Spleen by Charles Baudelaire – English Verse Translation
I have a thousand years of memories.
A chest of drawers rammed full of elegies,
Of served writs, billets doux and balance sheets,
Romances, heavy plaits rolled in receipts,
Encloses fewer secrets than my mind;
A pyramid or staggering crypt, you find
Contains more dead than does a limed mass-ditch.
– I am a moon-abhorred graveyard, in which
The biting worms there, like remorseful dread,
Attach themselves onto my hallowed dead.
I am a boudoir decked with shrivelled roses,
And heaps of tired couture, which juxtaposes
With grieving gouaches, bleached Bouchers which inhale
The odour leaked from an unstoppered phial.
When dull indifference’s first born, Ennui,
Takes on the spans of slow eternity,
Then, under heavy flakes of snowy years,
For length, the limping, hobbled days can know few peers.
– And you, a living being, you are no more;
As if drowned on Sahara’s trackless floor,
An old Sphinx who the maps say isn’t there,
Forgotten by a world which doesn’t care,
A granite mass that’s swamped in fear whose cries
Keen desperately; yet to a sun that dies.
Behind plate windows, and beneath large skylights,
Thick woollen scarves and coats and autumn twilight.
“Technologies in art are superseded,
Egg tempera gave way to oils. What’s needed
Now‘s modern media.” And the crowd of French
Girls laugh and murmur; fidget on the bench.
“The lemon chia seed cake’s lovely, will
You have another latte?” Seeing light spill
Across the Common, passers-by steal glances,
“You can’t dispute that my device enhances.”
Professor Croce cleans his glasses, blinks,
Begins another peroration, thinks
Conception matters more than tools. A dog
Skitters on wooden laminate. “You’ll jog
The waitress, fooling ‘round!” — “ . . . used orpiment,
Lead white and cinnabar.” A hatstand meant
For fewer coats slews drunkenly, till caught,
And ‘busboys’ stack up plastic racks now brought
To steaming scullery door. The street-doors yawn,
Black revenant wind intrudes with dry leaves drawn
From gardens. Later on, and side by side,
The Prof and Eugene cough, their legs astride
And rocking back, sequestered maleness grasped;
They study walls and ceiling tiles while fast
Around white streaming bowls, they let careen
Their urine’s curtain, slewed on porcelain’s sheen.
GUY WALKER is a French and Italian teacher who lives on the south coast of England. He blogs at https://roseatetern.blogspot.com/. This article first appeared in Taki’s Magazine, and is reproduced with permission.