Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Charles...

Whatever you think of his poetry (not reading French, I must make do with translations) or his views on life in general, the greatness of Charles Baudelaire (born 189 years ago today) cannot be denied. And I find the above photo is absolutely mesmerising; a face that has peered into the abyss and reported back what it saw.

Tristesses de la Lune [Sorrows of the Moon]

The moon tonight dreams vacantly, as if
She were a beauty cushioned at her rest
Who strokes with wandering hand her lifting
Nipples, and the contours of her breast;

Lying as if for love, glazed by the soft
Luxurious avalanche, dying in swoons,
She turns her eyes to visions - clouds aloft
Billowing hugely, blossoming in blue.

When sometimes from her stupefying calm
Onto this earth she drops a furtive tear
Pale as an opal, iridescent, rare,

The poet, sleepless watchmen, is the one
To take it up within his hollowed palm
And in his heart to hide it from the sun.

[From Les Fleurs Du Mal (first published in 1857), translated by James McGowan and published by Spoon River Poetry Press in 1985. McGowan's edition is well worth seeking out; his translations are quite free in regard to the originals, I believe, but capture wonderfully what I understand to be Baudelaire's spirit.]

9 comments:

Claudia said...

Bon Anniversaire
Monsieur Beaudelaire
Vous qui, avec vos fleurs,
avez produit nos pleurs...

Those few words (among others) on Les chats are so magical:

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitude
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin.


When they dream, they assume the noble attitudes
Of the mighty sphinxes strechted out in solitude
Who seem to fall into a sleep of endless dreams.


Thank you for your post.I never tire of reading him.

A Doubtful Egg said...

It must be such a pleasure to read Monsieur Baudelaire as a native French speaker! I spent much of last night by the fire with my TV turned of and a copy of Les Fleurs Du Mal in my hand. Beautiful quote you've chosen. Who is the translator? (Your good self?)

Claudia said...

I would never have dared to translate Beaudelaire in English. Until I read your post, I would have thought it could not be done to my satisfaction. But James McGowan (as you say) captures Beaudelaire quite well. Then, last night, I google the cats poems (Charles wrote four), and I discovered many acceptable translators. The one I offer, here, is William Aggeler (Fresno,Ca:Academy Library Guild, 1954)

I learned English, in my twenties, to be able to read Byron and Shelley. If, at that time, the Internet had existed, I might have googled To a Skylark, read it in French, and never have bothered to run to Ontario for English immersion. I would have missed so much!

And I wouldn't be writing this long comment trying to convince you that it's worth learning French, if only to tremble and to shiver with the incredible, untranslatable Spleen.

Claudia said...

And, in the poem, it was stretched. I did the typo mistake, not the translator. The tc and the sc are very difficult combinations for a French mind.

A Doubtful Egg said...

For learning to speak English in order to read poetry, you have my admiration! Unfortunately, time and health issues prevent me from doing the same with French, in order to appreciate M. Baudelaire. However, by reading a number of different translations one can create within one's head a kind of "virtual" poem - a mental creation based on the assimilation of the various versions - which is one's own!

Sean Jeating said...

Good choices, you two. And nice to follow your conversation.
... Phew you are lucky that a) we are not sitting together right now, as then you would soon diagnose me with logorrhoea, and b) that I am too tired to cause the same diagnosis by writing what I can't tell. :)

May tomorrow's Sunday surprise you with a Flower of Serenity.
The peace of the night.

A Doubtful Egg said...

I hope your tiredness passes soon, as your comments are always welcome here (and may I say that logorrhea combined with intelligence is never a bad thing!). I'm off to bed now, with a choice between more Baudelaire or Celine's Journey to the End of the Night (I despise his politics, but it's a fascinating read so far...)

Claudia said...

Yes! Sean. It would be nice if we were all sitting together talking about Beaudelaire etc. etc. But, at this time of the night, you both would be snoring, and I would have the whole floor to myself. Not to worry! I always have plenty to say....

And you're right, D.E. A few good translations help you to make your own mind, and complete your understanding of the work. After all, this is the way we read Homer, Cervantes and the Bible.

Though I must say that, at 17, I had to study Hamlet in an horrendous French version. And I had decided that Shakespeare wasn't that great. I doubt very much I would have read him again had I not learned day-to-day English. It took me ten years of immersion in the language before I could understand him in a book and on the stage.

Not only Céline's politics, but his writing style put me off. Maybe I'll try him in English. It would be amusing if the translation would appeal to me more....

Not only do I admire Beaudelaire's poetry, but also his prose. His collection of Pensées is priceless. Let me offer you a couple:

I am unable to understand how a man of honour could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust.

I love Wagner but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside of a window and trying to stick to the pane of glass with his paws.

Thank you again, Egg, for celebrating Charles. Cheers! À votre santé, mes amis!

A Doubtful Egg said...

Celine is a pretty disagreeable fellow, all in all, but perhaps his cynicism is finding echoes within me at present, considering the state Ireland and the world is in. I don't think the appalling behaviour of our politicians or bishops would have surprised him in the slightest. I can only take his writing in small doses, though...
I'm off tomorrow to see if I can find a copy of the Pensées! Thanks for the recommendation, Claudia!