charles baudelaire – le crépuscule du soir (evening twilight)

Carlos Schwabe
“Le crépuscule du soir”
from Fleurs du Mal (1900)


This poem is from Baudelaire’s 1861 masterpiece, Les Fleurs du Mal (read the original French, as well as two more, quite divergent, translations HERE):

Evening Twilight

Delightful evening, partner of the crook,
Steals in, wolf-padded, like a complice: look:
Heaven, like a garret, closes to the day,
And Man, impatient, turns a beast of prey.

Sweet evening, loved by those whose arms can tell,
Without a lie, “Today we’ve laboured well:”
Sweet evening, it is she who brings relief
To men with souls devoured by one fierce grief,
Obstinate thinkers drowsy in the head,
And toil-bent workmen groping to their bed.

But insalubrious demons of the airs,
Like business people, wake to their affairs
And, flying, knock, like bats, on walls and shutters.
Now Prostitution lights up in the gutters
Across the glimmering jets the wind torments.
Like a huge ant-hive it unseals its vents.
On every side it weaves its hidden tracks
Like enemies preparing night-attacks.
It squirms within the City’s breast of mire,
A worm that steals the food that men desire.

One hears the kitchens hissing here and there,
Operas squealing, orchestras ablare.
Cheap tables d’hôte, where gaming lights the eyes,
Fill up with whores, and sharpers, their allies:
And thieves, whose office knows no truce nor rest,
Will shortly now start working, too, with zest,
Gently unhinging doors and forcing tills,
To live some days and buy their sweethearts frills.

Collect yourself, my soul, in this grave hour
And shut your ears against the din and stour.
It is the hour when sick men’s pains increase.
Death grips them by the throat, and soon they cease
Their destined task, to find the common pit.
The ward is filled with sighings. Out of it
Not all return the scented soup to taste,
Warm at the hearthside, by some loved-one placed.

But then how few among them can recall
Joys of the hearth, or ever lived at all!

— translated by Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

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