Belle ” à damner les saints ” , à troubler sous l’aumusse

This is a funny portrait by Verlaine of “une grande dame” – how would we best portray that idea in English, since the concept is ironic, not literal? I’m not sure exactly, but perhaps the type of rich, entitled, woman of a certain age used to dominating all around her in a totally self-centred way, I’d better not give any real life examples. The poem skewers the looks, deportment and behaviour of the aging super-model, the patrician aristocrat, the fading trophy wife of a powerful politician… I hope Verlaine had someone real in mind when he wrote this, but we can all substitute our own candidates.

Une grande dame

Belle ” à damner les saints ” , à troubler sous l’aumusse
Un vieux juge ! Elle marche impérialement.
Elle parle – et ses dents font un miroitement –
Italien, avec un léger accent russe.

Ses yeux froids où l’émail sertit le bleu de Prusse
Ont l’éclat insolent et dur du diamant.
Pour la splendeur du sein, pour le rayonnement
De la peau, nulle reine ou courtisane, fût-ce

Cléopâtre la lynce ou la chatte Ninon,
N’égale sa beauté patricienne, non !
Vois, ô bon Buridan : ” C’est une grande dame ! ”

Il faut – pas de milieu ! – l’adorer à genoux,
Plat, n’ayant d’astre aux cieux que ses lourds cheveux roux
Ou bien lui cravacher la face, à cette femme !

Paul Verlaine

From <;

This woman could lead a saint to damnation, and make a judge tremble under his wig. She has an imperial presence and her accent is exotic, it could be italian or it could be Russian, a bit like the evil woman in most James Bond movies. Here eyes are cold, Prussian blue, and hard as diamonds (of which she undoubtedly must have a vast collection), her breasts and skin put Cleopatra in the shade. So what must we do? Either get down on our knees and worship her, taking her red hair for our north star, or spit in her face…

I’m sure this great woman would have plenty of people ready to do both. Thank you, Verlaine.

The Poetry Dude





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