Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Sadness of the Moon (Charles Baudelaire)

Tonight the moon is lost in langorous reverie
Like a girl nestled in a bed of cushions, a beauty,
Who as she falls asleep, a bright hand gently rests,
Whispering its melody upon the contours of her breasts.

Floating on the satin back of a billowing avalanche
She passes out long gasping breaths, entranced,
And her eyes traverse heavenly visions of white
That blossom like jasmine flowers in the night.

When from time to time in silent contemplation deep,
She lets fall upon this world a secret tear, sorrowful,
A pious and attentive poet, enemy of sleep,

In the cup of his hand captures this prize
That reflects like a fragment of opal, iridescent,
And hides it in his heart, far from the sun's eyes.

—Charles Baudelaire, translated by —okei

The original poem and several translations may be found at
I was inspired to do this by Patrick's more erudite translation
The image, like "The Star" which I used for my previous entry Silent Haikus, is another tarot card, this time "The Moon". Both this and that one are paintings by Thalia Took. "The Moon" apparently represents the beauty of the dark and the world of dreams, visions and creativity.


  1. Pretty imagery in this poem, and a good choice for the accompanying picture.

  2. Thanks Jim! I'm actually going to change it a bit now, hopefully make it better, *crosses fingers*. If anyone wants to see my earlier version, check out the comments on Patrick's site, linked above.

  3. I've made it so that the second line of each verse ends with emphasis on "a beauty", "entranced", "sorrowful", "iridescent", which is supposed to represent the progression from beauty and silent admiration to the gift of knowledge or insight.

    This is along the same lines of thought as my Silent Haikus also... thanks to Patrick, and to those who answered my haiku question two months ago on Yahoo Answers for helping to cultivate the idea.

  4. I've now actually undone a couple of my changes preferring the way I had it before. Also, do go over to Patrick's site for further explanations.

  5. Thank you, Okei. You honor me, but my work with this poem was really the product of the expertise of the translators that inspired my interest-- Edna St. Vincent Millay and George Dillon. I stumbled upon a remarkable 1937 first edition of their joint translation of "Le Fleurs de Mal," and started reading with an eye for these poems I had not had before. All kudoes go to them!
    I merely inserted my own sense of the poem, with what little I know of French, into it; for I feel neither of those translators had been exposed to, nor had much of a clue about, some of the mystical perceptions of reality that appear to have been Baudelaire's daily fare.
    But many of those here on Multiply DO in fact have a notion about what I believe Baudelaire was talking about-- in this, as well as in several other of his poems. And my hope was to introduce it freshly into a context friendly and familiar with that mystical impulse, and have it perhaps find a new life here. For, as you say, it does indeed proceed "from silent admiration to the gift of knowledge or insight". And it thus captures the deeper, spiritual dimension of the art of poetry.
    And this, my friend, you have zeroed in on, with a steady and wise eye.
    And I thank you!
    And I know Baudelaire would deeply appreciate this careful attention also!....if he is not busy working through the torments of his personal karmic hell somewhere!

    For I am really enjoying your work with this poem. I wish that I was blessed with the time to delve into this poem even further, as you have done. I am engaged in moving, changing residences, after 15 years of living in the same place, and am so buried in mundane activities of sorting all my stuff out and packing it, that the moon's 'secret tear" is gonna have to wait until I can find a place to put it!
    Yeah, I know, it is supposed to be in my heart-- that is, if I were a true poet!

    But meanwhile, it is getting the attention it deserves, in your sensitive receptivity to the depths of the meanings within it.
    Thank you!


  6. Nice poem...nice page. Nicely done...bravo */sound of one hand clapping\*

  7. Lovely poem! No, I'm not checking others...don't want any comparisons :)

    Loved the last few lines!!! Hiding from the harsh Sun...lest it should take them away...!

  8. Patrick, thanks a lot for the reassurance that I was on the right lines in capturing the mystical meaning of the poem and in particular the "tear".

    I'm sorry you're bogged down with moving. That must be the time when we most realize all the "things" that we've been collecting over the past years, all those worldly attachments, lol. But it'll be good when you settle down in the new place. A fresh start!!

  9. Thanks for the appreciation, but as Patrick says the imagery i.e. content is all in the original. So the task of translating is trying to not lose that content in translation, whilst keeping a nice poetic form. I'd prefer a literal translation that captures the original to a non-literal one that doesn't any day... which is why I usually don't believe in rhyming translations because of the danger of the original meaning being lost to fit the rhyme scheme. Nevertheless, I couldn't help tinkering with the above to try to improve it. It's that perfectionist streak! ;^) So I'm now going to replace it with an updated version which does even rhyme a bit. Just for the record, here's the old version before I updated it.

    The Sadness of the Moon (Older Version)

    Tonight the moon dreams with greater languor
    Like a girl nestled in cushions, a beauty,
    Who as she falls asleep brushes a hand
    With a light touch over the curve of her breasts.

    On the satin back of a billowing avalanche
    She passes out her long slow breaths, entranced,
    And her eyes walk heavenly visions of white
    Which rise out of the blue like blossoming flowers.

    From time to time upon this world in silent prayer
    She lets fall a secret tear, sorrowful,
    And a pious poet, enemy of sleep,

    In the cup of his hand captures this gift
    That reflects like a fragment of opal, iridescent,
    And treasures it in his heart far from the eyes of the sun.

  10. Summary of changes and some comments...

    Now it's rhyming (!) at least partly.

    Also there's a visual contrast between the lengths of lines of the first two verses about the langorous moon caressing her breast and the last two verses about the alert poet capturing her tear. Like a yin and a yang, though I'm not quite sure which is which.

    The moon is like the muse of the poet, the source of inspiration. The tear is like the fragment that reflects and contains the whole, like Blake's "world in a grain of sand".

    Notice that both moon and poet both raise their hand to their heart, but the moon is natural and instinctive, the poet by contrast deliberate.

    Jasmine flowers do blossom at night and are actually white!!! I got lucky, lol.

    And finally the last line resonates with a quotation I read yesterday taken from Peter(1:19) about scripture being a sure guide like a light in a dark place that one should pay attention to "until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts", in other words until we can see things for ourselves directly from the inner light.

  11. Param, the thought just occurred to me... maybe also hiding from the sun to avoid comparisons!! Because how could this pale tear compare with the brightness of the sun. Its beauty can only be seen in the dark. LOL!

  12. Lovely post and discussion! Great image, okei...

  13. I like both translations...

  14. Thanks, Nancy & Cyn! I was making so many alterations when I first put it up, but the final version ended up quite similar to the original and I'm really quite happy with how it turned out.

  15. I went back to some of my old alterations, and tinker-er that I am (lol!), I couldn't help liking some of them and improving others and I have a new version of this translation now that I'd like to put up there. And of course I'm desperately hoping that I'm not like Fitzgerald with his Rubaiyat who, with each new version he did, made it progressively worse (so everyone reads his first version). So I better paste the old version here, and you can always pick and choose lines from each version depending on which you prefer.

    Penultimate Version

    Tonight the moon is lost in langorous reverie
    Like a girl nestled in a bed of cushions, a beauty,
    Who as she falls asleep, her bright cheeks glowing,
    Caresses the contours of her breasts without knowing.
    Floating on the satin back of a billowing avalanche
    She passes out her long slow breaths, entranced,
    And her eyes walk heavenly visions of white
    That blossom like jasmine flowers at night.
    From time to time upon this world in silent prayer,
    She lets fall a secret tear, sorrowful,
    And a pious poet, alive, aware,
    In the cup of his hand captures this prize
    That reflects like a fragment of opal, iridescent, 
    And delivers it into his heart far from the sun's eyes.

  16. I hope the above is indeed the final version, because it's time I stopped making changes. I did notice something cool though...

    Visions (that blossom like jasmine) from the darkness are secretly transferred to the girl (representing the moon) by means of the clouds (the bright hand upon the heart) without her waking knowledge.

    The moon's tears are a distillation of these visions, and these are secretly transferred from the moon to the poet, again by means of the hand upon the heart, without the knowledge of the world and in particular of the sun.

    Thus, via the moon (representing Beauty and Dreams), the secrets of Darkness are secretly passed on to the poet.

  17. An old favourite of mine. A little-known poem by Vladimir Nabokov that wasn't even online when I last searched for it on google... but it is now! (And amazing to be able to write something so good in one's second language.)

    I dream of simple tender things:
    A moonlit road and tinkling bells.
    Ah, drearily the coachboy sings,
    But sadness into beauty swells,
    Swells and is lost in moonlight dim.
    The singer sighs and then the moon
    Full gently passes back to him
    The quivering unfinished tune.
    In distant lands on hill and plain,
    Thus do I dream when nights are long
    And memory gives back again
    The whisper of that long lost song.