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I love Baudelaire for his extraordinary states of feeling. If I had to choose one poem it would be this, partly in connection with my swans but also as a meditation on loss and exile, across time and place. This is my translation (with thanks to Jacqueline Peltier for her kindly criticism).

 

The Swan (to Victor Hugo)

                              I

 Andromache, I think of you.

That little river, poor sad mirror glittering

With the majesty of your widow’s griefs,

Ersatz Simoïs swollen with your tears,

 

Suddenly flooded my fertile memory

As I was crossing the new Carrousel.

Old Paris is gone. The shape of a town

Changes faster, alas, than the heart of a man.

 

Only in the mind do I see this field of shacks,

These heaps of rough-hewn capitals and columns,

The weeds, the great blocks greening in puddles

And jumbled odds and ends glistening in windows.

 

Once a menagerie extended here and

One morning at the time when Work awakes

Under cold clear skies and rubbish sends

A gloomy hurricane into the silent air

 

I saw a swan who had escaped his cage,

Scraping his webbed feet on the dry pavement,

Trailing his white feathers on the rough ground

And opening his beak by a waterless gutter.

 

He bathed his wings nervously in the dust

And said, his heart full of his beautiful native lake,

“Water, when will you rain? Thunder, when will you sound?”

I see this unhappy bird, strange, fated, mythic,

 

Craning his head on his convulsive neck

Towards the sky, like the man in Ovid,

Towards the ironic and cruelly blue sky

As though shouting reproaches at God.

  

                             II

 Paris changes but in my melancholy nothing

Has shifted. New palaces, scaffolding, blocks,

Old suburbs, all turn to allegory for me,

And my dear memories are heavier than stones.

 

And in front of the Louvre an image weighs me down:

I think of my great swan with his lunatic gestures,

Ridiculous and sublime like the exiles,

Gnawed with unceasing desire, and then of you,

 

Andromache, fallen from the arms of a great spouse,

As livestock under the hand of proud Pyrrhus,

Bent in a trance by an empty tomb,

Widow of Hector, alas, and wife to Helenus.

 

I think of the woman, thin and consumptive,

Treading in the mud and seeking with a wild eye

The absent coconut palms of proud Africa

Behind an immense wall of fog,

 

Of whoever has lost what they will not find again

Ever, ever, of those who drink deep of their tears

And suck at Sorrow like a wet nurse wolf,

Of the wasted orphans shrivelling like flowers.

 

So in the forest where my spirit is exiled

An old memory sounds a full horn blast.

I think of the sailors forgotten on islands,

Of the captives, the vanquished…. of others as well.