Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nine Poems by Charles Baudelaire

I don't like to look back, but in honor of Charles Baudelaire's 190th birthday today, here's a sampling of nine translations from 1999.

To bear a weight that cannot be borne,
Sisyphus, even you aren't that strong,
Although your heart cannot be torn
Time is short and Art is long.

Far from celebrated sepulchers
Toward a solitary graveyard
My heart, like a drum muffled hard
Beats a funeral march for the ill-starred.

—Many jewels are buried or shrouded
In darkness and oblivion's clouds,
Far from any pick or drill bit,

Many a flower unburdens with regret
Its perfume sweet like a secret;
In profoundly empty solitude to sit.

Reubens, river of forgetfulness, garden of sloth,
Pillow of wet flesh that one cannot love,
But where life throngs and seethes without cease
Like the air in the sky and the water in the seas.

Leonardo da Vinci, sinister mirror,
Where these charming angels with sweet smiles
Charged with mystery, appear in shadows
Of glaciers and pines that close off the country.

Rembrandt, sad hospital full of murmurs
Decorated only with a crucifix,
Where tearful prayers arise from filth
And a ray of winter light crosses brusquely.

Michelangelo, a wasteland where one sees Hercules
Mingling with Christ, and rising in a straight line
Powerful phantoms that in the twilight
Tear their shrouds with stretching fingers.

Rage of a boxer, impudence of a faun,
You who gather together the beauty of the boor,
Your big heart swelling with pride at man defective and yellow,
Puget, melancholy emperor of the poor.

Watteau, this carnival of illustrious hearts
Like butterflies, errant and flamboyant,
In the cool decor, with delicate lightning in the chandeliers
Crossing the madness of the twirling ball.

Goya, nightmare of unknown things,
Fetuses roasting on the spit,
Harridans in the mirror and naked children
Tempting demons by loosening their stockings.

Delacroix, haunted lake of blood and evil angels,
Shaded by evergreen forests of dark firs,
Where, under a grieving sky, strange fanfares
Pass, like a gasping breath of Weber.

These curses, these blasphemies, these moans,
These ecstasies, these tears, these cries of "Te Deum"
Are an echo reiterated in a thousand mazes;
It is for mortal hearts a divine opium!

It is a cry repeated by a thousand sentinels,
An order returned by a thousand megaphones,
A beacon lighting a thousand citadels
A summons to hunters lost in the wide woods.

For truly, O Lord, what better testimony
Can we give to our dignity
Than this burning sob that rolls from age to age
And comes to die on the shore of Your eternity?

Recall the object that we saw, my soul,
That summer morning sweet and beautiful,
A squalid carrion along the path's detour
On a bed strewn with pebbles,

Legs in the air, like a lewd female,
Burning and sweating toxins,
Its manner nonchalant and cynical,
Its belly full of exhalations.

The sun emblazons this spoiled decay,
To bring it to a boil,
And reclaim for Nature in a hundred ways
All She had joined from the soil;

And the sky regards the superb carcass
Like a flower it has brought to bloom.
The odor is so strong of putridness
You believe you will faint from the fumes.

As the flies buzz over the fetid belly,
A black battalion spreads
Of larvae slowly oozing like jelly
Over these living shreds.

It subsides and climbs, like a wave,
Or like a sparkling surge;
This swollen body, emptied like a cave,
Seems to live and grow more large.

And this world produces a strange music,
Like running water and the wind,
Or the grain winnowed under the rhythmic
Stirring and turning of the fan.

The forms turn to dream and disappear,
A rough sketch that comes slowly,
That the canvas forgets and the artist refigures
From his memory.

A yapping dog behind the rocks
With angry eye regards us,
Waiting us out like a spying fox
For his own piece of the carcass.

—And nevertheless you too will come to manure,
This horrible infection,
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature,
You, my angel and passion!

Yes! That's what you'll be, O queen of the graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you are choked with the grown-over grasses,
And mold made of your remnants.

Alas, O my beauty! Tell the worms,
When it's you their kisses get a taste of,
That I have guarded your divine essence and form
With all of my decomposed love.

The sun is clothed in crepe. Like you, mistress.
O Moon of my life, bundled up in shadow;
Sleep or smoke as you like; be mute, be callow
And plunge into the gulf of listlessness

I love you thus! Nevertheless, if you wish today
Like an eclipsed star bringing forth a penumbra
To strut your Folly unencumbered,
So be it! Charming dagger, burst from your case!

Ignite your eyes with the lustrous flame!
Ignite desire for the fools to claim!
Morbid or petulant, all of you is my pleasure;

Be what you want, black night, red aurora;
In my entire, trembling body there is not a fiber
That doesn't cry: O my dear Beelzebub, I adore you!

From where, tell me please, did this strange sadness come,
Rising like the sea over rocks black and bare?
—When harvest time for our hearts is done,
Living becomes evil. This secret is known to all who are aware,

This sorrow very simple, this pain not mysterious,
Explodes, like your joy, with a glittering rush.
Cease then your searching, O belle curious!
And though your voice may be soft, please hush!

Hush your ignorant mouth! Your infantile cackle!
Soul always stolen, heart always crippled!
But Death, more than Life, ties us to its wishes.

So please, let my heart become drunk on a lie
And plunge like a dream in your beautiful eyes
And doze for a while in the shade of your lashes.

Often, with a street lamp's blootshot clarity,
As the wind beats its flame to irregularity,
In the heart of an old town, labyrinth of mud
Where humanity swarms like maggots in a restless flood,

Here comes a ragman, shaking his head,
Stumbling, bumping into walls, uninhibited,
Oblivious to rats, and like a poet, perplexed,
Pouring out his heart in glorious projects.

He takes oaths, offers sublime dictum,
Buries the wicked, lifts up the victims,
And under a sky like a suspended canopy
Gets high on the splendors of his own probity.

Yes, these people harassed by vexing parentage,
Ground down by work and tormented by the age,
Exhausted and broke, collapsed on a heap of debris,
Vomiting across enormous Paris,

Return, wearing the perfume of wine barrels,
With their companions, gone grey in their quarrels,
Whose moustaches hang like old flags.
Banners and flowers salute their rags,

Triumphal arches stand erect, solemn wizardry!
And in the deafening and astounding orgy
Of the bugles, the drum, the cries and the sun,
Glory comes to those drunk with love ones!

Thus passed through frivolous Humanity
The resplendent gold of wine, the dazzling treasury;
Of its feats by the throats of men it sings
And by its gifts it reigns like the true kings.

To drown rancor and soothe the indolence
Of all these wretched old men who die in silence,
Out of sympathy their sleep was made by the Divine;
Mankind, sacred children of the Sun, supplied the Wine!

The woman however, with her mouth of strawberry,
While twisting like a snake on the embers,
And kneading her breasts on the andiron's shoulders,
Let slip these words that her musk seemed to carry:
—"Me, I have the damp lip, and I know the science
Of losing in a bed the ancient conscience.
I dry all tears on my triumphant breasts,
And make old men laugh with a child's carelessness.
I replace the moon, the sun, the sky and the stars
To those who see me without a veil, bare,
I am, my dear scientist, a scholar of pleasure,
When I choke a man in my dreaded arms,
Or when I give my neck to the bite's abandon
And my breasts, fragile and robust, timid and free
Swoon on these mattresses with emotion,
And the impotent angels damn themselves for me!"

When she had sucked from my bones all the marrow,
And languidly turned my face toward her
To return a kiss of love, I did not live any more
Except as one stuck to her side, all full of puss!
I closed my two eyes, in cold terror,
And when I reopened them I saw with a vividness,
Instead of the mighty mannequin at my side,
Withdrawing all the blood I could provide,
There trembled in confusion some skeletal remains
Returning the cry of a weathervane
Or a sign, at the end of an iron upright
That balances the wind during winter nights.

We will have beds of fleeting odors,
Couches deep as memorials,
And strange flowers on the stairs
To blossom for us under skies more beautiful.

Following each other 'til the last warmths came,
From our two hearts, two vast torches will pour
The reflection of their double flames
On our two spirits, these twin mirrors.

One evening made of pink and mystical blue,
We will exchange a single flash from afar,
Like a long sob, charged with adieux;

And later an Angel, the gates ajar,
Will joyously restore to life the ores,
The dead flames and the tarnished mirrors.

Stupidity, mistake, stinginess, vice
Absorb our minds and drain our bodies force
And we feed our kindly remorse
Like beggars nourish their lice.

Our sins are persistent, our repentance lacking,
We will pay dearly to confess
And will end gaily back in the muddy mess
Believing our vile tears can wash the stains from their backing.

On the pillow of evil is Satan, greatest of kings, philosophers, priests,
Who continually swings our delighted souls
And turns the rich metal of our will
To vapor with his lucent alchemies.

It's the Devil who pulls the strings we press!
In repugnant things we find charms kept;
Each day towards Hell we descend another step
Without horror, to traverse the fetid darkness

Like the wastrel who kicks and bites
The martyred tit of an ancient hooker
We steal a passing clandestine pleasure
Like juice from old oranges squeezed tight.

Teeming like a million worms
Demons people our brains
And, when we breathe, in our lungs death remains
Drop down, invisible river, with mute moans

If rape, poison, dagger, fire
Have not yet embroidered a pleasing design,
The banal canvas has our pitiful fate defined
It is our soul, alas, not daring to aspire.

Yet among the jackals, panthers and hounds,
The monkeys, scorpions, vultures and snakes,
The monsters that yap, howl, groan, crawl and shake
In the squalid menagerie where our defects are unbound,

There is one more mean, more vulgar, more ugly, more cold;
Although it lets no great gesture, no great cry, free
It would easily turn the earth to debris
And in a yawn would swallow the globe.

It's Boredom!—Uncontrolled tears make the eye thicken,
It dreams of scaffolds and smoking a hookah,
You know, hypocrite reader, this sensitive creature
—brother reader—my likeness—my twin.