Baudelaire’s Boredom: A Humid Dungeon with a Rotten Ceiling

by Christian Parreno

Spleen

When the cold heavy sky weighs like a lid
On spirits whom eternal boredom grips,
And the wide ring of the horizon’s hid
In daytime darker than the night’s eclipse:

When the world seems a dungeon, damp and small,
Where hope flies like a bat, in circles reeling,
Beating his timid wings against the wall
And dashing out his brains against the ceiling:

When trawling rains have made their steel-grey fibres
Look like the grilles of some tremendous jail,
And a whole nation of disgusting spiders
Over our brains their dusty cobwebs trail:

Suddenly bells are fiercely clanged about
And hurl a fearsome howl into the sky
Like spirits from their country hunted out
Who’ve nothing else to do but shriek and cry —

Then long processions without fifes or drums
Wind slowly through my soul. Hope, weeping, bows
To conquest. And atrocious Anguish comes
To plant his black flag on my drooping brows.

Baudelaire, Charles (1952) ‘Spleen’ in Poems of Baudelaire. Edited and translated by Roy Campbell. New York: Pantheon Books. Originally published in 1857 in Fleurs du mal.

Other translations

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