2018

Baudelaire, Metamorphosis of the Vampire

 

Metamorphosis of the Vampire, 1857
Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Meanwhile from her red mouth the woman, in husky tones,
Twisting her body like a serpent upon hot stones
And straining her white breasts from their imprisonment,
Let fall these words, as potent as a heavy scent:
“My lips are moist and yielding, and I know the way
To keep the antique demon of remorse at bay.
All sorrows die upon my bosom. I can make
Old men laugh happily as children for make.
For him who sees me naked in my tresses, I
Replace the sun, the moon, and all the stars of the sky!
Believe me, learned sir, I am so deeply skilled
That when I wind a lover in my soft arms, and yield
My breasts like two ripe fruits for his devouring — both
Shy and voluptuous, insatiable and loath —
Upon this bed that groans and sighs luxuriously
Even the impotent angels would be damned for me!”

When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold
And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss — behold,
There at my side was nothing but a hideous
Putrescent thing, ail faceless and exuding pus.
I closed my eyes and mercifully swooned till day:

And when I looked at morning for that beast of prey
Who seemed to have replenished her arteries from my own,
The wan, disjointed fragments of a skeleton
Wagged up and down in a lewd posture where she had lain,
Rattling with each convulsion like a weathervane
Or an old sign that creaks upon its bracket, right
Mournfully in the wind upon a winter’s night.

 

Le Vampire, 1857
Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Atti Viragh

You who, keen as a carving blade,
Into my plaintive heart has plunged,
You who, strong as a wild array
Of crazed and costumed cacodaemons,

Storming into my helpless soul
To make your bed and your domain;
— Tainted jade to whom I’m joined
Like a convict to his chain,

Like a gambler to his game,
Like a drunkard to his bottle,
Like maggot-worms to their cadaver,
Damn you, oh damn you I say!

I pleaded with the speedy sword
To win me back my liberty;
And finally, a desperate coward,
I turned to poison’s perfidy.

Alas, but poison and the sword
Had only scorn to offer me:
“You’re not worthy to be free
Of your wretched slavery,

You imbecile! — For if our means
Should release you from her reign,
You with your kisses would only breathe
New life into the vampire slain!”

 

You may read other translations of Baudelaire’s poems here, Les Fleurs du Mal.

 

Les Fleus du Mal, 1857, Charles Baudelaire, is the book of poetry I am secretly always looking for a vastly under priced first edition/early edition copy of, one with a beautifully embossed cover, in every scouring of every thrift or antique shop I enter. I have a paperback copy, Penguin Classics, containing the original verses in French, in addition to the English translations. I don’t know quite what it is about these verses that fascinates me so, as their lines do not seem to stay with me long after reading them, at least, not that I’m aware of. They are beautiful, horrible, poems. Influenced by the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire was convicted on obscenity charges, for which he, the printer, and the publisher, were fined. Quite the interesting literary character, credited with coining the term “modernity,” about whom I am still educating myself. Interesting to me in this moment, however, as I am writing about vampires, are these two poems composed by Baudelaire about a vampire, that I’d read before however had not realized were written forty years prior to the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in 1897. Forty years is a lifetime when you consider that Baudelaire himself did not live beyond age forty-six… that we know of.

This has led me to a poem by Lord Byron, The Giaour, 1813, these lines are known as “The Vampire Passage”, said to be the first reference to vampire lore in English literature ( I’m learning some things) according to that site/link. ( I found a pdf copy of the complete poem, it’s fifty-one pages long. Later for that, eventually.)

“But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.”

 

Quite frankly, I’m reminded of my own first scribbled poem (along with several other of my poems and not at all to compare myself to Lord Byron other than talking subject matter) when I’d no idea whatsoever who Lord Byron was, or knew anything at all about writing poems. I thought poems had to rhyme and when pressed to produce one for a school assignment, I figured all poems were depressing or had to be “lofty” somehow. (Yes, this is well covered territory.)

“A flower starts out very small,
Then it will grow to be very tall,
then it will reach down and die,
Upon the ground, there it lies.”

It wasn’t fifty-one pages, but it got the job done, got an “A” for that in 1977. I had no emotion about that poem whatsoever other than wanting to be finished with the thing and being glad that I was. Looking at it now, that third line is strange to me, as though a flower were not wilting, as though it were tired of all that stretching upward toward the light. It rhymed. However, in some way, perhaps everything was right there in that first poem, these recurring themes in my own work. Perhaps it was always going this way, writing about vampires, and such.

I used a quote from Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, in The Slick Furies to begin Part Two of the book, “Among them, not of them, in a shroud.” Not because I was, or am, terribly familiar with that poem, but because I remembered that line, that quote as being something somewhat paraphrased or nearly so, from a scripture, “In the world, but not of it.”

I think, perhaps, what is of interest to me is the willingness of these writers to write such dark things at all. What is the light without the contrast? I feel at home with these discoveries, new to me.  I am fascinated. The work continues.

TS

 

 

Les Metomorphoses du Vampire
Charles Baudelaire

La femme cependant de sa bouche de fraise,
En se tordant ainsi qu’un serpent sur la braise,
Et pétrissant ses seins sur le fer de son buse,
Laissait couler ces mots tout imprégnés de musc:
— “Moi, j’ai la lèvre humide, et je sais la science
De perdre au fond d’un lit l’antique conscience.
Je sèche tous les pleurs sur mes seins triomphants
Et fais rire les vieux du rire des enfants.
Je remplace, pour qui me voit nue et sans voiles,
Le lune, le soleil, le ciel et les étoiles!
Je suis, mon cher savant, si docte aux voluptés,
Lorsque j’étouffe un homme en mes bras veloutés,
Ou lorsque j’abandonne aux morsures mon buste,
Timide et libertine, et fragile et robuste,
Que sur ces matelas qui se pâment d’émoi
Les Anges impuissants se damneraient pour moi!”

Quand elle eut de mes os sucé toute la moelle,
Et que languissamrnent je me tournai vers elle
Pour lui rendre un baiser d’amour, je ne vis plus
Qu’une outre aux flancs gluants, toute pleine de pus.’

Je fermai les deux yeux dans ma. froide épouvante,
Et, quand que les rouvris à la clarté vivante,
A mes côtés, au lieu du mannequin puissant
Qui semblait avoir fait provision de sang,
Tremblaient confusément des débris de squelette,
Qui d’eux-mmes rendaient le cri d’une girouette
Ou d’une enseiga’, au bout d’une tringle de fer,
Que balance le vent pendant les nuits d’hiver.