Monday, April 18, 2011

National Poetry Month: Charles Baudelaire

"The Drunkard"

Charles Baudelaire

My wife is dead, and I am free!
Now I can drink both night and day.
When I came home without my pay
Her crying upset me horribly.

I am as happy as a king.
The air is soft. The sky is clear.
Ah, what a lovely spring, this year!
I courted her in such a spring.

Now I can drink to drown my care
As much wine as her tomb would hold —
The tomb where she lies pale and cold.
And that will be no small affair,

For I have thrown her, body and limb,
In an old well; I even threw
All the loose stones around the brim
On top of her. Good riddance, too!

I asked her in the name of Christ,
To whom our marriage vows were told,
To be my sweetheart as of old —
To come to a forsaken tryst

We had when we were young and gay,
That everything might be the same:
And she, the foolish creature, came!
We all have our weak moments, eh?

She was attractive still, all right,
Though faded. I still loved her — more
Than there was rhyme or reason for.
I had to end it, come what might!

Nobody understands me. What's
The use of wasting my good breath
Explaining to these stupid sots
The mysteries of love and death?

They take their women by routine,
These louts — the way they eat and drink.
Which one has ever stopped to think
What the word love might really mean?

Love, with its softness in your reins,
With all its nightmares, all its fears,
Its cups of poison mixed with tears,
Its rattling skeletons and chains.

— Well, here I am, alone and free!
Tonight I will be drunk for fair,
And I will lay me down, I swear,
Upon the highroad happily,

And sleep like an old dog, be sure,
Right where the heavy trucks go by,
Loaded with gravel and manure.
The wheel can smear my brains out — ay,

Or it can break me like a clod
In two, or it can mash me flat.
I care about as much for that
As for the long white beard of God!

On April 18, 1839, Charles Baudelaire was expelled from College Louis-le-Grand, where he was difficult and rebellious, often fighting with other students. Following his expulsion, his mother sent him away as a merchant-marine to remove him from "bad influences." The website Fleurs du mal offers readers different translations from various editions of Baudelaire's poems over the years: this version of "Le Vin de l'assassin" is a translation by George Dillon in 1936 and republished in 1982. The website notes wryly that "these are not necessarily the best or the worst translations — though is partial to Edna St. Vincent Millay's renderings." Millay and Dillon had been lovers when these translations were published. Dillon was an editor of Poetry magazine; his papers are at Syracuse University.

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