Two Baudelaire translations in different styles


Left, portrait of French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Editor John Scott Montecristo: These two translations of Baudelaire’s sonnet Sépulture (‘Sepulchre’) illustrate the difference between an accurate, literal translation by William Aggeler and an “imitation translation” by Lasha Darkmoon.
The Aggeler version follows the original French poem closely, word for word. It can do this easily enough because it makes no attempt to capture the musicality of Baudelaire’s poem. By using free verse—i.e., chopped-up prose—Aggeler is prepared to sacrifice the sound effects of the original in order to obtain strict verbal accuracy.
The second version by Lasha Darkmoon does the opposite. Though less accurate verbally, it makes use of rhyme and metre, as Baudelaire himself does, to capture the rhythm and musicality of the original. For Darkmoon, sound takes precedence over sense.



par Charles Baudelaire

Si par une nuit lourde et sombre
Un bon chrétien, par charité,
Derrière quelque vieux décombre
Enterre votre corps vanté,

À l’heure où les chastes étoiles
Ferment leurs yeux appesantis,
L’araignée y fera ses toiles,
Et la vipère ses petits;

Vous entendrez toute l’année
Sur votre tête condamnée
Les cris lamentables des loups

Et des sorcières faméliques,
Les ébats des vieillards lubriques
Et les complots des noirs filous.




Translated by William Aggeler

If on a dismal, sultry night
Some good Christian, through charity,
Will bury your vaunted body
Behind the ruins of a building

At the hour when the chaste stars
Close their eyes, heavy with sleep,
The spider will make his webs there,
And the viper his progeny;

You will hear all year long
Above your damned head
The mournful cries of wolves

And of the half-starved witches,
The frolics of lustful old men
And the plots of vicious robbers.

beautiful corpse

Beautiful Corpse

Translated by Lasha Darkmoon

One midnight, appalling and drear,
You will lie under your headstone:
Your beautiful corpse, my dear,
In its house of gravel and bone!

When the chaste stars languish and droop
Their eyes at the coming of dawn,
There the spider will weave his web,
There the viper will breed her spawn.

There night after night you will hear,
Like the hounds of hell in your ear,
The wolf and his harrowing howl:

There the raddled harlot will lurk
And the dirty old man will jerk
And the plotter of crimes will prowl.

7 thoughts to “Two Baudelaire translations in different styles”

  1. In my opinion, one of no consequence, Lasha’s version captures the intent of this poem far better than Aggeler’s translation. It is a poem with a hard, sharp edge blunted by Aggeler’s softer pen. Lasha restores the razor-edge intent that cuts the soul and makes it bleed. A chilling poem to say the least, reminiscent perhaps, of something that might well have emanated from Poe’s pen.

    There is something ultimately dark about that historical period that is reflected in the works of authors like Dickens, Poe, Melville, the Brontë sisters, and here, Baudelaire. Photographs from that period, like the one above of Baudelaire, invariably depict a certain grimness about the subject.

    It was a very dark period indeed, one of bloody wars, revolutions and unbridled greed and corruption; not unlike the times we live under today. But has it ever been any different? The only difference perhaps is the author’s eyes from that period, remained unclouded by a constant din of lies and propaganda that strive to paint Mary Sunshine’s bright smile over the grim reaper’s deathly countenance.

  2. No contest, 14 lines, Aggeler throws in towel after round 1:

    If on a dismal, sultry night

    vs. Lasha’s

    One midnight, appalling and drear

    let me try:
    Barbara Lerner Spectre (always looked like a corpse)
    One nasty night, Chretien
    unloads your corpse from a car trunk and
    buries your ass (“Derrière”) in a parking lot
    behind the shopping mall

    umm, so far hanging in with Aggeler, we’ll go the distance.

    1. Haha, Lobro! I perceive Baudelaire was pissed off about some woman, and consigned her to your likes of ol’ Babs Specter! (Yes, I think Lasha’s translation is more “poetic”…) 🙂

  3. You’re an excellent translator. Chapeau!

    – I wonder how many people noticed that “noirs filous” could also be translated as “thieving niggers”? Or am I a dunce?

  4. ‘noirs filous’….black rogue.
    Thieving nigger? Thieving suffices nicely in translation, but a rogue may commit many other evils as well.
    Good Lord, that photo of Baudelaire….there is genius there. And that poem.
    Obviously Lasha does not shrink or turn away from the macabre. She is skilled, must have been a Druidess is times past.

  5. To recognize mankind as mostly insane is wisdom; to wallow in its insanity is deplorable.

    Two of Baudelaire’s deranged philosophical proclamations:

    “Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing ‘evil’– and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil.””But what can eternity of damnation matter to someone who has felt, if only for a second, the infinity of delight??”

    “There is no form of rational and assured government save an aristocracy. A monarchy or a republic, based upon democracy, are equally absurd and feeble. The immense nausea of advertisements. There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create. The rest of mankind may be taxed and drudged, they are born for the stable, that is to say, to practise what they call professions.”

    1. The Flowers of Evil, The bad Glazier.

      The bad glazier is actually him in his incapacity to create beauty or so my french teacher claimed in high school.
      Baudelaire was a dandy flâneur, a very sardonic one like many others in this ugly stupid 19th century from Poe to Mallarmé. He never claimed he was an honest man nor a wise philosoph but he loved dogs, he couldn’t be that bad.

      “My beautiful dog, my good little doggy, my pooch, come here and breath in the wonderful cologne I’ve just bought at the best perfume shop in town.”

      And the dog, while wagging his tale—a gesture, I believe, that corresponds to laughter and smiles among these poor creatures—ran up and stuck his moist nose with curiosity into the unstoppered bottle. Recoiling suddenly with fear, however, he barked at me as if in reproach.

      “Ah! miserable dog, if I’d offered you a package of excrement, you’d have sniffed it with pleasure. You might have devoured it. So, dog—my sad life’s undeserving companion—you resemble the public that one must never exasperate with delicate perfumes. Better, instead, to offer them carefully chosen manure.”

      Dog and the scent bottle. Spleen of Paris.

      As for the political quote, that’s a dandy opinion. You should read Vox Populi in the Sardonic Tales of dandy number XX Villiers de L’Isle Adam, “have pity for the poor blind man, please!”

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