Baudelaire, a French poet who lived and died in the 1800’s, is one who deserves his reputation for being a bad influence. Some of his poems are sensual, others are lusty, perverse, abusive or disgusting — many were suppressed during his life. A selection of his first lines from the end of the wonderful little book of his poems I have here illustrates the range — to read them (and the poems themselves) is to feel a bit shaken (My wife is dead, so now I’m free) unclean (I spent the night with a gruesome Jewish whore), intrigued (My darling was naked, or nearly, for knowing my heart..), or desiring (Long let me inhale, deeply, the odor of your hair). Odor, scent, and the power of smell have force in his poetry, and I have at least one more poem to share from this book, but for now, I’ll just place this poem here, almost juvenile in its sexiness — one of the more innocent of his poems in this excellent translation, but an evocative poem for this evening.
A few notes first:
strophes – these are pairs of stanzas – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strophes
Belleau – a poet of 1500’s, the French Renaissance. ” most known for his paradoxical poems of praise for simple things and his poems about precious stones. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remy_Belleau
Patchouli is an essential ingredient in many perfumes, it has a strong heavy odor.
TO A RED-HAIRED BEGGAR GIRL
Gaping tatters in each garment prove
your calling is not only beggary
but beauty as well,
and to a poet equally ‘reduced,’
the frail and freckled body you display
makes its own appeal —
queens in velvet buskins take the stage
less regally than you wade through the mud
on your wooden clogs.
What if, instead of these indecent rags,
the splendid train of a brocaded gown
rustled at your heels,
and rather than town stockings, just suppose
curious glances sliding up your thigh
met with a gold dirk!
And then if, for our sins, those flimsy knots
released two perfect little breasts that shine
brighter than your eyes,
and your own arms consented to reveal
the rest, though archly feigning to fend off
hands that go too far . . .
Strands of pearls and strophes by Belleau
arriving — imagine! — endless streams
‘from an admirer’;
riffraff — talented and otherwise —
offering tributes to the slippered feet
glimpsed from below stairs;
gentlemen sending flunkeys to find out
who owns the carriage always told to ‘wait’
at your smart address
where in the boudoir, kisses count for more
than quarterings, although the cast includes
a Bourbon or two!
— Meanwhile, here you are, begging scraps
doled out by the local table d’hôte
at the kitchen door
and scavenging discarded finery
worth forty sous, a price which (pardon me!)
I cannot afford . . .
Go, then, my Beauty, with nor ornament
— patchouli or pearl chocker — but your own
Les Fleurs Du Mal
translated by Richard Howard.