National Poetry Month: April 14th

April 14, 2013

Spleen by Charles Baudelaire (translated by Norman R. Shapiro)

When, on our groaning, ennui-ridden soul,
The heavens hang low, weigh like a lid, pressed tight;
When, circling the horizon like a bowl,
They pour a daylight sad as blackest night;
When earth turns dungeon dank, where Hope, much like
A bat, entrapped, in desperation seems
To flail the walls with timid wing, and strike
Her head against the ceiling’s rotting beams;
When cloudbursts rend the air and, roundabout,
Form a vast prison cell with bars of rain;
And when a host of spiders, mute, set out
To weave their loathsome webs deep in our brain;
Then, all at once, wild bells leap to the fore
And hurl a frightful clamor at the sky,
Like spirits, wandering homeless, that deplore
Their grievous fate with endless, doleful cry.
— And in my soul hearses proceed apace —
No drums, no fanfare — long their march and slow;
Hope, beaten, weeps; and Woe, brash tyrant base,
Plants his black pennant in my skull, bowed low.
charles baudelaire engraving
1917 wood engraving of Baudelaire by Eugene Decisy. Original frontispiece for “Les fleurs du mal.”

This poem was selected by Russell J. (Readers’ Services)

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