What shall you say tonight?

Salomé dansant by Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau, Salomé dansant (detail)

Que diras-tu ce soir...

Que diras-tu ce soir, pauvre âme solitaire,
Que diras-tu, mon coeur, coeur autrefois flétri,
À la très belle, à la très bonne, à la très chère,
Dont le regard divin t'a soudain refleuri ?

— Nous mettrons notre orgueil à chanter ses louanges :
Rien ne vaut la douceur de son autorité
Sa chair spirituelle a le parfum des Anges
Et son oeil nous revêt d'un habit de clarté.

Que ce soit dans la nuit et dans la solitude
Que ce soit dans la rue et dans la multitude
Son fantôme dans l'air danse comme un flambeau.

Parfois il parle et dit: « Je suis belle, et j'ordonne
Que pour l'amour de moi vous n'aimiez que le Beau ;
Je suis l'Ange gardien, la Muse et la Madone. »

Charles Baudelaire

What Shall You Say Tonight?

What shall you say tonight, poor soul so full of care,
What shall you say, my heart, heart hitherto so sad,
To the most kind, to the most dear, to the most fair,
Whose pure serene regard has made you proud and glad?

— We shall set all our pride to sing her holy praise!
What sweetness to be hers! To live beneath her sight!
Half spirit is her flesh, angelic all her ways;
Her glance alone invests us in a robe of light!

Whether in solitude and deep obscurity,
Whether by day among the moving crowd it be,
Her phantom like a torch in air will dance and run;

It speaks: "Beauty is mine; Authority is mine;
Love only, for my sake, the noble and the fine:
I am thine Angel, Muse, Madonna, all in one."

Charles Baudelaire
Transl. Edna St. Vincent Millay
Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)
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English speakers who don't know French might not notice at first how great a translation is this English version of the poem by Charles Baudelaire. It is not a word-to-word translation, but genuine English poetry, much better in my opinion than other translations of this poem displayed on fleursdumal.org.

Edna St.Vincent Millay has succeeded here in adapting the atmosphere of Baudelaire's poetry. In particular, she has been able to transpose the musical quality of a French sonnet — a kind of poetry she liked much and reinvigorated in her own work — written here with the abab cdcd eef ggf rhyming scheme, and she has kept the Romanic 12 feet alexandrines.
Translating poetry is always a challenge. I believe Edna St.Vincent Millay here made it possible for English readers to experience the rythm and musicality of Baudelaire's poetry, something that happens rarely when you don't know French.

1 comment(s):

    That was an absolutely beautiful poem. As you know, I cannot read the translation, but I agree, it must be really good.


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