Charles Baudelaire

The Swan

To Victor Hugo

I Andromache, I think of you! - That little stream, That mirror, poor and sad, which glittered long ago With the vast majesty of your widow's grieving, That false Simois swollen by your tears, Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory, As I walked across the new Carrousel. - Old Paris is no more (the form of a city Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart); I see only in memory that camp of stalls, Those piles of shafts, of rough hewn cornices, the grass, The huge stone blocks stained green in puddles of water, And in the windows shine the jumbled bric-a-brac. Once a menagerie was set up there; There, one morning, at the hour when Labor awakens, Beneath the clear, cold sky when the dismal hubbub Of street-cleaners and scavengers breaks the silence, I saw a swan that had escaped from his cage, That stroked the dry pavement with his webbed feet And dragged his white plumage over the uneven ground. Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak, Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust And cried, homesick for his fair native lake: "Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?" I see that hapless bird, that strange and fatal myth, Toward the sky at times, like the man in Ovid, Toward the ironic, cruelly blue sky, Stretch his avid head upon his quivering neck, As if he were reproaching God! II Paris changes! but naught in my melancholy Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone, Old quarters, all become for me an allegory, And my dear memories are heavier than rocks. So, before the Louvre, an image oppresses me: I think of my great swan with his crazy motions, Ridiculous, sublime, like a man in exile, Relentlessly gnawed by longing! and then of you, Andromache, base chattel, fallen from the embrace Of a mighty husband into the hands of proud Pyrrhus, Standing bowed in rapture before an empty tomb, Widow of Hector, alas! and wife of Helenus! I think of the negress, wasted and consumptive, Trudging through muddy streets, seeking with a fixed gaze The absent coco-palms of splendid Africa Behind the immense wall of mist; Of whoever has lost that which is never found Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf! Of the puny orphans withering like flowers! Thus in the dim forest to which my soul withdraws, An ancient memory sounds loud the hunting horn! I think of the sailors forgotten on some isle, - Of the captives, of the vanquished!...of many others too! Translated by - William Aggeler Le Cygne I Andromache, of thee I think! and of the dreary streamlet where, through exiled years, shone the vast grandeur of thy widow's love, that false Simois brimmed with royal tears poured like the Nile across my memory strange, as past the Louvre new I strolled, apart. - Old Paris is no more (for cities change - alas! — more quickly than a mortal's heart); only my memory sees the capitals, the shafts unfinished once, in pools of rain, the slimy marble blocks, weeds, market-stalls with old brass gleaming through each dusty pane. that corner houses a whole menagerie once; and here one day I saw, when 'neath the fair cold heavens, Toil awoke, and over the stones the storm of traffic rent the silent air, a swan which from its cage had made escape patting the torrid blocks with webby feet, trailing great plumes of snow, while beak agape fumbled for water in the parching street; wildly it plunged its wings in dust again, mourning its native lake, and seemed to shrill: "lightning, when comest thou? and when, the rain?" strange symbol! wretched bird, I see it still, up to the sky, like Ovid's fool accurst, up to the cruelly blue ironic sky raising its neck convulsed and beak athirst, as though reproaching God in each mad cry. II towns change... but in my melancholy naught has moved at all! new portals, ladders, blocks, old alleys - all become symbolic thought, in me, loved memories turn to moveless rocks. so, crushing me, the Louvre gates recall my huge white swan, insane with agony, comic, sublime, like exiles one and all by truceless cravings torn! I think of thee Andromache, a slave apportioned, whom proud Pyrrhus took from hands more glorious, in ecstasy bent o'er an empty tomb; great Hector's widow, wed to Helenus! I think of thee, consumptive Nubian, wading the mire, wan-eyed girl, agog to find the absent palms of proud Soudan behind the boundless rampart of the fog; I think of all who lose the boons we find no more! no more! who feed on tears and cling to the good she-wolf Grief, whose tears are kind! - of orphans gaunt like flowers withering! thus, in the jungle of my soul's exile, old memories wind a horn I've heard before! I think of sailors wrecked on some lost isle, of prisoners, captives!... and many more! Translated by - Lewis Piaget Shanks The Swan Andromache, I think of you as I look down on the broad languid surface of the Seine from Carrousel Bridge. It's a mirror of yesterday that undercuts my every feeling, even in this clear contemplation of you, still in your widow's grief, as cocky Phyrrus drags you to his bed. The Paris of old has undergone changes my heart cannot. Now only in memory, the Paris of makeshift booths and crowded tradesmen's squares. Every massive stone was covered with a green algaeous stain thrown up by wheels hurrying to keep the machinery of a divine indifference turning. The once necessary storefront jumble of bric-a-brac has been effaced. A menagerie used to set up to the west of me. Just over there, one morning, as the loud road menders came to work to hoist bricks in the bird-alive dawn, I saw a swan pecking at the peg holding shut its wicker cage. Once free, it made for what it took for a wet gutter. It had not rained in two weeks. Webbed feet dragged white plumes across a scorched street. At the dried- up pool, the thirsty creature became frantic. Flapping its wings, it shaded itself in a mist of acrid dust. The neck twisted and the beak scraped the dirt. Lifting its head to the cloudless sky, it scraked for water. I can still hear that unhappy bird scolding the dreaming azure. The amused owner tied a rope around the swan's neck and used a broom handle to prod it back into its cage. As Paris changes, my melancholy deepens. The new palaces, covered by scaffolding and surrounded by blocks of stone, overlook the old suburbs that are being torn down to pave wide, utilitarian avenues. The new city's coils strangle memory. As I stand gazing at the everyday activity surrounding the Louvre, I have an oppressive vision -- my frenzied swan's desperation is the condition of the multiplying exiles on this globe. I think of you again, Andromache, as I watch a tubercular Negress trudging the steps of our courthouse counting on a pity it cannot offer. Walking home by the street orphans living off the offal of third-class restaurants, I fix on Pacific cannibals, my friends' ennui, our insignificant bents, and on those daily made reviled, slaughtered Hector, Andromache in Phyrrus' bed. Translated by - Will Schmitz The Swan Andromache! - This shallow stream, the brief Mirror you once so grandly overcharged With your vast majesty of widowed grief, This lying Simois your tears enlarged, Evoked your name, and made me think of you, As I was crossing the new Carrousel. - Old Paris is no more (cities renew, Quicker than human hearts, their changing spell). In mind I see that camp of huts, the muddle Of rough-hewn roofs and leaning shafts for miles, The grass, green logs stagnating in the puddle, Where bric-a-brac lay glittering in piles. Once a menagerie parked there. And there it chanced one morning, when from slumber freed, Labour stands up, and Transport through still air Rumbles its sombre hurricane of speed, - A swan escaped its cage: and as its feet With finny palms on the harsh pavement scraped, Trailing white plumage on the stony street, In the dry gutter for fresh water gaped. Nervously bathing in the dust, in wonder It asked, remembering its native stream, "When will the rain come down? When roll the thunder?" I see it now, strange myth and fatal theme! Sometimes, like Ovid's wretch, towards the sky (Ironically blue with cruel smile) Its neck, convulsive, reared its head on high As though it were its Maker to revile. II Paris has changed, but in my grief no change. New palaces and scaffoldings and blocks, To me, are allegories, nothing strange. My memories are heavier than rocks. Passing the Louvre, one image makes me sad: That swan, like other exiles that we knew, Grandly absurd, with gestures of the mad, Gnawed by one craving! - Then I think of you, Who fell from your great husband's arms, to be A beast of freight for Pyrrhus, and for life, Bowed by an empty tomb in ecstasy - Great Hector's widow! Helenus's wife! I think, too, of the starved and phthisic negress Tramping the mud, who seeks, with haggard eye, The palms of Africa, and for some egress Out of this great black wall of foggy sky: Of those who've lost what they cannot recover: Of those who slake with tears their lonely hours And milk the she-wolf, Sorrow, for their mother: And skinny orphans withering like flowers. So in the forest of my soul's exile, Remembrance winds his horn as on he rides. I think of sailors stranded on an isle, Captives, and slaves - and many more besides. Translated by - Roy Campbell

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