In this time of pandemic and great social and economic dislocation and pain, the place for art is critical. Art can soothe us but, more importantly, it can remind us that the love of ideas and beauty and the persistence of a humane spirit still matter. In fact, they may save us.
This month, I have been reading some of the great French poets and I propose to share them with you. In this series, I will choose one poem from each of my favorite poets and translate it for you. These poems will be illustrated with some of my fine art photography. I hope they bring you peace and joy.
Firstly, I offer a poem by Charles Baudelaire, perhaps the best known and most loved French poet. Baudelaire’s most famous book, Les Fleurs du mal, was published in 1857. So many of Baudelaire’ poems are wonderful but my favorite is “La Mort des Amants” [The Death of Lovers]. (As you will see from the text of the poem, “la mort” is used metaphorically in the title. It refers to sex, not literally to death.)
“La Mort des Amants”
Nous aurons des lits pleins d’odeurs légères,
Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux,
Et d’étranges fleurs sur des étagères,
Ecloses pour nous sous des cieux plus beaux.
Usant à l’envi leurs chaleurs dernières,
Nos deux coeurs seront deux vastes flambeaux
Qui réfléchiront leurs doubles lumières
Dans nos deux esprits, ces miroirs jumeaux.
Un soir fait de rose et de bleu mystique,
Nous échangerons un éclair unique,
Comme un long sanglot, tout chargé d’adieux.
Et plus tard un Ange, entr’ouvrant les portes,
Viendra ranimer, fidèle et joyeux,
Les miroirs ternis et les flammes morte.
We shall be surrounded by lovely scents
lying on our couch deep as a tomb.
Exotic flowers placed on pedestals
will bloom for us under the most beautiful sky.
Burning with heat, our two hearts will
create a bonfire
doubling our light and fusing our two spirits
into mirror images.
In that one mystical evening of blue and rose
a bolt of lightning will unite us
and we will cry out
as if we were saying our final farewells.
Later, an angel will enter through the door
to revive us, joyous and still entwined.
She will polish our tarnished mirrors
and relight our extinguished flames.
Lead photo credit : Les Fleurs du mal, Baudelaire, 1920 edition. Photo: Fern Nesson