‘Chant d’Automne’ was written in November 1859 as an address to Marie Daubrun, an actress with whom Baudelaire had hoped to set up home. This dream of a settled life came to nothing as she chose to live with a former lover, the poet Théodore de Banville. This translation is dedicated to Leo Walsh.
Elegy for Autumn
Soon shall we be immersed in shadowed cold;
Farewell brief brightness of our short-lived summer!
I listen to the deathly thud of logs
Which echo round the pavements of our yards.
Winter breaks again through my door: anger,
Bitterness, shivering and fear, forced labour;
And like the sun buried in a frozen hell
My heart shall be no more than one iced block of red.
Shaking I listen to every log that falls;
The erection of a scaffold has no more doom-like sound.
My soul is like a tower which crumbles
In response to an unchecked battering-ram.
My cradle is pounded by the never-ceasing blows,
A coffin nailed in haste, but yet for whom?
Yesterday was summer, enter autumn!
And the pealing of the bell announces ‘Gone’!
I love the green hue of your oval eyes
My still Muse, but all today is sour
And neither the chamber nor the hearthside of your love
Is worth a glint of sunlight on the sea.
And yet reveal your care my tender love,
Be mother to my erring, graceless ways;
As lover or as sister, shed a fleeting sweetness
Of autumn colour or a sun that sinks to rest.
Brief request – the jaws of death are open!
Let me place my forehead on your lap
To taste what was the burning white of summer
In the yellow rays and sweetness of the Fall.
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