The Dancing Serpent

Charles Baudelaire

The Dancing Serpent

Indolent darling, how I love
To see the skin
Of your body so beautiful
Shimmer like silk!

Upon your heavy head of hair
With its acrid scents,
Adventurous, odorant sea
With blue and brown waves,

Like a vessel that awakens
To the morning wind,
My dreamy soul sets sail
For a distant sky.

Your eyes where nothing is revealed
Of bitter or sweet,
Are two cold jewels where are mingled
Iron and gold.

To see you walking in cadence
With fine abandon,
One would say a snake which dances
On the end of a staff.

Under the weight of indolence
Your child-like head sways
Gently to and fro like the head
Of a young elephant,

And your body stretches and leans
Like a slender ship
That rolls from side to side and dips
Its yards in the sea.

Like a stream swollen by the thaw
Of rumbling glaciers,
When the water of your mouth rises
To the edge of your teeth,

It seems I drink Bohemian wine,
Bitter and conquering,
A liquid sky that scatters
Stars in my heart!

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

The Snake that Dances

I love to watch, while you are lazing,
Your skin. It iridesces
Like silk or satin, smoothly-glazing
The light that it caresses.

Under your tresses dark and deep
Where acrid perfumes drown,
A fragrant sea whose breakers sweep
In mazes blue or brown,

My soul, a ship, to the attraction
Of breezes that bedizen
Its swelling canvas, clears for action
And seeks a far horizon.

Your eyes where nothing can be seen
Either of sweet or bitter
But gold and iron mix their sheen,
Seem frosty gems that glitter.

To see you rhythmically advancing
Seems to my fancy fond
As if it were a serpent dancing
Waved by the charmer's wand.

Under the languorous moods that weigh it,
Your childish head bows down:
Like a young elephant's you sway it
With motions soft as down.

Your body leans upon the hips
Like a fine ship that Iaves
Its hull from side to side, and dips
Its yards into the waves.

When, as by glaciers ground, the spate
Swells hissing from beneath,
The water of your mouth, elate,
Rises between your teeth —

It seems some old Bohemian vintage
Triumphant, fierce, and tart,
A liquid heaven that showers a mintage
Of stars across my heart.

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

The Dancing Serpent

Dear indolent, I love to see,
In your body bright,
How like shimmering silk the skin
Reflects the light !

On the deep ocean of your hair
Where perfume laves,
Odorous and vagabond sea
Of blue and brown waves,

Like a vessel awakening
When morning winds rise
My dreaming soul begins to sail
Toward remote skies.

Your two eyes that neither sweetness
Nor bitterness hold
Are two chilly gems mingled of
Iron and gold.

When you walk in rhythm, lovely
With abandonment,
You seem to be swayed by a wand,
A dancing serpent.

Your child's head under the burden
Of your indolence
Sways as delicately as a
Young elephant's,

And your body bends and straightens
Like a slender ship
That, plunging and rolling, lets the
Yards in water dip.

When, like a stream by thawing of
Glaciers made replete,
The water of your mouth rises
Up to your teeth,

I drink a Bohemian wine,
Powerful and tart,
A liquid sky that sows its stars
Within my heart !

— Barbara Gibbs, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

Dancing Serpent

Indolent love, with what delight
I watch the tawny flesh
Of your sweet body shimmer bright
As a bright silken mesh.

On your thick tresses, love, you wear
Sharp perfumes for a crown,
A venturesome sweet sea, your hair,
With billows blue and brown.

Your eyes never betray by sign
What grief or joy they hold,
They are cold jewels that combine
Strong iron and rare gold.

Even as a vessel that awakes
When morning breezes rise,
So my dream-laden spirit takes
Off for strange distant skies.

Your sinuous cadenced walk enhancing
Your slim proud gait, a frond
Swaying, you are, or a snake dancing
Atop a fakir's wand.

Under a laziness like lead
Your childlike head aslant
Sways soft and gentle as the head
Of a young elephant,

Your body like a slender ship
In tense or bowing motion
Rolls, slow, from side to side to dip
Its yards deep in the ocean.

Ice thawed by currents from the south
Swell the swift streams beneath,
So when the water of your mouth
Rises against your teeth,

I seem to drink Bohemian wine
Victorious and tart,
A liquid sky that strews benign
Stars in my peaceful heart.

— Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

The Dancing Serpent

How I love to watch, dear indolent creature,
The skin of your so
Beautiful body glisten, like some
Quivering material!

On your deep coiffure
Bitter scented,
Scented, restless sea,
With the blue and brown waves,

Like a ship waking
To the wind of morning,
My dreamy soul prepares
For skies far away.

Your eyes, where nothing is revealed
Of sweet or sour,
Are two cold gems whose gold
Is mixed with iron.

Seeing your harmonious walk,
Abandoned beauty,
One would say a snake was dancing
At the end of a stick.

Under the weight of your sloth
Your infant head
Is balanced with the indolence
Of a young elephant,

And your body bends and stretches
Like a delicate ship
Pitching from side to side and sinking
Its spars in the water.

Like a wave swelled by the melting
Of a groaning glacier,
When your saliva rises
To the edges of your teeth,

I feel I drink some Bohemian wine,
Bitter, victor,
A liquid sky that scatters
Stars in my heart!

— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

Last updated November 04, 2022