Charles Baudelaire


When, after a decree of the supreme powers, The Poet is brought forth in this wearisome world, His mother terrified and full of blasphemies Raises her clenched fist to God, who pities her: - "Ah! would that I had spawned a whole knot of vipers Rather than to have fed this derisive object! Accursed be the night of ephemeral joy When my belly conceived this, my expiation! Since of all women You have chosen me To be repugnant to my sorry spouse, And since I cannot cast this misshapen monster Into the flames, like an old love letter, I shall spew the hatred with which you crush me down On the cursed instrument of your malevolence, And twist so hard this wretched tree That it cannot put forth its pestilential buds!" Thus she gulps down the froth of her hatred, And not understanding the eternal designs, Herself prepares deep down in Gehenna The pyre reserved for a mother's crimes. However, protected by an unseen Angel, The outcast child is enrapt by the sun, And in all that he eats, in everything he drinks, He finds sweet ambrosia and rubiate nectar. He cavorts with the wind, converses with the clouds, And singing, transported, goes the way of the cross; And the Angel who follows him on pilgrimage Weeps to see him as carefree as a bird. All those whom he would love watch him with fear, Or, emboldened by his tranquility, Emulously attempt to wring a groan from him And test on him their inhumanity. With the bread and the wine intended for his mouth They mix ashes and foul spittle, And, hypocrites, cast away what he touches And feel guilty if they have trod in his footprints. His wife goes about the market-places Crying: "Since he finds me fair enough to adore, I shall imitate the idols of old, And like them I want to be regilded; I shall get drunk with spikenard, incense, myrrh, And with genuflections, viands and wine, To see if laughingly I can usurp In an admiring heart the homage due to God! And when I tire of these impious jokes, I shall lay upon him my strong, my dainty hand; And my nails, like harpies' talons, Will cut a path straight to his heart. That heart which flutters like a fledgling bird I'll tear, all bloody, from his breast, And scornfully I'll throw it in the dust To sate the hunger of my favorite hound!" To Heav'n, where his eye sees a radiant throne, Piously, the Poet, serene, raises his arms, And the dazzling brightness of his illumined mind Hides from his sight the raging mob: - "Praise be to You, O God, who send us suffering As a divine remedy for our impurities And as the best and the purest essence To prepare the strong for holy ecstasies! I know that you reserve a place for the Poet Within the blessed ranks of the holy Legions, And that you invite him to the eternal feast Of the Thrones, the Virtues, and the Dominations. I know that suffering is the sole nobility Which earth and hell shall never mar, And that to weave my mystic crown, You must tax every age and every universe. But the lost jewels of ancient Palmyra, The unfound metals, the pearls of the sea, Set by Your own hand, would not be adequate For that diadem of dazzling splendor, For that crown will be made of nothing but pure light Drawn from the holy source of primal rays, Whereof our mortal eyes, in their fullest brightness, Are no more than tarnished, mournful mirrors!" Translated by - William Aggeler Benediction When by the changeless Power of a Supreme Decree The poet issues forth upon this sorry sphere, His mother, horrified, and full of blasphemy, Uplifts her voice to God, who takes compassion on her. "Ah, why did I not bear a serpent's nest entire, Instead of bringing forth this hideous Child of Doom! Oh curs├Ęd be that transient night of vain desire When I conceived my expiation in my womb!" "Yet since among all women thou hast chosen me To be the degradation of my jaded mate, And since I cannot like a love-leaf wantonly Consign this stunted monster to the glowing grate," "I'll cause thine overwhelming hatred to rebound Upon the cursed tool of thy most wicked spite. Forsooth, the branches of this wretched tree I'll wound And rob its pestilential blossoms of their might!" So thus, she giveth vent unto her foaming ire, And knowing not the changeless statutes of all times, Herself, amid the flames of hell, prepares the pyre; The consecrated penance of maternal crimes. Yet 'neath th' invisible shelter of an Angel's wing This sunlight-loving infant disinherited, Exhales from all he eats and drinks, and everything The ever sweet ambrosia and the nectar red. He trifles with the winds and with the clouds that glide, About the way unto the Cross, he loves to sing, The spirit on his pilgrimage; that faithful guide, Oft weeps to see him joyful like a bird of Spring. All those that he would cherish shrink from him with fear, And some that waxen bold by his tranquility, Endeavour hard some grievance from his heart to tear, And make on him the trial of their ferocity. Within the bread and wine outspread for his repast To mingle dust and dirty spittle they essay, And everything he touches, forth they slyly cast, Or scourge themselves, if e'er their feet betrod his way. His wife goes round proclaiming in the crowded quads - "Since he can find my body beauteous to behold, Why not perform the office of those ancient gods And like unto them, redeck myself with shining gold?" "I'll bathe myself with incense, spikenard and myrrh, With genuflexions, delicate viandes and wine, To see, in jest, if from a heart, that loves me dear, I cannot filch away the hommages divine." "And when of these impious jokes at length I tire, My frail but mighty hands, around his breast entwined, With nails, like harpies' nails, shall cunningly conspire The hidden path unto his feeble heart to find." "And like a youngling bird that trembles in its nest, I'll pluck his heart right out; within its own blood drowned, And finally to satiate my favourite beast, I'll throw it with intense disdain upon the ground!" Towards the Heavens where he sees the sacred grail The poet calmly stretches forth his pious arms, Whereon the lightenings from his lucid spirit veil The sight of the infuriated mob that swarms. "Oh blest be thou, Almighty who bestowest pain, Like some divine redress for our infirmities, And like the most refreshing and the purest rain, To sanctify the strong, for saintly ecstasies." "I know that for the poet thou wilt grant a chair, Among the Sainted Legion and the Blissful ones, That of the endless feast thou wilt accord his share To him, of Virtues, Dominations and of Thrones." "I know, that Sorrow is that nobleness alone, Which never may corrupted be by hell nor curse, I know, in order to enwreathe my mystic crown I must inspire the ages and the universe." "And yet the buried jewels of Palmyra old, The undiscovered metals and the pearly sea Of gems, that unto me you show could never hold Beside this diadem of blinding brilliancy." "For it shall be engendered from the purest fire Of rays primeval, from the holy hearth amassed, Of which the eyes of Mortals, in their sheen entire, Are but the tarnished mirrors, sad and overcast!" Translated by - Cyril Scott Benediction When, on a certain day, into this harassed world The Poet, by decree of the high powers, was born, His mother, overwhelmed by shame and fury, hurled These blasphemies at God, clenching her fists in scorn: "Would I had whelped a knot of vipers - at the worst 'Twere better than this runt that whines and snivels there! Oh, cursèd be that night of pleasure, thrice accurst My womb, that has conceived and nourished my despair! "Since, of all mortal women, it would seem my fate To be my saddened husband's horror and disgust; And since I may not toss this monster in the grate - Like any crumpled letter, reeking of stale lust - "Upon his helpless form, whereby Thou humblest me, I shall divert Thy hatred in one raging flood; And I shall twist so well this miserable tree That it shall not put forth one pestilential bud!" Thus did she foam with anger, railing, swallowing froth; And, unaware of what the mighty powers had willed, She set about to draw Gehenna on them both, Eyeing the fire, considering how he might be killed. Meantime, above the child an unseen angel beats His wings, and the poor waif runs laughing in the sun; And everything he drinks and everything he eats Are nectar and ambrosia to this hapless one. Companioned by the wind, conversing with the cloud, Along the highway to the Cross his song is heard; And the bright Spirit, following him, weeps aloud To see him hop so gaily, like a little bird. Those whom he longs to love observe him with constraint And fear, as he grows up; or, seeing how calm he is, Grow bold, and seek to draw from him some sharp complaint, Wreaking on him all day their dull ferocities. Cinders are in his bread, are gritty in his teeth; Spittle is in his wine. Where his footprints are seen They hesitate to set their shoes, mincing beneath Hypocrisy; all things he touched, they call unclean. His wife in public places cries, "Since after all He loves me so, that he's the laughingstock of men, I'll make a business of it, be an idol, call For gold, to have myself regilded now and then! "And some day, when I'm drunk with frankincense, rich food, Flattery, genuflexions, spikenard, beady wine, I'll get from him (while laughing in his face, I could!) That homage he has kept, so far, for things divine. "And, when my pleasure in these impious farces fails, My dainty, terrible hands shall tear his breast apart, And these long nails of mine, so like to harpies' nails, Shall dig till they have dug a tunnel to his heart. "Then, like a young bird, caught and fluttering to be freed, ('Twill make a tasty morsel for my favorite hound) I'll wrench his heart out, warm and bleeding - let it bleed! — And drop it, with contempt and loathing, to the ground." Meanwhile toward Heaven, the goal of his mature desire, The Poet, oblivious, lifts up his arms in prayer; His lucid essence flames with lightnings - veiled by fire Is all the furious world, all the lewd conflict there. "Be praised, Almighty God, that givest to faulty me This suffering, to purge my spirit of its sin, To fortify my puny strength, to bid me see Pure Faith, and what voluptuous blisses dwell therein. "I know that in those ranks on ranks of happy blest The Poet shall have some place among Thy Seraphim; And that Thou wilt at length to the eternal feast Of Virtues, Thrones and Dominations, summon him. "I know, Pain is the one nobility we have Which not the hungry ground nor hell shall ever gnaw; I know that space and time, beyond the temporal grave, Weave me a mystic crown, free from all earthly flaw. "Not emeralds, not all the pearls of the deep sea, All the rare metals, every lost and buried gem Antique Palmyra hides, could ever seem to me So beautiful as that clear glittering diadem. "Of Light, of Light alone, it will be fashioned, Light Drawn from the holy fount, rays primitive and pure, Whereof the eyes of mortal men, so starry bright, Are but the mirrors, mirrors cloudy and obscure." Translated by - Edna St. Vincent Millay Benediction When by decree of the almighty powers, The Poet walks the world's wearisome sod, His mother, blasphemous and fearful, cowers, Clenching her fist against a pitying God: - "Ah, would whole knots of vipers were my spawn Rather than this woeful abomination! Cursed be the sweet swift night and evil dawn Wherein my womb conceived my expiation! Since of all women Thou hast chosen me To be my sorry husband's shame of shames, Since I may not toss this monstrosity Like an old billet-doux into the flames, Thy heavy hatred I shall vomit back On the damned tool of your malevolence, Twisting this wretched tree until it crack, Never to sprout in buds of pestilence!" Thus she gulps down the froth of her despair, Nor knowing the eternal paradigms, Sinks deep into Gehenna to prepare, Herself, the pyre set for a mother's crimes. Yet guarded by an unseen Angel's favors, The outcast child is fired by radiant suns, In all he eats and all he drinks he savors Ambrosial gifts and nectared benisons, He sports with winds, he talks with clouds, he keeps Singing along the road to Calvary, While the bright Angel in his traces weeps, Beholding him as free as birds are free. All those whom he would love watch him with fear, Or else, made bold by his serenity, Wring groans from him that float sweet on the ear Making him touchstone of their cruelty. With his due bread and wine, hypocrites, they, Mix ashes and fat gobs of spittle; grim, What he has touched, these humbugs cast away, Deeming it guilty but to follow him. His wife cries in the market place: "Behold Since he adores me, I am fair, and fain, As idols did, and images of old, To be regilded and adored again. I shall be drunk with spikenard, incense, myrrh, With genuflections, viands and wine to see If, as a glad usurper, I may stir His heart to pay God's homages to me! Tired of these impious japes and of their butt, My strong lithe hand's caress with subtle art And my sharp nails like harpy claws shall cut A mortal path straight to his quivering heart. That heart which flutters like a fledgling bird, I shall tear, bleeding, from his breast, to pitch It blandly in the dust without a word To slake the hunger of my favorite bitch." To Heaven where he spies a splendent throne, Serene, the Poet lifts rapt arms; and bright Luminous thoughts that shine through him alone Conceal the furious rabble from his sight: - "Blessèd, O God, who send woe for a cure, A balm divine for our impurities, Of essences the noblest and most pure To school the strong for holy ecstasies! I know the Poet has his place above Amid God's saintly hosts and congregations, Guest at the everlasting banquet of The Thrones, the Virtues and the Dominations. Sorrow alone is noble and august, A force nor earth nor hell shall ever mar, To weave my mystic crown I know you must Tax every age and universe that are. Old Tadmor's vanished gems beyond all price, Metals unknown, pearls from the richest sea, Set by Thy holy hand, cannot suffice To match this dazzling chapter's splendency; This diadem shall be of sheerest light, Drawn from the sacred source of primal rays, Whereof our mortal eyes, however bright, Serve but as piteous mirrors dull with glaze." Translated by - Jacques LeClercq Benediction When by an edict of the powers supreme A poet's born into this world's drab space, His mother starts, in horror, to blaspheme Clenching her fists at God, who grants her grace. "Would that a nest of vipers I'd aborted Rather than this absurd abomination. Cursed be the night of pleasures vainly sported On which my womb conceived my expiation. Since of all women I am picked by You To be my Mate's aversion and his shame: And since I cannot, like a billet-doux, Consign this stunted monster to the flame, I'll turn the hatred, which You load on me, On the curst tool through which You work your spite, And twist and stunt this miserable tree Until it cannot burgeon for the blight." She swallows down the white froth of her ire And, knowing naught of schemes that are sublime, Deep in Gehenna, starts to lay the pyre That's consecrated to maternal crime. Yet with an unseen Angel for protector The outcast waif grows drunken with the sun, And finds ambrosia, too, and rosy nectar In all he eats or drinks, suspecting none. Those he would love avoid him as in fear, Or, growing bold to see one so resigned, Compete to draw from him a cry or tear, And test on him the fierceness of their kind. In food or drink that's destined for his taste They mix saliva foul with cinders black, Drop what he's touched with hypocrite distaste, And blame themselves for walking in his track. His wife goes crying in the public way - "Since fair enough he finds me to adore, The part of ancient idols I will play And gild myself with coats of molten ore. I will get drunk on incense, myrrh, and nard, On genuflexions, meat, and beady wine, Out of his crazed and wondering regard, I'll laugh to steal prerogatives divine. When by such impious farces bored at length, I'll place my frail strong hand on him, and start, With nails like those of harpies in their strength, To plough myself a pathway to his heart. Like a young bird that trembles palpitating, I'll wrench his heart, all crimson, from his chest, And to my favourite beast, his hunger sating, Will fling it in the gutter with a jest." Skyward, to where he sees a Throne blaze splendid, The pious Poet lifts his arms on high, And the vast lightnings of his soul extended Blot out the crowds and tumults from his eye. "Blessèd be You, O God, who give us pain, As cure for our impurity and wrong - Essence that primes the stalwart to sustain Seraphic raptures that were else too strong. I know that for the Poet You've a post, Where the blest Legions take their ranks and stations, Invited to the revels with the host Of Virtues, Powers, and Thrones, and Dominations That grief's the sole nobility, I know it, Where neither Earth nor Hell can make attacks, And that, to deck my mystic crown of poet, All times and universes paid their tax. But all the gems from old Palmyra lost, The ores unmixed, the pearls of the abyss, Set by Your hand, could not suffice the cost Of such a blazing diadem as this. Because it will be only made of light, Drawn from the hearth of the essential rays, To which our mortal eyes, when burning bright, Are but the tarnished mirrors that they glaze." Translated by - Roy Campbell

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