Beside a little [opium] lamp
[Image: 'Awakening from the Opium', A. Matignon, 1911]
The author of the poem appearing below had always idolized Oscar Wilde, but regretted never having made his acquaintance. The fact that the two men never met was probably for the best, since the Baron Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, would have shocked and scandalized Mr. Wilde to the point of fatal apoplexy (not unlike another royal personage who actually had met Wilde (and with similar results); Count Eric von Stenbock, but more of him in a future entry…!). You see, the Baron had been arrested on more than one occasion for arcane hobbies like administering a clandestine, opium-fueled Black Mass for young boys who had curiously forgotten to clothe themselves; a soirée which the local gendarmerie was very unhappy to have caught wind of, to say the least...
Eventually, after many more capers of this type, the Baron banished himself to what he called his Capri. It will be recalled that the Isle of Capri was first made famous by the Emperor Tiberius Caesar, who fashioned the entire island into what is likely to have been the first Erotic/Debauchery-oriented theme park in history. It is said that Tiberius felt that he could temporarily divest himself of the cares and burdens of being a Caesar by watching the very unusual activities that his highly trained staff regaled him with. Dwarves, hermaphrodites, prodigies, monsters and other teratological beings besported themselves before his throne, as he leered in appreciation of their refined and discriminating ‘talents’.
When asked what it was like to rule Rome, and thus, the known world, Tiberius said from Capri (and I paraphrase) “He who wishes to rule Rome must learn how to ride on the back of a voracious wolf by holding onto its ears alone. If you lose your grip, even for the briefest of moments, all is lost.” History records that the reign of Tiberius was followed by the gentle and sober rule of Gaius Germanicus Caesar, also called 'Caligula'. Tee Hee!
But, I digress…
The following poem relates to one of the paraphernalia of the opium smoking ritual of more than a century ago, the Yen Dong. This little brass or silver-plated lamp was required for igniting the prepared opium (chandu) that had been placed inside of the opium pipe (Yen Tshung). Normally, a small amount of the chandu was kept within reach of the smoker in a small lacquer or ivory container called a Yen Hop (hence the English term for addicts of this type known as ‘Hop Heads’)’
Once the opium smoker begins their narcotic reverie, the last thing that they usually see before their eyes have completely closed, is the little lamp; sole source of light in a universally dark abyss.
A La Petite Lampe
Dans l'ombre verte et bleue, et nocturne, pareille
Aux grands paons oscellés de la forêt d'Angkor,
Tu es le seul rubis qui soit là, le lys d'or,
L'œil pur qui nous protège et l'esclave qui veille.
Tandis que notre orgueil au sacre s'émerveille
Et que les pavots noirs jonchent les miradors,
Quand l'âme du fumeur s'exhale de son corps
Et que toutes les mers chantent à nos oreilles,
Lorsque l'espoir, cabot fardé, sourit tout bas;
Lorsque nos vieux chagrins entrouvent leurs yeux las,
Qu'un sanglot vient aigrir leur pauvre bouche usée,
Te voici. flamme austère, o cygne virginal !...
Et brusquement je vois, dans ton miroir fatal,
Ma vie : cette Victoire aux deux ailes brisées!
Hei Hsiang : Le Parfum Noir, 1921.
Beside the Little Lamp
In the blue-green shadow, evoking a nocturne like
The grand swaying peacocks in the forests of Angkor,
You are the only ruby that exists there, lily of gold,
The pure eye that protects us and the slave who keeps watch.
While our pride marvels at sacred things,
And when black poppies are strewn from watchtowers,
Then each smoker's soul exhales itself from their body,
And all seas sing in our ears,
When Hope, that garish ham, barely smiles;
When our old griefs half-open their tired eyes,
Like a sob that embitters their poor worn-out mouths,
You are here, austere flame, oh virginal swan!...
And suddenly I see, in your fatal mirror,
My life: this Victory with two broken wings!
Hei Hsiang : The Black Perfume, 1921.(Traduction Anglaise: Sardonique Schadenfreude Rictus / Dr. Bathybius, 2008).