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.
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.