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The Flowers of Evil – Charles Baudelaire

Translated by Will Stone.

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Obsession

Great forests, like cathedrals you terrify me;
Bellowing like organs; and in our accursed hearts,
Limitless latitudes of mourning where
Ancient death rattles resonate,
Swells the echo of your ‘De Profundis’.

Ocean, how I despise you! Your surges and commotion
Mirror my own mind;
I hear in the vast laughter of the sea
The bitter laughter of beaten man,
Laced with sobbing and profanities.

O’ Night! How you would please me,
Without those stars whose radiance speaks
A language I know only too well!
For I seek the void, darkness, revelation!

But shadows are themselves a canvas on which,
Teeming in their thousands from my eyes,
The vanished souls with familiar glance reside.

 

Spleen

Pluvius, exasperated with the whole city,
Tips from his urn torrents of dismal cold
Over the ghastly tenants of a nearby cemetery,
And on the fog bound suburbs unrelenting mortality.

My cat, her mangy wasted body ever restless
Crosses the tiles to seek out a litter,
The old poet’s soul roams the gutter
With the sorrowful refrain of a shivering ghost.

The great bell mourns, and the smoke veiled log
In falsetto accompanies the snivelling clock,
As from a rankly scented deck of cards,

Fatal legacy of some dropsical old crone,
The smart Jack of Hearts and Queen of Spades
Darkly discuss their perished loves.

 

Laments of an Icarus

Lovers of whores are happy,
Refreshed and sated;
As for me, my arms are weary
For having embraced clouds.

And it’s thanks to those unrivalled stars,
Who blaze from the sky’s remotest depths,
That my charred eyes see nothing
But the memories of suns.

In vain I sought space,
To know its boundary and heart;
Beneath an impossible eye of fire
I feel my wings buckle then expire;

And seared by the love of beauty,
I’ll not have the sublime honour
Of lending my name to the abyss
That doubles as my tomb.

 

Burial

If on a night leaden and dreary
A good Christian, through charity,
Inters your cherished corpse
Behind some old rubble ruin,

At the hour when the chaste stars
Close their over-burdened eyes,
The spiders will lay their nets there,
And the viper nurse its young;

Then you’ll hear all year long
Over your condemned head,
The pitiful howling of wolves

And scrawny witches,
The frolicking of lecherous old men
And black-hearted felons plotting crimes.

 

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ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Will Stone, born 1966, is a poet living in Suffolk. In November 2008 his first collection Glaciation, published by Salt, won the international Glen Dimplex Award for poetry. His published translations include To The Silenced – selected poems of Georg Trakl (Arc Publications, 2005). Arc will also publish two further collections of translations of long neglected Belgian poets Emile Verhaeren and Georges Rodenbach in 2010. A first English translation of Stefan Zweig’s travel writings will also appear in 2010 from Hesperus Press. More on Charles Baudelaire, one of the original poètes maudits, can be found at Fleurs du Mal.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, November 26th, 2009.