Charles Baudelaire

(9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867 / Paris)

Alchimie de la douleur (The Alchemy of Sorrow)


L'un t'éclaire avec son ardeur,
L'autre en toi met son deuil, Nature!
Ce qui dit à l'un: Sépulture!
Dit à l'autre: Vie et splendeur!

Hermès inconnu qui m'assistes
Et qui toujours m'intimidas,
Tu me rends l'égal de Midas,
Le plus triste des alchimistes;

Par toi je change l'or en fer
Et le paradis en enfer;
Dans le suaire des nuages

Je découvre un cadavre cher,
Et sur les célestes rivages
Je bâtis de grands sarcophages.

The Alchemy of Sorrow

One man lights you with his ardor,
Another puts you in mourning, Nature!
That which says to one: sepulcher!
Says to another: life! glory!

You have always frightened me,
Hermes the unknown, you who help me.
You make me the peer of Midas,
The saddest of all alchemists;

Through you I change gold to iron
And make of paradise a hell;
In the winding sheet of the clouds

I discover a beloved corpse,
And on the celestial shores
I build massive sarcophagi.


— Translated by William Aggeler

Alchemy of Sorrow

One puts all nature into mourning,
One lights her like a flaring sun —
What whispers 'Burial' to the one
Cries to the other, 'Life and Morning.'

The unknown Hermes who assists
The role of Midas to reverse,
And makes me by a subtle curse
The saddest of all alchemists —

By him, my paradise to hell,
And gold to slag, is changed too well.
The clouds are winding-sheets, and I,


Bidding some dear-loved corpse farewell,
Along the shore-line of the sky,
Erect my vast sarcophagi.


— Translated by Roy Campbell

Alchimie de la douleur

one lights thee with his flame, another
puts in thee — Nature! — all his gloom!
what says to this man: lo! the tomb!
cries: life and splendour! to his brother.

o mage unknown whose powers assist
my art, and whom I always fear,
thou makest me a Midas — peer
of that most piteous alchemist;

for 'tis through thee I turn my gold
to iron, and in heaven behold
my hell: beneath her cloud-palls I

uncover corpses loved of old;
and where the shores celestial die
I carve vast tombs against the sky.


— Translated by Lewis Piaget Shanks

Submitted: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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