A dialogue with Baudelaire’s sick muse

Alas, poor Muse, what ails you so today?
Your hollow eyes with midnight visions burn

Beatrice, you don’t seem quite like yourself right now.
Though I suppose you never were.
And what are you today? Your face has split itself somehow.
Poor muse, ma pauvre muse, pure
ecstatic measure of desire, what are you ce matin?
Already I can feel you cleave – carving and cohering.
Tes yeux, what has happened to them? – the light’s all gone,
ma pauvre muse, your eyes: what are they reflecting?

And turn about, in your complexion play
Madness and horror, cold and taciturn.

Everything in you is twinned with visions nocturnes.
I can hardly trust the yeux I see are yours.
My heart stutters before your face, so fierce and stern –
and does madness twice flicker there? La folie et l’horreur?
Silent guardian, or secret dream, name for nameless things:
gather your countenance once more. Je voudrais – I want – I –
I never know how to want, and now you sever my yearning.
You who used to draw my quiet ache into your eyes.

Green succubus and rosy imp — have they
Poured you both fear and love into one glass?

T’ont-ils versé la peur et l’amour de leurs urnes?
These terrible gazes of yours: fear and love
pour the many visions into one. And I yearn
to see you as I once did, when you were whole enough
to hold the unspoken hope qu’exhalant l’odeur
of sweeter things. Plural desires pent up in my lungs,
t’ont-ils versé as I exhale – all unsaid, all undared.
And there you were, fusing the fiction of my tongue.

Or with his tyrant fist the nightmare, say,
Submerged you in some fabulous morass?

Your face has broken, ma pauvre, and tes yeux creux
all emptied of desire. My pauvre muse, your face réfléchis
my fears twice over, plays each staggered view
back to me. Reflexive patterns of thwarted need –
la peur et l’amour cannot hold you anymore.
Or you can’t hold them. Or both are true.
Je voudrais that you be as you were before –
but you never were, Beatrice, were you?

Excerpts from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Sick Muse’ (‘La muse malade’), from Fleurs du mal.
Translation of Baudelaire from Roy Campbell.
Stanzas mine.


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