Books January 2003
A review of Complete poems, by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Walter Martin.
To all the fierce technical difficulties of translating French verse into English—the relative restrictiveness of French vocabulary, the alexandrine line (always uneasy in our language), the precise yet variable positioning of the caesura, the purity and predominance of the French vowels—Baudelaire added a further, seemingly insuperable obstacle: the subtle torque between impossibly polished form and violent, often splenetic content. To use painterly terms, which Baudelaire himself, with his keen eye, might have approved, it is as though a Bosch or a Goya chose to paint his most terrible visions in the manner of Fragonard. Oddly enough, this mélange of bitter bile and formal delicacy has proved seductive, but how to convey it in good English?
How, for example, should a translator grapple with the following stanza from Baudelaire’s notorious “Une charogne”?
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