Lesbos

A poem by Charles Baudelaire

Mother of Roman games and Greek delights,
Lesbos, where kisses languorous or glad,
As hot as suns, or watermelon-fresh,
Make festivals of days and glorious nights;
Mother of Roman games and Greek delights,

Lesbos, where love is like the wild cascades
That throw themselves into the deepest gulfs,
And twist and run with gurglings and with sobs,
Stormy and secret, swarming underground;
Lesbos, where love is like the wild cascades!

Lesbos, where Phrynes seek each other out,
Where no sigh ever went without response,
Lovely as Paphos· in the sight of stars,
Where Venus envies Sappho, with good cause!
Lesbos, where Phrynes seek each other out.

Lesbos, land of the warm and languid nights
That draw in mirrors sterile fantasies,
So girls with hollow eyes make love alone,
Fondling their avid bodies' mellow fruit;
Lesbos, land of the warm and languid nights,

Let some dry Plato frown with narrowed eye;
Queen of sweet empire - pleasant, noble land
You're pardoned by the excess of your kisses,
And by your endless subtleties in love.
Let some dry Plato frown with narrowed eye.

You're pardoned by eternal martyrdom
Lived constantly in those with hungering hearts
Who glimpse that radiant smile beyond our grasp
That beckons from the brink of other skies!
You're pardoned by eternal martyrdom!

What God would dare to act as Lesbos' judge
And to condemn your pale and wasted brow,
Without the weighing in those golden scales
Of floods of tears your brooks have swept to sea?
What God would dare to act as Lesbos' judge?

What do we care for laws of right and wrong?
Maidens of highest heart, pride of the land,
As worthy as another's is your creed,
And love will laugh at Heaven and at Hell!
What do we care for laws of right and wrong!

Since I am Lesbos' choice from all on earth
To sing the secret of her flowering maids,
And I from childhood worshipped in the cult
Of frenzied laughter mixed with sombre tears
Since I am Lesbos' choice from all on earth,

I spend my time on watch from Leucas' peak,
A sentinel with sure and piercing eye,
Who searches night and day for sail or hull,
The distant forms that tremble in the blue;
I spend my time on watch from Leucas' peak

To find out if the sea is ever kind,
And to the land where sobbing lives in stones
Will carry home, to Lesbos who forgives,
The worshipped corpse of Sappho, who made trial
To find out if the sea is ever kind!

Of Sappho, male in poetry and love,
Fairer than Venus, though her face be pale!
The azure eye is conquered by the black
Shadowed by circles drawn by all the grief
Of Sappho, male in poetry and love!

Fairer than Venus rising on the world
Who spreads out treasures of serenity
And all the radiance of her blonde youth
On father Ocean, dazzled by his child;
Fairer than Venus rising on the world!

Of Sappho who that day blasphemed and died,
When she, against the rite the cult devised,
Let her sweet body be the rutting-ground
For a brute whose pride condemned the heresy
Of one who on that day blasphemed and died.

And since that time Lesbos has lived with tears;
Neglecting honours that the world holds forth,
She stupefies herself each night with cries
That beat her barren shores against the skies!
And since that time Lesbos has lived with tears!

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