Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, October 12, 2015

Baudelaire Poems

I've had a cute little "Everyman's Library Pocket Poets" edition of Baudelaire's works as (ahem) my restroom reading for the past few months. (In case you haven't yet discovered this, poetry is a great format for quick visits. It eliminates all the fuss about trying to remember where you were in the plot--since there isn't one--and you rarely end up hanging around longer than necessary in order to see what happens next. I have just realized, by the way, that it's a good thing I didn't start reading The Girl on the Train while I was sitting on the toilet. I wouldn't have gotten up for two days straight, my feet would have gone so numb that they would never have recovered, and I would have been fired for job abandonment. But I digress.)

I've no idea where I got this notion, but I somehow expected Baudelaire's poems to be romantic, albeit in a sort of erotic and edgy way. Well, I got the edgy right. And a lot of them are about love, but I definitely can't call them romantic. Like the one where Baudelaire describes roadkill in detail before addressing his love and basically saying, "My Beauty, someday your lovely body is going to rot just like that!" That poem, by the way, is aptly titled "Carrion".

A word about translation. I'd often wondered what I might be missing by not reading Baudelaire's poems in the original French. (The short answer: not much, because my French isn't good enough. I personally would miss more by trying to read it in French.) But a translation can certainly make a difference. Look here to see four prior English translations of one poem in this collection. It's amazing how varied they are! And Richard Howard's version in my Pocket Poet book gives it yet another individual twist. It's also, I think, more natural-sounding and fluid than any of the other four. The only thing Howard doesn't do is attempt to replicate the rhyme scheme of the original, but I think he was right to abandon the restriction of rhyme in favor of retaining the sense of the original with lyrical expression.


Amy Crawshaw said...

I've always thought poetry must be incredibly difficult to translate.

Kathy said...

Me too! It seems like it would be nearly impossible to translate it well and faithfully.