Poems of CHARLES PIERRE BAUDELAIRE, TRNASLATED BY PETER O’ NEILL
In order to compose chastely my eclogues, I want
To sleep under the sky, like the astrologers,
And, under the bells, dream
Upon the solemn hymns transported on the winds.
Up in the attic, with both hands under my chin,
Where I’d see in the atelier those who’d sing and talk ;
The pipes, the bells, those staples of the city,
And the great skies which make you dream of eternity.
Among the fog, it is only natural, to see come alive
The stars in the azure, the lamp at a window,
The rivers of coal smoke rising to greet the firmament
And the moon then versing its enchantment.
I’ll see the spring, summers and autumns ;
And when the winters come with their monotonous snow,
Everywhere I’ll close up the doors and the shutters
In order to construct my dreamy palace.
And then I will dream of bluer horizons,
Gardens, jets of water spurting from the alabaster,
Those kisses, the birds singing night and day,
And all that is idyllic and the most infantile.
Storms raving at my window
Will not force me to lift my head from my desk;
For I will be lost in that voluptuousness
Evoking the spring at my bidding,
Taking the sun from my heart, and making
My burning thoughts gently acclimatise.
PETER O’ NEILL on this POEM –
What I love about this poem by Baudelaire is the completely unexpected innocence of it, situated particularly after the tumult of splenetic poems which completes the first section of Les Fleurs Du Mal, this poem, as the instigator of a completely new section of the book – Tableaux Parisiens – it allows us the readers, and no doubt the poet or author too, time to recalibrate and start anew. Remember, section II Tableaux Parisiensunlike section I, Spleen et Idéal,will be grounded in the real world, as it were, as opposed to the ideal projections which we encountered in the first section, and this is an aspect of Les Fleurs Du Mal which must really be taken into account. Baudelaire really is ahead of his time, predating phenomenology by over half a century, and yet what is the book but a complete phenomenological exploration of the human soul, in all its many diverse aspects. This is why Baudelaire needs to be continuously assessed as a poet, particularly today, as the almost two-dimensional image of him as the eternal poètemaudit simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Again, the ‘lazy’ reading which has become endemic of our times is all too easy and futile. Rather, when you engage with the book, over a series of readings which often take place a numerous times during your life ( typically youth, middle-age, and old age ) what one in fact finds, as with all canonical works, is that the truth of a work of art of the calibre of Les Fleurs Du Mal rather like the author who composed it is far more complex than one might have ever expected which is why Re-readings are so important. And of course, one could add to that, Re-translations – transversions.
While in the old hovels where the Persians
Harbour secret luxuries, all along the old faubourg
The cruel sun scores with her redoubtable shafts
The town and the fields, the roofs and the wheat.
There, I exercise alone my fantastic duel,
Teasing out every possible hazardous off-rhyme,
Stumbling upon the words like upon cobblestones,
Falling upon verse a long time dreamed of.
This spiritual father, enemy of chlorosis,
Awakens in the fields verse like roses ;
And makes all worries evaporate,
Filling minds and hives with honey.
It is he also who rejuvenates the disabled on their crutches
Making them gay and innocent like young girls,
And it is he who also commands the harvests to grow or die
In the immortal heart which always wants to flower.
Just as the poet, when the sun alights upon the city
It ennobles even the most vile things,
With just mere light , and introduces regalness
Into the quotidian rendering all buildings then palatial.
Pale girl with the red hair,
Whose hole-ridden robe
Allows us to see both poverty
As well as beauty,
For me, a weak poet,
Your sickly young body,
Full of rosacea flares,
Has its grace.
You wear your Doctor Martins
More gallantly than any actress,
Or some top model who wears
Laboutins or Jimmy Choos.
In place of your grotty rags,
I see a superb courtly dress
Trailing in long noisy folds
Beneath your heels;
And instead of just your ripped tights,
For these debauched eyes
Upon your limbs a golden dagger
Surely must gleam again!
Only loosely attached knots
Would reveal also our sins by showing off
Your two beautiful breasts, radiant
Like your eyes.
Only to undress you further
May your hands join in prayer,
Instead of chasing in mutinous strokes
These fumbling fingers…
Pearls of the finest sparkling water,
Sonnets of Master Belleau,
May all other verse offered
By fire be consumed…
Eejits with their blank verse
Would dedicate whole chapbooks to you
Contemplating the soles of your shoes
As you climb the escalators.
Every page written in hazard
By every wannabe Ronsard,
Hoping to bed you
And have your fee reduced!
O but you would contemplate them from your bed,
More kisses than bouquets,
And arrange them according to your laws
All those Maîtres from Valois !
Howsoever you go about your trade
Some old decrepit may even renege
On a furtive screw
Along the canal banks, or on some pew.
You go on eyeing in some shopfront
Trinkets for a couple of Euro,
I’m sorry, my dear, but
I can have no part of it.
So, be off now without any ornament,
Perfume, pearls or diamonds,
But for your nudity,
Andromaque, I think of you! That little river,
Poor sad mirror that reflects a resplendent past
And the immense majesty of a widow’s sorrows,
That lying Simoeis who by your tears rises,
Suddenly awakened my fertile memory,
As I walk past the new Carrrousel.
Old Paris exists no more ( the shape of the city
Changes quicker, sadly, than the heart of a mortal) ;
I can only see in my mind now the field of stalls,
The mess of marquees and barrels roughly sketched,
The aroma of herbs, the great blocks of granite greened with puddles
And, reflected in the tiles the whole cacophony of the market- place.
A swan who escapes from her cage,
And, with her webbed feet rubs the dry pavement,
On the rugged ground trailing her white plumage.
Beside a waterless well the creature opens its beak
Nervously bathing her wings in the dust,
The heart full of the beautiful natural lake speaks up:
“ Rain, when will you fall again? Thunder, when will you roll?”
I see this tragic myth, fatal and strange,
Looking towards the sky sometimes, like Ovidian man,
Looking towards the sky ironically at the cruel azure,
Its neck convulsively bearing its livid head,
As if it’s addressing its reproaches towards God !
Paris changes! But not my melancholy,
It remains! New office blocks, scaffolding, concrete,
Old suburbs, everything becomes allegory for me,
And my old souvenirs become heavier than slabs.
And so, before the Louvre an image oppresses me:
I think of the swan again, with its crazed gestures,
Like an exile, at once ridiculous and sublime,
And a timeless desire gnaws without pause! and still of you,
Andromaque, the arms of a great husband fallen,
Vile livestock, under the thumb of superb Pyrrhus,
After an empty tomb, an ecstasy curbed;
Widow of Hector, alas! and his slave like Helenus !
I think of the negress, frail and tubercular,
Struggling in the mud, searching with a haggard eye,
The coconut groves and all of the Majesty of Africa
Behind the immense wall of fog.
For those who have lost what they can never hope to find again
Never, ever! For those who weep without end
And who endure Hardship like a Wolf ;
For famished orphans forgotten like dried flowers !
Such is my spirit in exile, like Dante in the wood,
An old memory sounds barely audible like a horn !
I think of those sailors forgotten on an island,
Of prisoners, the vanquished…and many other such things !
PETER O’ NEILL on translating BAUDELAIR’S poems –
Working on translations/transversions of Baudelaire’s poems is a remarkable opportunity for poets to come face to face with the Architextural scaffolding of a Master poet, which is just one of the many reasons why one would undertake such an ambitious project. To Learn! And in this spirit, I should like to guide the reader here on the use of non-defining relative clauses which are the grammatical master key into the structural formal composition of any poem by Charles Baudelaire.
I remember attending a reading by the North American poet David Rigsbee, he was presenting his translations of Dante’s Paradiso to a small group of poets and poetry lovers who were attending his reading in my old alma mater in Dublin City University. David was explaining how Dante, he noticed, had a very useful ploy which he often used in order to keep the poem moving on, and that was the ploy of the suspension of belief. In a poem like the Paradiso, David explained, in order for the whole 33 cantos to work, the poet had to continuously postpone the moment of arrival. This whole phenomenon is ontological, I would suggest, Bei-ng in the word as in Life tends to charge the work, I find.
However, let us not get too complex at this stage. Rather, lets just look at the poem above Le Cyngeby Baudelaire. Notice how he breaks up the lines with all of these constant non-defining clauses! They are his hallmark as a poet, and he is using them in the same way that Dante does in Commedia. Both poets are working in similar ways, mining the Absolute, one could say. So, deferring the point of departure constantly. Of course, Roland Barthes would put it more sexually, as the written act is analogous for him to the act of Love. There again, the moment of climax must be forever postponed, in order to prolong the exquisite pleasure. Surely, just another reason why both these great poets are so admired by certain women!
Peter O’Neill is the author of six collections of poetry, the most recent Henry Street Arcade ( Éditions du Pont de l’Europe, 2021) was translated into French by the poet Yan Kouton and was launched as part of the bicentenary celebrations for Charles Baudelaire as part of the Alliance Francaise celebrations, early in April this year. He also headlined the spring issue of Pratik with his fellow team of poets and translators who appeared altogether in a virtual day- long celebration of the French icon whom O’Neill has also translated, The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015), and he has also written a hybrid novella More Micks than Dicks ( Famous Seamus, 2017) which is a satirical account of his time presenting at an international Beckett conference. As well as French, his writing has been translated into German, Italian, Arabic and most recently Spanish. He has a degree in philosophy and a masters in comparative literature ( DCU). He lives in Dublin with his family where he prepares international students of English for the IELTS.
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