Voyage to Cythera

Charles Baudelaire - 1821-1867
Free as a bird and joyfully my heart
Soared up among the rigging, in and out;
Under a cloudless sky the ship rolled on
Like an angel drunk with brilliant sun.

"That dark, grim island there—which would that be?"
"Cythera," we're told, "the legendary isle
Old bachelors tell stories of and smile.
There's really not much to it, you can see."

O place of many a mystic sacrament!
Archaic Aphrodite's splendid shade
Lingers above your waters like a scent
Infusing spirits with an amorous mood.

Worshipped from of old by every nation,
Myrtle-green isle, where each new bud discloses
Sighs of souls in loving adoration
Breathing like incense from a bank of roses

Or like a dove roo-cooing endlessly . . . 
No; Cythera was a poor infertile rock,
A stony desert harrowed by the shriek
Of gulls. And yet there was something to see:

This was no temple deep in flowers and trees
With a young priestess moving to and fro,
Her body heated by a secret glow,
Her robe half-opening to every breeze;

But coasting nearer, close enough to land
To scatter flocks of birds as we passed by,
We saw a tall cypress-shaped thing at hand—
A triple gibbet black against the sky.

Ferocious birds, each perched on its own meal,
Were madly tearing at the thing that hung
And ripened; each, its filthy beak a drill,
Made little bleeding holes to root among.

The eyes were hollowed. Heavy guts cascading
Flowed like water halfway down the thighs;
The torturers, though gorged on these vile joys,
Had also put their beaks to use castrating

The corpse. A pack of dogs beneath its feet,
Their muzzles lifted, whirled and snapped and gnawed;
One bigger beast amidst this jealous lot
Looked like an executioner with his guard.

O Cytherean, child of this fair clime,
Silently you suffered these attacks,
Paying the penalty for whatever acts
Of infamy had kept you from a tomb.

Grotesquely dangling, somehow you brought on—
Violent as vomit rising from the chest,
Strong as a river bilious to taste—
A flow of sufferings I'd thought long gone.

Confronted with such dear remembered freight,
Poor devil, now it was my turn to feel
A panther's slavering jaws, a beak's cruel drill—
Once it was my flesh they loved to eat.

The sky was lovely, and the sea divine,
but something thick and binding like a shroud
Wrapped my heart in layers of black and blood;
Henceforth this allegory would be mine.

O Venus! On your isle what did I see
But my own image on the gallows tree?
O God, give me the strength to contemplate
My own heart, my own body without hate!

More by Charles Baudelaire

Meditation

Take it easy, Sadness. Settle down.
You asked for evening. Now, it’s come. It’s here.
A choking fog has blanketed the town,
infecting some with calm, the rest with fear.

While the squalid throng of mortals feels the sting
of heartless pleasure swinging its barbed knout
and finds remorse in slavish partying,
take my hand, Sorrow. I will lead you out,

away from them. Look as the dead years lurch,
in tattered clothes, from heaven’s balconies.
From the depths, regret emerges with a grin.

The spent sun passes out beneath an arch,
and, shroudlike, stretched from the antipodes,
—hear it, O hear, love!—soft night marches in.

*

Recueillement


Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,
Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,
Va cueillir des remords dans la fête servile,
Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici,

Loin d'eux. Vois se pencher les défuntes Années,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannées;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;

Le soleil moribond s'endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l'Orient,
Entends, ma chère, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

Posthumous Remorse

When you go to sleep, my gloomy beauty, below a black marble monument, when from alcove and manor you are reduced to damp vault and hollow grave;

     when the stone—pressing on your timorous chest and sides already lulled by a charmed indifference—halts your heart from beating, from willing, your feet from their bold adventuring,

     then the tomb, confidant to my infinite dream (since the tomb understands the poet always), through those long nights in which slumber is banished,

     will say to you: "What does it profit you, imperfect courtisan, not to have known what the dead weep for?" —And the worm will gnaw at your hide like remorse.

Invitation to the Voyage

Child, Sister, think how sweet to go out there and live together! To love at leisure, love and die in that land that resembles you! For me, damp suns in disturbed skies share mysterious charms with your treacherous eyes as they shine through tears.

     There, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.

     Gleaming furniture, polished by years passing, would ornament our bedroom; rarest flowers, their odors vaguely mixed with amber; rich ceilings; deep mirrors; an Oriental splendor—everything there would address our souls, privately, in their sweet native tongue.

     There, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.

     See on these canals those sleeping boats whose mood is vagabond; it’s to satisfy your least desire that they come from the world’s end. —Setting suns reclothe fields, the canals, the whole town, in hyacinth and gold; the world falling asleep in a warm light.

     There, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.