold enough!
Amongst the jackals, leopards, mongrels, apes,
Snakes, scorpions, vultures, that with hellish din,
Squeal, roar, writhe, gambol, crawl, with monstrous shapes,
In each man's foul menagerie of sin —
There's one more damned than all. He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn...
Boredom! He smokes his hookah, while he dreams
Of gibbets, weeping tears he cannot smother.
You know this dainty monster, too, it seems —
Hypocrite reader! — You! — My twin! — My brother!
--Baudelaire, "Au Lecteur," tr. by Roy Campbell
What a scathing presentation of ennui, and how accurate. The vice of sloth, who swallows "existence with a yawn," is one of the most difficult vices to resist, perhaps second only to pride. As I read this poem, though, it occurred to me that this is the inverse of the praises of God. Compare it with the psalm, "Miserere Mei Deus."
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.
To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee: that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged.
For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.
For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me.
Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.
Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels.
Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.
I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee.
Deliver me from blood, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol thy justice. O Lord, thou wilt open my lips: and my mouth shall declare thy praise.
For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted.
A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Deal favourably, O Lord, in thy good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up.
Then shalt thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon thy altar.
Baudelaire lived a profligate and hedonistic life, hounded by moods of severe melancholy, and died of disease. He writes from his experience. In his poem on sloth, he speaks for all those who are trapped in vice but cannot escape, who feel themselves yanked down towards the devil with every move. The gates of hell and the yawning maw of boredome are the same for him.
All the while, the words of the Psalmist are sung by the Church every week, repeating that the heart can be clean, and begging God to open our mouths to praise.
I know we have all felt the emotions of Baudelaire, and have known the salvation from the futile ways that David sings of. I guess the only point I'm trying to make is that it is very good to be Catholic.