A poem by Charles Baudelaire

for Maxime du Camp


The wide-eyed child in love with maps and plans
Finds the world equal to his appetite.
How grand the universe by light of lamps,
How petty in the memory's clear sight.

One day we leave, with fire in the brain,
Heart great with rancour, bitter in its mood;
Outward we travel on the rolling main,
Lulling infinity in finitude:

Some gladly flee their homelands gripped in vice,
Some, horrors of their childhood, others still
Astrologers lost in a woman's eyes
Some perfumed Circe with a tyrant's will.

Not to become a beast, each desperate one
Makes himself drunk on space and blazing skies;
The gnawing ice, the copper-burning sun
Efface the scars of kisses and of lies.

But the true voyagers set out to sea
Just for the leaving's sake; hearts lift aloft,
Nothing dissuades them from their destiny,
Something beyond their knowing cries, 'We're off!'

These, then, whose ecstasies are wide as air
As conscripts dream of cannons, have their dreams
Of luxuries beyond what man can bear,
Such as the soul has neither named nor seen.


Our actions are grotesque - in leaps and bounds
We waltz like balls or tops; when day is done
Our curiosity rolls us around
As if a cruel Angel lashed the sun.

Strange thing it is, to chase a shifting fake
A goal that's nowhere, anywhere at all!
Man, whose anticipation stays awake,
To find his rest goes racing like a fool!

Our soul's three-master seeks the blessed isle:
A voice on deck shouts 'Ho there, have a look!'
Some crow's-nest spy cries in romantic style
'Love ... glory ... happiness!' Damn, just a rock!

Each isle is named the long-awaited sight,
The Eldorado· of our Destiny;
Fancy, that grows us orgies in the night,
Breaks on a reef in morning's clarity.

Oh, the inebriate of distant lands,
This sot who sees Americas at will,
Must he be chained, abandoned on the sands,
Whose visions make the gulf more bitter still?

So the old tramp who shumes in the filth
Dreams of a paradise and lifts his head
In his wild eyes, Capua and her wealth
Wherever candle glow lights up a shed.


Fabulous voyagers! What histories
Are there behind your deep and distant stare!
Show us the treasures of your memories,
Those jewels and riches made of stars and air.

We're travellers afraid of steam and sail!
Here in our prison every day's the same.
Oh, paint across the canvas of our souls
Your memoirs, with horizon as their frame.

Tell us, what have you seen?


'We've seen the stars
And waves, and we have seen the sandy shores;
Despite disasters, all our jolts and jars,
On sea, on land we find that we are bored.

The glorious sun across the violet sea,
Great sunlit cities dreaming as they lie,
Made our heart yearn with fierce intensity
To plunge towards those reflections in the sky.

Rich cities, and the grandest mountain spires
Somehow could never hold the same allure
As shifting clouds, the shape of our desires,
Which left us unfulfilled and insecure.

Surely enjoyment quickens passion's spark.
Desire, old tree, that fattens on delight,
As you grow older, toughening your bark,
You want to see the sun from nearer height!

Do you grow always taller, grandest tree,
Older than cypress? - Still, we have with care
Brought sketch-book pieces from across the sea
For brothers who love all that's strange and rare!

Idols with trunks we've greeted in our time;
Great palaces enwrought with filigree
And jewelled thrones in luminous design,
To send your brokers dreams of bankruptcy;

Scant costumes that can stupefy the gaze
On painted women, every nail and tooth,
And subtle jugglers, wise in serpents' ways.'


And then, and then what more?


'0 childish dupes!

You want the truth? We'll tell you without fail
We never thought to search it out, but saw
From heights to depths, through all the mortal scale
The numbing spectacle of human flaw.

Woman, vile slave, proud in stupidity,
Tasteless and humourless in self-conceit;
Man, greedy tyrant, lustful, slovenly,
Slave of the slave, a sewer in the street;

The hangman jokes, the martyr sobs and faints,
The feast of blood is seasoned perfectly;
Poison of power drains a tyrant's strength,
Whose subjects love the whip's brutality.

Religions like our own in most details
Climb skyward on their saints, who it is said
Indulge their lusts with hairshirts, or with nails,
As dainty fops sprawl on a feather bed.

Drunk on her genius, Humanity,
Mad now as she has always been, or worse,
Cries to her God in raging agony:
"Master, my image, damn you with this curse!"

Not quite so foolish, bold demented ones
Flee from the feeding lot that holds the herd;
Their boundless shelter is in opium.
From all the world, such always is the word.'


How bitter, what we learn from voyaging!
The small and tedious world gives us to see
Now, always, the real horror of the thing,
Ourselves-that sad oasis in ennui!

Must one depart? or stay? Stand it and stay,
Leave if you must. One runs, one finds a space
To hide and cheat the deadly enemy
Called Time. Alas, some run a constant race

The twelve apostles, or the Wandering Jew
For them no ship avails, no ways or means
To flee that gladiator; others know
From infancy how to defeat the fiend.

Finally, though, his boot is on our chest;
Then may we hope, and call out 'Onward ho!'
Even as once we set out for the East,
Our eyes fixed widely, hair blown to and fro,

Now sailing on the sea of shades we go,
With all the plans of passengers well-pleased
To hear the voice, funereal and low,
That sings: 'This way! Come here and take your ease

And eat the Lotus! Here we gather in
These fruits for hearts that yearn for strange delights;
Intoxicate yourselves on alien
Enjoyment through these days without a night.'

We understand the phantom's friendly part,
That Pylades who reaches out to tease:
'Swim towards Electra now, to ease your heart!'
She cries, and long ago we kissed her knees.


O Death, old captain, time to make our trip!
This country bores us, Death! Let's get away!
Even if sky and sea are black as pitch
You know our hearts are full of sunny rays!

Serve us your poison, sir, to treat us well!
Minds burning, we know what we have to do,
And plunge to depths of Heaven or of Hell,
To fathom the Unknown, and find the new!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Voyaging' by Charles Baudelaire

comments powered by Disqus