Love, Life and Death

Love, Life and Death

Culture

Peter O’Neill

For the purpose of perspective, I should like to carry out a short comparative study of two poems treating the subject of the sea. The first poem I should like to focus on is the great sonnet by Charles Baudelaire L’Homme et la Mer, whose composition dates back to 1852. The second poem is a poem I wrote sometime last year, L’Homme et la Merde, in which I use the poem by Baudelaire, as an obvious starting point, in order to attempt to underline the epic socio-and ecological shifts which have occurred in the time frame of the composition of both poems. So, just so that we are absolutely clear, the period of time that separates both poems is 163 years. Without further ado, here is my transversion into English of Baudelaire’s great poem;

 

Man and the Sea

 

Man, free, you will always cherish the sea!

The sea is your mirror; when you stand before it

And contemplate your fate, before its infinite movement,

Your poor mind, brine wracked, couldn’t be more bitter.

 

Yet, you enjoy plunging into the heart of yourself;

Distracted by the immensity before you, and which

Makes you forget, momentarily mesmerised by such

Sheer force, your own apocalypse riding before you, wave bound.

 

You are both just as dark and fathomless;

Man, like the sea, nobody has reached your depths, yet;

Both of you guard jealously your great secrets,

Which you both refuse to give up, without some savage consequence.

 

For innumerable millennia you have both now been struggling

With one another for survival, both just as pitiless,

Both of you loving, as you do, carnage and violence.

O you two blood brothers, eternally vying…

 

Baudelaire’s poem has all of the hallmarks of late nineteenth century romanticism, written as it was just one year after the publication of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), and just forty-eight years after Beethoven’s composition of the Pastoral (1804), his symphony number six. All three works being primarily concerned with man and his extremely precarious place in nature. Ahab’s apocalyptic fate in Melville’s epic account of the hunt for the great white whale having become emblematic of humanity itself, in our own relentless pursuit in attempting to harness nature for our own ends, without thinking about the consequences. Beethoven’s storm in the sixth taking on a very ominous nature when listened to today, as our own climate continually shifts into greater and greater extremes as a direct consequence of the impact our society has being having on the planet, and particularly so within the timeframe of the last fifty or so years. Indeed our knowledge today of the extremely negative impact our collective behaviour is having on the planet; be it as a direct or indirect consequence of global deforestation, industrial waste (be it atomic or other) or the continuing emissions caused from the burning of fossil fuels, is well known by all of us, so much so that we are now all collectively responsible for the state of both the immediate world in which we find ourselves living in today, in other words our own particular microcosm, as well as the greater macro-environment which we communally share, for as long as we humanly can. And, of course, this is the huge question looming over us all today;

If we continue living as we are, in other words without each of us making dramatic changes to our lifestyles, meaning in how we eat, spend etc… these so called life choices which we make every second of each day, how much longer will the earth be able to support us before we are all completely annihilated because of the choices which we have not made?

In order to attempt to frame the question better, I should like to introduce the second poem now L’Homme et la Merde, which I wrote shortly after having been diagnosed with chronic ulcerative colitis early last year (2015).

 

L’Homme et la Merde

 

Sheep, a ghastly consommé, to the swirling form of cupcakes.

These vertiginous constellations, floating like malignant nebula

In the solid throne at the end of your hall… Shit, excrement, stools,

Call them what you will. Yet, these grotesque floaters

 

Will be the very last trace of you. How apt, being a member

Of a species which would appear to be shit-infected.

Le mot de Cambrone; MERDE

Le merde qui est partout.

 

The shitty structures which we maintain and perpetuate.

Up to our necks in it. Won’t be happy till we’re literally

Drowning in it.

 

“Now man,” through these sweetened dumplings

Nature seems to be whispering to you, “Embrace

The imperium of your turbulent, khaki coloured oceans.”

 

 

For the purpose of clarity, the medical condition known as colitis is a terrible affliction caused to the intestine and the bowels, in which the sufferer loses all control of their system, causing unimaginable horror and distress. It is classified as a disease and it is on the increase in countries all around the western hemisphere, interestingly in Asia, where people have a radically different type of diet, and lifestyle, people suffer from it far less. In my own case, the elimination of gluten is what stopped, eventually, the horrendous impact that this sickness was causing to me and my family.

I wrote a lot of poems of a very scatological nature, while suffering from colitis. Although the poem L’Homme et la Merde is, without doubt, the most troubling of them. As this poem reflects an apocalyptic vision of the future of our seas, if we do not do something now to change the way in which we are living. This can be indicated quite simply. For example, this June weekend, here in Skerries, north county Dublin, the front beach had to be closed to swimmers due to a possible leakage of effluents into the sea. It was a terrible thing to experience, as the sun was out that June weekend, and people had come from all parts of Dublin, and possibly beyond, to enjoy a day by the sea. Instead, they had to be informed by the lifeguards that if they wished to swim in the sea they could put themselves at risk of becoming very sick due to the effluent which was now polluting our once beautiful coast.

In fact in Skerries it is a well-known thing, the risk of contamination, as for a couple of years now the town has lost its blue flag due to such incidents as related above. But this is just one story, and on a local level. Multiply it now by every coastal town in the inhabited world, as you can be sure that we are not alone. Imagine the collective damage that is being done?

Why, during the twenty first century, are we still allowing sewage, and other toxic matter, to be pumped into our seas? This is just a basic question, yet which needs an immediate response. Particularly when one considers how the harnessing of bacteria, found in faeces, can create biofuels potentially worth billions; plans are already afoot in Washington D.C. in an attempt to create alternative ways of making energy in order to generate electricity in the city, using faecal matter![1]

Though if we are poisoning ourselves, our bodies were never designed to tolerate such enormous quantities of gluten, thinking again of my own case, what hope do we possibly have of saving the planet around us?

Ignorance, it would appear, is our greatest enemy. And, here is the hope, as this is something we can all start changing, immediately. All we need is the desire.

 

Peter O’ Neill

July, 2016

 

[1] Shaver, Katherine ( 2015-10-07 ). “ D.C. Water begins harnessing electricity from every flush”. The Washington Post.

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