Spleen by Charles Baudelaire

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Translated from the French by
Guy Walker (February 2020)


Portrait of Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, 1840

 

Spleen

 

I have a thousand years of memories.

 

A chest of drawers rammed full of elegies,

Of served writs, billets doux and balance sheets,

Romances, heavy plaits rolled in receipts,

Encloses fewer secrets than my mind

A pyramid or staggering crypt, you find

Contains more dead than does a limed mass-ditch.

I am a moon-abhorred graveyard, in which

The biting worms there, like remorseful dread,

Attach themselves onto my hallowed dead.

I am a boudoir decked with shrivelled roses,

And heaps of tired couture, which juxtaposes

With grieving gouaches, bleached Bouchers which inhale

The odour leaked from an unstoppered phial.

 

When dull indifference’s first born, Ennui,

Takes on the spans of slow eternity,

Then, under heavy flakes of snowy years,

For length, the limping, hobbled days can know few peers.

—And you, a living being, you are no more;

As if drowned on Sahara’s trackless floor,

An old Sphinx who the maps say isn’t there,

Forgotten by a world which doesn’t care,

A granite mass that’s swamped in fear whose cries

Keen desperately; yet to a sun that dies.
 

 

Spleen

 

J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans.

 

Un gros meuble à tiroirs encombré de bilans,

De vers, de billets doux, de procès, de romances,

Avec de lourds cheveux roulés dans des quittances,

Cache moins de secrets que mon triste cerveau.

C’est une pyramide, un immense caveau,

Qui contient plus de morts que la fosse commune.

—Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune,

Où comme des remords se traînent de longs vers

Qui s’acharnent toujours sur mes morts les plus chers.

Je suis un vieux boudoir plein de roses fanées,

Où gît tout un fouillis de modes surannées,

Où les pastels plaintifs et les pâles Boucher

Seuls, respirent l’odeur d’un flacon débouché.

 

Rien n’égale en longueur les boiteuses journées,

Quand sous les lourds flocons des neigeuses années

L’ennui, fruit de la morne incuriosité,

Prend les proportions de l’immortalité.

— Désormais tu n’es plus, ô matière vivante!

Qu’un granit entouré d’une vague épouvante,

Assoupi dans le fond d’un Sahara brumeux;

Un vieux sphinx ignoré du monde insoucieux,

Oublié sur la carte, et dont l’humeur farouche

Ne chante qu’aux rayons du soleil qui se couche.
 

 

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Guy Walker is a retired French teacher living in the South of England. In addition to writing poetry, Guy has published articles on political and health issues in The Conservative Woman. He is technically a Catholic with a predilection for a conservative outlook. He blogs at roseatetern.blogspot.com.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast

 

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