The village sported a small but well-kept library, and there the boy found, by chance, by accident, by Fate, Den Bloemen van den Booze, a translation in archaic Dutch of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, whom the French like to call un poète maudit.
How his heart thrilled when he read The Flowers of Evil of this cursed poet! Here was a twin soul speaking to him in delicate words and sublime rhythm. Baudelaire evoked the unbearable weight of being human in a neurasthenic, hypersensitive language, rich and contrasting, vile, exquisitely beautiful. The boy vowed to read the original poems, knowing that French was a more melodic language than his guttural Flemish, which is a humble Dutch dialect. The librarian, a retired schoolmaster with the reddest hair you ever saw, noticed the esthetic hunger burning in the clunky youth and promised him a copy in French of Les Fleurs du Mal. He held his promise and the boy spend many nights with the bundle, and a French-Dutch dictionary. The lines he read, scoured against his heart like the cracking of innumerable insect wings.
Sans cesse à mes cotés s’agite le Démon Il nage autour de moi comme un air impalpable Je l’avale et le sens qui brûle mon poumon Et l’emplit d’un désir éternel et coupable.
A demon, lurking agitatedly in the depth of his being, surrounding him with an impalpable mist, and evoking an eternal and guilty desire that burns in his lungs. Yes! That was what the boy felt. He was guilty of dreaming an impossible dream: becoming an author.
His parents said it couldn’t be done. They shook their heads: “Your dream is not for our kind of people.” So, two years later, the boy left home with nothing but his hopes, starting a life that rambled from pillar to post, 12 crafts, 13 mishaps, eventually learning to publish novels by writing and discarding them, writing and discarding them, writing and discarding them, writing.