TO A RED-HAIRED BEGGAR GIRL

24 01 2008

     

    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

    starveling nakedness!

     

    Charles Baudelaire

    Les Fleurs Du Mal

    translated by Richard Howard.

    Baudelaire: Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets)

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