Pouvons-nous étouffer le vieux, le long Remords,
Qui vit, s’agite et se tortille
Et se nourrit de nous comme le ver des morts,
Comme du chêne la chenille?
Pouvons-nous étouffer l’implacable Remords?

Dans quel philtre, dans quel vin, dans quelle tisane,
Noierons-nous ce vieil ennemi,
Destructeur et gourmand comme la courtisane,
Patient comme la fourmi?
Dans quel philtre? — dans quel vin? — dans quelle tisane?

Dis-le, belle sorcière, oh! dis, si tu le sais,
À cet esprit comblé d’angoisse
Et pareil au mourant qu’écrasent les blessés,
Que le sabot du cheval froisse,
Dis-le, belle sorcière, oh! dis, si tu le sais,

À cet agonisant que le loup déjà flaire
Et que surveille le corbeau,
À ce soldat brisé! s’il faut qu’il désespère
D’avoir sa croix et son tombeau;
Ce pauvre agonisant que déjà le loup flaire!

Peut-on illuminer un ciel bourbeux et noir?
Peut-on déchirer des ténèbres
Plus denses que la poix, sans matin et sans soir,
Sans astres, sans éclairs funèbres?
Peut-on illuminer un ciel bourbeux et noir?

L’Espérance qui brille aux carreaux de l’Auberge
Est soufflée, est morte à jamais!
Sans lune et sans rayons, trouver où l’on héberge
Les martyrs d’un chemin mauvais!
Le Diable a tout éteint aux carreaux de l’Auberge!

Adorable sorcière, aimes-tu les damnés?
Dis, connais-tu l’irrémissible?
Connais-tu le Remords, aux traits empoisonnés,
À qui notre cœur sert de cible?
Adorable sorcière, aimes-tu les damnés?

L’Irréparable ronge avec sa dent maudite
Notre âme, piteux monument,
Et souvent il attaque ainsi que le termite,
Par la base le bâtiment.
L’Irréparable ronge avec sa dent maudite!

— J’ai vu parfois, au fond d’un théâtre banal
Qu’enflammait l’orchestre sonore,
Une fée allumer dans un ciel infernal
Une miraculeuse aurore;
J’ai vu parfois au fond d’un théâtre banal

Un être, qui n’était que lumière, or et gaze,
Terrasser l’énorme Satan;
Mais mon cœur, que jamais ne visite l’extase,
Est un théâtre où l’on attend
Toujours, toujours en vain, l’Être aux ailes de gaze!

Can we suffocate old, long Remorse,
Which lives, and shakes, tries to set itself free,
And feeds itself on us like worms on a corpse,
Like the grub on the tree?
Can we suffocate old, long Remorse?

In which philtre, in which wine, in which draught,
Will we drown this old foe?
Destructive and greedy as a whore in her craft,
And like the ant, patient and slow?
In which philtre? – in which wine? – in which draught?

Say it, beautiful sorceress, oh! if you know it, say,
To this mind filled with fear
Like a dying man, whom the wounded crush to clay,
That the hooves of the horse sear,
Say it, beautiful sorceress, oh! if you know it, say,

To this dying man whom the wolf already senses
While crows croak his doom,
To this broken soldier! If he must lose his pretences
To have his cross and his tomb;
This poor dying man whom the wolf already senses!

Can we light up a black, muddy morn?
Can we tear at the shade
Denser than pitch, without dusk or dawn,
Without funereal lightning, without stars for your aid,
Can we light up a black, muddy morn?

Hope’s light, which on the inn’s tiles would play
Is snuffed out, dead forevermore!
Without moon and without light, finding where they stay,
The martyrs of an evil shore,
The Devil snuffed out all that on the inn’s tiles would play!

Sweet sorceress, do you love the cursed?
Know those whom sins destroy?
Know you Remorse, its poisoned traits dispersed,
To whom our heart’s a toy?
Sweet sorceress, do you love the cursed?

With curséd teeth the Irreparable bites
A piteous monument, our soul,
And often it attacks, as termites
Eat up a building whole.
With curséd teeth the Irreparable bites!

– Sometimes I saw, at the back of a trite stage
That a ringing orchestra lit
A fairy lighting a miraculous new age
In a sky hell would better fit;
Sometimes I saw, at the back of a trite stage

A being, who was only light, gold and gauze
Bringing huge Satan down;
But my heart, which never knows rapture or applauses
Is a theatre where we drown
In waiting always, always in vain for the Being with wings of gauze!

Ci-gît qui, pour avoir trop aimé les gaupes,
Descendit jeune encore au royaume des taupes.
Here he lies, who for having loved his whores too much
Descends, still young, to the kingdom of the mole’s touch.

Charles Baudelaire – Jeanne Duval.

This is a French link from the excellent Baudelaire Litteratura site talking a little bit about his longtime off-and-on-again mistress and muse, Jeanne Duval (Wikipedia link, also in French), one of the most significant women in his life after his mother. Of mixed French and Black African ancestry, very little is known about Jeanne – not even her name, as she was also called Jeanne Lemer, Jeanne Lemaire and Jeanne Prosper. There are also multiple candidates for her birthplace: Haiti, the Mascarene Islands, India, South Africa, Saint Barthélemy…Duval’s life is only known from Baudelaire’s letters, especially those addressed to her mother, Madame Aupick. There are no known letters addressed to Duval herself and Madame Aupick destroyed all of Duval’s letters to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire and Duval had a stormy relationship complicated by misogyny and racism (black and mixed-raced women were fetishised in 19th-century France as being more passionate than white women, but also hypersexual and lazy); in addition, Baudelaire’s mother did not like Duval, saying that she “tortured him in every way”, to the point of Baudelaire making a suicide attempt over her.

So after a lot of deliberation, I finally managed to get this translated! First off, here’s the literal translation alongside the original poem:

Novis te cantabo chordis,
O novelletum quod ludis
In solitudine cordis.

Esto sertis implicata,
Ô femina delicata
Per quam solvuntur peccata!

Sicut beneficum Lethe,
Hauriam oscula de te,
Quae imbuta es magnete.

Quum vitiorum tempestas
Turbabat omnes semitas,
Apparuisti, Deitas,

Velut stella salutaris
In naufragiis amaris…
Suspendam cor tuis aris!

Piscina plena virtutis,
Fons æternæ juventutis
Labris vocem redde mutis!

Quod erat spurcum, cremasti;
Quod rudius, exaequasti;
Quod debile, confirmasti.

In fame mea taberna
In nocte mea lucerna,
Recte me semper guberna.

Adde nunc vires viribus,
Dulce balneum suavibus
Unguentatum odoribus!

Meos circa lumbos mica,
O castitatis lorica,
Aqua tincta seraphica;

Patera gemmis corusca,
Panis salsus, mollis esca,
Divinum vinum, Francisca!

I’ll sing for you with new strings,
O young hind which plays
In the solitude of your heart.

Be enfolded in wreaths of flowers,
O delicate woman
Through whom sins are washed away!

Just as from generous Lethe,
I shall drink in kisses from you,
Who are touched with a magnet’s power.

With the tempest of my vices
Disturbing every path,
You appeared, Deity,

Like the saving star
Above bitter shipwrecks!…
I’ll hold up my heart to your altars!

Pool full of virtue,
Fountain of eternal youth,
Give back the voice to my silent lips!

What was sullied, you have burnt;
What was rough, you have levelled;
What was feeble, you have strengthened.

In my hunger, you are my inn,
In the night, you are my lamp,
Lead me always on the straight and narrow path.

Now add strength to men,
Sweet perfumed bath
With sweet scents!

Flash from my loins,
O cuirass of purity,
Wettened with seraphic water,

Plate brilliant with gems,
Salted bread, soft food,
Divine wine, Francisca!

Here’s the awkward part, where I tried to do a macaronic (English and Latin) translation to better fit with the spirit of the poem. Obviously, this is not going to be particularly intelligible to people who don’t read Latin, so that’s why I needed to write in the literal translation. Hopefully this works as a translation…

Novis te cantabo chordis,
O young hind, you ludis
In the solitude mei cordis.

Esto implicata in wreaths of flowers
O femina delicata who empowers
Our peccata soluta in showers!

Just as from beneficum Lethe
I’ll drink in suavia de te
Quae es potens by magnete.

With tempestate vitiorum
Disturbing pacem itinerum
I hoped that apparere Deum

Velut salutaris star
Above amaris shipwrecks far…
Aris mei cordis you are!

Pool virtutis plena,
Of youth you are the fons aeterna,
My vox is returned labris non muta!

What was spurcum, cremasti;
What was rudius, exaequasti;
What was debile, confirmasti.

In fame my taberna es,
In nocte my lamp es,
Me semper lead on tramites.

Adde nunc vires to men,
Dulce balneum when
Odoribus unguenta suavibus then!

Meos flash now from lumbos,
O castitatis cuirass,
With angels’ water nunc tinctos;

Gem-studded plate that shines corusca,
Salted panis, soft esca,
Divinum vinum, Francisca!

Apollonie Sabatier, courtesan, muse and bohémienne as Woman, bitten by a snake in Auguste Clésinger's sculpture; she reclines naked

Apollonie Sabatier, courtesan, muse and bohémienne as Woman, bitten by a snake in Auguste Clésinger’s sculpture (now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

You might be wondering why on earth I’ve posted yet another picture of a naked woman, and bothered to name her and link to her as well. It’s because not only was she an important woman of the time, hosting a salon where she met and mixed with nearly all the French artists contemporary to her and entered works for the Paris Salon and the Salon des Refusés, but also one of Charles Baudelaire’s mistresses and inspirations for Les Fleurs du Mal.

Before I start, I should probably warn people about something.

This poem was written in the atmosphere of 19th-century Paris, where Black and mixed-race women were seen as hypersexual, corrupting, diseased, lazy, almost bestial. And, of course, they were fetishised for it. So this poem absolutely reeks of racism, misogyny, fetishisation and objectification hiding under beautiful words. At the same time, I feel that this poem is important for understanding a bit about Baudelaire himself and one of the women who inspired Les Fleurs du MalJeanne Duval.

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Vous êtes un beau ciel d’automne, clair et rose!
Mais la tristesse en moi monte comme la mer,
Et laisse, en refluant, sur ma lèvre morose
Le souvenir cuisant de son limon amer.

— Ta main se glisse en vain sur mon sein qui se pâme;
Ce qu’elle cherche, amie, est un lieu saccagé
Par la griffe et la dent féroce de la femme.
Ne cherchez plus mon coeur; les bêtes l’ont mangé.

Mon coeur est un palais flétri par la cohue;
On s’y soûle, on s’y tue, on s’y prend aux cheveux!
— Un parfum nage autour de votre gorge nue!…

Ô Beauté, dur fléau des âmes, tu le veux!
Avec tes yeux de feu, brillants comme des fêtes,
Calcine ces lambeaux qu’ont épargnés les bêtes!

You’re a beautiful autumn sky, clear and rose!
But the sadness in me rises like the sea, to the hilt,
And leaves, flooding back, on my lips so morose
The stinging memory of its bitter silt.
– Your hand slips in vain over my swooning breast;
What it searches for, friend, is a place to pillage fated
By woman’s talons, teeth, and savage chest.
Don’t look for my heart anymore; the animals ate it.My heart is a palace sullied by the crowd;
They get drunk there, they kill there, they tear each others’ hair there!
– A perfume swims round your naked throat like a shroud!…

O Beauty, harsh scourge of souls, you want it so there!
With your eyes of fire, shining as a celebration prepared,
Char these shreds which the animals spared!


Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J’entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l’hiver va rentrer dans mon être: colère,
Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon coeur ne sera plus qu’un bloc rouge et glacé.

J’écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe
L’échafaud qu’on bâtit n’a pas d’écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

II me semble, bercé par ce choc monotone,
Qu’on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui? — C’était hier l’été; voici l’automne!
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.


J’aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre,
Douce beauté, mais tout aujourd’hui m’est amer,
Et rien, ni votre amour, ni le boudoir, ni l’âtre,
Ne me vaut le soleil rayonnant sur la mer.

Et pourtant aimez-moi, tendre coeur! soyez mère,
Même pour un ingrat, même pour un méchant;
Amante ou soeur, soyez la douceur éphémère
D’un glorieux automne ou d’un soleil couchant.

Courte tâche! La tombe attend; elle est avide!
Ah! laissez-moi, mon front posé sur vos genoux,
Goûter, en regrettant l’été blanc et torride,
De l’arrière-saison le rayon jaune et doux!


Soon we’ll dive into the cold dark;
Farewell, bright daylight of a summer too short!
I already hear the deafening wood falling with funereal shock
On the cobblestoned paving of the court.

All winter will return to my being; rage,
Hate, shivers, terror, hard and forced stock,
And, like the sun in its polar cage,
My heart will be no more than a red, frozen block.

I listen, quivering, to each log which drops;
The scaffold we build has no echo more dull.
My mind’s like the tower which stops
Resisting the blows of the battering ram, heavy, without lull.

It seems to me, rocked by these monotone blows,
That somewhere they nail a coffin in a great hurry.
Who for? – Yesterday was summer; here are autumn’s woes!
This mysterious noise rings out like a flurry.


I love the greenish light of your long eyes,
Sweet beauty, but today everything is bitter to me,
And nothing, neither the hearth, nor the boudoir, nor your loving sighs
Are worth as much as the sun shining on the sea.

And yet love me, tender heart! A mother be,
Even for an ingrate, even for a horrid soul;
Lover or sister, be the short-lived gentleness we see
Of a glorious autumn or a setting sun, no longer whole.

Short task! The tomb waits; it is keen!
Ah! Leave me, my forehead lying on your knees,
To taste, regretting the white and torrid summer’s scene,
The sweet, yellow rays of autumn’s end at ease!