Au Lecteur (To The Reader)

Charles Baudelaire

La sottise, l'erreur, le péché, la lésine,
Occupent nos esprits et travaillent nos corps,
Et nous alimentons nos aimables remords,
Comme les mendiants nourrissent leur vermine.
Nos péchés sont têtus, nos repentirs sont lâches;
Nous nous faisons payer grassement nos aveux,
Et nous rentrons gaiement dans le chemin bourbeux,
Croyant par de vils pleurs laver toutes nos taches.
Sur l'oreiller du mal c'est Satan Trismégiste
Qui berce longuement notre esprit enchanté,
Et le riche métal de notre volonté
Est tout vaporisé par ce savant chimiste.
C'est le Diable qui tient les fils qui nous remuent!
Aux objets répugnants nous trouvons des appas;
Chaque jour vers l'Enfer nous descendons d'un pas,
Sans horreur, à travers des ténèbres qui puent.
Ainsi qu'un débauché pauvre qui baise et mange
Le sein martyrisé d'une antique catin,
Nous volons au passage un plaisir clandestin
Que nous pressons bien fort comme une vieille orange.
Serré, fourmillant, comme un million d'helminthes,
Dans nos cerveaux ribote un peuple de Démons,
Et, quand nous respirons, la Mort dans nos poumons
Descend, fleuve invisible, avec de sourdes plaintes.
Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encor brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.
Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,
II en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu'il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;
C'est l'Ennui! L'oeil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
II rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
- Hypocrite lecteur, - mon semblable, - mon frère!
To the Reader
Folly, error, sin, avarice
Occupy our minds and labor our bodies,
And we feed our pleasant remorse
As beggars nourish their vermin.
Our sins are obstinate, our repentance is faint;
We exact a high price for our confessions,
And we gaily return to the miry path,
Believing that base tears wash away all our stains.
On the pillow of evil Satan, Trismegist,
Incessantly lulls our enchanted minds,
And the noble metal of our will
Is wholly vaporized by this wise alchemist.
The Devil holds the strings which move us!
In repugnant things we discover charms;
Every day we descend a step further toward Hell,
Without horror, through gloom that stinks.
Like a penniless rake who with kisses and bites
Tortures the breast of an old prostitute,
We steal as we pass by a clandestine pleasure
That we squeeze very hard like a dried up orange.
Serried, swarming, like a million maggots,
A legion of Demons carouses in our brains,
And when we breathe, Death, that unseen river,
Descends into our lungs with muffled wails.
If rape, poison, daggers, arson
Have not yet embroidered with their pleasing designs
The banal canvas of our pitiable lives,
It is because our souls have not enough boldness.
But among the jackals, the panthers, the bitch hounds,
The apes, the scorpions, the vultures, the serpents,
The yelping, howling, growling, crawling monsters,
In the filthy menagerie of our vices,
There is one more ugly, more wicked, more filthy!
Although he makes neither great gestures nor great cries,
He would willingly make of the earth a shambles
And, in a yawn, swallow the world;
He is Ennui! - His eye watery as though with tears,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
- Hypocritish reader, - my fellow, - my brother!
- Translated by William Aggeler
To the Reader
Folly and error, avarice and vice,
Employ our souls and waste our bodies' force.
As mangey beggars incubate their lice,
We nourish our innocuous remorse.
Our sins are stubborn, craven our repentance.
For our weak vows we ask excessive prices.
Trusting our tears will wash away the sentence,
We sneak off where the muddy road entices.
Cradled in evil, that Thrice-Great Magician,
The Devil, rocks our souls, that can't resist;
And the rich metal of our own volition
Is vaporised by that sage alchemist.
The Devil pulls the strings by which we're worked:
By all revolting objects lured, we slink
Hellwards; each day down one more step we're jerked
Feeling no horror, through the shades that stink.
Just as a lustful pauper bites and kisses
The scarred and shrivelled breast of an old whore,
We steal, along the roadside, furtive blisses,
Squeezing them, like stale oranges, for more.
Packed tight, like hives of maggots, thickly seething
Within our brains a host of demons surges.
Deep down into our lungs at every breathing,
Death flows, an unseen river, moaning dirges.
If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life -
It is because we are not bold enough!
Amongst the jackals, leopards, mongrels, apes,
Snakes, scorpions, vultures, that with hellish din,
Squeal, roar, writhe, gambol, crawl, with monstrous shapes,
In each man's foul menagerie of sin -
There's one more damned than all. He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn...
Boredom! He smokes his hookah, while he dreams
Of gibbets, weeping tears he cannot smother.
You know this dainty monster, too, it seems -
Hypocrite reader! - You! - My twin! - My brother!
- Translated by Roy Campbell
To the Reader
Folly and error, sin and avarice,
Labor our minds and bodies in their course,
Blithely we nourish pleasurable remorse
As beggars feed their parasitic lice.
Our sins are stubborn, our repentance faint,
We sell our weak confessions at high price,
Returning gaily to the bogs of vice,
Thinking base tears can cleanse our every taint.
Pillowed on evil, Satan Trismegist
Ceaselessly cradles our enchanted mind,
The flawless metal of our will we find
Volatilized by this rare alchemist.
The Devil holds the puppet threads; and swayed
By noisome things and their repugnant spell,
Daily we take one further step toward Hell,
Suffering no horror in the olid shade.
As an impoverished rake will kiss and bite
The bruised blue nipples of an ancient whore,
We steal clandestine pleasures by the score,
Which, like dried orange rinds, we pressure tight.
Serried, aswarm, like million maggots, so
Demons carouse in us with fetid breath,
And, when we breathe, the unseen stream of death
Flows down our lungs with muffled wads of woe.
If poison, knife, rape, arson, have not dared
Yet stamp the pleasing pattern of their gyves
On the dull canvas of our sorry lives,
It is because our torpid souls are scared.
But side by side with our monstrosities -
Jackals and bitch hounds, scorpions, vultures, apes,
Panthers and serpents whose repulsive shapes
Pollute our vice's dank menageries,
There is one viler and more wicked spawn,
Which never makes great gestures or loud cries
Yet would turn earth to wastes of sumps and sties
And swallow all creation in a yawn:
Ennui! Moist-eyed perforce, worse than all other,
Dreaming of stakes, he smokes his hookah pipe.
Reader, you know this fiend, refined and ripe,
Reader, O hypocrite - my like! - my brother!
- Translated by Jacques LeClercq
To the Reader
Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body's force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores or beggars nourishing their lice.
Our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;
we play to the grandstand with our promises,
we pray for tears to wash our filthiness;
importantly pissing hogwash through our styes.
The devil, watching by our sickbeds, hissed
old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until
the soft and precious metal of our will
boiled off in vapor for this scientist.
Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, through previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.
Like the poor lush who cannot satisfy,
we try to force our sex with counterfeits,
die drooling on the deliquescent tits,
mouthing the rotten orange we suck dry.
Gangs of demons are boozing in our brain -
ranked, swarming, like a million warrior-ants,
they drown and choke the cistern of our wants;
each time we breathe, we tear our lungs with pain.
If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, knives
have not yet ruined us and stitched their quick,
loud patterns on the canvas of our lives,
it is because our souls are still too sick.
Among the vermin, jackals, panthers, lice,
gorillas and tarantulas that suck
and snatch and scratch and defecate and fuck
in the disorderly circus of our vice,
there's one more ugly and abortive birth.
It makes no gestures, never beats its breast,
yet it would murder for a moment's rest,
and willingly annihilate the earth.
It's BOREDOM. Tears have glued its eyes together.
You know it well, my Reader. This obscene
beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine -
you - hypocrite Reader - my double - my brother!
- Translated by Robert Lowell
To the Reader
Foolishness, error, sin, niggardliness,
Occupy our minds and work on our bodies,
And we feed our mild remorse,
As beggars nourish their vermin.
Our sins are insistent, our repentings are limp;
We pay ourselves richly for our admissions,
And we gaily go once more on the filthy path
Believing that by cheap fears we shall wash away all our sins.
On the pillow of evil it is Satan Trismegistus
Who soothes a long while our bewitched mind,
And the rich metal of our determination
Is made vapor by that learned chemist.
It is the Devil who holds the reins which make us go!
In repulsive objects we find something charming;
Each day we take one more step towards Hell -
Without being horrified - across darknesses that stink.
Like a beggarly sensualist who kisses and eats
The martyred breast of an ancient strumpet,
We steal where we may a furtive pleasure
Which we handle forcefully like an old orange.
Tight, swarming, like a million worms,
A population of Demons carries on in our brains,
And, when we breathe, Death into our lungs
Goes down, an invisible river, with thick complaints.
If rape, poison, the dagger, arson,
Have not as yet embroidered with their pleasing designs
The recurrent canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It is that our spirit, alas, is not brave enough.
But among the jackals, the panthers, the bitch-hounds,
The apes, the scorpions, the vultures, the serpents,
The monsters screeching, howling, grumbling, creeping,
In the infamous menagerie of our vices,
There is one uglier, wickeder, more shameless!
Although he makes no large gestures nor loud cries
He willingly would make rubbish of the earth
And with a yawn swallow the world;
He is Ennui! - His eye filled with an unwished-for tear,
He dreams of scaffolds while puffing at his hookah.
You know him, reader, this exquisite monster,
- Hypocrite reader, - my likeness, - my brother!
- Translated by Eli Siegel
To the Reader
Folly, depravity, greed, mortal sin
Invade our souls and rack our flesh; we feed
Our gentle guilt, gracious regrets, that breed
Like vermin glutting on foul beggars' skin.
Our sins are stubborn; our repentance, faint.
We take a handsome price for our confession,
Happy once more to wallow in transgression,
Thinking vile tears will cleanse us of all taint.
On evil's cushion poised, His Majesty,
Satan Thrice-Great, lulls our charmed soul, until
He turns to vapor what was once our will:
Rich ore, transmuted by his alchemy.
He holds the strings that move us, limb by limb!
We yield, enthralled, to things repugnant, base;
Each day, towards Hell, with slow, unhurried pace,
We sink, uncowed, through shadows, stinking, grim.
Like some lewd rake with his old worn-out whore,
Nibbling her suffering teats, we seize our sly
delight, that, like an orange-withered, dry-
We squeeze and press for juice that is no more.
Our brains teem with a race of Fiends, who frolic
thick as a million gut-worms; with each breath,
Our lungs drink deep, suck down a stream of Death-
Dim-lit-to low-moaned whimpers melancholic.
If poison, fire, blade, rape do not succeed
In sewing on that dull embroidery
Of our pathetic lives their artistry,
It's that our soul, alas, shrinks from the deed.
And yet, among the beasts and creatures all-
Panther, snake, scorpion, jackal, ape, hound, hawk-
Monsters that crawl, and shriek, and grunt, and squawk,
In our vice-filled menagerie's caterwaul,
One worse is there, fit to heap scorn upon-
More ugly, rank! Though noiseless, calm and still,
yet would he turn the earth to scraps and swill,
swallow it whole in one great, gaping yawn:
Ennui! That monster frail!-With eye wherein
A chance tear gleams, he dreams of gibbets, while
Smoking his hookah, with a dainty smile. . .
-You know him, reader,-hypocrite,-my twin!
Translated by Anonymous





Last updated January 14, 2019