La Vie Antérieure (My Earlier Life) Poem by Charles Baudelaire

La Vie Antérieure (My Earlier Life)

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J'ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.

Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
Mêlaient d'une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout-puissants accords de leur riche musique
Aux couleurs du couchant reflété par mes yeux.

C'est là que j'ai vécu dans les voluptés calmes,
Au milieu de l'azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d'odeurs,

Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l'unique soin était d'approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

My Former Life

For a long time I dwelt under vast porticos
Which the ocean suns lit with a thousand colors,
The pillars of which, tall, straight, and majestic,
Made them, in the evening, like basaltic grottos.

The billows which cradled the image of the sky
Mingled, in a solemn, mystical way,
The omnipotent chords of their rich harmonies
With the sunsets' colors reflected in my eyes;

It was there that I lived in voluptuous calm,
In splendor, between the azure and the sea,
And I was attended by slaves, naked, perfumed,

Who fanned my brow with fronds of palms
And whose sole task it was to fathom
The dolorous secret that made me pine away.

— Translated by William Aggeler

Former Life

I've lived beneath huge portals where marine
Suns coloured, with a myriad fires, the waves;
At eve majestic pillars made the scene
Resemble those of vast basaltic caves.

The breakers, rolling the reflected skies,
Mixed, in a solemn, enigmatic way,
The powerful symphonies they seem to play
With colours of the sunset in my eyes.

There did I live in a voluptuous calm
Where breezes, waves, and splendours roved as vagrants;
And naked slaves, impregnated with fragrance,

Would fan my forehead with their fronds of palm:
Their only charge was to increase the anguish
Of secret grief in which I loved to languish.

— Translated by Roy Campbell

My Former Life

I can remember a country of long, high colonnades
Which mirrored in their pale marble the prismatic light
Cast from the bright sea billows in a thousand shades,
And which resembled a cave of fluted basalt by night.

The ocean, strewn with sliding images of the sky,
Would mingle in a mysterious and solemn way,
Under the wild brief sunsets, its tremendous cry
With the reflected colors of the ruined day.

There did I dwell in quiet luxury apart,
Amid the slowly changing hues of clouds and waves;
And there I was attended by two naked slaves

Who sometimes fanned me with great fronds on either side,
And whose sole task was to let sink into my heart
The dolorous and beautiful secret of which I died.

— Translated by George Dillon

La Vie antérieure

aeons I dwelt beneath vast porticoes
stained by the sun and sea with fiery dye,
whose lordly pillars, stark against the sky,
like caverned cliffs in evening's gold arose.

the rolling surges and their mirror skies
blent in a grave mysterious organ-air
the chords all-powerful of their music rare
with sunset's colours in my glowing eyes.

'twas there I lived before, 'mid azure waves,
blue skies and splendours, in voluptuous calm,
while, steeped in every fragrance, naked slaves

made cool my brow with waving fronds of palm:
— their only care to drive the secret dart
of my dull sorrow, deeper in my heart.

— Translated by Lewis Piaget Shanks

My Earlier Life

I've been home a long time among the vast porticos,
Which the mariner sun has tinged with a million fires,
Whose grandest pillars, upright, majestic and cold
Render them the same, this evening, as caves with basalt spires.

The swells' overwhelming accords of rich music,
Heaving images of heaven to the skies,
Mingle in a way solemn and mystic
With the colors of the horizon reflected by my eyes.

It was here I was true to the voluptuous calm,
The milieu of azure, the waves, the splendors,
And the nude slaves, all impregnated with odors,

Who refreshed my brow with waving palms
My only care to bring to meaning from anguish
The sad secret in which I languish.

Translated by William A. Sigler

Previous Existence

For a long time I lived under vast colonnades,
Stained with a thousand fires by ocean suns,
Whose vast pillars, straight and majestic,
Made them seem in the evening like grottos of basalt.

The sea-swells, in swaying the pictures of the skies,
Mingled solemnly and mystically
The all-powerful harmonies of their rich music
With the colors of the setting sun reflected by my eyes.

It is there that I have lived in calm voluptuousness,
In the center of the blue, amidst the waves and splendors
And the nude slaves, heavy with perfumes,

Who refreshed my forehead with palm-leaves,
Their only care was to fathom
The dolorous secret that made me languish.

— Translated by Geoffrey Wagner

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