Thursday, April 9, 2015

Baudelaire's À une Dame créole

Au pays parfumé que le soleil caresse,
J'ai connu, sous un dais d'arbres tout empourprés
Et de palmiers d'où pleut sur les yeux la paresse,
Une dame créole aux charmes ignorés.

Son teint est pâle et chaud; la brune enchanteresse
A dans le cou des airs noblement maniérés;
Grande et svelte en marchant comme une chasseresse,
Son sourire est tranquille et ses yeux assurés.

Si vous alliez, Madame, au vrai pays de gloire,
Sur les bords de la Seine ou de la verte Loire,
Belle digne d'orner les antiques manoirs,

Vous feriez, à l'abri des ombreuses retraites
Germer mille sonnets dans le coeur des poètes,
Que vos grands yeux rendraient plus soumis que vos noirs.

— Charles Baudelaire

A critic and essayist, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was an active participant in the artistic life of his times. Baudelaire wrote extensively and perceptively about French culture and the responsibility of art to capture the experience. His poetry influenced the likes of Verlaine and Rimbaud.

À une Dame créole is from the original 1857 edition of his collection of poetry, Fleurs du mal. Six poems were deemed obscene by the French court and excised from a second expanded edition of Fleurs du mal released in 1861. A "definitive" edition followed his death in 1868. Fleurs du mal was arranged in six sections. À une Dame créole is from the first section of the book, Spleen et Idéal (Spleen and Ideal).

The following English translation of À une Dame créole is based upon the 1954 translation of Baudelaire by William Aggeler in The Flowers of Evil.

To a Creole Lady

In the perfumed country which the sun caresses,
I knew, under a canopy of crimson trees
And palms from which indolence rains into your eyes,
A Creole lady whose charms were unknown.

Her complexion is pale and warm; the dark enchantress
Affects a noble air with the movements of her neck.
Tall and slender, she walks like a huntress;
Her smile is calm and her eye confident.

If you went, Madame, to the true land of glory,
On the banks of the Seine or along the green Loire,
Beauty fit to ornament those ancient manors,

You'd make, in the shelter of those shady retreats,
A thousand sonnets grow in the hearts of poets,
Whom your large eyes would make more tame than all your slaves.

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