Oraisons Mauvaises

The following is one of my favourite poems by Remy de Gourmont. I’d like to share it here as it inspires me every time I read these stanzas. Such a delicate and honest devotion to the precious beauty of a well constructed transgression is hard to imagine.  It’s not hard to read these lines as written specifically for Remy’s muse, Berthe de Courrière.  Oraisons Mauvaises, or “Evil Prayers.”

                                           Oraisons Mauvaises


Blessed be thine hands, for they are unclean!

At every joint lie secret sins unseen,

Their white nails beneath the lamp

Evoke hosts stolen beneath the white shadow of the lamp,

And upon thy finger, the captive opal’s gloss

Is the last sigh of Jesus on the cross.


Blessèd be thine eyes, for they are murderous!

They are full of chrysalides and ghosts diaphanous,

As in lifeless waters, blue at the bottom of grottoes green,

One sees sleeping flowers there, which are creatures just as green,

And this dolorous, bitter sapphire which fright now gleams across

Is the last glance of Jesus on the cross.


Blessed be thy breasts, for they are sacrilegious!

They’ve bared themselves like spring bouquets prodigious,

Flowering for caresses, harvesters of lip and hand,

Roadside common flowers, touched by every hand,

And the jacinth dreaming there, with air kingly, sad in loss,

Is the last love of Jesus on the cross.


Blessed be thy loins, for they are infertile!

They are as beautiful as lands of desolation; sterile,

The harrow’s blade found naught there, save clods red, rebellious,

The ripe flower there has only sown a seed rebellious,

And in Joy’s Palace, where this searing topaz does tremble and toss

Is the last desire of Jesus on the cross.


Blessed be thy mouth, for its adulterous!

It has the taste of new roses, and of old earth noxious,

It has sucked the dark juices of flowers and reeds;

When it speaks, one hears the treacherous sound of reeds,

And this cruel ruby, all bloody and cold as the fosse,

Is the last wound of Jesus on the cross.


Blessed be thy feet, for they are immodest!

They are shod in whorehouse slippers, in feast-day temples pressed

Their heavy heels on the shoulders of the poor,

They’ve trod upon the purest, the sweetest, the utterly poor,

And the amethystine buckle, which holds your garter’s silken floss,

Is the last spasm of Jesus on the cross.


Blessed be thy soul, for it is rotten!

Fallen to the gutter, Haughty Emerald, soon forgotten,

Proudly mingling with the odours of the mud,

And I will crush into the glorious mud,

Onto the paved street, which is a way of the cross,

The last thought of Jesus on the cross.