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Review – Charles Baudelaire, Selected Poems from “Les Fleurs du Mal”, transl. Jan Owen

Owen declares that her aim was “to turn Baudelaire’s French poems into convincing English poems while keeping as close as I could to the original texts.” On the whole she seems to me to have succeeded very well in both aims. Her translations give real pleasure as a collection of poems in English. You don’t need to be able to read the French facing pages to receive a strong sense of Baudelaire’s power. If you can, of course, you’ll be in for pleasures that are probably simply beyond the reach of translation from French into relatively rhyme-poor English. In “Parfum … Continue Reading

Charles Baudelaire, “La Cloche fêlée”, translated by Jan Owen

Reviewing Jan Owen’s translations of poems from Les Fleurs du Mal for The North[1], I was startled by the ending of her version of “La Cloche fêlée”. In the end there wasn’t space to include my thoughts on it in the review, but I want to say something here because “La Cloche fêlée” has always meant a good deal to me. Here’s Baudelaire’s poem:

 

Il est amer et doux, pendant les nuits d’hiver,
D’écouter, près du feu qui palpite et qui fume,
Les souvenirs lointains lentement s’élever
Au bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume.

Bienheureuse la cloche … Continue Reading

Musical glimpses – Hugo, Stevens, Baudelaire

I stumbled on this bit of Victor Hugo in a book on nineteenth century French poetry[1]:

Sara, belle d’indolence
……….Se balance
Dans un hamac, au-dessus
Du bassin d’une fontaine
……….Toute pleine
D’eau puisée à l’Ilyssus ;

Et la frêle escarpolette
……….Se reflète
Dans le transparent miroir
Avec la baigneuse blanche
……….Qui se penche,
Qui se penche pour se voir …

My first thought was simply how lovely this is; it makes you wish English could dance in rhyme as easily as French can. My second was how like a lot of Wallace Stevens it is – the Wallace Stevens of … Continue Reading