I’ve just realised that back when I started up this blog I promised to discuss Charles Baudelaire in more detail, and I never did. Well, now it’s about time to start making it up to my favourite tortured poet, and what better way to go about it than by discussing his condemned poems, banned from the early editions of Les Fleurs du Mal? This post is going to focus on Lethe, a poem which was in all probability inspired by Baudelaire’s most prolific mistress, Jeanne Duvall, his ‘black Venus’.
Come to my heart, you tiger I adore.
You sullen monster, cruel and speechless spirit;
Into the thickness of your heavy mane
I want to plunge my trembling fingers’ grip.
I want to hide the throbbing of my head
In your perfume, under those petticoats,
And breathe the musty scent of our old love,
The fading fragrance of the dying rose.
I want to sleep! to sleep and not to live!
And in sleep as sweet as death, to dream
Of spreading out my kisses without shame
On your smooth body, bright with copper sheen.
If I would swallow down my softened sobs
It must be in your bed’s profound abyss-
Forgetfulness is moistening your breath,
Lethe itself runs smoothly in your kiss.
My destiny, from now on my delight,
Is to obey as one who has been sent
To guiltless martyrdom, when all the while
His passion fans the flames of his torment.
My lips will suck the cure for bitterness:
Oblivion, nepenthe has its start
In the bewitching teats of those hard breasts,
That never have been harbour of the heart.
Translated by James McGowan
So what do you think of it? I could never quite understand the reasoning behind the banning – as far as I can see, the poems which were condemned are no more ‘corrupting’ than the ones that were left. For example, ‘Litanies of Satan’ was, as far as I’m aware, never banned. And you can’t get much more corrupt than a prayer to Beelzebub himself. I suppose it just goes to show how idiotic these moral police were. More banned Baudelaire is coming soon. Also, I’ve posted a link in my blog roll on the right to a site where you can listen to Baudelaire’s poems being read in the original French, which is well worth checking out.