Baudelaire’s ‘Hymn to Satan’, Two Translations

“La plus belle des ruses du diable
est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.”

quote-the-devil-s-finest-trick-is-to-persuade-you-that-he-does-not-exist-charles-baudelaire-74-3-0311

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Following on from our previous 2-part article on demonic possession, we offer below the French original of Baudelaire’s Les Litanies de Satan (‘Hymn to Satan’), followed by two translations of the poem.

Skeptics in the Devil’s real existence will obviously derive little satisfaction from reading a poem in praise of a non-existent person. They are therefore advised either to skip the poem and its translations, or, if they prefer, to display their intellectual superiority in the Comments section by poking fun at Baudelaire for his gullibility.   Read More

Two Baudelaire translations in different styles

Baudelaire_crop

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.

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Au Lecteur — Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire, 1863,  four years before his death
Charles Baudelaire, 1863,
four years before his death

Baudelaire’s first book of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal (“Flowers of Evil”), was published in 1857 when the poet was 36. Six of the poems, some of which have already been translated here by Lasha Darkmoon, were immediately banned as obscene. Au Lecteur stood as the book’s preface, containing some of the most quotable lines in French literature.

Victor Hugo was to enthuse, “Your fleurs du mal shine and dazzle like stars. I applaud your vigorous spirit!” Others were not so impressed. “Everything in it which is not hideous is incomprehensible,” the poetry critic of Le Figaro wrote angrily. “And everything one understands is putrid”. 

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One Night I Lay, by Charles Baudelaire (trans. Darkmoon)

One night I lay next to a hideous whore
like a corpse cuddling a rotting cadaver.
Then I began dreaming of a far more
attractive female. Wow, how I fancied her!

I began picturing this lady’s noble air
of command. The cool authority of
her eye. The perfumed helmet of her hair.
Such hot thoughts!  Jeeze, I’m all steamed up for love!

Lady, I’d like to cover you with kisses!
Wild kisses! Are you ready for caresses
from head to foot, my charming chickadee?

If only, cruel temptress, you could try
to melt the glacier in your icy eye!
No? You mean you can’t spare a tear for me?

Rotting Corpse, by Charles Baudelaire (Darkmoon translation)

Rotting  Corpse

Remember that thing we saw, my love,
one fine sweet summer morning as we turned
the path. Across the gravel-strewn ground
lay sprawled a rotting corpse. Its legs aloft,

kicking the air like a whore on heat,
seething and dripping with poisons,
displaying in a shameless fashion its fetid
womb, reeking with rotten smells!

The sun blazed down upon this festering
heap of putrescence, as if to toast it to a turn,
giving back to Nature with a vengeance
all the bits and pieces she had put together.

The sky watched that gorgeous corpse
blossom like a baleful flower. The stench
of it was so appalling, you almost
swooned away  on the grass! Flies buzzed

round that foul womb. From it  poured forth
black batallions of maggots like a viscous
jelly, oozing across the mass of living rags.
Rising and falling  in waves, the whole thing

popped and crackled and sputtered
like a sparkling devilfroth.  It was as if
the body, inflated with unmentionable
gases, was alive and kicking!

Une Charogne : http://fleursdumal.org/poem/126~


Insatiable, by Charles Baudelaire (Darkmoon translation)

 

Insatiable   

Strange goddess! dusky as night’s dark shadows
reeking of musk and havana cigars,

spawn of voodoo or African witchcraft,
ebony-flanked diva of darkest night!—
I prefer to opium or rich red wines
the drug of your mouth, where loves lies flaunting
itself.  In the sands of sex I find an
oasis. Your eyes. There I slake my thirst.

Your eyes! the smokeholes of your soul!  Don’t aim
those flamethrowers at me, you pitiless fiend!
I can’t encircle you like a river from hell
nine times . . . nor can I, lustful fury, break
you! Or bend you to my will by playing
a virgin . . .   in the hellpit of your bed.

Charles Baudelaire, Sed Non Satiata

To a Passing Stranger, by Charles Baudelaire (trans. Darkmoon)

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:

Swiftfooted, 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!