~ by Charles Baudelaire
(English version by Robert Lowell)
For the boy playing with his globe and stamps,
the world is equal to his appetite.
How grand the world in the blaze of the lamps,
how petty in tomorrow’s small dry light.
One morning we lift anchor, full of brave
prejudices, prospects, ingenuity.
We swing with the velvet sway of the wave,
our infinite is rocked by the fixed sea.
Some wish to fly a cheapness they detest,
others, their cradles’ terror. Others stand
with their binoculars on a woman’s breast,
reptilian Circe with her junk and wand.
Not to be turned to reptiles, such men daze
themselves with spaces, light, the burning sky.
Cold toughens them, they bronze in the sun’s blaze
and dry the sores of their debauchery.
But the true voyagers are those who move
simply to move, like lost balloons. Their heart
is some old motor thudding in one groove.
It says its single phrase, “Let us depart.”
They are like conscripts lusting for the guns.
Our sciences have never learned to tag
their projects and designs. Enormous vague
hopes grease the wheels of these automatons.
We imitate, oh horror!, tops and bowls
in their eternal waltzing marathon.
Even in sleep, our fever whips and rolls,
like a black angel whipping the brute sun.
Strange sport, where destination has no place
or name, and may be anywhere we choose,
where man, committed to his endless race,
runs like a madman diving for repose.
Our soul is a three-master seeking port.
A voice from starboard shouts, “We’re at the dock!”
Another, more elated, cries from port,
“Here’s dancing, gin, and girls!” Balls! It’s a rock!
The islands sighted by the lookout seem
the El Dorados promised us last night.
Imagination wakes from its drugged dream,
see only ledges in the morning light.
What dragged these patients from their German spas?
Shall we throw them in chains? Or in the sea?
Sailors discovering new Americas,
who drown in a mirage of agony.
The worn-out sponge who scuffles through our slums
sees whiskey, paradise, and liberty
wherever oil lamps shine in furnished rooms.
We see Blue Grottoes, Caesar, and Capri.
Stunningly simple Tourists, your pursuit
is written in the teardrops in your eyes.
Spread out the packing cases of your loot,
your azure sapphires made of seas and skies.
We want to break the boredom of our jails
and cross the oceans without oars or steam.
Give us visions to stretch our minds like sails,
the blue exotic shoreline of your dream.
Tell us what have you seen?
“We’ve seen the stars,
a wave or two, we’ve also seen some sand.
Although we peer through telescopes and spars,
we’re often deadly bored as you on land.
The sight of sunlight on the violet sea,
the roar of cities when the sun goes down,
these stir our hearts with restless energy.
We worship the Indian Ocean where we drown.
No old chateau or shrine besieged by crowds
of crippled pilgrims sets our hearts on fire
as these chance countries gathered from the clouds.
Our hearts are always anxious with desire.
Desire, that great elm fertilized by lust,
gives its old body, when the heaven warms
its bark that winters and old age encrust.
Green branches draw the sun into its arms.
Why are you always growing taller, Tree,
oh longer-lived than cypress? Yet we took
one or two sketches for your picture book,
brothers who sell your souls for novelty.
We have salaamed to pagan gods with horns,
entered shrines peopled by a galaxy
of Buddhas, Slavic saints, unicorns,
so rich Rothschild must dream of bankruptcy.
Priests’ robes that scattered solid golden flakes,
dancers with tatooed bellies and behinds,
charmers supported by braziers of snakes…”
Yes, and what else?
Oh, trivial childish minds!
You’ve missed the most important things that we
were forced to learn against our will. We’ve been
from top to bottom of the ladder and see
only the pageant of immortal sin.
There women, servile, peacock-tailed, and coarse,
marry for money, and love without disgust
horny pot-bellied tyrants stuffed on lust,
slaves’ slaves, the sewer in which their gutter pours.
Old maids who weep, playboys who live each hour,
state banquets with hot sauces, blood and trash,
ministers sterilized by dreams of power,
workers who love the brutalizing lash.
And everywhere religions like our own
all storming heaven, propped by saints who reign
like sybarites on beds of nails and frown,
all searching for some orgiastic pain.
Many, self-drunk, are lying in the mud.
Mad now, as they have always been, they roll
in torment, screaming to the throne of God,
“My image and my lord, I hate your soul!”
Others, dedicated without hope,
flee the dull herd– each locked in his own world
hides in his ivory tower of art and dope–
this is the daily news of the whole world.
How sour the knowledge travellers bring away.
The world’s monotonous and small. We see
ourselves today, tomorrow, yesterday,
an oasis of horror in sands of ennui.
Shall we move or rest? Rest if you can rest,
move if you must. One runs, but others drop
and trick their vigilant antagonist.
Time is a runner who can never stop,
the Wandering Jew or Christ’s Apostles. Yet
nothing’s enough. No knife goes through the ribs
of this retarius throwing out his net.
Others can kill and never leave their cribs.
And even when time’s heel is on our throat
we still can hope, still cry, “On, on, let’s go!”
Just as we once took passage on the boat
for China, shivering as we felt the blow,
so we now set our sails for the Dead Sea,
lighthearted as the youngest voyager.
If you look seaward, Traveller, you will see
a spectre rising and hear it sing, “Stop, here,
and eat my lotus flowers, here’s where they’re sold.
Here are the fabulous fruits, look, my boughs bend,
eat yourself sick on knowledge. Here we hold
time in our hands, it never has to end.”
We know the accents of this ghost by heart.
Our comrade spreads his arms across the seas,
“On, on, Orestes. Sail and feast your heart.
Here’s Clytemnestra.” Once we kissed her knees.
It’s time. Old Captain Death, lift anchor, sink.
The land rots. We shall sail into the night.
If now the sea and sky are black as ink,
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light.
Only when we drink poison are we well.
We want, this fire so burns our brain tissue,
to drown in the abyss. Heaven or hell,
who cares? Through the unknown, we’ll find the new.
Seventy years before T. S. Eliot’s reign as the pope of literary modernism in the 1920’s, Charles Baudelaire was inventing modernism in the mid-nineteenth century, fashioning it out of his own intensely neurotic and depressive self-contradictions. Here he sees travel in three-master schooners as wanderlust, a compulsion for fleeing from our lives — for anything else! A compulsion for running away.