Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Tuesday 19 March 2013

The Ghost and A Phantom

A couple of crackers from Charles Baudelaire for you today. The first is a somewhat light-hearted poem about someone, perhaps a jilted lover, returning from the dead to do some haunting. The Ghost is easy to read and quite punchy, giving a hint of darkness from the start; I'm not entirely sure I like the sound of 'brown-eyed' angels, but I don't know why. The ending is suitably abrupt, and it always leaves me wondering what might happen next.
Both of these pieces were first published in Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of evil) in 1861.

Le Revenant (The Ghost)
by Charles Baudelaire

Softly as brown-eyed Angels rove
I will return to thy alcove,
And glide upon the night to thee,
Treading the shadows silently.

And I will give to thee, my own,
Kisses as icy as the moon,
And the caresses of a snake
Cold gliding in the thorny brake.

And when returns the livid morn
Thou shalt find all my place forlorn
And chilly, till the falling night.

Others would rule by tenderness
Over thy life and youthfulness,
But I would conquer thee by fright!

Here is a link to The Ghost being read.

Next is A Phantom, which is a much darker piece and more atmospheric. Very much a work of contrasts, there is a certain shock value to some of it (boiling and eating his own heart!) which I think lends it a modern feel.
It's interesting how much of Baudelaire's reputation was built originally on work other than poetry (he published much of his early poems under noms-de-plumes, for no obvious reason). At one time he was best known for his translations of Edgar Allen Poe, about which he was most painstaking, often going to great lengths to find the correct terms, such as mixing with "dock-workers" for slang.

Un Fantome (A Phantom)
by Charles Baudelaire

I. The Blackness

In vaults of fathomless obscurity
Where Destiny has sentenced me for life;
Where cheerful rosy beams may never shine;
Where, living with that sullen hostess, Night,

I am an artist that a mocking God
Condemns, alas! to paint the gloom itself;
Where like a cook with ghoulish appetite
I boil and devour my own heart,

Sometimes there sprawls, and stretches out, and glows
A splendid ghost, of a surpassing charm,
And when this vision growing in my sight

In oriental languor, like a dream,
Is fully formed, I know the phantom's name:
Yes, it is She! though black, yet full of light.

II. The Perfume

During your lifetime, reader, have you breathed,
Slow-savouring to the point of dizziness,
That grain of incense which fills up a church,
Or the pervasive musk of a sachet?

Magical charm, in which the past restored
Intoxicates us with its presence here!
So from the body of his well-beloved
The lover plucks remembrance's bright bloom.

Out of the phantom's dense, resilient locks,
Living sachet, censer of the alcove,
Would rise an alien and tawny scent,

And all her clothes, of muslin or of plush,
Redolent as they were with her pure youth,
Released the soft perfume of thickest fur.

III. The Frame

Just as the frame adds to the painter's art,
Although the brush itself be highly praised,
A something that is captivating, strange,
Setting it off from all in nature else,

So jewels and metals, gildings, furnishings
Exactly fit her rich and rare appeal;
Nothing offends her perfect clarity,
And all would seem a frame for her display.

And one could say at times that she believed
Everything loved her, in that she would bathe
Freely, voluptuously, her nudity

In kisses of the linen and the silk,
And with each charming movement, slow or quick,
Display a cunning monkey's childlike grace.

IV. The Portrait

Disease and Death make only dust and ash
Of all the fire that blazed so bright for us.
Of those great eyes so tender and so warm,
Of this mouth where my heart has drowned itself,

Of kisses puissant as a healing balm,
Of transports more intense than flaring light,
What now remains? Appalling, o my soul!
Only a fading sketch in three pale tones,

Like me, dying away in solitude,
And which Time, that maleficent old man,
Each day rubs over with his churlish wing ...

Time, you black murderer of Life and Art,
You'll never kill her in my memory -
Not She, who was my pleasure and my pride!

1 comment: