Charles Baudelaire is France’s most famous poet and the person who first coined the term “modernity.” He understood that something was changing in human consciousness with the rise of the 19th century city, of which Paris was the prime example. I think we’re at a turning point ourselves now, with the global ecological crisis and all the social and political upheaval we face. It seems to be time for a new translation of his most famous poem which talks about connections – or correspondences – between the human mind and the world.

Translation – 2019:

Nature is a temple whose columns are alive
And burst forth from time to time in garbled speech
Man wanders in a forest made of signs
That regard him with their knowing gaze.

Like long echoes mingling across space
Into a union darkling and profound
Vast as night and bright as clarity
All scents and sounds and colors answer, too.

For there are fragrances as cool as children’s flesh
As sweet as oboes, green as open plains
– and others rotten, rich, victorious

Bearing within them the expansion of infinite things
Like amber, like musk, like incense and resin
That sing the transport of the spirit and the sense.


French original – Baudelaire – 1857:


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

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