The Swan

For Victor Hugo

I.
My thoughts all turn to you, Andromache—
that little stream, the mournful looking-glass
that caught your whole widowhood’s majesty,
the tears you shed to feed that ‘Simoïs’

had quickened in my fecund recollection,
as I walked through the modern Carrousel.
The old Paris is gone. A town’s complexion,
like human hearts, never stays put at all.

I picture in my mind the camp of shacks,
the rough-hewn column-drums and capitals,
the weeds, the puddles mossing up huge blocks
and mirroring the bric-a-brac and frills.

The place once hosted a menagerie,
and here’s what I saw there at just the hour
when Work wakes up and greets the cool black sky
and sweepers push dust storms into the air:

a swan, who had somehow found freedom, passed
clumsily, wings laid flat, along the walk.
His wealth of feathers draggled in the dust.
Right by a ditch, he opened up his beak.

Flapping excitedly, wings on the ground,
heart roused by lakes he once was giddy with,
he said, “Come on and rain, sky! Thunder, sound!”
I see him as a strange and fatal myth.

Towards the ironic sky, as in some book
of Ovid, towards the cruel blue, his head
kept bobbing up atop a shaky neck
as if he were abominating God!

II.
Though Paris changes, nothing in my sorry
state has budged. Blocks, palaces tacked on,
old districts, all to me are allegory.
My dear remembrances weigh more than stone.

A sight outside the Louvre hits home: I think
of that big swan who struggled in his woe,
an exile, a sublime and antic thing
consumed by longing, and I think of you,

Andromache, torn from a husband’s love,
base property of Pyrrhus’ rough pride,
head bowed to rave beside an empty grave,
widow of Hector, Helenus’ bride.

I think of a black girl, tubercular,
searching with tired eyes, as she slogs through mud,
for palms she knew in Africa somewhere
behind a massive barrier of cloud;

of all deprived of something they may not
find ever, ever again—whose tears are streams,
who suck a grief milk from the she-wolf’s tit;
of skinny orphans, of decaying blooms.

Thus in the woods that house my exiled soul,
hoary Remembrance blares a cri du coeur!
I think of sailors stranded on an isle,
of captives, the defeated. . .many more!

 

Reprinted from The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal) by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Aaron Poochigian. Copyright © 2022 by Aaron Poochigian. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company Inc. All rights reserved. https://wwnorton.com/books/9781631498596

Charles Baudelaire: Le Cygne
À Victor Hugo

I
Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
L’immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,

A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la forme d’une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d’un mortel);

Je ne vois qu’en esprit tout ce camp de baraques,
Ces tas de chapiteaux ébauchés et de fûts,
Les herbes, les gros blocs verdis par l’eau des flaques,
Et, brillant aux carreaux, le bric-à-brac confus.

Là s’étalait jadis une ménagerie;
Là je vis, un matin, à l’heure où sous les cieux
Froids et clairs le Travail s’éveille, où la voirie
Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l’air silencieux,

Un cygne qui s’était évadé de sa cage,
Et, de ses pieds palmés frottant le pavé sec,
Sur le sol raboteux traînait son blanc plumage.
Près d’un ruisseau sans eau la bête ouvrant le bec

Baignait nerveusement ses ailes dans la poudre,
Et disait, le coeur plein de son beau lac natal:
«Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu? quand tonneras-tu, foudre?»
Je vois ce malheureux, mythe étrange et fatal,

Vers le ciel quelquefois, comme l’homme d’Ovide,
Vers le ciel ironique et cruellement bleu,
Sur son cou convulsif tendant sa tête avide
Comme s’il adressait des reproches à Dieu!

II
Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N’a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie
Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.

Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m’opprime:
Je pense à mon grand cygne, avec ses gestes fous,
Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime
Et rongé d’un désir sans trêve! et puis à vous,

Andromaque, des bras d’un grand époux tombée,
Vil bétail, sous la main du superbe Pyrrhus,
Auprès d’un tombeau vide en extase courbée
Veuve d’Hector, hélas! et femme d’Hélénus!

Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique
Piétinant dans la boue, et cherchant, l’oeil hagard,
Les cocotiers absents de la superbe Afrique
Derrière la muraille immense du brouillard;

À quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
Jamais, jamais! à ceux qui s’abreuvent de pleurs
Et tètent la Douleur comme une bonne louve!
Aux maigres orphelins séchant comme des fleurs!

Ainsi dans la forêt où mon esprit s’exile
Un vieux Souvenir sonne à plein souffle du cor!
Je pense aux matelots oubliés dans une île,
Aux captifs, aux vaincus!… à bien d’autres encor!

Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His first book of poetry, The Cosmic Purr (Able Muse Press), was published in 2012 and, winner of the 2016 Able Muse Poetry Prize, his second book Manhattanite came out in December of 2017. His thriller in verse, Mr. Either/Or, was released by Etruscan Press in Fall of 2017. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, POETRY and The Times Literary Supplement.
Aaron Poochigian

Latest posts by Aaron Poochigian (see all)

Author: Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His first book of poetry, The Cosmic Purr (Able Muse Press), was published in 2012 and, winner of the 2016 Able Muse Poetry Prize, his second book Manhattanite came out in December of 2017. His thriller in verse, Mr. Either/Or, was released by Etruscan Press in Fall of 2017. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, POETRY and The Times Literary Supplement.