April 11, 2009

The Flowers of Evil

Yes, we're going to France and we're visiting...Arthur Rimbaud.

AND Charles Baudelaire, of course.

I wanted to talk about Arthur Rimbaud alone, originally, but then I thought, for historical context maybe I could pair him with Verlaine. But the truth is Paul Verlaine puts me to nappy-nap and Baudelaire and Rimbaud have respectively been MY SHIT for years now, so I figure it'd be nice to put them in the same post. They were more or less part of the same poetry movements in France, the decadent period. And they have a lot of similarities you'll see... I remember stumbling on to Baudelaire in our local library (the good one) after hearing about his controversial, evil poetry. I was expecting Satan to leap off the page and shit the way some critics went on but it was a little milder than I expected...but way more awesome. Can't quite remember how I discovered Rimbaud, I think it was more or less the same way just later.

Rimbaud may be a little obscure but if you haven't read Les Fleurs du Mal yet, I think you better or I might beat you up a little. Like tap your face repeatedly. You don't have to see it as a marvelous piece of French master poetry but you've got to at least stare at the words on the page/screen a little. A LITTLE.

Now, I like bilingual poems especially if I can sort of half-read the language, something like French or Spanish or Italian, or strangely enough, Brasilian Portuguese. Romance languages, you see. Well I should actually take out French because by damn I can't get the hang of it, but I think it's interesting to see how things translate into our language, or how that particular translator chooses to interpret the stanza and why. So I'll give you the French and the English of these.

Arthur Rimbaud, "My Bohemian Life" ("Ma Bohème")

Je m'en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J'allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j'étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d'amours splendides j'ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
- Petit-Poucet rêveur, j'égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
- Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvellous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

Charles Baudelaire, "The Sick Muse" ("La Muse Malade")

Ma pauvre muse, hélas! qu'as-tu donc ce matin?
Tes yeux creux sont peuplés de visions nocturnes,
Et je vois tour à tour réfléchis sur ton teint
La folie et l'horreur, froides et taciturnes.

Le succube verdâtre et le rose lutin
T'ont-ils versé la peur et l'amour de leurs urnes?
Le cauchemar, d'un poing despotique et mutin
T'a-t-il noyée au fond d'un fabuleux Minturnes?

Je voudrais qu'exhalant l'odeur de la santé
Ton sein de pensers forts fût toujours fréquenté,
Et que ton sang chrétien coulât à flots rythmiques,

Comme les sons nombreux des syllabes antiques,
Où règnent tour à tour le père des chansons,
Phoebus, et le grand Pan, le seigneur des moissons.

Alas, poor Muse, what ails you so today?
Your hollow eyes with midnight visions burn,
And turn about, in your complexion play
Madness and horror, cold and taciturn.

Green succubus and rosy imp — have they
Poured you both fear and love into one glass?
Or with his tyrant fist the nightmare, say,
Submerged you in some fabulous morass?

I wish that, breathing health, your breast might nourish
Ever robuster thoughts therein to flourish:
And that your Christian blood, in rhythmic flow,

With those old polysyllables would chime,
Where, turn about, reigned Phoebus, sire of rhyme,
And Pan, the lord of harvests long ago.

That particular translation was by Roy Campbell, I felt it captured the original more...aptly.

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