November 12 Charles Baudelaire: Recueillement and translations by…

I am continuing my “translations” posts from yesterday. I picked this poem, because I actually know the French language (I’m no expert, mind you, but I’ve had enough learnin’ to be able to get through the basics).

I decided to try my hand at a prose translation (no interpretation used) and found it difficult to not bend the translation just a bit in order to make it make sense to the English speaker. A good example was one of the last sentences which read: “Et, comme un long linceul trainant a l’Orient,” which translates as “And, like a long, dragging shroud at the Orient.” But this translation made no sense, not to an English speaker. The sentence felt out of place within the poem. The English speaker would read it wondering what the shroud is being compared to, but it’s the end of the sentence (actually it’s being compared to the action of the sun in the sentence before it). So, I decided, just for clarity’s sake to translate it as, “And does so like a long dragging shroud to the East”. “Orient” in French seems to mean “the East” more than it means “the Orient” in either case it does not mean East Asia which is how many English readers would interpret it.

I did interpret a bit also when I translated the word “douleur” as “sadness”. Other poets translated it as “Pain” or “heaviness” or “sorrow”. To me “sadness” seemed to fit just fine, but the different words give the poem just a slightly different tone. This illustrates how word choice is important in translation. “Douleur” can translate to despair, sadness, depression or even dolor, which is the English version of this word.

But instead very different words were picked by the translators. The word “pain” connotes a physical sensation that accompanies the emotional state of unhappiness, so the poet isn’t simply feeling blue he’s wracked with discomfort. But the word “heaviness” is almost the opposite. An idea weighs on the mind of the speaker and will not let him be, but it is only an idea, so in essence it is something that can be dismissed (does the translator imply that she thought that the poet felt his sadness to only be an illusion?). And “sorrow” implies an emotion that is more of a permanent condition. Pain can heal, and heaviness can turn to lightness when the burden is lifted; they are both conditions that are happening to the speaker. Sorrow is a state of being. Which the more correct way of stating what the poet meant? It depends on how you view the poem.

I believe that “sorrow” is the correct word, because the poem is speaking on a large scale. The poet is talking about how he views the world as whole; what state it is in and what state he is in as opposed to it, so I think that the world “douleur” should translate to reflect that.

Notice the word choices that each of the translators have made with each of the translations. How do their word choices affect the meaning of the poem? How does each translation paint a different picture of the original portrait? Some are more dramatic, some are more ethereal, all of them have a different take on the poem’s original meaning.

I’m going to do the same thing that I did yesterday. I will show the poem in its original language, then I will show my prose translation, then I will show the interpretive translations of the poem. (A footnote to any native French readers: I don’t know how to put in the French accents with this program, therefore, they will be missing from the French version of the poem. Mille pardons!)


by Charles Baudelaire

Sois sage, o ma Douleur, et tien-toi plus tranquille.
Tu reclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici;
Une atmospere obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,
Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,
Va cueillir des remords dans la fete servile,
Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici,

Loin d’eux. Vois se pencher les defunte Annees,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannees;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;

Le Soleil moribond s’endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul trainant a l’Orient,
Entends, ma chere, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

Prose translation: I put in parentheticals for alternative translations of the words.


Behave yourself, O my Sadness, and hold yourself more calm.
You demand the night; it descends; here it is!
An obscure atmospere envelops the town,
To some it bears peace, to others worry.

While the multitudes of vile mortals,
Under the whip of Pleasure, that executioner without mercy,
Go to gather remorse at the servile (base) festival (party),
My Sadness, bring me your hand, come to this place,

Far from them. See the defunct (dead) years bend (lean) themselves,
On the balconies of the sky, in old fashioned dresses;
Risen up from the bottom of the waters Regret is smiling;

The dying Sun puts itself to sleep under an arch,
And does so like a long dragging shroud from the East,
Listen, my dear, listen the night walks softly (the sweet night he walks).

Translation 1

Peace, Be at Peace, O Thou My Heaviness

translated by Lord Alfred Douglas

Peace, be at peace, O thou my heaviness,
Thou calledst for the evening, lo! ’tis here,
The City wears a somber atmosphere
That brings repose to some, to some distress.
Now while the heedless throng make haste to press
Where pleasure drives them, ruthless chaioteer,
To pluck the fruits of sick remorse and fear,
Come thou with me, and leave their fretfulness.
See how they hang from heaven’s high balconies,
The old lost years in faded garments dressed,
And see how Regret with faintly smiling mouth;
And while the dying sun sinks in the west,
Hear how, far off, Night walks with velvet tread,
And her long robe trails all about the south.

Translation 2

Inward Conversation

translated by Robert Bly

Be reasonable, my pain, and think with more detatchment.
You asked to see the dusk; it descends; it is here:
A sheath of dark light robes the city,
To some bringing peace, to some the end of peace.
Now while the rotten herds of mankind,
Flogged by pleasure, that lyncher without touch,
Go picking remorse in their filthy holidays,
Let us join hands, my pain; come this way,

Far from them. Look at the dead years that lean on
The balconies of the sky, in their clothes long out of date;
The sense of loss that climbs from the deep waters with a smile;

The sun, nearly dead, that drops asleep beneath an arch;
And listens to the night, like a long shroud being dragged
Toward the east, my love, listen, the soft night is moving.

Translation 3


translated by Robert Lowell

Calm down, my Sorrow, we must move with care.
You called for evening; it descends; it’s here.
The town is coffined in its atmosphere,
bringing relief to some, to others care.

Now while the common multitude strips bare,
feels pleasure’s cat o’nine tails on its back
and fights off anguish at the great bazaar,
give me your hand, my Sorrow. Let’s stand back;

back from these people! Look, the dead years dressed
in old clothes crowd the balconies of the sky.
Regret emerges smiling from the sea,

the sick sun slumbers underneath an arch,
and like a shroud strung out from east to west,
listen, my Dearest, hear the sweet night march!

Translation 4


translated by Richard Howard

Behave, my Sorrow! let’s have no more scenes.
Evening’s what you wanted – Evening’s here:
a gradual darkness overtakes the town,
bringing peace to some, to others pain.

Now, while hunaity racks up remorse
in low distractions under Pleasure’s lash,
grovelling for a ruthless master – come
away, my Sorrow, leave them! Give me your hand…

See how the dear departed dowdy years
crowd the balconies of heaven, leaning down,
while smiling out of the sea appears Regret;

The Sun will die in its sleep beneath a bridge,
and trailing westward like a winding-sheet –
listen, my dear – how softly Night arrives.

About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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