Femmes damnées (À la pâle clarté) (Women Doomed (In the pale glimmer...)) by Charles Baudelaire


Femmes Damnées (Delphine et Hippolyte)

À la pâle clarté des lampes languissantes,
Sur de profonds coussins tout imprégnés d'odeur
Hippolyte rêvait aux caresses puissantes
Qui levaient le rideau de sa jeune candeur.

Elle cherchait, d'un oeil troublé par la tempête,
De sa naïveté le ciel déjà lointain,
Ainsi qu'un voyageur qui retourne la tête
Vers les horizons bleus dépassés le matin.

De ses yeux amortis les paresseuses larmes,
L'air brisé, la stupeur, la morne volupté,
Ses bras vaincus, jetés comme de vaines armes,
Tout servait, tout parait sa fragile beauté.

Étendue à ses pieds, calme et pleine de joie,
Delphine la couvait avec des yeux ardents,
Comme un animal fort qui surveille une proie,
Après l'avoir d'abord marquée avec les dents.

Beauté forte à genoux devant la beauté frêle,
Superbe, elle humait voluptueusement
Le vin de son triomphe, et s'allongeait vers elle,
Comme pour recueillir un doux remerciement.

Elle cherchait dans l'oeil de sa pâle victime
Le cantique muet que chante le plaisir,
Et cette gratitude infinie et sublime
Qui sort de la paupière ainsi qu'un long soupir.

— «Hippolyte, cher coeur, que dis-tu de ces choses?
Comprends-tu maintenant qu'il ne faut pas offrir
L'holocauste sacré de tes premières roses
Aux souffles violents qui pourraient les flétrir ?

Mes baisers sont légers comme ces éphémères
Qui caressent le soir les grands lacs transparents,
Et ceux de ton amant creuseront leurs ornières
Comme des chariots ou des socs déchirants;

Ils passeront sur toi comme un lourd attelage
De chevaux et de boeufs aux sabots sans pitié...
Hippolyte, ô ma soeur! tourne donc ton visage,
Toi, mon âme et mon coeur, mon tout et ma moitié,

Tourne vers moi tes yeux pleins d'azur et d'étoiles!
Pour un de ces regards charmants, baume divin,
Des plaisirs plus obscurs je lèverai les voiles,
Et je t'endormirai dans un rêve sans fin!»

Mais Hippolyte alors, levant sa jeune tête:
— «Je ne suis point ingrate et ne me repens pas,
Ma Delphine, je souffre et je suis inquiète,
Comme après un nocturne et terrible repas.

Je sens fondre sur moi de lourdes épouvantes
Et de noirs bataillons de fantômes épars,
Qui veulent me conduire en des routes mouvantes
Qu'un horizon sanglant ferme de toutes parts.

Avons-nous donc commis une action étrange ?
Explique, si tu peux, mon trouble et mon effroi:
Je frissonne de peur quand tu me dis: 'Mon ange!'
Et cependant je sens ma bouche aller vers toi.

Ne me regarde pas ainsi, toi, ma pensée!
Toi que j'aime à jamais, ma soeur d'élection,
Quand même tu serais une embûche dressée
Et le commencement de ma perdition!»

Delphine secouant sa crinière tragique,
Et comme trépignant sur le trépied de fer,
L'oeil fatal, répondit d'une voix despotique:
— «Qui donc devant l'amour ose parler d'enfer ?

Maudit soit à jamais le rêveur inutile
Qui voulut le premier, dans sa stupidité,
S'éprenant d'un problème insoluble et stérile,
Aux choses de l'amour mêler l'honnêteté!

Celui qui veut unir dans un accord mystique
L'ombre avec la chaleur, la nuit avec le jour,
Ne chauffera jamais son corps paralytique
À ce rouge soleil que l'on nomme l'amour!

Va, si tu veux, chercher un fiancé stupide;
Cours offrir un coeur vierge à ses cruels baisers;
Et, pleine de remords et d'horreur, et livide,
Tu me rapporteras tes seins stigmatisés...

On ne peut ici-bas contenter qu'un seul maître!»
Mais l'enfant, épanchant une immense douleur,
Cria soudain: — «Je sens s'élargir dans mon être
Un abîme béant; cet abîme est mon coeur!

Brûlant comme un volcan, profond comme le vide!
Rien ne rassasiera ce monstre gémissant
Et ne rafraîchira la soif de l'Euménide
Qui, la torche à la main, le brûle jusqu'au sang.

Que nos rideaux fermés nous séparent du monde,
Et que la lassitude amène le repos!
Je veux m'anéantir dans ta gorge profonde,
Et trouver sur ton sein la fraîcheur des tombeaux!»

— Descendez, descendez, lamentables victimes,
Descendez le chemin de l'enfer éternel!
Plongez au plus profond du gouffre, où tous les crimes
Flagellés par un vent qui ne vient pas du ciel,

Bouillonnent pêle-mêle avec un bruit d'orage.
Ombres folles, courez au but de vos désirs;
Jamais vous ne pourrez assouvir votre rage,
Et votre châtiment naîtra de vos plaisirs.

Jamais un rayon frais n'éclaira vos cavernes;
Par les fentes des murs des miasmes fiévreux
Filtrent en s'enflammant ainsi que des lanternes
Et pénètrent vos corps de leurs parfums affreux.

L'âpre stérilité de votre jouissance
Altère votre soif et roidit votre peau,
Et le vent furibond de la concupiscence
Fait claquer votre chair ainsi qu'un vieux drapeau.

Loin des peuples vivants, errantes, condamnées,
À travers les déserts courez comme les loups;
Faites votre destin, âmes désordonnées,
Et fuyez l'infini que vous portez en vous!

Charles Baudelaire


Damned Women

Delphine and Hippolyta

In the pallid light of languishing lamps,
In deep cushions redolent of perfume,
Hippolyta dreamed of the potent caresses
That drew aside the veil of her young innocence.

She was seeking, with an eye disturbed by the storm,
The already distant skies of her naiveté,
Like a voyager who turns to look back
Toward the blue horizons passed early in the day.

The listless tears from her lacklustrous eyes,
The beaten, bewildered look, the dulled delight,
Her defeated arms thrown wide like futile weapons,
All served, all adorned her fragile beauty.

Lying at her feet, calm and filled with joy,
Delphine gazed at her hungrily, with burning eyes,
Like a strong animal watching a prey
Which it has already marked with its teeth.

The strong beauty kneeling before the frail beauty,
Superb, she savored voluptuously
The wine of her triumph and stretched out toward the girl
As if to reap her reward of sweet thankfulness.

She was seeking in the eyes of her pale victim
The silent canticle that pleasure sings
And that gratitude, sublime and infinite,
Which the eyes give forth like a long drawn sigh.

"Hippolyta, sweet, what do you think of our love?
Do you understand now that you need not offer
The sacred burnt-offering of your first roses
To a violent breath which could make them wither?

My kisses are as light as the touch of May flies
That caress in the evening the great limpid lakes,
But those of your lover will dig furrows
As a wagon does, or a tearing ploughshare;

They will pass over you like heavy teams
Of horses or oxen, with cruel iron-shod hooves...
Hippolyta, sister! please turn your face to me,
You, my heart and soul, my all, half of my own self,

Turn toward me your eyes brimming with azure and stars!
For one of those bewitching looks, O divine balm,
I will lift the veil of the more subtle pleasures
And lull you to sleep in an endless dream!"

Hippolyta then raised her youthful head:
"I am not ungrateful and I do not repent,
Delphine darling; I feel restless and ill,
As I do after a rich midnight feast.

I feel heavy terrors pouncing on me
And black battalions of scattered phantoms
Who wish to lead me onto shifting roads
That a bloody horizon shuts in on all sides.

Is there something strange in what we have done?
Explain if you can my confusion and my fright:
I shudder with fear when you say: 'My angel!'
And yet I feel my mouth moving toward you.

Do not look at me that way, you, my dearest thought:
The sister of my choice whom I'd love forever
Even if you were an ambush prepared for me
And the beginning of my perdition."

Delphine, shaking her tragic mane and stamping her foot
As if she were stamping on the iron Tripod,
Her eyes fatal, replied in a despotic voice:
"Who dares to speak of hell in the presence of love?

May he be cursed forever, that idle dreamer,
The first one who in his stupidity
Entranced by a sterile, insoluble problem,
Wished to mix honesty with what belongs to love!

He who would unite in a mystic harmony
Coolness with warmth and the night with the day
Will never warm his palsied flesh
With that red sun whose name is love!

Go if you wish and find a stupid sweetheart, run
To offer your virgin heart to his cruel kisses;
Full of remorse and horror, and livid,
You will bring back to me your stigmatized breasts...

Woman here below can serve only one master!"
But the girl pouring out the vast grief in her heart,
Suddenly cried: "I feel opening within me
A yawning abyss; that abyss is my heart!

Burning like a volcano and deep as the void!
Nothing will satiate that wailing monster
Nor cool the thirst of the Eumenides
Who with torch in hand burn his very blood.

Let our drawn curtains separate us from the world
And let lassitude bring to us repose!
I want to bury my head in your deep bosom
And find in your breast the cool of the tomb!"

— Go down, go down, lamentable victims,
Go down the pathway to eternal hell!
Plunge to the bottom of the abyss where all crime
Whipped by a wind that comes not from heaven,

Boil pell-mell with the sound of a tempest.
Mad shades, run to the goal of your desires;
You will never be able to sate your passion
And your punishment will be born of your pleasures.

Never will a cool ray light your caverns;
Through the chinks in the walls feverish miasmas
Filter through, burst into flame like lanterns
And permeate your bodies with frightful odors.

The bleak sterility of your pleasures
Increases your thirst and makes your skin taut
And the raging wind of carnal desire
Makes your flesh snap like an old flag.

Damned, wandering, far from living people,
Roam like the wolves across the desert waste;
Fulfill your destinies, dissolute souls,
And flee the infinite you carry in your hearts!

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


Damned Women

Delphine and Hippolyta

Over deep cushions, drenched with drowsy scents
Where fading lamplight shed its dying glow,
Hippolyta recalls and half-repents
The kisses that first thawed her youthful snow.

She sought, with tempest-troubled gaze, the skies
Of her first innocence, now far away,
As travellers who backward turn their eyes
To blue horizons passed at break of day.

Within her haggard eyes the tears were bright.
Her broken look, her dazed, voluptuous air,
Her vanquished arms like weapons shed in Right,
Enhanced her fragile beauty with despair.

Stretched at her feet Delphine contented lay
And watched with burning eyeballs from beneath
Like a fierce tigress who, to guard her prey,
Has set a mark upon it with her teeth.

Strong beauty there to fragile beauty kneeling,
Superb, she seemed to sniff the heady wine
Of triumph: and stretched out to her, appealing
For the reward of raptures half-divine.

She sought within her victim's pallid eye
Dumb hymns that pleasure sings without a choir,
And gratitude that, like a long-drawn sigh,
Swells from the eyelid, swooning with fire.

"Hippolyta, dear heart, have you no trust?
Do you not know the folly that exposes
To the fierce pillage of the brawling gust
The sacred holocaust of early roses?

My kisses are as light as fairy midges
That on calm evenings skim the crystal lake.
Those of your man would plough such ruts and ridge
As lumbering carts or tearing coulters make.

They'll tramp across you, like a ruthless team
Of buffaloes or horses, yoked in lust.
Dear sister, turn your face to me, my dream,
My soul, my all, my twin, to whom I trust!

Turn me your eyes of deepest, starry blue.
For one of those deep glances that you send,
I'd lift the veil of darkest joys for you
And rock you in a dream that has no end."

But then Hippolyta raised up her head,
"No blame nor base ingratitude I feel,
But, as it were, a kind of nauseous dread
After some terrible, nocturnal meal.

I feel a swooping terror that explodes
In legions of black ghosts towards me speeding
Who crowd me on to swiftly moving roads,
That, sliced by sheer horizons, end up bleeding.

Have we done something monstrous that I tremble?
Explain, then, if you can; for when you say,
'Angel', I cower. Yet I cannot dissemble
That, when you speak, my lips are drawn your way.

Oh, do not fix me with a stare so steady
You whom I love till death in still submission,
Yes, even though you, like an ambush ready,
Are the beginning of my own perdition."

Then Delphine stamped and shook her tragic mane,
And, like a priestess, foaming and fierce, and fell,
Spoke in a lordly and prophetic strain
— "Who dares, in front of Love, to mention Hell?

Curbed forever be that useless dreamer
Who first imagined, in his brutish mind,
Of sheer futility the fatuous schemer,
Honour with Love could ever be combined.

He who in mystic union would enmesh
Shadow with warmth, and daytime with the night,
Will never warm his paralytic flesh
At the red sun of amorous delight.

Go, if you wish, and seek some boorish lover:
Offer your virgin heart to his crude hold,
Full of remorse and horror you'll recover,
And bring me your scarred breast to be consoled...

Down here, a soul can only serve one master."
But the girl, venting her tremendous woe,
Cried out "I feel a huge pit of disaster
Yawning within: it is my heart, I know!

Like a volcano burning, deep as death,
There's naught that groaning monster can assuage
Nor quench of thirst the Fury's burning breath
Who brands it with a torch to make it rage.

Let our closed curtains isolate the rest,
Until exhaustion bring us sleep, while I
Annihilate myself upon your breast
And find in you a tomb on which to die."

Go down, go down, poor victims, it is time;
The road to endless hell awaits your lusts.
Plunge to the bottom of the gulf, where crime
Is flagellated by infernal gusts.

Swirling pell-mell, and with a tempest's roar,
Mad shades, pursue your craving without measure:
Your rages will be sated nevermore,
Your torture is begotten of your pleasure.

No sunbeam through your dungeon will come leaking:
Only miasmic fevers, through each chink,
Will filter, like sick lanterns, redly streaking,
And penetrate your bodies with their stink.

The harsh sterility of all you relish
Will swell your thirst, and turn you both to hags.
The wind of your desire, with fury hellish
Will flog your flapping carrion like wet flags.

Far from live folk, like werewolves howling high,
Gallop the boundless deserts you unroll.
Fulfill your doom, disordered minds, and fly
The infinite you carry in your soul.

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


Delphine and Hippolyte

The lamps had languisht and their light was pale;
On cushions deep Hippolyta reclined.
Those potent kisses that had torn the veil
From her young candour filled her dreaming mind.

With tempest-troubled eyes she sought the blue
Heaven of her innocence, how far away!
Like some sad traveller, who turns to view
The dim horizons passed at dawn of day.

Tears and the muffled light of weary eyes,
The stupor and the dull voluptuous trance,
Limp arms, like weapons dropped by one who flies —
All served her fragile beauty to enhance.

Calm at her feet and joyful, Delphine lay
And gazed at her with ardent eyes and bright,
Like some strong beast that, having mauled its prey,
Draws back to mark the imprint of its bite.

Strong and yet bowed, superbly on her knees,
She snuffed her triumph, on that frailer grace
Poring voluptuously, as though to seize
The signs of thanks upon the other's face.

Gazing, she sought in her pale victim's eye
The speechless canticle that pleasure sings,
The infinite gratitude that, like a sigh,
Mounts slowly from the spirit's deepest springs.

"Now, now you understand (for love like ours
Is proof enough) that 'twere a sin to throw
The sacred holocaust of your first flowers
To those whose breath might parch them as they blow.

Light falls my kiss, as the ephemeral wing
That scarcely stirs the shining of a lake.
What ruinous pain your lover's kiss would bring!
A plough that leaves a furrow in its wake.

Over you, like a herd of ponderous kine,
Man's love will pass and his caresses fall,
Like trampling hooves. Then turn your face to mine;
Turn, oh my heart, my half of me, my all!

Turn, turn, that I may see their starry lights,
Your eyes of azure; turn. For one dear glance
I will reveal your love's most obscure delights,
And you shall drowse in pleasure's endless trance."

"Not thankless, nor repentant in the least
Is your Hippolyta." She raised her head.
"But one whom from some grim nocturnal feast
Returns at dawn feels less disquieted.

I bear a weight of terrors, and dark hosts
Of phantoms haunt my steps and seem to lead.
I walk, compelled, behind these beckoning ghosts
Down sliding roads and under skies that bleed.

Is ours so strange an act, so full of shame?
Explain the terrors that disturb my bliss.
When you say, Love, I tremble at the name;
And yet my mouth is thirsty for your kiss.

Ah, look not so, dear sister, look not so!
You whom I love, even though that love should be
A snare for my undoing, even though
Loving I am lost for all eternity."

Delphine looked up, and fate was in her eye.
From the god's tripod and beneath his spell,
Shaking her tragic locks, she made reply:
"Who in love's presence dares to speak of hell?

Thinker of useless thoughts, let him be cursed
Who in his folly, venturing to vex
A question answerless and barren, first
With wrong and right involved the things of sex!

He who in mystical accord conjoins
Shadow with heat, dusk with the noon's high fire,
Shall never warm the palsy of his loins
At that red sun which mortals desire.

Go, seek some lubber groom's deflowering lust;
Take him your heart and leave me here despised!
Go — and bring back, all horror and disgust,
The livid breasts man's love has stigmatized.

One may not serve two masters here below."
But the child answered: "I am torn apart,
I feel my inmost being rent, as though
A gulf had yawned — the gulf that is my heart.

Naught may this monster's desperate thirst assuage, —
As fire 'tis hot, as space itself profound —
Naught stay the Fury from her quenchless rage,
Who with her torch explores its bleeding wound.

Curtain the world away and let us try
If lassitude will bring the boon of rest.
In your deep bosom I would sink and die,
Would find the grave's fresh coolness on your breast."

Hence, lamentable victims, get you hence!
Hells yawn beneath, your road is straight and steep.
Where all the crimes receive their recompense
Wind-whipped and seething in the lowest deep

With a huge roaring as of storms and fires,
Go down, mad phantoms, doomed to seek in vain
The ne-er-won goal of unassuaged desires,
And in your pleasures find eternal pain!

Sunless your caverns are; the fever damps
That filter in through every crannied vent
Break out with marsh-fire into sudden lamps
And steep your bodies with their frightful scent.

The barrenness of pleasures harsh and stale
Makes mad your thirst and parches up your skin;
And like an old flag volleying in the gale,
Your whole flesh shudders in the blasts of sin.

Far from your kind, outlawed and reprobate,
Go, prowl like wolves through desert worlds apart!
Disordered souls, fashion your own dark fate,
And flee the god you carry in your heart.

— Aldous Huxley, The Cicadas and Other Poems (NY: Harper & Bros, 1929)


Lovers of the Damned

Under pale flickering lamps, deep in recesses
Of lissome cushions of suave redolence,
Hippolyta mused of the fierce caresses
That raised the veils of her young innocence.

Her gaze still ravaged by the storm, she eyed
The distant sides of her once candid mind
As a spent voyager who turns aside
To view blue vistas he has left behind.

The lazy tears in her lackluster glances,
Her beaten stuporous air, her weariness,
Her aching arms drooping like futile lances,
All served to foster her frail loveliness.

Rapt with calm joy, Delphine, her lover, lay
Prone at her feet; eyes blazing with delight,
She was a strong beast gazing at the prey
On which her teeth had marked their savage bite.

Strong beauty knelt before frail beauty there —
Superb, she savored with voluptuous mood
The wine of triumph, and, as though in prayer,
Her hands solicited sweet gratitude.

She scanned her dupe's pale glance to find in it
The muted hymn lust raises to the skies,
And thankfulness, sublime and infinite,
Which glances utter soft as long-drawn sighs.

— "Hippolyta, what of this strange sweet thing?
You need not sully your first roses now
To brutal man as a burnt-offering
His violent breath would wither on the bough.

My kiss moves lightly as a May fly moves,
Caressing the great limpid lakes at eve,
But a man's kisses will dig furrowed grooves
Such as huge carts or tearing plowshares leave.

They will pass over you like stamping kine,
Like ox or horse teams cruelly iron-shod,
Hippolyta, turn your blest face toward mine, Y
ou, dearer to my heart than self or God.

Your eyes are stars across soft azure nights,
One look from you and I shall lift extreme
Veils to reveal the subtlest of delights,
Cradling you gently in an endless dream."

Hippolyta then raised her youthful head:
— "No ingrate, I repent not in the least,
Delphine, but I feel choked and ill," she said,
"As after some galling nocturnal feast.

I feel grim fears, I reel under their loads,
While black battalions of sparse phantoms stride,
Eager to lead me down dire, shifting roads,
Which bloody sky-rims block on every side.

What could be strange in what we did tonight?
Why all my worries and discomfitures?
You call me "Angel" and I start with fright,
And yet I feel my mouth straining for yours!

Do not look at me thus, sister to whom
By choice I pledged eternal adoration,
Even were you a snare set for my doom
And the first instrument of my damnation."

Shaking her tragic mane, rapt, fatal-eyed,
Stamping her foot as on the Tripod of
The Oracle, Delphine, despotic, cried:
— "Who dares to speak of hell when faced with love?

Curst be the first vain dreamer who evolved
A sterile code of laws and stupidly
Thrilled by vexed problems that cannot be solved
Sought to compound love and morality.

He who would couple in a mystic mesh
Coolness with heat and marry day with night
Shall never warm his palsy-stricken flesh
In that red sun which is our love's delight.

Go find a stupid lover, do not fail
To yield your chaste heart to his harsh requests,
Then horrified, remorseful, ashen-pale,
Return to me with bruised stigmatic breasts.

Woman on earth can serve only one master!... "
But the girl answered: "All my senses smart!
I feel sharp premonitions of disaster,
A pit yawns in me, and that pit, my heart!

Volcano-hot and deep as nullity,
Nothing will stay this monster's headlong flood
Nor slake the thirst of that Eumenide
Who, torch in hand, consumes his very blood.

Let our drawn curtains screen us from alarms,
And let our lassitude bring us full rest,
I wish to die between your sinewy arms
And find the cool of tombs upon your breast."

Go down, go down, sad victims to the climes
Of an eternal hell, all hope is dead;
Down the unfathomed pit where all known crimes,
Lashed by a wind no heaven ever bred,

Boil to the fury of the tempest's blast.
The goal of your desires shall turn to dust,
Mad, raging shades, unsated to the last,
Your very punishment born of your lust.

No ray shall light the caverns of your shame,
Fevered miasms filtering through the chinks
Shall suddenly like lamps burst into flame,
Steeping your bodies in a sweat that stinks.

The bleak sterility of your lewd fires
Heightens your thirst and tightens skins that sag,
As the wild wind of lecherous desires
Makes your flesh flap like a moth-eaten flag.

Outcast and damned, wandering the far poles,
Like wolves the frozen wilderness disparts,
Follow your destiny, disordered souls,
And flee the infinite that fills your hearts.

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


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