Selected Poems 
From Bile and Ideal


Come to my heart, cruel, insensible one,
Adored tiger, monster with the indolent air;
I would for a long time plunge my trembling fingers
Into the heavy tresses of your hair;

And in your garments that exhale your perfume
I would bury my aching head,
And breathe, like a withered flower,
The sweet, stale reek of my love that is dead.

I want to sleep! sleep rather than live!
And in a slumber, dubious as the tomb's,
I would lavish my kisses without remorse
Upon the burnished copper of your limbs.

To swallow my abated sobs
Nothing equals your bed's abyss;
Forgetfulness dwells in your mouth,
And Lethe flows from your kiss.

My destiny, henceforth my pleasure,
I shall obey, predestined instrument,
Docile martyr, condemned innocent,  
Whose fervour but augments his torment.

I shall suck, to drown my rancour,
Nepenthe, hemlock, an opiate,
At the charming tips of this pointed breast
That has never imprisoned a heart.

                     - Translated by Doreen Bell


When, by a decree of the sovereign power,
The poet makes his appearance in a bored world,
With fists clenched at the horror, his outraged mother
Calls on a pitying God, at whom these curses are hurled :

"Why was I not made to litter a brood of vipers
Rather than conceive this human mockery?
My curses on that night whose ephemeral pleasures
Filled my womb with this avenging treachery!

Since I must be chosen among all women that are
To bear the lifetime's grudge of a sullen husband,
And since I cannot get rid of this caricature,
- Fling it away like old letters to be burned,

On what you have devised for my punishment
I will let all your hate of me rebound,
I will torture this stunted growth until its bent
Branches let fall every blighted bud to the ground !"
And so she prepares herself in
Hell's pit A place on the pyre made for a mother's crimes,
Blind, in the fury of her foaming hatred,
To the meaning and purpose of the eternal designs.
Meanwhile, under the care of an unseen angel,
The disinherited Child revels in the sun's
Bright force; all that he eats and drinks can fill
Him with memories of the food that was heaven's.
The wind his plaything, any cloud a friend,
The Spirit watching can only weep to see
How in childhood his way of the cross is lightened

With the wild bird-song of his innocent gaiety.
Those he would love look at him with suspicion
Or else, emboldened by his calm, experiment
With various possible methods of exciting derision
By trying out their cruelty on his complaint.
They mix ashes or unspeakable filth with the bread
And the wine of his daily communion, drop
Whatever he may have touched with affected dread,

And studiously avoid wherever he may step.
His mistress, parading her contempt in the street,
Cries: "Since he finds my beauty a thing to worship,
I will be one of the ancient idols he talks about,
And make myself with gold out of the same workshop!
I will never have enough of his kneelings and offerings
Until I am sure that the choice foods, the wines,
The 'nard,' the 'incense,' the 'myrrh' that he brings
He brings as other men would to the Virgin's shrines.
And when I am sick to death of trying not to laugh
At the farce of my black masses,
I'll try the force Of the hand he calls 'frail,' my nails will dig a path
Like harpies', to the heart that beats for me, of course!
Like a nestling trembling and palpitating
I will pull that red heart out of his breast
And throw it down for my favorite dog's eating

- Let him do whatever he likes with the rest!"
A serene piety, lifting the poet's gaze,
Reveals heaven opening on a shining throne,
And the lower vision of the world's ravening rage
Is shut off by the sheet lightnings of his brain.
"Be blessed, oh my God, who givest suffering
As the only divine remedy for our folly,
As the highest and purest essence preparing

The strong in spirit for ecstasies most holy.
I know that among the uplifted legions
Of saints, a place awaits the
Poet's arrival, And that among thePowers, Virtues, Dominations

He too is summoned to Heaven's festival.
I know that sorrow is the one human strength
On which neither earth nor hell can impose,
And that all the universe and all time's length

Must be wound into the mystic crown for my brows.
But all the treasury of buried Palmyra,
The earth's unknown metals, the sea's pearls,
Mounted by Thy hand, would be deemed an inferior

Glitter, to his diadem that shines without jewels.
For Thou knowest it will be made of purest light
Drawn from the holy hearth of every primal ray,
To which all human eyes, if they were one bright
Eye, are only a tarnished mirror's fading day!"

- translation by David Paul


Have pity, You alone whom I adore
From down this black pit where my heart is sped,
A sombre universe ringed round with lead
Where fear and curses the long night explore.

Six months a cold sun hovers overhead;
The other six is night upon this land.
No beast; no stream; no wood; no leaves expand.
The desert Pole is not a waste so dead.

Now in the whole world there's no horror quite
so cold and cruel as this glacial sun,
So like old Chaos as this boundless night;

I envy the least animals that run,
Which can find respite in brute slumber drowned,
So slowly is the skein of time unwound.

- Translation by Desmond Harmsworth


You forests, like cathedrals, are my dread:
You roar like organs. Our curst hearts, like cells
Where death forever rattles on the bed,
Echo your de Profudis as it swells.

My spirit hates you, Ocean ! sees, and loathes
Its tumults in your own. Of men defeated
The bitter laugh, that's full of sobs and oaths,
Is in your own tremendously repeated.

How you would please me, Night ! without your stars
Which speak a foreign dialect, that jars
On one who seeks the void, the black, the bare.

Yet even your darkest shade a canvas forms
Whereon my eye must multiply in swarms
Familiar looks of shapes no longer there.

- translated by Roy Campbell


On music drawn away, a sea-borne mariner,
      Star over bowsprit pale,
Beneath a roof of mist or depths of lucid air
      I put out under sail;

Breastbone my steady bow and lungs full, running free
      Before a following gale,
I ride the rolling back and mass of every sea
      By Night wrapt in her veil;

All passions and all joys that vessels undergo
     Tremble alike in me;
Fair wind, or waves in havoc when the tempests blow

     On the enormous sea
Rock me, and level calms come silvering sea and air,
      A glass for my despair.

- translated by Robert Fitzgerald


The sun in crepe has muffled up his fire.
Moon of my life! Half shade yourself like him.
Slumber or smoke. Be silent and be dim,
And in the gulf of ennui plunge entire;

I love you thus! However, if you like,
Like some bright star from its eclipse emerging,
To flaunt with Folly where the crowds are surging --
Flash, lovely dagger, from your sheath and strike!

Light up your eyes from chandeliers of glass!
Light up the lustful looks of louts that pass!
Morbid or petulant, I thrill before you.

Be what you will, black night or crimson dawn;
No fibre of my body tautly drawn,
But cries: "Beloved demon, I adore you!"

- translated by Roy Campbell


Poor Muse, alas, what ails thee, then, today?
Thy hollow eyes with midnight visions burn,
Upon thy brow in alternation play,
Madness and Horror, cold and taciturn.

Have the green lemur and goblin red,
Poured on thee love and terror from their urn?
Or with despotic hand the nightmare dread
Deep plunged thee in some fabulous Minturne?

Would that thy breast, where so deep thoughts arise,
Breathed forth a healthful perfume with thy sighs;
Would that thy Christian blood ran by wave by wave

In rhythmic sounds the antique numbers gave,
When Phoebus shared his alternating reign
With mighty Pan, lord of the ripening grain.

- translated by F.P. Sturm

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