Le Cygne (The Swan)
by Charles Baudelaire
found in his chef d'oeuvre, Les Fleurs du Mal
Translation by e2's own kaytay

En hommage à Victor Hugo

I
Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Andromache, I think of you! This small river,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
Poor and sad mirror where formerly respendid
L'immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
The immense majesty of your pains of widowhood,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,
This would-be Simois who grows by your tears,

A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Suddenly fertilized my fertile memory,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
As I crossed the new Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville
The old is no longer (the form of a city
Change plus vite, hélas! que le cœur d'un mortel) ;
Changes faster, alas! than the heart of a mortal);

Je ne vois qu'en esprit tout ce camp de baraques,
I see only in spirit all this camp of huts,
Ces tas de chapiteaux ébauchés et de fûts,
These heaps of outlineed capitals and barrels
Les herbes, les gros blocs verdis par l'eau des flaques,
Grasses, large blocks made green by water of puddle pools,
Et, brillant aux carreaux, le bric-à-brac confus.
And, shining in the squares, confused odds and ends.

Là s'étalait jadis une ménagerie ;
Formely a menagerie was spread out there;
Là je vis, un matin, à l'heure où sous les cieux
There I live, one morning, at the hour where under the skies
Froids et clairs le Travail s'éveille, où la voirie
Cold and clear the Work awakes, where the roadway system
Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l'air silencieux,
Push a dark hurricaine in silent air,

Un cygne qui s'était évadé de sa cage,
A swan which had escaped from its cage,
Et, de ses pieds palmés frottant le pavé sec,
And, with its webbed feet rubbing the dry paving stones,
Sur le sol raboteux traînait son blanc plumage.
On the rough ground its white plumage trailed.
Près d'un ruisseau sans eau la bête ouvrant le bec
Close to a brook without water, the animal opened its beak

Baignait nerveusement ses ailes dans la poudre,
Nervously, it bathed its wings in the powder,
Et disait, le cœur plein de son beau lac natal:
And said, heart full of its beautiful native lake:
«Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu? quand tonneras-tu, foudre?
"Water, when thus will you rain? When will you thunder, lightning?"
Je vois ce malheureux, mythe étrange et fatal,
I see this unhappy, strange myth and fatal,

Vers le ciel quelquefois, comme l'homme d'Ovide,
Towards the sky sometimes, like the man Ovid,
Vers le ciel ironique et cruellement bleu,
Towards the ironique and cruelly blue sky,
Sur son cou convulsif tendant sa tête avide,
On its convulsive neck tightening its avid head,
Comme s'il adressait des reproches à Dieu!
As if addressing reproaches to God!

II
Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
Paris changes! but nothing in my melancholy
N'a bougé ! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Moved! new palaces, scaffolding, blocks,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie,
Old suburbs, all become allegory for me,
Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.
And my dear memories are more heavy than the rocks.

Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m'opprime :
Also in front of this Louvre an image oppresses me:
Je pense à mon grand cygne, avec ses gestes fous,
I think of my big swan, with its crazy gestures,
Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime,
Like the exiles, ridiculous and sublime,
Et rongé d'un désir sans trêve ! et puis à vous,
And corroded of a desire without respite! and then to you,

Andromaque, des bras d'un grand époux tombée,
Andromach, of the arms of a grand husband fallen,
Vil bétail, sous la main du superbe Pyrrhus,
Cheap cattle, under the hand of the superb Pyrrhus,
Auprès d'un tombeau vide en extase courbée ;
Near a tomb emptied and bowed low;
Veuve d'Hector, hélas! et femme d'Hélénus!
Widow of Hector, alas! and woman of Helenus!

Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique,
I think of the negress, thinned and phthisical,
Piétinant dans la boue, et cherchant, l'œil hagard
Trampling in mud, and searching, eyes hagard
Les cocotiers absents de la superbe Afrique
Coconuts absent from the superb Africa
Derrière la muraille immense du brouillard ;
Behind the immense wall of fog;

A quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
To whoever there is something lost and not recovered
Jamais, jamais ! à ceux qui s'abreuvent de pleurs
Never, never! to those who water tears
Et tètent la Douleur comme une bonne louve !
And suck the Pain like a good she-wolf!
Aux maigres orphelins séchant comme des fleurs!
To the thin orphans drying like flowers!

Ainsi dans la forêt où mon esprit s'exile
Thus in the forest where my spirit is exiled
Un vieux Souvenir sonne à plein souffle du cor !
An old Memory rings with full breath of the horn!
Je pense aux matelots oubliés dans une île,
I think of the sailors forgotten on an island
Aux captifs, aux vaincus ! ... à bien d'autres encore!
To the captives, to the defeated people! ... and many more!


Be assured that you can find a prettier translation elsewhere, but I always prefer the literal word-for-word (for the most part) deal. This poem will never be beautiful in English unless it is rewritten, and that would dishonor the entire piece. I encourage you to learn French and be able to appreciate the beauty of the words as they were originally written! Notice (or try to) the use of the alexandrin in the French version; every vers has douze pronounced pieds, creating a flow that rolls from the tongue of the reader with dazzling ease.

This poem is dedicated to Victor Hugo, who was at the time in voluntary exile from a France he no longer felt welcome or comfortable in. Baudelaire describes the changing of his beloved Paris (by Baron Haussmann in the 1860s) before his eyes until he hardly recognizes where he is. Thus he identifies with the theme if being "exiled," if not in the literal sense of the term, from a place he feels extreme nostalgia for.

He makes several references to characters from mythology who suffered similar states. Some other examples include the swan who is lost from his circus and cannot find the lake of his youth, as well as a woman who longs to return to Africa but cannot. Try rereading the poem again with this theme and mind and it will be pretty obvious, if you did not notice it the first time around.

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