Le Cygne (The Swan) - Poem by Charles Baudelaire
À Victor Hugo
Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
L'immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,
A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel);
Je ne vois qu'en esprit tout ce camp de baraques,
Ces tas de chapiteaux ébauchés et de fûts,
Les herbes, les gros blocs verdis par l'eau des flaques,
Et, brillant aux carreaux, le bric-à-brac confus.
Là s'étalait jadis une ménagerie;
Là je vis, un matin, à l'heure où sous les cieux
Froids et clairs le Travail s'éveille, où la voirie
Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l'air silencieux,
Un cygne qui s'était évadé de sa cage,
Et, de ses pieds palmés frottant le pavé sec,
Sur le sol raboteux traînait son blanc plumage.
Près d'un ruisseau sans eau la bête ouvrant le bec
Baignait nerveusement ses ailes dans la poudre,
Et disait, le coeur plein de son beau lac natal:
«Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu? quand tonneras-tu, foudre?»
Je vois ce malheureux, mythe étrange et fatal,
Vers le ciel quelquefois, comme l'homme d'Ovide,
Vers le ciel ironique et cruellement bleu,
Sur son cou convulsif tendant sa tête avide
Comme s'il adressait des reproches à Dieu!
Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N'a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie
Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.
Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m'opprime:
Je pense à mon grand cygne, avec ses gestes fous,
Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime
Et rongé d'un désir sans trêve! et puis à vous,
Andromaque, des bras d'un grand époux tombée,
Vil bétail, sous la main du superbe Pyrrhus,
Auprès d'un tombeau vide en extase courbée
Veuve d'Hector, hélas! et femme d'Hélénus!
Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique
Piétinant dans la boue, et cherchant, l'oeil hagard,
Les cocotiers absents de la superbe Afrique
Derrière la muraille immense du brouillard;
À quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
Jamais, jamais! à ceux qui s'abreuvent de pleurs
Et tètent la Douleur comme une bonne louve!
Aux maigres orphelins séchant comme des fleurs!
Ainsi dans la forêt où mon esprit s'exile
Un vieux Souvenir sonne à plein souffle du cor!
Je pense aux matelots oubliés dans une île,
Aux captifs, aux vaincus!... à bien d'autres encor!
To Victor Hugo
Andromache, I think of you! — That little stream,
That mirror, poor and sad, which glittered long ago
With the vast majesty of your widow's grieving,
That false Simois swollen by your tears,
Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory,
As I walked across the new Carrousel.
— Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);
I see only in memory that camp of stalls,
Those piles of shafts, of rough hewn cornices, the grass,
The huge stone blocks stained green in puddles of water,
And in the windows shine the jumbled bric-a-brac.
Once a menagerie was set up there;
There, one morning, at the hour when Labor awakens,
Beneath the clear, cold sky when the dismal hubbub
Of street-cleaners and scavengers breaks the silence,
I saw a swan that had escaped from his cage,
That stroked the dry pavement with his webbed feet
And dragged his white plumage over the uneven ground.
Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak,
Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust
And cried, homesick for his fair native lake:
'Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?'
I see that hapless bird, that strange and fatal myth,
Toward the sky at times, like the man in Ovid,
Toward the ironic, cruelly blue sky,
Stretch his avid head upon his quivering neck,
As if he were reproaching God!
Paris changes! but naught in my melancholy
Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone,
Old quarters, all become for me an allegory,
And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.
So, before the Louvre, an image oppresses me:
I think of my great swan with his crazy motions,
Ridiculous, sublime, like a man in exile,
Relentlessly gnawed by longing! and then of you,
Andromache, base chattel, fallen from the embrace
Of a mighty husband into the hands of proud Pyrrhus,
Standing bowed in rapture before an empty tomb,
Widow of Hector, alas! and wife of Helenus!
I think of the negress, wasted and consumptive,
Trudging through muddy streets, seeking with a fixed gaze
The absent coco-palms of splendid Africa
Behind the immense wall of mist;
Of whoever has lost that which is never found
Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears
And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf!
Of the puny orphans withering like flowers!
Thus in the dim forest to which my soul withdraws,
An ancient memory sounds loud the hunting horn!
I think of the sailors forgotten on some isle,
— Of the captives, of the vanquished!...of many others too!
— Translated by William Aggeler
To Victor Hugo
Andromache! — This shallow stream, the brief
Mirror you once so grandly overcharged
With your vast majesty of widowed grief,
This lying Simois your tears enlarged,
Evoked your name, and made me think of you,
As I was crossing the new Carrousel.
— Old Paris is no more (cities renew,
Quicker than human hearts, their changing spell).
In mind I see that camp of huts, the muddle
Of rough-hewn roofs and leaning shafts for miles,
The grass, green logs stagnating in the puddle,
Where bric-a-brac lay glittering in piles.
Once a menagerie parked there.
And there it chanced one morning, when from slumber freed,
Labour stands up, and Transport through still air
Rumbles its sombre hurricane of speed, —
A swan escaped its cage: and as its feet
With finny palms on the harsh pavement scraped,
Trailing white plumage on the stony street,
In the dry gutter for fresh water gaped.
Nervously bathing in the dust, in wonder
It asked, remembering its native stream,
'When will the rain come down? When roll the thunder?'
I see it now, strange myth and fatal theme!
Sometimes, like Ovid's wretch, towards the sky
(Ironically blue with cruel smile)
Its neck, convulsive, reared its head on high
As though it were its Maker to revile.
Paris has changed, but in my grief no change.
New palaces and scaffoldings and blocks,
To me, are allegories, nothing strange.
My memories are heavier than rocks.
Passing the Louvre, one image makes me sad:
That swan, like other exiles that we knew,
Grandly absurd, with gestures of the mad,
Gnawed by one craving! — Then I think of you,
Who fell from your great husband's arms, to be
A beast of freight for Pyrrhus, and for life,
Bowed by an empty tomb in ecstasy —
Great Hector's widow! Helenus's wife!
I think, too, of the starved and phthisic negress
Tramping the mud, who seeks, with haggard eye,
The palms of Africa, and for some egress
Out of this great black wall of foggy sky:
Of those who've lost what they cannot recover:
Of those who slake with tears their lonely hours
And milk the she-wolf, Sorrow, for their mother:
And skinny orphans withering like flowers.
So in the forest of my soul's exile,
Remembrance winds his horn as on he rides.
I think of sailors stranded on an isle,
Captives, and slaves — and many more besides.
— Translated by Roy Campbell
Andromache, of thee I think! and of
the dreary streamlet where, through exiled years,
shone the vast grandeur of thy widow's love,
that false Simois brimmed with royal tears
poured like the Nile across my memory strange,
as past the Louvre new I strolled, apart.
— Old Paris is no more (for cities change
— alas! — more quickly than a mortal's heart);
only my memory sees the capitals,
the shafts unfinished once, in pools of rain,
the slimy marble blocks, weeds, market-stalls
with old brass gleaming through each dusty pane.
that corner houses a whole menagerie once;
and here one day I saw, when 'neath the fair
cold heavens, Toil awoke, and over the stones
the storm of traffic rent the silent air,
a swan which from its cage had made escape
patting the torrid blocks with webby feet,
trailing great plumes of snow, while beak agape
fumbled for water in the parching street;
wildly it plunged its wings in dust again,
mourning its native lake, and seemed to shrill:
'lightning, when comest thou? and when, the rain?'
strange symbol! wretched bird, I see it still,
up to the sky, like Ovid's fool accurst,
up to the cruelly blue ironic sky
raising its neck convulsed and beak athirst,
as though reproaching God in each mad cry.
towns change... but in my melancholy naught
has moved at all! new portals, ladders, blocks,
old alleys — all become symbolic thought,
in me, loved memories turn to moveless rocks.
so, crushing me, the Louvre gates recall
my huge white swan, insane with agony,
comic, sublime, like exiles one and all
by truceless cravings torn! I think of thee
Andromache, a slave apportioned, whom
proud Pyrrhus took from hands more glorious,
in ecstasy bent o'er an empty tomb;
great Hector's widow, wed to Helenus!
I think of thee, consumptive Nubian,
wading the mire, wan-eyed girl, agog
to find the absent palms of proud Soudan
behind the boundless rampart of the fog;
I think of all who lose the boons we find
no more! no more! who feed on tears and cling
to the good she-wolf Grief, whose tears are kind!
— of orphans gaunt like flowers withering!
thus, in the jungle of my soul's exile,
old memories wind a horn I've heard before!
I think of sailors wrecked on some lost isle,
of prisoners, captives!... and many more!
— Translated by Lewis Piaget Shanks
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