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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 7 December 2015

"Selected poems from Les Fleurs du Mal" by Charles Baudelaire translated by F. W. Leakey

Gosh. I had heard of this work from its scandalous reputation but ...

I rarely read poetry, particularly not poetry with neither rhyme nor rhythm but ...


Baudelaire contrasts the joys of sexual love with the terror of old age, decay and death. It is a bit of an obsession with him ; you might say he was a one-trick pony. But what redeems the poetry is the original images he develops in this interface:
sweet dreams of evil


...massive shapes
Break free at dusk from their deep, spectral shrouds

Goya: that nightmare landscape of the unknown,
Where foetuses hang skewered over cauldrons, to the sound
Of Sabbath rites, where crones cackle at mirrors, and young girls,
Stripped naked to their stockings, lure the demons on

... age to age to age

Youthful, untamed and wild - the scent of fur

...wild-eyed dancers, endlessly revolving,
Their faces taut with empty, frozen smiles.

In faded armchairs, ageing courtesans, 
Pale-faced, with painted eyebrows, ogling eyes,
From shrivelled ears their jewellery cascading;

Around the green baize table toothless gamesters,
Mouths feverishly working, pallid-lipped,
Convulsive fingers clawing frantically
At empty pockets

Au lecteur (To the reader)
B suggests that we enjoy sin: 
Creatures of Satan, that expert artificer,
We yield to all his wiles, gladly sink back
Upon his pillow, lull ourselves
Into sweet dreams of evil.
As someone said (Rentboy in Trainspotting I think): no one would ever become a heroin addict if it didn't give pleasure.

B blames Boredom and suggests that the 
Dear, hypocritical reader - fellow and brother in sin!
knows this "delicate monster".

It's a nice start to the book.

Correspondences (Correspondences)
B sees describes scents in terms of feelings, sounds and colours:
Take scents: some fresh and cool as delicate children's skins;
Others sweet as oboes, or green as meadow-grass;

The Beacons (Les Phares)
In the first 8 stanzas, B describes the paintings of 8 artists:
Rubens: that river of forgetfulness ...

That deep and sombre mirror, Leonardo
Where charming angels. clothed in mystery,
And wearing each their sweet, mysterious smiles,
Keep vigil in a landscape darkly fringed
With glaciers and with pines

Rembrandt, that sad asylum swept with sighs ...

Michaelangelo, whose
... massive shapes
Break free at dusk from their deep, spectral shrouds

Puget's 
...angry, impudent ruffians ...

Watteau's ... fluttering butterfly-figures ... 

Goya: that nightmare landscape of the unknown,
Where foetuses hang skewered over cauldrons, to the sound
Of Sabbath rites, where crones cackle at mirrors, and young girls,
Stripped naked to their stockings, lure the demons on

... Delacroix, that blood-red lake,
Haunted by evil presences ...

In the final 3 stanzas, B extols these beacons and suggests:
By these, O Lord, if by naught else, we testify,
As our wave breaks upon your farthest shore,
To our transcendent dignity, summed up
In this creative, this vast, ardent sigh,
That gathers strength from age to age to age.

I love "age to age to age": that really is eternity!

The Ailing Muse (La Muse malade)
B talks to his muse. But unlike other poets, his muse does not inspire him with her beauty or her wonder. She is "haggard" and "affrighted", horrified, mad.
Have nightmares wreaked their havoc, and drowned you in their wake?

The Enemy (L'Ennemi)
B compares his life to a garden. There was a thunderstorm in his youth which destroyed many of the flowers. Now he "must turn wearily to fork and spade" to repair the damage. But he can't be certain that he will be able to cultivate his flowers.

A Former Life (La Vie anterieure)
B imagines lying on an island surrounded by "naked, scented slaves".
There are some brilliant images:
tinged by the sun

The ocean swell, as it rolled round the images from the sky

Don Juan in Hell (Don Juan aux enfers)
B imagines the ghosts of all those DJ has wronged taunting him as he arrives in hell. But DJ is "impenitent to the last".

The Jewels (Les Bijoux)
B describes a woman lying on a couch clothed only in her jewels and her "air of triumph" because you can be naked prey and yet be triumphant.

He then has sex with her:
My ardour had the depth and sadness of the mounting sea
Imperious in its onward surge

Her eyes held mine, as of some tiger, fascinated, tamed

The curves and undulations of her belly and her breasts
Entranced my eyes

Exotic Perfume ((parfum exotique)
When on an autumn evening I lie, head on your breast,
And drink in its warm perfume
says B and imagines himself first on a desert island and later in a seaport

In those her flowing garments ... (Avec ses vetements ondoyants ...)
Again B is thinking of his beloved, both her seductive movements and her cold imperviousness to grief.

The Carrion
B sees road kill
It lay with legs upended, like some lascivious whore,
Exhaling heat, exuding sweat,
Its open belly nonchalantly, cynically exposed
Flies crawl and swarm over its "putrid guts" so much that it seems that it is moving. A "bitch-dog" waits its chance to grab the food.

So B tells his beloved that this is how she will end up.
The semblance of that hideous, loathsome thing
but when it happens she must tell the maggots that B still remembers
the form
The divine essence of the love I bear for you

To a Vampire

B sees his beloved as a vampire; she is an addiction from which he cannot (will not?) escape: 

You that have plunged your way into my heart,
My plaintive heart, like some deep-probing knife ...

You that have bound me, humbled, to your side
Like any convict to his chain,
Like any gambler to his stake,
Like any drunkard to his flask

Posthumous Remorse

B imagines his "dark love" in a tomb of "marbled black".

B seems to use this technique a lot: contrasting loveliness with death, decay, sin, devilry, lust, sin, greed ....

On the Balcony

Even when writing an apparently simple poem about his love, B throws a curved ball:
Mother of potent memories, mistress of mistresses

Is he actually talking to his mum or to his mistress or has he incestuously confused them?

And what can we make of the line:
And I drank in the poison, the sweetness of your breath

A ghost from the past

A poem in 4 parts

1) In the darkness
B is:
Condemned by Fate to wander in the vaults
Of utter darkness, sadness; by a mocking God
Condemned to paint, invisibly, on some black screen

Painting invisibly on black is an interesting variant on the myth of Sisyphus.
2) Her perfume
3 images:
Incense in a church
Musk
Youthful, untamed and wild - the scent of fur

3) The picture frame
B suggests that frames can enhance the greatest art
As if to concentrate within those narrow bounds
A beauty that might otherwise disperse
Into a vast, environing Nature
and so jewels etc [presumably including clothes and make up etc] enhance his beloved's beauty

4) The portrait 

Time has reduced fire to ashes; all that is left of B's beloved's face is
Only the semblance of a pastel sketch
In faded colours


Tribal Harmony (Tout entiere)


The Devil visits B and asks him what the best thing about his beloved is. B replies "everything delights me equally" which is a bit of a politician's cop out if you ask me.


The Heart's Confessional (Confession)

In this poem B hears
A sound unnerving, faltering, strange, unearthly
Like some intruder from a family's shameful past: 
Some puny child, hideous, deformed and stunted.

He has an image of 
...wild-eyed dancers, endlessly revolving,
Their faces taut with empty, frozen smiles.


Basically, even beautiful women die. He is a bit obsessed with beauty dying. But I love the image of the dancers.

Spiritual Dawn (L'Aube spirituelle)
B considers a "debauched carouser" sleeping unaware of "skies of dazzling mystic blue"

Troubled Sky (Ciel brouille)
"You call to mind those blanched, veiled summer days
When hearts, ensnared, melt into years, in prey
To some obscure unease that sets at strife
Based nerves...."

Conversation Piece (Causerie)
B compares depression to vomiting 
"...In me the sea of sadness mounts
And leaves its bitter imprint on my lip."

B has been 
"Laid waste by Woman's claws., by Woman's teeth" 
and yet is still a sucker (pardon the pun) for the next naked breast

Song of Autumn (Chant d'automne)
"Too soon shall we be plunged in icy dark;"
Winter (metaphorically death?) Is coming and B hears 
"The firewood clattering on our cobbled yards."

Winter is an invader 
"The chill of anger, hatred, sullen toil."
And the sound of the firewood threatens B and crushes and batters him.

Or has the sound, monotonous now, hypnotic,
Become a coffin's hasty nailing-up?
For whom, the coffin?

The clockB used the image of the "menacing finger" of a ticking clock to chart the remorseless passage of time: 
The day ebbs out, the night grows on.

The taste for nothingness B isn't very sympathetic with the old.
Broken down mount, once eager for the fray,
No longer Hope bestrides you, since at each false step,
Stumbling, you falter: time to lie at rest,
And humbly sink into a brutish slumber
Nice assonance between stumbling humbly slumber

Spleen
When the whole earth becomes a humid cell
Imprisoning Hope, which beats its bat-like wings
Against the walls, and blunts its timorous head
On ceilings damp with rot;

When the rain coursing down, stream upon stream, 
Mimics a prison's bars, and when within
Our skulls mute, infamous spiders cast their webs

Mmmm. He was pretty Victorian with all this death imagery. But why on earth are the spiders infamous?

The Gaming Table
In faded armchairs, ageing courtesans, 
Pale-faced, with painted eyebrows, ogling eyes,
From shrivelled ears their jewellery cascading;

Around the green baize table toothless gamesters,
Mouths feverishly working, pallid-lipped,
Convulsive fingers clawing frantically
At empty pockets

B is pretty good at conjuring up Dickensian images.

I do love 'pallid-lipped' with its swapping of consonants.


Paris at Daybreak (Le Crepuscule de matin)
It is that time of day when adolescents, racked
By evil dreams, on pillows toss and turn;
When mind struggles with body, day with night
And like a bloodshot eye the lamp quivers and throbs
Against the light.

A cock-crow lacerates to shreds the distant, vaporous air

Dawn steals down to the river; Paris wakes,
Rubs bleary eyes, snatches up tools, shuffles its way to work


The eyes of the whores are described as 'pallid-lidded' in an eerie evocation of the 'pallid-lipped' gamblers of The Gaming Table.

A Voyage to Cythera (Un Voyage a Cythere)

B explores what happens when the island of love becomes 
... a barren coast, an arid desert land
Instread of the temple and priestess, the travellers see
A gibber, cypress-dark against the sky,
And bearing human fruit: a man,
A hanged man yielded up to savaging birds.

Savaging, not scavenging or even avenging

Saint Peter's Denial of Christ (Le Reniement de saint Pierre)
This is strong, blasphemous stuff! God is portrayed as a tyrant who enjoys listening to us cursing him and blaspheming.
For Him the sobs of martyrs and other tortured souls
Can only bring delight, since still the Heavens cry out
For more blood, and still more!
Saint Peter was right to deny Christ and Jesus was wrong not to deny this blood thirsty God
Who in his Heaven laughed to her
Each brutal nail strike vilely home
In your live flesh? And when that mob,
Those swinish guards, that rabble from the street,
Covered your face in spittle
Baudelaire is so good at being nasty although I do find 'vilely' superfluous. Adverbs often are.






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