For one too light of heart

In this poem, one of six originally banned from his landmark collection The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire describes both the delight and the darkness of his passionate love affair with his muse, the Haitian beauty Jean Duvall. In other translations I have made of Baudelaire’s work, I have ignored rhyme, which is present in all his originals, but never feels clunky or obvious (as English translations that rhyme can easily do). For this poem I tried to simulate the original’s “abba” rhyme scheme with slant (inexact) rhymes, while still prioritizing the content as I interpret it.

(English translation by Kimberly Gladman Jackson)

Your figure, voice and eye
Have all the beauty of a landscape
A smile plays across your face
Like a cool breeze in a clear sky.

The sad passerby who brushes past your dress
Is dazzled by the vital life
That flashes like a shining light
You carry in your breast.

With sonorous colors
You splatter your clothes
And toss into my poet’s soul
A vision of a ballet of flowers.

This mad attire is the emblem of
Your mercurial heart
Madwoman who tears me apart
My hate for you equals my love!

Sometimes in a lovely garden
Where I have dragged my misery
I have felt, like an irony
The sun tear my skin open.

And the spring, so green and fresh
Has so humiliated my flesh
That I have found a flower to punish
For Nature’s insolence.

And so I wish, at the hour
Of voluptuous pleasure
To come to your treasures
Like a coward who creeps without sound.

In order to flail your joyous flesh
To maul your breast, so innocent
And watch your shocked flank be rent
As I wound it with a wide, deep gash.

And, sweet intoxication!
Through this new hole
More brilliant and bold
To inject you, sister, with my poison!


À Celle qui est trop gaie
(original French by Charles Baudelaire)

Ta tête, ton geste, ton air
Sont beaux comme un beau paysage;
Le rire joue en ton visage
Comme un vent frais dans un ciel clair.

Le passant chagrin que tu frôles
Est ébloui par la santé
Qui jaillit comme une clarté
De tes bras et de tes épaules.

Les retentissantes couleurs
Dont tu parsèmes tes toilettes
Jettent dans l’esprit des poètes
L’image d’un ballet de fleurs.

Ces robes folles sont l’emblème
De ton esprit bariolé;
Folle dont je suis affolé,
Je te hais autant que je t’aime!

Quelquefois dans un beau jardin
Où je traînais mon atonie,
J’ai senti, comme une ironie,
Le soleil déchirer mon sein,

Et le printemps et la verdure
Ont tant humilié mon coeur,
Que j’ai puni sur une fleur
L’insolence de la Nature.

Ainsi je voudrais, une nuit,
Quand l’heure des voluptés sonne,
Vers les trésors de ta personne,
Comme un lâche, ramper sans bruit,

Pour châtier ta chair joyeuse,
Pour meurtrir ton sein pardonné,
Et faire à ton flanc étonné
Une blessure large et creuse,

Et, vertigineuse douceur!
À travers ces lèvres nouvelles,
Plus éclatantes et plus belles,
T’infuser mon venin, ma soeur!

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