Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
We are now on the 5th Canto, 7th Stanza of The Songs of Maldoror. The supernatural villain Maldoror gets more of what he deserves this time around. If you enjoyed his suffering in Four Centuries on a Shapeless Throne then you’ll like this Stanza, too.
Maldoror tells us that every night for the past 10 years a macabre torment has been inflicted on him. In the small hours of the morning he lies in bed and feels himself paralyzed while an enormous black tarantula emerges from a hole in the wall of whatever room he happens to find himself in.
He helplessly watches as the monstrous figure crawls over to his bed, then up on it until he is pinned beneath its massive, man-sized body. The huge black tarantula then proceeds to suck the purplish blood from his throat.
As on so many nights before, Maldoror vows that this night he will resist sleep, and will battle the giant spider the way he has fought so many other monstrous opponents. Yet every night his resolution falters, he grows too weary to remain awake and lies down under the silk blankets of his bed. The cycle repeats itself on this night. Maldoror little realizes that this is the last time the horrific little drama will be reenacted.
The black tarantula climbs onto the bed and mounts Maldoror’s body and sucks away at his purplish blood once again. However, instead of scuttling back out of the room the way it came in the gigantic arachnid dismounts from its prey and two male figures emerge from its body, like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis.
Each man wears a blue robe and holds a gleaming sword. The two figures gather on either side of Maldoror’s bed and look down at him. They address his still-paralyzed form and identify themselves as Elsinor and Reginald, two of Maldoror’s male lovers from the past. Each of them had been deeply in love with our malevolent main character but, Maldoror being Maldoror, he eventually grew bored with them and sought to kill them for his own amusement.
Elsinor speaks for both of them, relating how the fiend took Reginald swimming with him, his supernatural strength enabling him to pull his young lover far out to sea. Once there he stabbed Reginald with his beloved stiletto, then swiftly swam back to shore so that he could enjoy the young man’s futile struggle to swim the great distance, all while the life bled out of him.
Growing bored with this game and giving Reginald up for dead Maldoror went off in search of other prey, so he was unaware that a passing fishing ship came along and rescued his bleeding victim. The young man recovered but was so bitterly heartbroken and disillusioned that he never again gave his love to anyone. He became a wandering mercenary soldier, enlisting in whatever wars were being fought in whatever nations.
Elsinor now relates his own experience with Maldoror. He fell in love with our nefarious main character immediately, considering him to be a being who had fallen to Earth from a distant star, so different was he from everyone else. In their time together they wandered from city to city, shunning the people within at Maldoror’s insistence and always sleeping in the forest like animals.
One night in Spain they reached a bewitched forest full of entangling creeper vines, blood-sucking plants and enormous cacti with needles as long and sharp as swords. Maldoror ordered Elsinor to kneel down and told him he had 15 minutes to prepare himself for death.
When the time was up Maldoror threw Elsinor to the ground and drew his stiletto, preparing to kill him. By sheer chance a stampede of bulls approached them from the distance. Realizing he didn’t have time to slowly and sadistically carve up Elsinor, Maldoror contented himself with cutting off his right hand and then withdrawing to a distance to enjoy the sight of Elsinor being crushed under the hooves of the bulls.
Watching the spectacle until he assumed Elsinor was dead, Maldoror went on his way. Little did he know that vaqueros who were out rounding up some of the wild bulls discovered the young man’s maimed and stampeded body. Elsinor was nursed back to health and had his missing hand replaced with one made of iron. He was so bitterly heart-broken and disillusioned that he never again gave his love to anyone. Like Reginald, he became a wandering mercenary soldier, enlisting in whatever wars were being fought in whatever nations.
As fate would have it, years after their respective experiences with Maldoror, Reginald and Elsinor were serving on opposite sides of two nations at war. When they came face to face on the battlefield an Archangel was sent down from Heaven before one could slay the other to unite the two men against their common tormentor Maldoror. God’s power transformed them into one form: the monstrous black tarantula which followed Maldoror everywhere for 10 years, preying upon him every night.
For whatever reason God has now decreed that Reginald and Elsinor have had enough vengeance against the vile Maldoror. Thus, they revealed themselves to our narrator so that he would know who had been preying upon him for the past decade. Now, joining hands, the two men fly off to Heaven.
Once again able to move, Maldoror rises weakly from the bed and warms himself at the fireplace. He drinks water from a nearby pitcher and looks out his window, gazing at the moon above. He is very disturbed by this whole ordeal and nervously awaits the false comfort of the rising sun as meekly as any human. +++
That brings an end to the 5th Canto of The Songs of Maldoror. Next time around I’ll begin the 6th and final Canto.
Reflecting on Black Tarantula, it’s eerie and grotesque but also very interesting, especially in the way it twists the ancient romantic cliche of men – after having a woman break their heart – swearing off love and losing themselves in a life of constant battle. Readers in the 1800s would have been even more cognizant of what they would have considered a “perversion” of that literary tradition depicting a man breaking the heart of other men.
Thematically it harkens back to a few Stanzas ago when Maldoror was in the middle of his plan to be a homosexual Helen of Troy, coercing closeted gay leaders of nations into a cataclysmic war over his favors.
On a minor note the conflict in which Elsinor and Reginald come face to face seems to be (but is not overtly confirmed to be) the war between Uruguay and Argentina, which greatly affected the developmental years of the author of The Songs of Maldoror, Isidore Ducasse aka Count de Lautreamont.
I WILL BE EXAMINING ADDITIONAL SECTIONS VERY SOON. CHECK BACK ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK FOR NEW INSTALLMENTS.
FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2015/02/28/maldoror-a-neglected-masterpiece-of-surreal-horror/
FOR OTHER PARTS OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/maldoror/
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