To Every Man His Chimera  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"To Every Man His Chimera" (French: Chacun sa chimère) is one of the stories from the collection Le Spleen de Paris by Charles Baudelaire.

Walter Benjamin wrote in the The Arcades Project that "the penultimate paragraph in "Chacun sa chimere" (To Every Man His Chimera) is distinctly reminiscent of Blanqui".

Baudelaire describes how he meets in a dusty plain several men who walked bowed down to the ground, each one carrying upon his back an enormous Chimaera, enveloping them with their muscles. The men did not seem to mind the creatures and showed an unconquerable desire to walk, despite of their crushing Chimaeras.

Full text in English: EVERY MAN HIS CHIMAERA

Baudelaire,_his_prose_and_poetry#EVERY_MAN_HIS_CHIMAERA

Beneath a broad grey sky, upon a vast and dusty plain devoid of grass, and where not even a nettle or a thistle was to be seen, I met several men who walked bowed down to the ground.

Each one carried upon his back an enormous Chimaera as heavy as a sack of flour or coal, or as the equipment of a Roman foot-soldier.

But the monstrous beast was not a dead weight, rather she enveloped and oppressed the men with her powerful and elastic muscles, and clawed with her two vast talons at the breast of her mount. Her fabulous head reposed upon the brow of the man like one of those horrible casques by which ancient warriors hoped to add to the terrors of the enemy.

I questioned one of the men, asking him why they went so. He replied that he knew nothing, neither he nor the others, but that evidently they went somewhere, since they were urged on by an unconquerable desire to walk.

Very curiously, none of the wayfarers seemed to be irritated by the ferocious beast hanging at his neck and cleaving to his back: one had said that he considered it as a part of himself. These grave and weary faces bore witness to no despair. Beneath the splenetic cupola of the heavens, their feet trudging through the dust of an earth as desolate as the sky, they journeyed onwards with the resigned faces of men condemned to hope for ever. So the train passed me and faded into the atmosphere of the horizon at the place where the planet unveils herself to the curiosity of the human eye.

During several moments I obstinately endeavoured to comprehend this mystery; but irresistible Indifference soon threw herself upon me, nor was I more heavily dejected thereby than they by their crushing Chimaeras.

Full text in French

source

Sous un grand ciel gris, dans une grande plaine poudreuse, sans chemins, sans gazon, sans un chardon, sans une ortie, je rencontrai plusieurs hommes qui marchaient courbés.

Chacun d’eux portait sur son dos une énorme Chimère, aussi lourde qu’un sac de farine ou de charbon, ou le fourniment d’un fantassin romain.

Mais la monstrueuse bête n’était pas un poids inerte ; au contraire, elle enveloppait et opprimait l’homme de ses muscles élastiques et puissants ; elle s’agrafait avec ses deux vastes griffes à la poitrine de sa monture ; et sa tête fabuleuse surmontait le front de l’homme, comme un de ces casques horribles par lesquels les anciens guerriers espéraient ajouter à la terreur de l’ennemi.

Je questionnai l’un de ces hommes, et je lui demandai où ils allaient ainsi. Il me répondit qu’il n’en savait rien, ni lui, ni les autres ; mais qu’évidemment ils allaient quelque part, puisqu’ils étaient poussés par un invincible besoin de marcher. Chose curieuse à noter : aucun de ces voyageurs n’avait l’air irrité contre la bête féroce suspendue à son cou et collée à son dos ; on eût dit qu’il la considérait comme faisant partie de lui-même. Tous ces visages fatigués et sérieux ne témoignaient d’aucun désespoir ; sous la coupole spleenétique du ciel, les pieds plongés dans la poussière d’un sol aussi désolé que ce ciel, ils cheminaient avec la physionomie résignée de ceux qui sont condamnés à espérer toujours. Et le cortége passa à côté de moi et s’enfonça dans l’atmosphère de l’horizon, à l’endroit où la surface arrondie de la planète se dérobe à la curiosité du regard humain.

Et pendant quelques instants je m’obstinai à vouloir comprendre ce mystère ; mais bientôt l’irrésistible Indifférence s’abattit sur moi, et j’en fus plus lourdement accablé qu’ils ne l’étaient eux-mêmes par leurs écrasantes Chimères.

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