by Charles Baudelaire
II est de forts parfums pour qui toute matière
Est poreuse. On dirait qu'ils pénètrent le verre.
En ouvrant un coffret venu de l'Orient
Dont la serrure grince et rechigne en criant,
Ou dans une maison déserte quelque armoire
Pleine de l'âcre odeur des temps, poudreuse et noire,
Parfois on trouve un vieux flacon qui se souvient,
D'où jaillit toute vive une âme qui revient.
Mille pensers dormaient, chrysalides funèbres,
Frémissant doucement dans les lourdes ténèbres,
Qui dégagent leur aile et prennent leur essor,
Teintés d'azur, glacés de rose, lamés d'or.
Voilà le souvenir enivrant qui voltige
Dans l'air troublé; les yeux se ferment; le Vertige
Saisit l'âme vaincue et la pousse à deux mains
Vers un gouffre obscurci de miasmes humains;
II la terrasse au bord d'un gouffre séculaire,
Où, Lazare odorant déchirant son suaire,
Se meut dans son réveil le cadavre spectral
D'un vieil amour ranci, charmant et sépulcral.
Ainsi, quand je serai perdu dans la mémoire
Des hommes, dans le coin d'une sinistre armoire
Quand on m'aura jeté, vieux flacon désolé,
Décrépit, poudreux, sale, abject, visqueux, fêlé,
Je serai ton cercueil, aimable pestilence!
Le témoin de ta force et de ta virulence,
Cher poison préparé par les anges! liqueur
Qui me ronge, ô la vie et la mort de mon coeur!
The Perfume Flask
There are strong perfumes for which all matter
Is porous. One would say they go through glass.
On opening a coffer that has come from the East,
Whose creaking lock resists and grates,
Or in a deserted house, some cabinet
Full of the Past's acrid odor, dusty and black,
Sometimes one finds an antique phial which remembers,
Whence gushes forth a living soul returned to life.
Many thoughts were sleeping, death-like chrysalides,
Quivering softly in the heavy shadows,
That free their wings and rise in flight,
Tinged with azure, glazed with rose, spangled with gold.
That is the bewitching souvenir which flutters
In the troubled air; the eyes close; Dizziness
Seizes the vanquished soul, pushes it with both hands
Toward a darkened abyss of human pollution:
He throws it down at the edge of an ancient abyss,
Where, like stinking Lazarus tearing wide his shroud,
There moves as it wakes up, the ghostly cadaver
Of a rancid old love, charming and sepulchral.
Thus, when I'll be lost to the memory
Of men, when I shall be tossed into the corner
Of a dismal wardrobe, a desolate old phial,
Decrepit, cracked, slimy, dirty, dusty, abject,
Delightful pestilence! I shall be your coffin,
The witness of your strength and of your virulence,
Beloved poison prepared by the angels! Liqueur
That consumes me, O the life and death of my heart!
- Translated by William Aggeler
Perfumes there are which through all things can pass
And make all matter porous, even glass;
Old coffers from the Orient brought, whose locks
Grind sullenly when opening the box,
Or, in an empty house, some ancient chest,
Where time and dust and gloom were long compressed,
May yield a flask where memory survives,
And a soul flashes into future lives.
A thousand thoughts, funereal larvae, laid
Shuddering softly under palls of shade,
May suddenly their soaring wings unfold,
Stained azure, glazed with rose, or filmed with gold.
Intoxicating memory now flies
Into the dusk, and makes us close our eyes:
Vertigo draws the spirit which it grips
Towards some dark miasma of eclipse:
Beside an ancient pit he makes her fall,
Where Lazarus, sweet-scented, tears his pall
And wakes the spectral corpse of some now-cold,
Rancid, sepulchral love he knew of old.
So when I'm lost to human memory, thrown
In some old gloomy chest to fie alone,
A poor decrepit flask, cracked, abject, crusty
With dirt, opaque and sticky, damp and dusty,
I'll be your pall and shroud, beloved pest!
The witness of your venom, and its test,
Dear poison, angel-brewed with deadly art -
Life, death, and dear corrosion of my heart.
- Translated by Roy Campbell
The Perfume Flask
All matter becomes porous to certain scents; they pass
Through everything; it seems they even go through glass.
When opening some old trunk brought home from the far east,
That scolds, feeling the key turned and the lid released -
Some wardrobe, in a house long uninhabited,
Full of the powdery odors of moments that are dead -
At times, distinct as ever, an old flask will emit
Its perfume; and a soul comes back to live in it.
Dormant as chrysalides, a thousand thoughts that lie
In the thick shadows, pulsing imperceptibly,
Now stir, now struggle forth; now their cramped wings unfold,
Tinted with azure, lustred with rose, sheeted with gold!
Oh, memories, how you rise and soar, and hover there!
The eyes close; dizziness, in the moth-darkened air,
Seizes the drunken soul, and thrusts it toward the verge -
Where mistily all human miasmas float and merge -
Of a primeval gulf; and drops it to the ground,
There, where, like Lazarus rising, his grave-clothes half unwound,
And odorous, a cadaver from its sleep has stirred:
An old and rancid love, charming and long-interred.
Thus, when I shall be lost from sight, thus when all men
Forget me, in the dark and dusty corner then
Of that most sinister cupboard where the living pile
The dead - when, an old flask, cracked, sticky, abject, vile,
I lie at length - still, still, sweet pestilence of my heart,
As to what power thou hast, how virulent thou art,
I shall bear witness; safe shall thy dear poison be!
Thou vitriol of the gods I thou death and life of me!
- Translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay
so keen some fragrances, they freely pass
all barriers. they would pierce a wall of glass.
unlatch a coffer from the Orient
whose creaking hinge will scarcely grant consent,
or cupboard in an empty house, where murk,
sharp smells and cobwebs of a century lurk,
thou'lt find perhaps a flask that holds a host
of memories, free perchance a living ghost.
crushed in the gloom a thousand keepsakes lay
like coffined larvae there, which, quivering, grey,
released at last arise on soaring wing,
rose-flushed or azure, golden, glittering,
and swirling memories mount, to thrill and tease
our closing eyes; we reel in murk, as these
grapple amain and hurl the quailing soul
down to a Pit where human odours roll
and fell it on the brink that waits for all,
where, bursting, Lazarus-like, its rotted pall,
stirs and awakes the spectral visage of
a charming, fusty, weird, forgotten love.
so when Oblivion blots my memory dim,
and in a corner of a cupboard grim
I like cast off, a sorry flask and old,
crackled and dusty, viscous, green with mould,
I'll be thy coffin, lovely pestilence!
I'll prove thy power and thy virulence,
dear poison brewed by angels! dulcet fire
I've drunk, my life, my death, my heart's desire!
- Translated by Lewis Piaget Shanks
Last updated January 14, 2019