Charles Baudelaire

Skeleton with a Spade

I In the anatomical plates That lie about on dusty quais Where many cadaverous books Sleep like an ancient mummy, Engravings to which the staidness And knowledge of some old artist Have communicated beauty, Although the subject is gloomy, One sees, and it makes more complete These mysteries full of horror, Skinless bodies and skeletons, Spading as if they were farmhands. II From the soil that you excavate, Resigned, macabre villagers, From all the effort of your backs, Or of your muscles stripped of skin, Tell me, what singular harvest, Convicts torn from cemeteries, Do you reap, and of what farmer Do you have to fill the barn? Do you wish (clear, frightful symbol Of too cruel a destiny!) To show that even in the grave None is sure of the promised sleep; That Annihilation betrays us; That all, even Death, lies to us, And that forever and ever, Alas! we shall be forced perhaps In some unknown country To scrape the hard and stony ground And to push a heavy spade in With our bare and bleeding feet? Translated by - William Aggeler Le Squelette laboureur I in anatomic charts, upon the parapets of dusty quays, where coffined volumes lie at peace like mummies dozing in the sun - drawings where in the solemn zeal of dexterous hands long turned to dust, in things of sadness or disgust have shown the beauty of the real - we find - and then these lexicons of cryptic horror grow complete! - spading, like farmers, with their feet, cadavers flayed and skeletons. II say, from the earth ye ransack there, o patient serfs funereal, with all your straining backbones, all the strength of muscles peeled and bare, tell me, o galley-slaves who moil, from graves and charnel-houses torn, whose barn ye hope to fill? what corn will crown your long mysterious toil? would ye (a proof in miniature of some intolerable doom!) teach us that even in the tomb our promised sleep is not secure; that graves, like all things else, are traps, and nothingness another lie; and that, although we mortals die, 'twill be our fate at last, perhaps, in lands of loneliness complete, to dig some rocky counterscarp, pushing a heavy spade and sharp beneath our naked bleeding feet? Translated by - Lewis Piaget Shanks Skeletons Digging I Among the anatomical plates Displayed along the dusty quays, Where many a dead book desiccates Like an old mummy - among these Sad diagrams to which the grave Fantasy and ironic skill Of some forgotten artist have Lent a mysterious beauty still, One sees (for thus mere nerves and bones Were rendered life-like through his pains) Digging like laborers, skeletons And skinless men composed of veins. II Out of that stony soil which ye Unceasingly upturn, with all The strength of your stripped vertebrae And fleshless thews - funereal Prisoners from the charnel pile! - What do ye look for? Speak. What strange Harvest prepare ye all this while? What lord has bid you load his grange? Do ye desire, O symbols clear And frightful of a doom unguessed, To demonstrate that even there, In the deep grave, we have no rest - That we can no more count as friend Eternity than we can Time, Death, too, being faithless in the end? That we shall toil in dust and grime For ever upon some field of shade, And harry the stiff sod, and put Over and over to the spade A naked and ensanguined foot? Translated by - George Dillon The Skeleton Navy I Quaint anatomic plates are sold Along the quays in third-hand stalls Where tomes cadaverous and old Slumber like mummies in their palls. In them the craftsman's skill combines With expert knowledge in a way That beautifies these chill designs Although the subject's far from gay. One notes that, consummating these Mysterious horrors, God knows how, Skeletons and anatomies Peel off their skins to delve and plough. II Navvies, funereal and resigned, From the tough ground with which you tussle With all the effort that can find Filleted spine or skinless muscle - O grave-snatched convicts, say what strange Harvest you hope from such a soil And who the farmer is whose grange You would replenish with this toil. Mean you to show (O evil-starred Exponents of too stark a doom) The promised sleep may yet be barred, Even from us, beyond the tomb; That even extinction may turn traitor, And Death itself, can be a lie; And that perhaps, sooner or later, Forever, when we come to die, In some strange country, without wages, On stubborn outcrops delving holes, We'll push a shovel through the ages Beneath our flayed and blinding soles? Translated by - Roy Campbell

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