A bit of Baudelaire

As my November sonnet binge approaches, I apparently feel the need to limber up.

Among our dog Nessie’s amusing quirks is her terror of holes covered by grids. A couple of years ago, I was delighted when she sniffed warily at such a hole and had her terror justified when the darkness just beneath the grid turned out into a hissing cat. That gave rise to this:

She looks down
Wherever Nessie goes she takes her fear
of what might lie beneath the solid ground.
She doesn’t shrink from cliffs, she’ll gladly bound
down hillsides, but she comes all over queer
when asked to walk on grids that cover holes –
no matter if mere centimetres deep.
She turns to stone, responds to no controls
as one afraid of dreams recoils from sleep.

At times, off leash, ears pointing, she will dare,
tout pleine de vague horreur, and so so slow,
creep to the edge and, fascinated, stare
at unseen demons, the nothing-space below.

Today, green eyes stared back from an abyss,
and scared her silly with a black cat’s hiss.

A special prize if you noticed the references to Baudelaire’s poem Le Gouffre, itself referring back to Blaise Pascal’s existential terror. Now it’s not as if I’ve been abyss-obsessed myself, but I was thinking about Baudelaire’s poem recently and spent a couple of hours doing a version of it. My reading of the last line seems to be the opposite of everyone else’s, but maybe I’m the only one in step. Here it is:

The abyss
Pascal travelled with his own abyss.
Poor Blaise! all’s horror: deeds, desires, dreams,
and words! My nape too feels the screams
of bristles at the breath of Fear’s soft kiss.
Above, below, all round, on banks, in streams,
in silence, in great captivating space …
my night’s a wall for God’s hand to deface
with take-no-prisoners spray, where nightmare teems.

I fear my sleep, a door that opens wide
to formless horror on who knows what tide.
Infinity is every window’s view.

My heart, forever dizzy for a fall,
yearns for a void, for numbness over all.
Ah! Not to leave what’s solid, two plus two.

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