Victor Hugo and the French Aesthetic

I have long admired, even loved, the French but I don’t think I ever quite understood why until I read Victor Hugo. Their commitment to liberty inspired two revolutions – America’s and their own – that created the best of the world we live in today. They are more responsible than anyone for the evolution of government from hereditary monarchy to a system that exists to serve its people, not the other way around.

Their culture, their devotion to beauty, their appreciation of romance inspires artists and lovers everywhere. Their lust is not simple desire, but desires, eternally mingled with playful affection. In addition to their reverence for fine wine, cheese, and bread, they have an appreciation for the peculiar wonders of femininity and masculinity that aren’t chained to rigid concepts of gender. Makeup, wigs, and high heels were always for men as well as women.

Love is not a rigid concept either. It flows. It mutates. It entices. It satisfies a hunger that even the finest meals cannot. In this passage from Les Miserables, Victor Hugo produces a fine reduction of the love between an old blind bishop and his adoring sister that could easily translate into the love between parent and child, or between lovers:

To have continually at your side a woman, a girl, a sister, a charming being, who is there because you need her, and because she cannot do without you, to know you are indispensable to someone necessary to you, to be able at all times to measure her affection by the degree of her presence that she gives you, and to say to yourself: She dedicates all her time to me, because I possess her whole love; to see the thought if not the face; to be sure of the fidelity of one being in a total eclipse of the world; to imagine the rustling of her dress as the rustling of wings; to hear her moving to and fro, going out, coming in, talking, singing, and to think that you are the cause of those steps, those words, that song; to show your personal attraction at every moment; to feel even more powerful as your infirmity increases; to become in darkness, and by reason of darkness, the star around which this angel gravitates; few joys can equal that. The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves – say rather, loved in spite of ourselves; this conviction the blind have. Are they deprived of anything? No. Light is not lost where love enters. And what a love! A love wholly founded in purity. There is no blindness where there is certainty. The soul gropes in search of a soul, and finds it. And that soul, found and proven, is a woman. A hand sustains you, it is hers; lips lightly touch your forehead, they are her lips; you hear breathing near you, it is she. To have her wholly, from her devotion to her pity, never to be left alone, to have that sweet shyness as your aid, to lean on that unbending reed, to touch Providence with your hands and be able to grasp it in your arms; God made palpable, what transport!

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My love is like the sun

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My love is like the sun
it will hide behind clouds
it will make you blind
it will burn you to ash

My love is like the sun
millions of miles away
its light still shines
and turns your skin a luscious red

My love is like the sun
looking down on this tired world
going down when you need its light
and rising when you need to sleep

My love is like the sun
some day it will implode
and turn into a black hole
that swallows everything

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Fishy Days

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Remembering our fishy days
inhaling water and salt
yesterdays and yesterdays
ghosts
their stench of death on everything
hearts that cannot beat

Breathing in water
Breathing in salt

Memories that never were
projected on our retinas
stories misunderstood
lost in translation
slipping through the cracks

Breathing out water
Breathing out salt

Excess

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

William Blake

The intense pleasures of youth – sex and drugs and rock’n’roll – take a heavier toll on my body, my mind, and my spirit with every passing year.

One of life’s easiest traps is to repeat actions that once brought pleasure even after their effects have turned to pain.

One path to the wisdom that is attributed to age leads to fields of subtle pleasures that are easily lost in the clamor of earlier, louder years.

Older pleasures do not explode or blind or burn or throb. Until you reach a level of stillness impossible in younger times, they are imperceptible. Too dim to be seen. Too soft to be heard.

It takes an almost unbearable sacrifice to perceive these new pleasures but if you can bear it, you will find they are more profound than any other, and deep enough to transcend physical sensation.

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You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough

William Blake