Charles Baudelaire

from Flowers of Evil



Often, for kicks, sailors snare albatross, colossal seabirds which—apathetic
fellow travelers—follow the ship as it skims the bitter depths.

     Hardly brought down on deck, these royalty of the blue, awkward
and ashamed, let their great white wings trail dolefully at their sides, like oars.

     Winged voyager—how weak, how clumsy! So lately beautiful, now
ugly, ludicrous! One sailor offends a beak with his clay pipe; another
mimics, limping, the handicapped who before was in flight!

     The Poet is like that prince of clouds, comrade of the storm,
mocking the bowmen: exiled to the ground, jeered on all sides, his giant
wings impede his walk.







How I love, dear lazybones, to see how the skin of your beautiful body
sparkles like cloth billowing.

     Over the depths of your hair with its acrid perfume, sweet-smelling
vagrant sea of blue and brown,

     my dreamy soul, like a ship waking to morning wind, weighs anchor
for a distant sky.

     Your eyes, that reveal neither sweet nor bitter, are two cold ornaments
blended of gold and iron.

     To see you walk in cadence, fair unconstrained, brings to mind a
serpent dancing at the prodding of a stick.

     Under its lazy weight your childish head rocks softly as that of a
young elephant.

     and your body leans and reclines, like a first-class ship that rolls
from side to side, plunging her yard in the water.

     When, like a torrent fed by the thaw of roaring glaciers, your
mouth, watering, wets your teeth,

     then I think I drink a wine of Bohemia, sour and overpowering, a
liquid sky that spreads stars across my heart!






When you come to sleep, my gloomy beauty, below a black marble
monument, when from alcove and manor you are reduced to damp vault
and hollow grave;

     when the stone, pressing on your timorous chest and sides lulled by
a charmed indifference, halts your heart from beating, from willing, your
feet from their bold adventuring.

     then the tomb, confidant to my infinite dream (since the tomb
understands the poet always), through those long nights in which slumber
is banished

     will say to you: “What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan, not
to have known what the dead weep for?”—And the worm will gnaw at your
hide like remorse.









Child, Sister, think how sweet to go down there and live together! To love
at leisure, love and die in that land that resembles you! For me, damp suns
in confused skies share the mysterious charms of your treacherous eyes as
they shine through their tears.

     There, there’s nothing but order and beauty; abundant, calm,

     Gleaming furniture, polished by passing years, would ornament our
bedroom; rarest flowers, their odors mixed with vague amber, rich ceilings,
deep mirrors, an Oriental splendor—everything there would speak to our
souls, privately, in their sweet native language.

     There, there’s nothing but order and beauty; abundant, calm,

     See on these canals those sleeping boats whose mood is vagabond;
it’s to satisfy your least desire that they come from the world’s end.
—Setting suns reclothe fields, canals, the whole town, in hyacinth and gold;
the world falls asleep in a warm light.

     There, there’s nothing but order and beauty; abundant, calm,





                                       for Victor Hugo



Andromache, I think of you! That little river—poor sad mirror once
glorious with the boundless majesty of your painful widowhood—the lying
Simois, swollen from your tears,

     flowered of a sudden in my fertile memory, as I was crossing the
new Carrousel. Old Paris is no more (the form of a city changes faster, alas!
than a mortal heart);

     only in my mind I see that field of hovels, the herd of rough-hewn
cornice and chimney, the grass, whole blocks tarnished by standing puddles
and, glittering at corners, odd bric-à-brac.

     A menagerie sprawled there once, where I saw one morning, at the
hour Labor wakes to cold clear skies, while traffic makes a dull hurricane in
the still air,

     a swan, escaped from his cage, web feet scuffling the dry pavement,
white plumage trailing over the rough ground. Near a waterless brook the
beast, with open beak,


     bathed irritably in the dust, saying—heart full with the beauty of his
native lake—“Waters, when will you rain down? when will you thunder,
lightning?” I see that wretched creature, strange mortal myth,

     sometimes, like Ovid’s humans, tilt his greedy head on its quivering
neck towards the sky, towards the cruelly blue ironic sky, as if reproaching



Paris changes! but nothing of my melancholy has lifted. New palaces,
scaffoldings, blocks, old outer districts: for me everything becomes allegory and
my cherished memories weigh like rocks.

     The too, before the Louvre an image presses down on me: I recall
my great swan with his razy movements, as if in exile, ridiculous, sublime,
gnawed by ceaseless craving! and then of

     you, Andromache (a great spouse’s arm, fallen—mere livestock—
under superb Pyrrhus’ thumb) bent in ecstasy over an empty tomb,
Hector’s widow, alas! and wife of Helenus!

     I think of a negress, wasted, consumptive, trudging the mud, wild-
eyed, looking for faraway palms of glorious Africa behind an immense wall
of fog; of

     whoever has lost what can never be found again, never! of those
steeped in tears, suckling Pain like a kind of she-wolf; of starved orphans
drying up like flowers!

     So in the forest of my mind’s exile an old Memory sounds a clear
note on the horn! I think of sailors lost on desert islands, of prisoners, of
the vanquished! … and of still others!

trans. Keith Waldrop