Love Smitten: Two French Poems


Both these short poems, translated from the French by Lasha Darkmoon, depict an identical romantic situation: a brief encounter with a beautiful woman.

The poet is instantly smitten by a mysterious female passing by in the street or some other public place.  He gets a fleeting glimpse of this enchanting creature . . .  and then she is suddenly gone, never to be seen again.

The first poem is by early French Romantic Gerard de Nerval; the second is by his younger contemporary Charles Baudelaire, author of the notoriously decadent Fleurs du Mal (1857).

1.  The Girl in the Luxembourg Gardens

by Gerard de Nerval (pictured)

This lovely young girl, she glided by
With footsteps firm and strong: 
A flower in her hand held high
And on her lips, a song.

The only human being to light
The darkness in my heart.
Her one bright look lit up my night—
Ah, what bewitching art!

But no! my youth long since lies dead.
Farewell, girl of my dreams!
Rare scent . . . magic . . . sweet music fled!—
My happiness too, it seems.

—   §   —

2.  Lovely  Passerby

by Charles Baudelaire (pictured)

The deafening traffic roared round me in the street.
Tall, slim, in full mourning, noble in her
Grief, a woman passed by, with one stately hand
Lifting and swinging the rich hem of her gown;
Swift-footed, aristocratic, statuesque.

As for me, like a maniac possessed, I drank
From her eye . . . livid sky, where tempests take shape,
The sweetness that enthrals, the pleasure that kills!

A lightening flash . . . then night! Lovely passerby,
Whose glance has suddenly given me new life,
Will I see you again only in Eternity?
Elsewhere—far from here! too late! perhaps never!
Where you flee, where I go, neither of us knows—
O you whom I might have loved, O you who knew it!

18 thoughts to “Love Smitten: Two French Poems”

  1. Well, I’ll say ONE thing:
    These two offerings are, at least, a blessed relief from the mournful musings of that ‘Moaning Minnie’ Crissy Rissotto

    1. @ The REALIST

      A silly comment. The poems of Christina Rossetti belong in a class of their own, beautifully written but full of sadness. You prefer the two French poems because you prefer the theme: men smitten with passions for strange women. You don’t like doom and gloom. You prefer sexual infatuation. That tells us something about you.

      So you prefer grapes to apples? Big deal! Grapes may be sweeter, but apples have more pectin and give you a better bowel movement. Different fruits for different palates, my friend; different poems for different temperaments.

      1. SAkI re ” You prefer the two French poems because you prefer the theme: men smitten with passions for strange women.”

        Au contraire. UNLIKE those two Franch ‘Whinging Willies’, I tend to GET the woman… should I be sufficiently “smitten” and have the spare time on my hands”…. before rapidly thereafter becoming “UN-smitten”

  2. Although definitely not in the same category, another French poem popularized by the French singer George Brassens, could be considered as another illustration of your theme, in spite of my poor translation:

    The Passers-by, by Antoine Pol

    I want to dedicate this poem
    To all the women we love
    During a few secret moments.
    To those we barely know,
    That another destiny carries
    To never cross our path again.

    To the one we see appearing
    One second at her window
    And suddenly vanishes,
    But whose slender figure
    Is so gracious and thin
    That we remain fulfilled.

    To the journey companion,
    Whose eyes, charming landscape,
    Make the path seem shorter,
    That we alone might understand
    But still let disappear,
    Without even grazing her hand

    To the delicate and gentle waltzer,
    Looking sad and nervous
    On a carnival night,
    Who asked to remain unknown,
    But never came again
    Spinning in one more dance.

    To those already taken
    And who, living a life in grey
    Close to a being all too different
    Let you, futile folly,
    Of a hopeless future,
    See the melancholy.

    To those timid lovers
    Who remained silent
    And still bear your grief.
    To those who went away
    From you, sad and lonely
    Victims of a foolish pride.

    Dear perceived images,
    Disappointed hopes of one day,
    You will be in oblivion tomorrow.
    As soon as happiness arrives,
    It is rare to remember
    The episodes of the path.

    But if we have missed our life,
    With longing we contemplate
    All these glimpses of happiness,
    Those kisses we dared not take,
    Those hearts maybe waiting for us,
    Those eyes we never saw again.

    Then, on nights of lassitude,
    While from the ghosts of memory
    Our solitude we fill,
    The absent lips we mourn,
    Of all those lovely passers-by
    That we were unable to retain.

    Original poem:

  3. Do you think any of these two encountered beauties used their beauty for motherhood?
    I doubt it.
    Probably just a magnificent waste…..

    1. Exactly many femme fatales are bisexual or rather would have preferred to be a man. They already have a male mindset.
      These women don’t love men not even themselves. But I must admit they have a certain attraction, like a siren of Homer during the voyages of Ulysses. Dangerous and attractive, gloom and doom.

      1. Reconsidering I might say that the two poems are not about femmes fatales but about longing for a love that could have been or was lost.

        1. @ Allen

          LD agrees with you. She was never happy with the title “Femme Fatale“. The title was chosen in haste by her sister. (The title has now been changed and a new header picture chosen to match the new title).

          Many thanks for your input.

      March 2, 2020 at 4:47 pm

      Do you think any of these two encountered beauties used their beauty for motherhood? I doubt it. Probably just a magnificent waste…..

      With all due respect, I think you are incorrect to believe that these two women would be indifferent to motherhood. This would only be the case if they were modern females of the 21st century, i.e. the kind of trendy brainwashed feminists we get today.

      Reflect however that these two women belong to the Victorian age, the second half of the 19th century. Feminism didn’t exist in those days. Most of Europe was populated by white people, and large families were common. If a woman didn’t have children in those times, she was looked down upon as “sterile” or “barren”. This was seen as a stigma and was grounds for divorce or separation.

      The woman in Poem 1 is in her late teens or early twenties and is probably longing for a husband and a home full of happy children; this will give her security as well as respectability. As for the woman in Poem 2, we are told she is a “widow”. So it’s more than likely she already has children — unless her husband died in the first year of their marriage.

  4. The Nerval poem’s girl strikes me as the one I’d prefer. The poem casts her as light, sweet, and relatively innocent, compared to the bewitching aura presented to woman #2. The poem, itself, better contrasts the lighter spirit of the girl to the darker, downcast spirit of the poet. Also, the first poem presents a more fleeting passion than the latter, i.e., it ain’t the end of his world! 🤔

    1. I think you are right about these two poems. If Poem 2 is “darker” than Poem 1 (as you point out), this is probably due to the fact that it was written by Baudelaire, a far darker personality than Gerard de Nerval who wrote Poem 1. Baudelaire was a “decadent” and his poems were more shocking. He was obsessed with sex and drugs and was a regular visitor at brothels. Many of the women he slept with were Jewish prostitutes … about whom he wrote dark obsessive poems.

      1. Saki –

        I think Baudelaire was probably tormented by his fancy for women. It was an unfortunate circumstance for him, but his poetry was enhanced by his torment. More passion. More drama. More everything. He didn’t LIKE his women very much.
        For myself, I prefer to think about the girls I DO/DID like. It’s easier, lighter, and more fanciful. When I think of you, or Madame Butterfly, or Lasha or Sister Monica, for instance, I think I’d probably LIKE you and we could laugh – and, just as for Lasha, I wouldn’t have any trouble writing you a poem. Anyhow, I DO understand Nerval’s
        youth “long since dying” (but there’s not a sadness about it. It just IS so.). Not heavy, not bitter – just dead. It happens to us all.

        1. @ GH

          I think Baudelaire was probably tormented by his fancy for women. It was an unfortunate circumstance for him, but his poetry was enhanced by his torment. More passion. More drama. More everything. He didn’t LIKE his women very much.

          Excellent comment! And brilliantly perceptive. But then, you are a poet yourself and this gives you an extra insight into the mentality of what makes poets tick. Maybe, subconsciously, some poets seek out experiences that fuel their passion and inspire their poems. They know only too well, that if they want to write dull poems, the easiest way to do that is to live a dull life. 🙂

          You are correct in saying that Baudelaire “was probably tormented by his fancy for women.” He was in fact, in modern parlance, a “sex addict”. But I’m not sure you are right when you say, “He didn’t LIKE women very much.” He adored his mulatto mistress Jeanne Duval who inspired his best poems, including “The Vampire”, translated here by LD:

          Baudelaire cultivated a taste for “dusky females” while traveling in the Far East. He used to be a great brothel frequenter. Jeanne Duval, who had negro blood in her veins, turned him on big time, though she wasn’t a prostitute. She was his femme fatale … but he also adored her.

      2. Saki,

        The vampire poem fortifies my contention that Baudelaire didn’t LIKE this woman. It was a sexual obsession for her that lured him. The same thing happened to me.
        I was a spectator at a polo match and saw a woman nearby who instantly attracted my attention. Nothing would do but for me to meet her. She was “dusky”, and exhuded a competence that quite compelled me. (I was weary of “helpless” girls who were too needy of attention.)
        I never even introduced myself. I simply stared at her until she looked my way, and then motioned her to come. She did. I clasped her hand gently and held it, not speaking a word. About ten minutes passed, and her girlfriend found her and told her “We have to go, now.” Her image haunted me for a few days until I decided to find out who she was and where she lived. (I was my own man, and could do those things. 🙃 )
        She was surprised I found her. Her house was remote (but very nice), and she wasn’t socially prominent. After a bottle of wine and conversation, I found her to be most competent in everything she did. She was recently divorced because she said she was tired of “carrying the load” for a lazy and woman-chasing husband.
        Anyhow, we were sexually indulged for a couple years until I tired of her cold and cruel demeanor to others. My wife cried when she found out with whom I was having “an affair”, and said “Oh, you can do better than HER!” (My wife’s a bit snobbish.)
        My daughter didn’t like her, either; and SHE didn’t like my daughter. Ergo, I began not liking the woman, either – but she sure-as-hell had a SEXUAL hold on me. 😳

  5. Baudelaire was thought to be fond of women. Yes that’s clear but what was his motive, reason, for that behavior. Afraid of being lonely, mother issues etc? We don’t know. The motive for behavior is key not our interpretation of behavior.

    @ LD thank you

  6. Unrequited lust is a terrible thing. Or maybe a wonderful thing, depending on one’s frame of mind and/or consequent achy breaky heart..

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