Chateaubriand's memoirs, III, 11

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III, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> III, 12


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book III - Chapter 11
Incantation



Night fell: the reeds agitated their fields of distaffs and two-edged swords, among which the feathered caravan, moorhens, teal, kingfishers, and snipe fell silent; the lake beat at its margins; autumn’s great voice rose from the marshes and woods: I moored my boat on the shore, and returned to the château. Ten o’clock sounded. Scarcely having retired to my room, opening my windows, and fixing my gaze on the sky, I would begin an incantation. I mounted with my sorceress towards the clouds: tangled in their nets and tresses, I would travel, as the storms willed, stirring the tops of the forests, shaking the mountain summits, or whirling above the seas. Plunging through space, descending from the throne of God to the gates of the abyss, worlds were delivered up to the force of my passion. In the midst of the elemental chaos, I drunkenly married the sense of danger with that of pleasure. The breath of the north wind only brought me the sighs of sensual delight; the murmur of the rain invited me to slumber on a woman’s breast. The words I addressed to that woman would have given old age back its senses, and warmed marble tombs. Ignorant of all, knowing all, at once virgin and lover, innocent Eve, and fallen Eve, the enchantress through whom my madness arose was a blend of mysteries and passions: I set her on an altar and adored her. The pride of being loved by her increased my love still more. Did she walk? I prostrated myself to be trodden by her feet. I was flustered by her smile; I trembled at the sound of her voice; I quivered with desire, if I touched what she had touched. The air, exhaled from her moist mouth, penetrated the marrow of my bones, flowed in my veins instead of blood. A single one of her looks sent me flying to the ends of the earth; what desert would not have sufficed for me, with her there!! By her side, the lions’ den had become a palace, and millions of centuries would have been too short to exhaust the fires by which I felt myself inflamed.

To this fury a moral idolatry was joined: through another quirk of my imagination, that Phryne, who clasped me in her arms, was also to me glory, and above all honour; the virtue with which she achieved her noblest sacrifices, the genius with which it gave birth to the rarest thought, would scarcely yield an idea of that other kind of happiness. In my marvellous creation I found at the same moment all the delights of the senses and all the pleasures of the soul. Overwhelmed, as if submerged, by this double joy, I no longer knew what my true existence was; I was human and not human; I became cloud, wind, sound; I was a pure spirit, an aerial being, singing sovereign happiness. I stripped myself of my nature to merge with the daughter of my desires, to transform myself into her, to touch beauty most intimately, to be at the same moment passion given and received, love and the object of love.

Suddenly, struck by my madness, I flung myself on my couch; I rolled about with grief; I drenched my bed with bitter tears which no one saw and which flowed pitifully, for one who did not exist.