by Charles Baudelaire
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 the
Powers, 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!"
Last updated January 14, 2019