Baudelaire: The Swan translated by Julia Deakin

From time to time we receive unsolicited translations at The High Window which we like but cannot fit into any of our scheduled translation supplements. Unfortunately, this fine version of Baudelaire‘s ‘The Swan‘ by Julia Deakin arrived in our inbox after we had already done two French supplements. However, we are pleased to find a place for it here. Beneath it, francophones will  find it in the orignal French. We have also added an audio link where you can hear it read in very clear French accompanied by the original text in the subtitles.

Otherwise you can simply enjoy Julia’s version!

You can also read some of Julia’s own poetry here in THW #8.

*****

 

Baudelaire: ‘The Swan’ translated by Julia Deakin
for Victor Hugo

Andromache, I think of you. That melancholy
meagre stream – once the resplendent mirror
of your widowhood’s immense majesty –
that false river, swollen with your tears

came back to seed my fertile memory
as I traversed the brand new Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more (a city’s shape, alas,
changes more quickly than the mortal heart).

I still see in my mind the camp of huts,
the heaps of rough-hewn shafts and capitals,
the grass, the puddle-stained green blocks,
the jumbled lot reflected in the tiles.

Once a menagerie had covered it
where, one clear morning – in that hour
when under cold skies Work bestirs itself
and road sweepers storm the silent air – I saw

a swan, who had escaped his cage, dragging
his webbed feet along the dry pavement,
his white plumage trailing in the dirt.
By a parched ditch the bird opened his beak,

nervously flapped his wings there in the dust
and cried, heart bursting with his native lake,
‘Water, when will you rain? Storm when will you
roar?’ I see this hapless creature – strange, doomed myth –

head straining to the sky like Ovid’s man –
towards the blue sky’s cruel irony –
his hungry head on his convulsive neck
as if addressing his complaint to God.

II
Paris changes, but my sombre mood
does not. New palaces, old suburbs, blocks
and scaffolding strike me as allegorical,
my memories heavier than rocks.

And so outside the Louvre one sight haunts:
of my great swan with his wild gestures
like all exiles, scorned and yet sublime,
gnawed by inconsolable desire. And of you too,

Andromache, from a great consort’s arms
fallen to chatteldom at Pyrrhus’ hands,
in passion bowed beside an empty tomb;
Hector’s widow, Helenus’s wife;

and of the thin, consumptive African,
gaunt eyes scanning as she trails through mud
for palm trees from her splendid continent
behind the massive barrier of fog;

and of those who lose what cannot ever –
ever – be retrieved. Who steep themselves
in tears and drink the she-wolf Sorrow’s milk.
Of scrawny orphans shrivelling like flowers.

Here in the forest of my exiled soul
old memory’s clarion call is loud and clear.
I think of castaways the world forgot,
of captives, the defeated and of more…so many more.

Julia Deakin was born in Nuneaton and meandered north to Yorkshire. The Half-Mile-High Club (2007) was a Poetry Business Competition winner and her full-length collections, Without a Dog (2008) and Eleven Wonders (2011) are both authoritatively praised. Widely published, she has read on Poetry Please and won many prizes.

*****

LE CYGNE

À Victor Hugo

I

Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
L’immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,

A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la forme d’une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d’un mortel);

Je ne vois qu’en esprit tout ce camp de baraques,
Ces tas de chapiteaux ébauchés et de fûts,
Les herbes, les gros blocs verdis par l’eau des flaques,
Et, brillant aux carreaux, le bric-à-brac confus.

Là s’étalait jadis une ménagerie;
Là je vis, un matin, à l’heure où sous les cieux
Froids et clairs le Travail s’éveille, où la voirie
Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l’air silencieux,

Un cygne qui s’était évadé de sa cage,
Et, de ses pieds palmés frottant le pavé sec,
Sur le sol raboteux traînait son blanc plumage.
Près d’un ruisseau sans eau la bête ouvrant le bec

Baignait nerveusement ses ailes dans la poudre,
Et disait, le coeur plein de son beau lac natal:
«Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu? quand tonneras-tu, foudre?»
Je vois ce malheureux, mythe étrange et fatal,

Vers le ciel quelquefois, comme l’homme d’Ovide,
Vers le ciel ironique et cruellement bleu,
Sur son cou convulsif tendant sa tête avide
Comme s’il adressait des reproches à Dieu!

II

Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N’a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie
Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.

Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m’opprime:
Je pense à mon grand cygne, avec ses gestes fous,
Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime
Et rongé d’un désir sans trêve! et puis à vous,

Andromaque, des bras d’un grand époux tombée,
Vil bétail, sous la main du superbe Pyrrhus,
Auprès d’un tombeau vide en extase courbée
Veuve d’Hector, hélas! et femme d’Hélénus!

Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique
Piétinant dans la boue, et cherchant, l’oeil hagard,
Les cocotiers absents de la superbe Afrique
Derrière la muraille immense du brouillard;

À quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
Jamais, jamais! à ceux qui s’abreuvent de pleurs
Et tètent la Douleur comme une bonne louve!
Aux maigres orphelins séchant comme des fleurs!

Ainsi dans la forêt où mon esprit s’exile
Un vieux Souvenir sonne à plein souffle du cor!
Je pense aux matelots oubliés dans une île,
Aux captifs, aux vaincus!… à bien d’autres encor!

*****

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