Charles Baudelaire


One time, once only, sweet, amiable woman, On my arm your smooth arm Rested (on the tenebrous background of my soul That memory is not faded); It was late; like a newly struck medal The full moon spread its rays, And the solemnity of the night streamed Like a river over sleeping Paris. And along the houses, under the porte-cocheres, Cats passed by furtively, With ears pricked up, or else, like beloved shades, Slowly escorted us. Suddenly, in the midst of that frank intimacy Born in the pale moonlight, From you, sonorous, rich instrument which vibrates Only with radiant gaiety, From you, clear and joyful as a fanfare In the glistening morning light, A plaintive note, a bizarre note Escaped, faltering Like a puny, filthy, sullen, horrible child, Who would make his family blush, And whom they have hidden for a long time In a secret cellar. Poor angel, it sang, your discordant note: "That naught is certain here below, That always, though it paint its face with utmost care Man's selfishness reveals itself, That it's a hard calling to be a lovely woman, And that it is the banal task Of the cold and silly danseuse who faints away With a mechanical smile, That to build on hearts is a foolish thing, That all things break, love, and beauty, Till Oblivion tosses them into his dosser To give them back to Eternity!" I've often evoked that enchanted moon, The silence and the languidness, And that horrible confidence whispered In the heart's confessional. Translated by - William Aggeler Confession Once, and once only, kind and gentle lady, Your polished arm on mine you placed (Deep down within my spirit, dark and shady, I keep the memory uneffaced). A medal, newly-coined, of flashing silver, The full moon shone. The night was old. Its solemn grandeur, like a mighty river, Through sleeping Paris softly rolled. Along the streets, by courtyard doors, cats darted And passed in furtive, noiseless flight With cars pricked; or, like shades of friends departed, Followed us slowly through the night. Cutting this easy intimacy through, That hatched from out that pearly light - O rich resounding instrument, from you, Who'd always thrilled with loud delight, From you, till then as joyful as a peal Of trumpets on a sparkling morn, A cry so plaintive that it seemed unreal, Was staggeringly torn. Like some misborn, deformed, and monstrous kid Who puts his family to the blush, Whose presence in a cellar must be hid And his existence in a hush! Poor angel! that harsh note was meant to sing "That nothing in this world is certain, And human egotism is the thing Which all existence serves to curtain. That it's an irksome task to be a beauty, A boring job one has to face - Like frigid dancers, smiling as a duty With hard, mechanical grimace: That building upon hearts is idiotic: All cracks, love, beauty, and fraternity Until Oblivion puts them in his pocket To pawn them on to old Eternity!" I often have recalled that moon of magic, That languid hush on quays and marts, And then this confidence, so grim and tragic, In the confessional of hearts. Translated by - Roy Campbell

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