A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
That marvelous landscape of my dream —
Which no eye knows, nor ever will —
At moments, wide awake, I seem
To grasp, and it excites me still.
Sleep, how miraculous you are —
A strange caprice had urged my hand
To banish, as irregular,
All vegetation from that land;
And, proud of what my art had done,
I viewed my painting, knew the great
Of marble, water, steel and slate.
Staircases and arcades there were
In a long labyrinth, which led
To a vast palace; fountains there
Were gushing gold, and gushing lead.
And many a heavy cataract
Hung like a curtain, — did not fall,
As water does, but hung, compact,
Crystal, on many a metal wall.
Tall nymphs with Titan breasts and knees
Gazed at their images unblurred,
Where groves of colonnades, not trees,
Fringed a deep pool where nothing stirred.
Blue sheets of water, left and right,
Spread between quays of rose and green,
To the world’s end and out of sight,
And still expanded, though unseen.
Enchanted rivers, those — with jade
And jasper were their banks bedecked;
Enormous mirrors, dazzled, made
Dizzy by all they did reflect.
And many a Ganges, taciturn
And heedless, in the vaulted air,
Poured out the treasure of its urn
Into a gulf of diamond there.
As architect, it tempted me
To tame the ocean at its source;
And this I did, — I made the sea
Under a jeweled culvert course.
And every color, even black,
Became prismatic, polished, bright;
The liquid gave its glory back
Mounted in iridescent light.
There was no moon, there was no sun, —
For why should sun and moon conspire
To light such prodigies? — each one
Blazed with its own essential fire!
A silence like eternity
Prevailed, there was no sound to hear;
These marvels all were for the eye,
And there was nothing for the ear.
I woke; my mind was bright with flame;
I saw the cheap and sordid hole
I live in, and my cares all came
Burrowing back into my soul.
Brutally the twelve strokes of noon
Against my naked ear were hurled;
And a gray sky was drizzling down
Upon this sad, lethargic world.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)
À Constantin Guys
De ce terrible paysage,
Tel que jamais mortel n’en vit,
Ce matin encore l’image,
Vague et lointaine, me ravit.
Le sommeil est plein de miracles!
Par un caprice singulier
J’avais banni de ces spectacles
Le végétal irrégulier,
Et, peintre fier de mon génie,
Je savourais dans mon tableau
Du métal, du marbre et de l’eau.
Babel d’escaliers et d’arcades,
C’était un palais infini
Plein de bassins et de cascades
Tombant dans l’or mat ou bruni;
Et des cataractes pesantes,
Comme des rideaux de cristal
Se suspendaient, éblouissantes,
À des murailles de métal.
Non d’arbres, mais de colonnades
Les étangs dormants s’entouraient
Où de gigantesques naïades,
Comme des femmes, se miraient.
Des nappes d’eau s’épanchaient, bleues,
Entre des quais roses et verts,
Pendant des millions de lieues,
Vers les confins de l’univers:
C’étaient des pierres inouïes
Et des flots magiques, c’étaient
D’immenses glaces éblouies
Par tout ce qu’elles reflétaient!
Insouciants et taciturnes,
Des Ganges, dans le firmament,
Versaient le trésor de leurs urnes
Dans des gouffres de diamant.
Architecte de mes féeries,
Je faisais, à ma volonté,
Sous un tunnel de pierreries
Passer un océan dompté;
Et tout, même la couleur noire,
Semblait fourbi, clair, irisé;
Le liquide enchâssait sa gloire
Dans le rayon cristallisé.
Nul astre d’ailleurs, nuls vestiges
De soleil, même au bas du ciel,
Pour illuminer ces prodiges,
Qui brillaient d’un feu personnel!
Et sur ces mouvantes merveilles
Planait (terrible nouveauté!
Tout pour l’oeil, rien pour les oreilles!)
Un silence d’éternité.
En rouvrant mes yeux pleins de flamme
J’ai vu l’horreur de mon taudis,
Et senti, rentrant dans mon âme,
La pointe des soucis maudits;
La pendule aux accents funèbres
Sonnait brutalement midi,
Et le ciel versait des ténèbres
Sur le triste monde engourdi.
— Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe.
His most famous work, a book of lyric poetry titled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), expresses the changing nature of beauty in the rapidly industrializing Paris during the mid-19th century. Baudelaire’s highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, among many others. He is credited with coining the term “modernity” (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility of artistic expression to capture that experience.
Baudelaire’s poetry was well-known long before it was collected in Les Fleurs du mal in 1857. A few scattered poems had appeared in journals and reviews, and Baudelaire had also achieved notoriety reciting his lurid verses aloud. Several times he announced that he was going to publish a collection of poems, giving titles such as Les Lesbiennes (The Lesbians) and Les Limbes (Limbo). However, the definitive title was not to come until 1855, when “fleurs du mal” was suggested by his friend Hippolypte Babou, and publication was not to come until 1857, when his friend Auguste Poulet-Malassis printed the first edition of “ces fleurs maladives,” as Baudelaire wrote in the dedication.
Les Fleurs du mal appeared on the bookshelves of Paris in June 1857. Eleven hundred copies had been printed for sale, with an additional twenty copies hors commerce printed on fine paper. Within a month, the French government initiated an action against the author and the publisher, accusing them of outrages to public morality. On August 20th, a French court acknowledged the literary merit of the book as a whole but demanded that six poems be deleted on moral grounds. In a pattern now familiar, however, the trial only served to create a sensation, and by the following summer the initial printing of Les Fleurs du mal was sold out.