Gaspard de la Nuit, or The Night and its Marvels, marks the beginning of the prose poetry genre. Written by Aloysius Bertrand (1804-1841), it was published in 1842 in Belgium, and received little acclaim. It is a darkly surreal, gothic collection of eleven prose poems, each with an chilling epitaph, which alternates between hauntingly beautiful and grotesquely morbid. The primary characters are:
the dwarf Scarbo who seems to have the narrator in his clutches, determining his fate
the moon, which is compared to such things as a hanged man and a beautiful woman,
and the narrator’s dead grandfather.
There is also a lot of animal imagery, especially crickets, spiders, and salamanders. The main themes are death, night, prayer, and pain.
Here is #III, The Madman, which I think is representative of the collection as a whole.
A carolus or even more, if you prefer, an agnea d'or.
- The manuscripts of the King's Library.
The moon was combing her hair with a large ebony comb that silvered the hills, meadows, and woods with a rain of glowworms.
Scarbo, the gnome who abounds in treasures, was sitting on my roof, to the cry of a weathercock, ducats and florins that were jumping rhythmically, the false coins strewing the street.
How the madman sneered, roaming each night through the deserted city, one eye on the moon and the other – blind!
“The moon be damned!” he growled, gathering the coins of the devil; “I shall buy the pillory to keep myself warm in the sun!”
But the moon was still there, the waning moon. And Scarbo was secretly coining ducats and florins in my cellar with each blow of his minting press.
Meanwhile, his two horns out ahead, a snail that the night had led astray was seeking its way on my glowing stained glass.
Check out http://126.96.36.199:8010/night/ for a complete translation. It’s worth reading.