A Phantom

A poem by Charles Baudelaire

I. The Blackness

In vaults of fathomless obscurity
Where Destiny has sentenced me for life;
Where cheerful rosy beams may never shine;
Where, living with that sullen hostess, Night,

I am an artist that a mocking God
Condemns, alas! to paint the gloom itself;
Where like a cook with ghoulish appetite
I boil and devour my own heart,

Sometimes there sprawls, and stretches out, and glows
A splendid ghost, of a surpassing charm,
And when this vision growing in my sight

In oriental languor, like a dream,
Is fully formed, I know the phantom's name:
Yes, it is She! though black, yet full oflight.

II. The Perfume

During your lifetime, reader, have you breathed,
Slow-savouring to the point of dizziness,
That grain of incense which fills up a church,
Or the pervasive musk of a sachet?

Magical charm, in which the past restored
Intoxicates us with its presence here!
So from the body of his well-beloved
The lover plucks remembrance's bright bloom.

Out of the phantom's dense, resilient locks,
Living sachet, censer of the alcove,
Would rise an alien and tawny scent,

And all her clothes, of muslin or of plush,
Redolent as they were with her pure youth,
Released the soft perfume of thickest fur.

III. The Frame

Just as the frame adds to the painter's art,
Although the brush itself be highly praised,
A something that is captivating, strange,
Setting it off from all in nature else,

So jewels and metals, gildings, furnishings
Exactly fit her rich and rare appeal;
Nothing offends her perfect clarity,
And all would seem a frame for her display.

And one could say at times that she believed
Everything loved her, in that she would bathe
Freely, voluptuously, her nudity

In kisses of the linen and the silk,
And with each charming movement, slow or quick,
Display a cunning monkey's childlike grace.

IV. The Portrait

Disease and Death make only dust and ash
Of all the fire that blazed so bright for us.
Of those great eyes so tender and so warm,
Of this mouth where my heart has drowned itself,

Of kisses puissant as a healing balm,
Of transports more intense than flaring light,
What now remains? Appalling, o my soul!
Only a fading sketch in three pale tones,

Like me, dying away in solitude,
And which Time, that maleficent old man,
Each day rubs over with his churlish wing ...

Time, you black murderer of Life and Art,
You'll never kill her in my memory -
Not She, who was my pleasure and my pride!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'A Phantom' by Charles Baudelaire

comments powered by Disqus