This exquisite poem by Baudelaire was not written in French, as most of his poems are, but in Latin. It is influenced by the great Latin hymns of the Middle Ages, many of them written in rhyme. This translation (originally published here in October 2010) attempts to imitate the rhyme scheme and musicality of Baudelaire’s hymn to his sweetheart, an unknown young lady he worshipped from afar in the tradition of Dante and Petrarch.
Translated by Lasha Darkmoon
See, I practise a new art
As my angel plays her part
In the desert of my heart.
Now be crowned with garlands gay
Lovely woman fair and fey
Who washes all my sins away.
Let me drink oblivion from
Your sweet mouth as I succumb
To your kisses as they come!
When I trod the path of shame,
When I did things you might blame—
Then, my angel, then you came!
See, my star of shining light,
In the wreck of my soul’s night,
On your altar fall in flight.
Source of every good and sum
Of eternal youth, ah come
Let me sing who now plays dumb!
What was foul, you burnt to bits.
That was crooked: now it fits.
My will was weak: you strengthened it.
In my hunger, you the inn;
In the dark, my lamp; and in
Your chaste arms, an end to sin.
Add your strength to mine and give
Some sweeter scented additive:
O balm of Gilead, in me live!
Let your chastity confound
My lustful loins and there abound,
Strew your holy water round.
O Lady, be my Golden Bowl!—
My sacred bread, my wine, my soul!—
My fleeting youth, my Beautiful!