A VOYAGE TO CYTHERA

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by Charles Baudelaire, translated to English by John Collings Squire

My heart was like a bird and took to flight,
Around the rigging circling joyously;
The ship rolled on beneath a cloudless sky
Like a great angel drunken with the light.

“What is yon isle, sad and funereal?”
“Cythera, famed in deathless song,” say they,
“The gay old bachelors’ Eldorado–Nay,
Look! ’tis a poor bare country after all!”

Isle of sweet secrets and heart banquetings!
The queenly shade of antique Venus thrills
Scentlike above thy level seas and fills
Our souls with languor and all amorous things.

Fair island of green myrtles and blown flowers
Held holy by all men for evermore,
Where the faint sighs of spirits that adore
Float like rose-incense through the quiet hours,

And dovelike sounds each murmured orison:–
Cythera lay there barren ’neath bright skies,
A rocky waste rent by discordant cries:
Natheless I saw a curious thing thereon.


No shady temple was it, close enshrined
I’ the trees; no flower-crowned priestess hither came
With her young body burnt by secret flame,
Baring her breast to the caressing wind;

But when so close to the land’s edge we drew
Our canvas scared the sea-fowl–gradually
We knew it for a three-branched gallows tree
Like a black cypress stark against the blue.

A rotten carcase hung, whereon did sit
A swarm of foul black birds; with writhe and shriek
Each sought to pierce and plunge his knife-like beak
Deep in the bleeding trunk and limbs of it.

The eyes were holes; the belly opened wide,
Streaming its heavy entrails on the thighs;
The grim birds, gorged with dreadful delicacies,
Had dug and furrowed it on every side.

Beneath the blackened feet there strove and pressed
A herd of jealous beasts with upward snout,
And in the midst of these there turned about
One, the chief hangman, larger than the rest. . . . .

Lone Cytherean! now all silently
Thou sufferest these insults to atone
For those old infamous sins that thou hast known,
The sins that locked the gate o’ the grave to thee.

Mine are thy sorrows, ludicrous corse; yea, all
Are mine! I stood thy swaying limbs beneath,
And, like a bitter vomit, to my teeth
There rose old sorrows in a stream of gall.

O thou unhappy devil, I felt afresh,
Gazing at thee, the beaks and jaws of those
Black savage panthers and those ruthless crows,
Who loved of old to macerate my flesh.

The sea was calm, the sky without a cloud;
Henceforth for me all things that came to pass
Were blood and darkness,—round my heart, alas!
There clung that allegory, like a shroud.

Naught save mine image on a gibbet thrust
Found I on Venus island desolate. . . . .
Ah, God! the courage and strength to contemplate
My body and my heart without disgust!

 
Blossoms of Evil (1857)
by Charles Baudelaire - Translated by John Collings Squire

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