This is my translation of the famous introduction to the Flowers of Evil, just as I wrote it some twenty years ago. My goal was to reproduce the rhyme scheme of the original ( so much easier in French) and to give the English reader a sense of the poet’s overripe imagery. You can judge for yourself how well I succeeded.
TO THE READER
Tr. Guy Conner
Drunkenness and error, stinginess and vice
Occupy our spirits and make us sweat.
And we feed on our oh-so-sweet regret
Like beggars nourishing their lice.
Our sins are stubborn; cowardly our regret.
Our vows exact a handsome price.
Our innocence makes the muddy road seem nice,
For we believe that tears can make us cleaner yet.
Satan, the Great Alchemist, from Evil’s bower
Enchants our spirits, makes them still
And the rich metal of our free will
Is vaporized by his magic power.
The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire,
And makes us like disgusting things.
Just like the whoremonger who’s paid for the night
To suckle a poor martyred breast,
Our clandestine pleasures are carefully pressed,
Like an orange that has shriveled up tight.
Like a million maggots, swarming and packed tightly,
Our brains are filled with demons, and our breath
Breathes into our lungs that greater Demon, Death,
Flowing like an unseen river, groaning lightly.
If rape and poison, the dagger and the flame
Have not yet embroidered our poor fate,
There is a reason! We hang back and wait.
Our lack of boldness puts our soul to shame.
But among the jackals, panthers, monkeys, lice
The scorpions, vultures, serpents and the ape
The monsters crawling, screeching, howling, mouths agape
The infamous menagerie of our vice,
There is one of them, Oh, foulest and least fair!
Although it neither howls nor makes a fuss,
It gladly makes its environment a muss,
And with a yawn, it sucks up all the air.
Boredom! He smokes his hookah; it is the Mother
Of Dreams. Guillotines descend; his eyes are filled with tears.
You’ve known him, Reader, for, lo, these many years.
Hypocrite Reader! My Look-Alike! My Brother!