Here we have a poem from Mallarme, which, from the title, could be expected to be a retrospective tribute to the poetic genius of Baudelaire, and I guess it is in a way. But it is a tribute which, through the metaphor of Baudelaire’s tomb, emphasises the grotesque, disturbing aspects of Baudelaire’s poetry. It reminds me of a gothic horror movie, or perhaps a poem or story by Edgar Allan Poe.
The images are of decrepitude and decay, of ugliness and distortion. If you ever go and visit Baudelaire’s real tomb in the Montparnasse cemetery, it isn’t like that at all, of course.
Stéphane MALLARME (1842-1898)
Le tombeau de Charles Baudelaire
Le temple enseveli divulgue par la bouche
Sépulcrale d’égout bavant boue et rubis
Abominablement quelque idole Anubis
Tout le museau flambé comme un aboi farouche
Ou que le gaz récent torde la mèche louche
Essuyeuse on le sait des opprobres subis
Il allume hagard un immortel pubis
Dont le vol selon le réverbère découche
Quel feuillage séché dans les cités sans soir
Votif pourra bénir comme elle se rasseoir
Contre le marbre vainement de Baudelaire
Au voile qui la ceint absente avec frissons
Celle son Ombre même un poison tutélaire
Toujours à respirer si nous en périssons.
I am wondering if this sonnet was inspired as much by Baudelaire’s reputation as his actual poetry, given that “Les Fleurs du Mal” was banned for several years on the grounds of obscenity and several of its poems are indeed somewhat grotesque. When the collection was eventually published, several poems were even then left out in order for publication to be allowed.
So, in that spirit, this poem portrays Baudelaire’s tomb as a sewer-like place where shadows and malevolent spirits roam by the shaky light of a gas lamp, and where the shadow of Baudelaire lies in wait to poison passers-by and onlookers. Creepy stuff…
I found a translation of this poem into English, see below. Its actually quite good…
The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire
BY STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ
TRANSLATED BY HENRY WEINFIELD
The buried temple empties through its bowels,
Sepulchral sewer spewing mud and rubies,
Abominably some idol of Anubis,
Its muzzle all aflame with savage howls.
Or if the recent gas the wick befouls
That bears so many insults, it illumines
In haggard outline an immortal pubis
Flying along the streetlights on its prowls.
What wreaths dried out in cities without prayer
Of night could bless like that which settles down
Vainly against the marble of Baudelaire
In the fluttering veil that girds her absence round,
A tutelary poison, his own Wraith,
We breathe in always though it bring us death.
The Poetry Dude