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Crowds – a new translation of a Baudelaire prose poem from 1861

Ahead of the publication of his book later this year, Ian Brinton provides us with a further little excursion into the city streets of Baudelaire’s Paris with translation of one of his prose poems from 1861. It was published in a volume titled Petit Poèmes en Prose, subtitled ‘Le Spleen de Paris’. The translation is dedicated to Will Law.


It is not the gift of everybody to be able to immerse himself in a crowd; to mingle in the throng is an art and the only person who can join the lively carousel, at the expense of others, is he who has been inspired from the cradle with a taste for the disguises of the masque, a disdain for home and a passion for travel.
The words ‘crowd’ and ‘isolation’ are threaded together for the living poet. Whoever cannot fill his solitude with people is unable to be alone within the mass.
In choosing to be both himself and others the poet bathes in unique waters. Like those wandering spirits in search of a corporeal home, he takes up residence whenever he wishes within the being of another. For him alone, all doors are open and if some surfaces appear opaque it is, from his point of view, on account of their not being worth a visit.
The solitary and reflective pedestrian finds this mingling with the commons particularly exhilarating. He who can with ease wed himself to the crowd is aware of an ecstasy that is denied forever to the egoist enclosed within his cabinet or the idler trapped within his mollusc’s shell. He can dip into all professions as if they were his own and experience all the joys and sorrows presented to him by circumstances.
What the ordinary man refers to as love is a very small affair, shackled and weak, when one puts it beside the unquenchable riot, the saintly prostitution of the soul which offers itself as a poetic gift to the unforeseen as it is revealed and to the stranger who passes in the street.
In order to puncture their self-satisfaction for a moment it is sometimes rather good to offer a lesson to the contented of the world and to suggest that there are more refined and more expansive pleasures which are somewhat greater than their own. The founders of colonies, the religious leaders of the people and the missionaries stationed in the furthest corners of the globe doubtless know something of this magic intoxication; in the new world of their imagination they must feel prompted occasionally to smile at the thought of those who feel pity for their open-ended destiny and for the purity of their commitment.


See also:

Le Serpent Qui Danse – a translation by Ian Brinton

The Cracked Bell – a new translation by Ian Brinton

Baudelaire’s ‘Chant d’Automne’ translated by Ian Brinton


Ian Brinton’s imaginative and haunting new translations of the 18 poems in the ‘Tableaux Parisiens’ section of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal are published in Charles Baudelaire Paris Scenes (July 2021).

More information here

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