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Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire
The son of Joseph-Francois Baudelaire and Caroline Archimbaut Dufays, Charles Baudelaire was...
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Spleen

 
by Charles Baudelaire
translated by Richard Howard

(I)

February, peeved at Paris, pours 
a gloomy torrent on the pale lessees 
of the graveyard next door and a mortal chill
on tenants of the foggy suburbs too.

The tiles afford no comfort to my cat 
that cannot keep its mangy body still; 
the soul of some old poet haunts the drains 
and howls as if a ghost could hate the cold.

A churchbell grieves, a log in the fireplace smokes
and hums falsetto to the clock's catarrh, 
while in a filthy reeking deck of cards

inherited from a dropsical old maid,
the dapper Knave of Hearts and the Queen of Spades 
grimly disinter their love affairs.

(II)

Souvenirs?
More than if I had lived a thousand years!

No chest of drawers crammed with documents, 
love-letters, wedding-invitations, wills,
a lock of someone's hair rolled up in a deed, 
hides so many secrets as my brain.
This branching catacombs, this pyramid 
contains more corpses than the potter's field:
I am a graveyard that the moon abhors,
where long worms like regrets come out to feed
most ravenously on my dearest dead.
I am an old boudoir where a rack of gowns, 
perfumed by withered roses, rots to dust; 
where only faint pastels and pale Bouchers 
inhale the scent of long-unstoppered flasks.

Nothing is slower than the limping days 
when under the heavy weather of the years
Boredom, the fruit of glum indifference, 
gains the dimension of eternity . . . 
Hereafter, mortal clay, you are no more
than a rock encircled by a nameless dread,
an ancient sphinx omitted from the map, 
forgotten by the world, and whose fierce moods 
sing only to the rays of setting suns.

(III)

I'm like the king of a rainy country, rich 
but helpless, decrepit though still a young man 
who scorns his fawning tutors, wastes his time 
on dogs and other animals, and has no fun; 
nothing distracts him, neither hawk nor hound 
nor subjects starving at the palace gate. 
His favorite fool's obscenities fall flat
--the royal invalid is not amused--
and ladies in waiting for a princely nod 
no longer dress indecently enough 
to win a smile from this young skeleton.
The bed of state becomes a stately tomb. 
The alchemist who brews him gold has failed 
to purge the impure substance from his soul, 
and baths of blood, Rome's legacy recalled 
by certain barons in their failing days, 
are useless to revive this sickly flesh 
through which no blood but brackish Lethe seeps.

(IV)

When skies are low and heavy as a lid
over the mind tormented by disgust,
and hidden in the gloom the sun pours down 
on us a daylight dingier than the dark;

when earth becomes a trickling dungeon where 
Trust like a bat keeps lunging through the air,
beating tentative wings along the walls 
and bumping its head against the rotten beams;

when rain falls straight from unrelenting clouds, 
forging the bars of some enormous jail, 
and silent hordes of obscene spiders spin 
their webs across the basements of our brains;

then all at once the raging bells break loose,
hurling to heaven their awful caterwaul, 
like homeless ghosts with no one left to haunt 
whimpering their endless grievances.

--And giant hearses, without dirge or drums, 
parade at half-step in my soul, where Hope, 
defeated, weeps, and the oppressor Dread 
plants his black flag on my assenting skull.






Originally appeared in Les Fleurs du Mal, translated by Richard Howard and published by David R. Godine. © 1982 by Richard Howard. Reprinted in Other Worlds Than This, published by Rutgers University Press, 1994. Used with permission of Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved.
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