Condemned Women: Delphine And Hippolyta

A poem by Charles Baudelaire

Within the dwindling glow of light from languid lamps,
Sunk in the softest cushions soaked with heady scent,
Hippolyta lay dreaming of the thrilling touch
That spread apart the veil of her young innocence.

She searched with troubled eye, afflicted by the storm,
For the once-distant sky of her naivety,
A voyager who turns and looks beyond the wake
To blue horizons which had once been overhead.

The heavy tears that fell from dull and weary eyes,
The broken look, the stupor, the voluptuousness,
Her conquered arms thrown down, surrendered in the field,
All strangely served her still, to show her fragile charm.

Stretched calmly at her feet, joyfully satisfied,
Delphine looked up at her with those compelling eyes
Like a strong animal that oversees her prey,
First having taken care to mark it with her teeth.

Strong beauty on her knees before frail beauty's couch,
Superb, luxurious, she breathed completely in
The wine of triumph, and she stretched out towards her love
As if to gather in a kiss of recompense.

She looked within the eye of that pale conquered soul
For silent canticles, chanting of love's delight
And of that gratitude, sublime and infinite,
Which from the eyelids spreads like a soft-breathing sigh.

'Hippolyta, dear heart, what do you have to say?
Now do you understand you do not need to give
The sacred offering of roses of your youth
To one who'd wither them with his tempestuous breath?

My kisses are as light as mayflies on the wing
Caressing in the dusk the great transparent lakes.
But those your lover gives dig out their cruel ruts
Like chariots, or like the farmer's biting plough;

They pass across you like a heavy, coupled team
Pitiless horses' tread, or oxen's brutal hooves...
Sister Hippolyta! then turn your face to me.
My darling, heart and soul, my better self, my all,

Turn down to me your eyes, so blue and full of stars!
For just one charming glance, divinely healing balm,
I'll raise the veil for you of pleasure's secret depths,
And lull you fast asleep within an endless dream!'

But then Hippolyta, lifting her troubled head:
'My Delphine, do not think that I repent our love;
I'm not ungrateful, but I suffer in distress
As if I'd been a part of some strange feast at night.

I feel such heavy dread dissolving over me,
And black battalions of a scattered troop of ghosts
Who wish to lead me off on roads that shift and move
Beneath a bloody sky that closes all around.

Have we committed then a strange, forbidden act?
Please, if you can, explain my trouble and my fright:
I shake and tremble when you say to me "my love!"
And still I feel my mouth is yearning at your call.

My heart's-ease and my dear, don't look at me that way!
O sister of my choice, you'll always be my love,
And even though you were an ambush ready-set,
The first disturbing step along the road to Hell!'

Delphine, then, rising up to shake her tragic mane,
As if before the tripod, stamping furiously,
Flashing her fatal eye, answered in despot's voice:
'Who in the face of love dares speak to me of Hell!

Accursed may he be, the one with useless dreams
Who in stupidity, promoting to the world
A sterile conundrum, impossible to solve,
First sought to mix the ways of virtue and of love!

Anyone who could join within a mystic bond
Shadow with glowing heat, the night-time with the day,
Never will come to warm his paralytic flesh
At this refulgent sun, which people know as love!

Go, if you will, and find some brutish fiance;
Go give a virgin heart to torturous embrace;
And, livid, with your fill of horror and remorse,
Come running back to me with scars across your breasts...

In this world only one true master can be served!'
But the unhappy child poured out a giant grief
As suddenly she cried: - 'I feel within my soul
An opening abyss: this chasm is my heart!

Deep as the void, with a volcano's boiling heat!
This fierce and moaning monster nothing can assuage,
And nothing can refresh the Furies fiery thirst,
Who, torch in hand, will burn the flesh down to the blood!

Let our closed curtains, then, remove us from the world,
And let our lassitude allow us to find rest!
I would obliterate myself upon your throat
And find the coolness of the tombs within your breast!'

Descend, you victims, oh lamentably descend,
Descend along the path to the eternal Hell!
Plunge on into the gulf where all the shameful crimes,
Those foolish shadows, run at limits of desire,

Seething this way and that with a great thunderous noise,
Flogged by a heavy wind that never saw the sky;
There never will you find your passion satisfied,
And your torment will be your pleasure's awful child.

Never a freshening ray will shine within your caves;
Through cracks along the wall will filter deadly mists
That cast a lantern's glow of pale and dismal flame
And penetrate your bodies with perfumes of death.

The harsh sterility of all your acts of lust
Will bring a dreadful thirst and stiffen out your skin,
And your concupiscence become a furious wind
To snap your feeble flesh like an old, weathered flag.

Far from the living world, wandering and condemned,
Across the desert wastes, go running like the wolves;
Make out your destiny, you poor disordered souls,
And flee the infinite you carry in yourselves!

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