Baudelaire’s goats

Last updated Dec 31, 2019 | Published on Oct 27, 2015

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.

Recently I really had no time to compose much unfortunately, being busy with an arrangement of Der Zigeunebaron for small orchestra that is eating up all my time. However, composing is something I cannot stay away from for too long: see, it’s my personal cure, my island of peace, the way I cope with depressive thoughts or, as my partner calls it, my chronic melancholy, which, despite my best efforts and all appearances, keeps coming back in abundant waves.

So, to keep up the cheerful mood, some time ago I ventured into another song on text by Baudelaire, “L’irreparable“. Of the three (so far) songs I’ve written on Baudelaire’s text, this is not the most desperate one, though certainly very gloomy.

Wood engraved portrait of Baudelaire surrounded by ghosts; frontispiece to Les fleurs du mal. Illustrator: Georges Rochegrosse; Engraver: Eugène Decisy

I don’t like to think about the past. Some things have been dreadful, some people are dead or gone in a different way. But it’s inevitable and none of us can escape it: while reading this poem, it reminded me of an episode of my life. I was young(er) and every day was like the best day, I had dreams and still thought I could save the world. I just entered my army service year (yes, up until a few years ago, in Italy it was still mandatory). But I didn’t go in the army. I don’t like guns. Instead, I went for the social services, 16 months in place of 12, but alright. I was assigned to a facility for the elderly with mental diseases and, needless to say, it took me some time to face a reality I was certainly not used to.

Among all the patients, there was one who I sorta connected with, at least when the Alzheimer left him lucid. Well, this guy, in the midst of all that was going on around him, still had the strength to make jokes about himself and me and everyone else; it was a survival instinct, I suppose.

Frontispiece of the 1857 edition of the Fleurs du mal, with handwritten notes by Charles Baudelaire

He was a great story-teller: his youth, his life, his goats, all material for funny anecdotes. What he loved the most though was his house; a little cozy cottage up in the mountains, where he wanted to go back to once “the doctors say I’m good to go“.

He got dealt another bad hand: deeming it more valuable for other uses, his children sold the property and the house got torn down. When he got the news, he completely lost what was left of his mind. One day he disappeared, I found him talking to an imaginary wall on the street leading to the place he had lived once upon a time. He died of a heart-attack a few days later. Doctors blamed it on his age and disease. I think he just lost what keeps us all alive, hope.

As someone said: a man begins to die when he ceases to expect anything from tomorrow.

As for me, I couldn’t even save one person, let alone the world. I suppose the fear of losing hope has never left me since, which is why this poem hit me right off the bat. Here’s the English version of the french text by Jack Collings Squire (Poems and Baudelaire Flowers for The New Age Press, Ltd, London – 1909).  The poetry, rhymes and musical flow of the original text is lost in translation, but that’s how it always goes…  



Pouvons-nous étouffer le vieux, le long Remords,
Qui vit, s’agite et se tortille
Et se nourrit de nous comme le ver des morts,
Comme du chêne la chenille?
Pouvons-nous étouffer l’implacable Remords?

Dans quel philtre, dans quel vin, dans quelle tisane,
Noierons-nous ce vieil ennemi,
Destructeur et gourmand comme la courtisane,
Patient comme la fourmi?
Dans quel philtre? — dans quel vin? — dans quelle tisane?

Dis-le, belle sorcière, oh! dis, si tu le sais,
À cet esprit comblé d’angoisse
Et pareil au mourant qu’écrasent les blessés,
Que le sabot du cheval froisse,
Dis-le, belle sorcière, oh! dis, si tu le sais.

À cet agonisant que le loup déjà flaire
Et que surveille le corbeau,
À ce soldat brisé! s’il faut qu’il désespère
D’avoir sa croix et son tombeau;
Ce pauvre agonisant que déjà le loup flaire!

Peut-on illuminer un ciel bourbeux et noir?
Peut-on déchirer des ténèbres
Plus denses que la poix, sans matin et sans soir,
Sans astres, sans éclairs funèbres?
Peut-on illuminer un ciel bourbeux et noir?

L’Espérance qui brille aux carreaux de l’Auberge
Est soufflée, est morte à jamais!
Sans lune et sans rayons, trouver où l’on héberge
Les martyrs d’un chemin mauvais!
Le Diable a tout éteint aux carreaux de l’Auberge!

Adorable sorcière, aimes-tu les damnés?
Dis, connais-tu l’irrémissible?
Connais-tu le Remords, aux traits empoisonnés,
À qui notre coeur sert de cible?
Adorable sorcière, aimes-tu les damnés?

L’Irréparable ronge avec sa dent maudite
Notre âme, piteux monument,
Et souvent il attaque ainsi que le termite,
Par la base le bâtiment.
L’Irréparable ronge avec sa dent maudite!



— J’ai vu parfois, au fond d’un théâtre banal
Qu’enflammait l’orchestre sonore,
Une fée allumer dans un ciel infernal
Une miraculeuse aurore;

J’ai vu parfois au fond d’un théâtre banal
Un être, qui n’était que lumière, or et gaze,
Terrasser l’énorme Satan;

Mais mon coeur, que jamais ne visite l’extase,
Est un théâtre où l’on attend
Toujours. toujours en vain, l’Etre aux ailes de gaze!

The Irreparable


How shall we kill this old, this long Remorse
Which writhes continually
And feeds on us as worms upon a corse,
Maggots upon a tree?
How stifle this implacable Remorse?

What wine, what drug, what philtre known of man
Will drown this ancient foe,
Ruthless and ravenous as a courtesan.
Sure as an ant, and slow?
What wine? What drug? What philtre known of man?

O tell, fair sorceress, tell if thou dost know
This soul distraught with pain
As a dying soldier crushed and bruised below
Steel hooves and wounded men!
O tell, fair sorceress, tell if thou dost know.

This poor racked wretch the wolf already flays
O’er whom the vultures whirr.
This broken warrior! if in vain he prays
For cross and sepulchre.
This anguished wretch the wolf already flays!

How should we rend dense gulfs which know not dawn
Nor eve, nor any star?
How pierce with light skies which abyss-like yawn
When black as pitch they are?
How should we rend dense gulfs which know not dawn?

Hope glimmered in the windows of the Inn,
But Hope is dead for aye!
Moonless and rayless, can poor travellers win
To shelter from the way?
The Devil made dark the windows of the Inn!

Dost love the damned, adorable sorceress?
Dost know the smitten sore?
Dost know Remorse that, grim and pitiless,
Feeds at my heart’s red core?
Dost love the damned, adorable sorceress?

My soul is prey to the Irreparable,
It gnaws with tooth accurst,
And, termite-like, the cunning spawn of hell
Mines the foundations first!
My soul is prey to the Irreparable!



Often within a theatre I have seen,
‘Thwart the orchestral roar,
A dazzling Fairy stand in sudden sheen
Where all was gloom before!

Often within a theatre I have seen
A being made of light and gold and gauze
Fling Demons to their fate!

But on my heart’s dark stage an endless pause
Is all, and I await
In vain, in vain the Spirit with wings of gauze!

P.S.: This work now became part of a much larger project titled La notte di Yalda or The house of fireflies.


Cover photo by Renaud Camus | Flickr

Baudelaire’s surrounded by ghosts – Public domain


Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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