Poetry Corner (4): Charles Baudelaire and Roy Campbell

For all those ostensibly successful men who seem jaded and dissatisfied, Spleen by Baudelaire, translated by the uniquely experienced Roy Campbell, whose own life was really quite something. Like Cercas’ Soldiers of Salamis and Borkenau’s The Spanish Cockpit, Campbell, poet and soldier, fits into a somewhat different narrative of the Spanish Civil War than we usually get.

As ever with translations, how much is Baudelaire and how much is Campbell is a moot point. Nevertheless, a bleak but vivid ambience is created.

Given the poet and the translator’s different personal histories, you could read this as a study of life without supernatural belief, although after his stroke, Baudelaire perhaps ‘returned home’

Spleen

 I’m like the king of some damp, rainy clime,
Grown impotent and old before my time,
Who scorns the bows and scrapings of his teachers 
And bores himself with hounds and all such creatures.
Naught can amuse him, falcon, steed or chase:
No, not the mortal plight of his whole race
Dying before his balcony. The tune,
Sung to this tyrant by his pet buffoon,
Irks him. His couch seems far more like a grave.
Even the girls, for whom all kings seem brave,
Can think no toilet up, nor shameless rig, 
To draw a smirk from this funereal prig.
The sage who makes him gold, could never find 
The baser element that rots his mind.
Even those blood-baths the old Romans knew 
And later thugs have imitated too,
Can’t warm this skeleton to deeds of slaughter,
Whose only blood is Lethe’s cold, green water.

Mammon (1885) by George Frederic Watts, Tate Britain
Mammon (1885) by George Frederic Watts, Tate Britain

 

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