Two Poems

Translated by David Lehman


Loss of Halo
(Perte d’Aureole)

“What! You here, too, old pal? You, in this den of iniquity! You, quaffer of quintessences! You, who sup on ambrosia! This is truly a surprise.”

“My dear chap, you know my fear of horses and carriages. Just now, as I raced across the street, stomping in the mud to get through that chaos in motion where death gallops at you from all sides at once, my halo slipped off my head and onto the filthy ground. I’m afraid I didn’t have the sang-froid to pick it up—let’s just say I deemed it less disagreeable to lose my insignia than to have my bones broken. And then I said to myself, look for the silver lining. I can now walk around incognito, doing whatever nasty things I like, indulging my vices just as lesser mortals do. And here I am, just like you, as you see!”

“You should at least report the loss of your halo or post a reward for its recovery.”

“Not on your life. I am quite happy here. You alone have recognized me. Besides, dignity bores me. And it pleases me to think that some bad poet will pick it up and put it on his impudent head. How sweet to make someone happy! Especially someone I can laugh at! Think of X or Z. You have to admit that’s funny.”

Let’s Beat Up Some Beggars!
(Assomons les pauvres! )

For two full weeks I stayed in my room, surrounded by the fashionable books of the day (this was 16 or 17 years ago); I mean the genre of books that teach people how to be happy, gain wisdom, and get rich, all within 24 hours. I had thus digested—I should say swallowed—all the lucubrations of all the entrepreneurs of public happiness—including those who would advise the poor to become slaves and those who would persuade them that they are all dethroned kings. Unsurprisingly I emerged from this regimen in a dizzy state of consciousness, a dazed stupor.

It seemed to me only that I had, in the depths of my mind, the nugget of an idea greater than all the old-wives’ formulas that I had recently studied. But it was only the idea of an idea, something infinitely vague.

And I left the house with a mighty thirst. A passion for bad books creates a corresponding craving for refreshments and the open air.

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Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) was a French poet.


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