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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

The Voyage (translated by Walter Martin) Charles Baudelaire

For boys in love with maps and coloured prints,
The earth's about the size that they expect.
They've seen it under glass. The earth's immense!
How small it all becomes in retrospect!

One morning we set sail, our heads inflamed,
Hearts riddled with an old malignancy,
Rocked by the rhythmic waves till we're benumbed,
Unlimited, upon a finite sea:

Some flee from fatherlands that they despise,
Or from a mother's loving arms, and some,
Star-gazers drowning in a woman's eyes,
From demon Circe's dangerous perfume.

Lest they be turned to swine, they fill their veins
With light, and salty air, and fiery skies,
In hopes that frostbite, or blistering suns
Eventually erase her kisses' scars.

But the only true travellers are those
Whose goal is to be gone, who hear the word,
Untie their hearts and fly away, who choose
To follow the fatal footsteps, onward!

Their heads are hung with clouds, or so it seems,
And like the conscript dreading his own gun,
They're filled with wild desires, explosive dreams,
Not one of which could be explained. Not one.

II

Awake, we're spinning off, out of control;
Asleep we imitate automatons;
A whirling life of nightmare top and bowl,
Or savage Angel, lashing out at suns.

The strangest game - whose goal cannot be seen -
And could be anywhere, or so we hope;
Man is the animal whose hopes are keen,
And fools pursue Nirvana till they drop!

Our soul is in full sail. We're nearing port.
A sailor on the bridge cries out in shock!
Another, from the crow's nest, gives a shout:
"Here's happiness at last...!" We strike a rock.

Each archipelago the pilot spies
Becomes the promised land, or the new life;
Imagination's polished fantasies
All vanish with the dawn. We've struck a reef.

When drunken sailors sight Americas
They ought to be chained up, thrown overboard!
Their love of vanishing utopias
Would kill us if we took them at their word.

They end up on the docks, and in decay,
Still looking for their lost enchanted isles,
Enchanted eyes discovering Pompeii
When candle stubs light up old rubbish piles.

III

Exotic travellers! What noble deeds
Lie chronicled in those deep sea-green eyes!
Show us your precious gems, your memories,
Mined from the mother lode of starry skies.

We too would leave, but not by wind or steam!
Blow us beyond the doldrums of our cells,
On out beyond the skyline's golden frame,
And let your visions fill our mental sails.

Tell us, what have you seen?

IV

                          "We've seen some stars,
Some waves, and quite a lot of sand as well;
We suffered wrecks, catastrophes, and wars.
The boredom was the hardest part of all,

The same as here. But wine-dark seas at dawn
Rekindled in our hearts an urge to fly,
And cities shining when the sun went down
Enticed us towards the limits of the sky.

Desire had brought us nothing but unease...
Each day's horizon held out new rewards,
But neither those rich cities, nor those seas
Lived up to what pure chance could make of clouds!

- Fruition gives new life to dead desire,
For pleasures fertilize that ancient tree;
Its bark grown rough and hard, its limbs stretch
     higher
To let the sun embrace them, lovingly.

Great blossomer, will you grow greater still?
Stay evergreen? - Well, now, we've taken care
To make some sketches for you, xenophile;
You needn't leave your armchair anymore!

We've seen a god with an elephant's head,
And galaxies of pearls, and golden thrones,
And fairy palaces carved out of jade,
Beyond the wildest dreams of your tycoons;

Robes that would put an emperor in debt;
Women with blackened teeth and tattooed skins,
And holy men with serpents at their feet..."

V

Yes, and then what? What then?

VI

                     "Such childish minds!

But first things first, and wonder of them all -
That which, unsought, we found among all men;
Above, below, around us: Adam's fall,
The endless dreary spectacle of sin.

Enamoured of herself, of her cesspool,
Woman is proud to be a slave for life.
Her man - a vicious tyrant and a fool -
Lives, nonetheless, indentured to his wife;

The hangman's jest, the martyr's final hour;
The bloody feast of St. Oblivion;
The despot enervated by his power,
And men who crave his brutal discipline;

Several religions not unlike our own
Whose sybaritic saints, in search of bliss,
Mortify the flesh, and smiling, moan
On beds of nails to conjure Paradise;

Inventive souls, progressing through the mud,
Proclaim themselves the lords of all they see,
Then rage and tear their hair and cry to God:
'Thy spitting image, Father, spits on Thee!'

While lesser fools, in search of Ecstasy,
Escape the fate in store for sheepish men
By setting sail on opium's Dead Sea!
- That's how it is. That's how it's always been."

VII

And voyages end with bitter souvenirs!
Unbearably monotonous and small,
The world has only shown us our own fears -
The rest has now been lost beyond recall.

To stay? or go? If made to march, obey.
If you can stay home, do. Some persevere,
Hoping that tireless Time will pass them by,
And some will go away, no matter where,

Like the apostles, and the wandering Jew,
For whom there is no resting place on earth,
No refuge from his fatal net. A few
Kill Time himself by dying at their birth.

His heel is on our throat, but even so,
One hope remains - to leave, to get away!
Wind in the hair, eyes on the open sea,
The same as when we left here for Cathay!

Then we'll set out across the sea of shade,
Glad to be gone! We'll lean against the mast
And listen to the siren, unafraid:
"O come to me, young mariner, come taste

The harvest of the fabled lotus tree,
The potent fruit that makes all sailors swoon!
One bite of this sweet strangeness and you'll be
Enchanted for an endless afternoon..."

Dead sisters and companions, in the mist -
Electra, with the loyal Pylades.
We recognize those voices! Why resist?
"Swim out and join us now, and be at ease..."

VIII

The water, like the sky, is black as jet.
Our hearts are full of light, as you must know.
Weigh anchor, Captain Death, the sails are set.
We've seen enough. Too much! It's time to go.

Pour out a lethal dose and grant us peace.
Our dreams are on fire! It's time to be hurled
Into hell - or into heaven's abyss -
Unmapped, unknown... to find our own New World!

This poem is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
Further Reading: - Charles Baudelaire Reviews of... (2)
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