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Charles Baudelaire

Les Métamorphoses du vampire

La femme cependant, de sa bouche de fraise,
En se tordant ainsi qu’un serpent sur la braise,
Et pétrissant ses seins sur le fer de son busc,
Laissait couler ces mots tout imprégnés de musc :
— «Moi, j’ai la lèvre humide, et je sais la science
De perdre au fond d’un lit l’antique conscience.
Je sèche tous les pleurs sur mes seins triomphants,
Et fais rire les vieux du rire des enfants.
Je remplace, pour qui me voit nue et sans voiles,
La lune, le soleil, le ciel et les étoiles !
Je suis, mon cher savant, si docte aux voluptés,
Lorsque j’étouffe un homme en mes bras redoutés,
Ou lorsque j’abandonne aux morsures mon buste,
Timide et libertine, et fragile et robuste,
Que sur ces matelas qui se pâment d’émoi,
Les anges impuissants se damneraient pour moi !»

Quand elle eut de mes os sucé toute la moelle,
Et que languissamment je me tournai vers elle
Pour lui rendre un baiser d’amour, je ne vis plus
Qu’une outre aux flancs gluants, toute pleine de pus !
Je fermai les deux yeux, dans ma froide épouvante,
Et quand je les rouvris à la clarté vivante,
À mes côtés, au lieu du mannequin puissant
Qui semblait avoir fait provision de sang,
Tremblaient confusément des débris de squelette,
Qui d’eux-mêmes rendaient le cri d’une girouette
Ou d’une enseigne, au bout d’une tringle de fer,
Que balance le vent pendant les nuits d’hiver.

Charles Baudelaire

The Vampire’s Metamorphoses

The woman meanwhile, twisting like a snake
On hot coals and kneading her breasts against the steel
Of her corset, from her mouth red as strawberries
Let flow these words impregnated with musk:
- “I, I have moist lips, and I know the art
Of losing old Conscience in the depths of a bed.
I dry all tears on my triumphant breasts
And make old men laugh with the laughter of children.
I replace, for him who sees me nude, without veils,
The moon, the sun, the stars and the heavens!
I am, my dear scholar, so learned in pleasure
That when I smother a man in my fearful arms,
Or when, timid and licentious, frail and robust,
I yield my bosom to biting kisses
On those two soft cushions which swoon with emotion,
The powerless angels would damn themselves for me!”

When she had sucked out all the marrow from my bones
And I languidly turned toward her
To give back an amorous kiss, I saw no more
Than a wine-skin with gluey sides, all full of pus!
Frozen with terror, I closed both my eyes,
And when I opened them to the bright light,
At my side, instead of the robust manikin
Who seemed to have laid in a store of blood,
There quivered confusedly a heap of old bones,
Which of themselves gave forth the cry of a weather-cock
Or of a sign on the end of an iron rod
That the wind swings to and fro on a winter night.

William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

The Metamorphoses of the Vampire

The crimson-fruited mouth that I desired —
While, like a snake on coals, she twinged and twired,
Kneading her breasts against her creaking busk —
Let fall those words impregnated with musk,
- “My lips are humid: by my learned science,
All conscience, in my bed, becomes compliance.
My breasts, triumphant, staunch all tears; for me
Old men, like little children, laugh with glee.
For those who see me naked, I replace
Sun, moon, the sky, and all the stars in space.
I am so skilled, dear sage, in arts of pleasure,
That, when with man my deadly arms I measure,
Or to his teeth and kisses yield my bust,
Timid yet lustful, fragile, yet robust,
On sheets that swoon with passion — you might see
Impotent angels damn themselves for me.”

When of my marrow she had sucked each bone
And, languishing, I turned with loving moan
To kiss her in return, with overplus,
She seemed a swollen wineskin, full of pus.
I shut my eyes with horror at the sight,
But when I opened them, in the clear light,
I saw, instead of the great swollen doll
That, bloated with my lifeblood, used to loll,
The debris of a skeleton, assembling
With shrill squawks of a weathercock, lie trembling,
Or sounds, with which the howling winds commingle,
Of an old Inn-sign on a rusty tringle.

Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

Metamorphoses of the Vampire

Meanwhile from her red mouth the woman, in husky tones,
Twisting her body like a serpent upon hot stones
And straining her white breasts from their imprisonment,
Let fall these words, as potent as a heavy scent:
“My lips are moist and yielding, and I know the way
To keep the antique demon of remorse at bay.
All sorrows die upon my bosom. I can make
Old men laugh happily as children for my sake.
For him who sees me naked in my tresses, I
Replace the sun, the moon, and all the stars of the sky!
Believe me, learnèd sir, I am so deeply skilled
That when I wind a lover in my soft arms, and yield
My breasts like two ripe fruits for his devouring — both
Shy and voluptuous, insatiable and loath —
Upon this bed that groans and sighs luxuriously
Even the impotent angels would be damned for me!”

When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold
And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss — behold,
There at my side was nothing but a hideous
Putrescent thing, all faceless and exuding pus.
I closed my eyes and mercifully swooned till day:
And when I looked at morning for that beast of prey
Who seemed to have replenished her arteries from my own,
The wan, disjointed fragments of a skeleton
Wagged up and down in a lewd posture where she had lain,
Rattling with each convulsion like a weathervane
Or an old sign that creaks upon its bracket, right
Mournfully in the wind upon a winter’s night.

George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

Metamorphoses of a Vampire

Meanwhile the woman, writhing like a snake
On fiery coals, kneaded her breasts to make
Them hug their steely corset; and she said,
Her lips redder than strawberries are red:
“Behold, my mouth is moist, and on my deep
Couch I can lull grim Conscience fast asleep,
I dry all tears on my triumphant breasts,
Where old men laugh like boys at boyish jests.
For him who sees me naked, I comprise
All moons and suns and stars and clouds and skies!
I am so skilled, fond scholar, in love’s charms
That when I hug you in my ruthless arms,
Or, shy and lustful, frail and forceful, when
I yield taut nipples to the teeth of men,
My bosom’s pillows, palpitant, would doom
Angels to ruin for coveting my womb...”

When she had sucked my marrow dry, I turned,
Languid, to give her back the kiss she earned,
Only to view, I fond and amorous,
A viscid wineskin, nidorous with pus...
Frozen with fear, I shut my eyelids tight,
Then, opening them against the garish light,
I saw no solid puppet by my side
Whose lusts my blood, drained dry, had satisfied,
But a debris of quavering bone on bone,
Moaning as only weathervanes can moan,
And creaking as a rusty signpost might
Lashed by the furies of a winter night.

Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

The Metamorphoses of the Vampire

Then the woman with the strawberry mouth,
Squirming like a snake upon the coals,
Kneading her breasts against the iron of her corset,
Let flow these words scented with musk:
- “I have wet lips, and I know the art
Of losing old conscience in the depths of a bed.
I dry all tears on my triumphing breasts
And I make old men laugh with the laughter of children.
For those who see me naked, without any covering,
I am the moon and the sun and the sky and the stars!
I am so dexterous in voluptuous love, my dear, my wise one,
When I strangle a man in my dreadful arms,
Or abandon my breast to his biting,
So shy and lascivious, so frail and vigorous,
That on these cushions that swoon with passion
The powerless angels damn their souls for me!”

When she had sucked the pith from my bones
And, drooping, I turned towards her
To give her the kiss of love, I saw only
An old leather bottle with sticky sides and full of pus!
I shut both eyes in cold dismay
And when I opened them both to clear reality,
By my side, instead of that powerful puppet
Which seemed to have taken some lease of blood,
There shook vaguely the remains of a skeleton,
Which itself gave the cry of a weathercock
Or of a sign-board, at the end of a rod of iron,
Which the wind swings in winter nights.

Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

Charles Baudelaire

Translations source:
Photography: Étienne Carjat
Illustration: Laurent Paturaud

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