Charles Baudelaire - The Journey


For the child, adoring cards and prints
The universe fulfils its vast appetite.
Ah, how large is the world in the brightness of lamps,
How small in the eyes of memory!

We leave one morning, brains full of flame,
Hearts full of malice and bitter desires,
And we go and follow the rhythm of the waves,
Rocking our infinite on the finite of the seas:

Some happy to escape a tainted country
Others, the horrors of their candles; and a few,
Astrologers drowned in the eys of a woman,
Some tyrannical Circe of dangerous perfumes.

So not to be transformed into animals, they get drunk
On space and light and skies on fire;
The biting ice, the suns that turn them copper,
Slowly blot out the brand of kisses.

But the true travellers are they who depart
For departing's sake; with hearts light as balloons,
They never swerve from their destinies,
Saying continuously, without knowing why: 'Let us go on!'

These have passions formed like clouds;
As a recruit of his gun, they dream
Of spacious pleasures, transient, little understood,
Whose name no human spirit knows.


It is a terrible thought that we imitate
The top and the ball in their bounding waltzes; even asleep
Curiosity tortures and turns us
Like a cruel angel whipping the sun.

Whimsical fortune, whose end is out of place
And, being nowhere, can be anywhere!
Where Man, in whom Hope is never weary,
Runs ever like a madman searching for repose.

Our soul is a brigantine seeking its Icaria;
A voice resounds on deck: 'Open your eyes!'
A hot mad voice from the maintop cries:
'Love... glory... fortune!' Hell is a rock.

Each little island sighted by the look-out man
Becomes another Eldorado, the promise of Destiny;
Imagination, setting out its revels,
Finds but a reef in the morning light.

O the poor lover of chimerical lands!
Must one put him in irons, throw him in the water,
This drunken sailor, contriver of those Americas
Whose glimpses make the gulfs more bitter?

Thus the old vagabond, tramping through the mud,
With his nose in the air, dreams of shining Edens;
Bewitched his eye finds a Capua
Wherever a candle glimmers in a hovel.


O marvellous travellers! what glorious stories
We read in your eyes as deep as the seas.
Show us the caskets of your rich memories
Those wonderful jewels of stars and stratosphere.

We would travel without wind or sail!
And so, to gladden the cares of our jails,
Pass over our spirits, stretched out like canvas,
Your memories with their frames of horizons.

Tell us, what have you seen?


                'We have seen the stars
And the waves; and we have seen the sands also;
And, despite shocks and unforeshadowed disasters,
We have often, as here, grown weary.

The glory of sunlight on the violet sea,
The glory of cities in the setting sun,
Lit in our hearts an uneasy desire
To sink in a sky of enticing reflections.

Never did the richest cities, the grandest countryside,
Hold such mysterious charms
As those chance made amongst the clouds,
And ever passion made us anxious!

- Delight adds power to desire.
O desire, you old tree, your pasture is pleasure,
And whilst your bark grows great and hard
Your branches long to see the sun close to!

Do you ever increase, grand tree, you who live
Longer than the cypress? - Nevertheless, we have carefully
Culled some sketches for your ravenous album,
Brothers finding beauty in all things coming from afar!

We have greeted great horned idols,
Thrones starry with luminous jewels,
Figured palaces whose fairy pomp
Would be a dream of ruin for a banker,

Robes which make the eyes intoxicated;
Women with tinted teeth and nails
And cunning jugglers caressed by serpents.


And then, what then?


                'O childish minds!

Never to forget the principal matter,
We have everywhere seen, without having sought it,
From top to bottom of the fatal ladder,
The wearisome spectacle of immortal sin:

Woman, base slave of pride and stupidity,
Adores herself without a smile, loves herself with no distaste;
Man, that gluttonous, lewd tyrant, hard and avaricious,
Is a slave of the slave, a trickle in the sewer;

The joyful executioner, the sobbing martyr;
The festival that flavours and perfumes the blood;
The poisonous power that weakens the oppressor
And the people craving the agonizing whip;

Many religions like ours
All scaling the heavens; Sanctity
Like a tender voluptuary wallowing in a feather bed
Seeking sensuality in nails and horse-hair;

Prating Humanity, besotted with its own genius,
Is as mad today as ever it was,
Crying to God in its furious agony:
"O my fellow and my master, I curse thee!"

And the less senseless, brave lovers of Dementia,
Flee the great herd penned in by Destiny,
And take refuge in a vast opium!
- Such is the eternal report of the whole world.'


O bitter is the knowledge that one draws from the voyage!
The monotonous and tiny world, today
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our reflections,
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom!

Must we depart? If you can do so, remain;
Depart, if you must. Someone runs, another crouches,
To deceive that vigilant and fatal enemy,
Time! Ah, there are some runners who know no respite,

Like the wandering Jew or like the apostles,
Whom nothing aids, no cart, nor ship,
To flee this ugly gladiator; there are others
Who even in their cradles know how to kill it.

When at last he shall place his foot upon our spine,
We will be capable of hope, crying: 'Forward!'
As in old times we left for China,
Eyes fixed in the distance, hair in the winds,

We shall embark on that sea of Darkness
With the happy heart of a young traveller.
Do you hear these voices, alluring and funereal,
Singing: 'This way, those of you who long to eat

The perfumed lotus-leaf! it is here that are gathered
Those miraculous fruits for which your heart hungers;
Do come and get drunk on the strange sweetness
Of this afternoon without end!'

By those familiar accents we discover the phantom
Over there our personal Pylades stretch out their arms to us.
'Swim to your Electra to revive your hearts!'
Says she whose knees we one time kissed.

O Death, my captain, it is time! let us raise the anchor!
This country wearies us, O Death! Let us make ready!
If sea and sky are both as black as ink,
You know our hearts are full of sunshine.

Pour on us your poison to refresh us!
Oh, this fire so burns our brains, we would
Dive to the depths of the gulf, Heaven or Hell, what matter?
If only to find in the depths of the Unknown the New!