Charles Baudelaire (9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867 / Paris)
À Maxime du Camp
For the child, in love with globe, and stamps,
the universe equals his vast appetite.
Ah! How great the world is in the light of the lamps!
In the eyes of memory, how small and slight!
One morning we set out, minds filled with fire,
travel, following the rhythm of the seas,
hearts swollen with resentment, and bitter desire,
soothing, in the finite waves, our infinities:
Some happy to leave a land of infamies,
some the horrors of childhood, others whose doom,
is to drown in a woman’s eyes, their astrologies
the tyrannous Circe’s dangerous perfumes.
In order not to become wild beasts, they stun
themselves, with space and light, and skies of fire:
The ice that stings them, and the scorching sun,
slowly erase the marks of their desire.
But the true voyagers are those who leave
only to move: hearts like balloons, as light,
they never swerve from their destinies,
and, without knowing why, say, always: ‘Flight!’
Those whose desires take on cloud-likenesses,
who dream of vast sensualities, the same
way a conscript dreams of the guns, shifting vaguenesses,
that the human spirit cannot name.
We imitate, oh horror, tops and bowls,
in their leaps and bounds, and even in dreams, dumb
curiosity torments us, and we are rolled,
as if by a cruel Angel that whips the sun!
Strange fate, where the goal never stays the same,
and, belonging nowhere, perhaps it’s no matter where
Man, whose hope never tires, as if insane,
rushes on, in search of rest, through the air.
Our soul, a three-master, heads for the isle, of Icarus.
A voice booms, from the bridge ‘Skin your eyes!’
A voice, from aloft, eager and maddened, calls to us:
‘Love... Fame... Happiness! Hell, it’s a rock!’ it cries.
On every island, that the lookouts sight,
destiny promises its Eldorado:
Imagination, conjuring an orgiastic rite,
finds only a barren reef in the afterglow.
O, the poor lover of chimeric sands!
Clap him in irons, toss him in the sea,
this drunken sailor, inventing New Found Lands,
whose mirage fills the abyss, with fresh misery?
Like an old tramp, trudging through the mire,
dreaming, head up, of dazzling paradise,
his gaze, bewitched, discovering Capua’s fire,
wherever a candlelit hovel meets his eyes.
Astounding travellers! What histories
we read in your eyes, deeper than the ocean there!
Show us the treasures of your rich memories,
marvellous jewels made of stars and air.
We wish to voyage without steam or sails!
Project on our spirits, stretched out, like the sheets,
lightening the tedium of our prison tales,
your past, the horizon’s furthest reach completes.
Tell us, what did you see?
‘We saw the sand,
and waves, we also saw the stars:
despite the shocks, disasters, the unplanned,
we were often just as bored as before.
The sunlight’s glory on the violet shoals,
the cities’ glory as the sunlight wanes,
kindled that restless longing in our souls,
to plunge into the sky’s reflected flames.
The richest cities, the greatest scenes, we found
never contained the magnetic lures,
of those that chance fashioned, in the clouds.
Always desire rent us, on distant shores!
Enjoyment adds strength to our desire.
Desire, old tree, for whom, pleasure is the ground,
while your bark thickens, as you grow higher,
your branches long to touch the sky you sound!
Will you grow forever, mighty tree
more alive than cypress? Though, we have brought, with care,
a few specimens, for your album leaves,
brothers, who find beauty, in objects, from out there!
We have saluted gods of ivory,
thrones, jewelled with constellated gleams,
sculpted palaces, whose walls of faery,
to your bankers, would be ruinous dreams.
Clothes that, to your vision, bring drunkenness,
women with painted teeth and breasts,
juggling savants gliding snakes caress.’
And then, what then?
Not to forget the main thing, everywhere,
effortlessly, through this world, we’ve seen,
from top to bottom of the fatal stair,
the tedious spectacle of eternal sin.
Woman, vile slave, full of pride and foolishness,
adoring herself without laughing, loving without disgust:
Man, greedy tyrant, harsh, lewd, merciless,
slave of that slave, a sewer in the dust.
The torturer who plays; the martyr who sobs;
the feast, perfumed and moist, from the bloody drip;
the poison of power, corrupting the despot;
the crowd, in love with the stupefying whip:
Several religions just like our own,
all climbing heaven. Sanctity,
like an invalid, under the eiderdown,
finding in nails, and hair-shirts, ecstasy:
Drunk with its genius, chattering Humanity,
as mad today as ever, or even worse,
crying to God, in furious agony:
' O, my likeness, my master, take my curse!
And, the least stupid, harsh lovers of Delirium,
fleeing the great herd, guarded by Destiny,
taking refuge in the depths of opium!
- That is the news, from the whole world’s country.’
Bitter the knowledge we get from travelling!
Today, tomorrow, yesterday, the world shows what we see,
monotonous and mean, our image beckoning,
an oasis of horror, in a desert of ennui!
Shall we go, or stay? Stay, if you can stay:
Go, if you must. One runs, another crouches, to elude
Time, that vigilant, shadow enemy.
Alas! There are runners for whom nothing is any good,
like Apostles, or wandering Jews,
nothing, no vessel or railway car, they assume,
can flee this vile slave driver; others whose
minds can kill him, without leaving their room.
When, at last he places his foot on our spine, a
hope still stirs, and we can shout: ‘Forward!’
Just as when we left for China,
the wind in our hair and our eyes fixed to starboard,
sailing over the Shadowy sea,
with a young traveller’s joyous mind.
Do you hear those voices, sadly, seductively,
chanting: ‘Over here, if you would find,
the perfumed Lotus! It’s here we press
miraculous fruits on which your hopes depend:
Come and be drunk, on the strange sweetness,
of the afternoons, that never end.’
Behind a familiar tongue we see the spectre:
Our Pylades stretches his arms towards our face.
‘To renew your heart, swim towards your Electra!’
she calls, whose knees we once embraced.
O Death, old captain, it is time! Weigh anchor.
This land wearies us, O Death! Take flight!
If the sky and sea are dark as ink’s black rancour,
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light!
Pour out your poison, and dissolve our fears!
Its fire so burns our minds, we yearn, it’s true,
to plunge to the Void’s depths, Heaven or Hell, who cares?
Into the Unknown’s depths, to find the new.
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