I snapped the picture of that sign several months ago thinking I’d save it for National Poetry Month. At the time I didn’t realize how much it would haunt me, or how appropriate it would seem for this particular moment. I know a glazier is someone who works with glass—specifically installing windows, and it got me thinking about something I read years ago. Jean Cocteau was on a transatlantic steamer when he met Charlie Chaplin, who happened to be on the same ship. Chaplin had just seen Cocteau’s film Orpheus and asked why he’d made the angel Heurtebise a glazier, since that’s a relatively obscure profession. Cocteau reminded Chaplin that in The Kid his Little Tramp worked as a glazier—and had a pretty good con job going, getting his junior associate to break windows so the Tramp could come in and replace them. I’m not sure that answered Cocteau’s question, and now all I can think about is that Chaplin’s Kid would grow up to be Uncle Fester, but that’s another story.
Anyway it had never occurred to me before that “glaze” and “glass” derive from the same root word, the Latin glesum, which also meant “amber”, probably from a Germanic word for a translucent substance, which tells me those barbarians weren’t that barbaric if they were making glass instead of breaking it. And that led me down a rabbit hole of the whole history of glassmaking which goes back at least six-thousand years and may have started in Egypt or Mesopotamia. Also I’ll never look at glazed donuts the same way, which is probably a good thing.
The first thing that came to my mind, though, was Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem The Bad Glazier, about the time he yelled at a glazier, carrying a load of glass through the Paris streets, to climb the six floors to his apartment. Here’s the conclusion, translated by David Lehman:
And then there he was. I looked at the panes and said, “What! No colored glass? No rose-colored glass, red glass, blue glass? Where are the magic panes, the window-panes of paradise? What impudence! You barge into this humble neighborhood without even the decency to bring the glass that can make life beautiful.”
And I pushed him down the stairs.
I went to the balcony with a little flower pot and when he emerged in front of the door, I dropped my engine of war perpendicularly. The shock made him fall backward, breaking all the glass that remained of his itinerant stock. It sounded like the cracking of a crystal palace split by lightning.
Drunk with the madness of the moment I shouted: “Make life beautiful! Make life beautiful!”
These impulsive jests are not without their hazards, and sometimes there is a stiff price to pay. But what does an eternity of damnation matter to one who has found in a single instant an infinity of joy?
Nice move there, Chuck. What are the odds that glazier was Charlie Chaplin?