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The Monday Poem > Cats by Charles Baudelaire (4th May 2015)

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message 1: by Tejas Janet (last edited May 03, 2015 10:34PM) (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments Les Chats

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

— Charles Baudelaire

message 2: by Tejas Janet (last edited May 03, 2015 10:37PM) (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments And here are five different translations into English. I think it's interesting to see the subtle changes in meaning and feeling that different translations convey.


Both ardent lovers and austere scholars
Love in their mature years
The strong and gentle cats, pride of the house,
Who like them are sedentary and sensitive to cold.

Friends of learning and sensual pleasure,
They seek the silence and the horror of darkness;
Erebus would have used them as his gloomy steeds:
If their pride could let them stoop to bondage.

When they dream, they assume the noble attitudes
Of the mighty sphinxes stretched out in solitude,
Who seem to fall into a sleep of endless dreams;

Their fertile loins are full of magic sparks,
And particles of gold, like fine grains of sand,
Spangle dimly their mystic eyes.

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)


Sages austere and fervent lovers both,
In their ripe season, cherish cats, the pride
Of hearths, strong, mild, and to themselves allied
In chilly stealth and sedentary sloth.

Friends both to lust and learning, they frequent
Silence, and love the horror darkness breeds.
Erebus would have chosen them for steeds
To hearses, could their pride to it have bent.

Dreaming, the noble postures they assume
Of sphinxes stretching out into the gloom
That seems to swoon into an endless trance.

Their fertile flanks are full of sparks that tingle,
And particles of gold, like grains of shingle,
Vaguely be-star their pupils as they glance.

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)


No one but indefatigable lovers and old
Chilly philosophers can understand the true
Charm of these animals serene and potent, who
Likewise are sedentary and suffer from the cold.

They are the friends of learning and of sexual bliss;
Silence they love, and darkness, where temptation breeds.
Erebus would have made them his funereal steeds,
Save that their proud free nature would not stoop to this.

Like those great sphinxes lounging through eternity
In noble attitudes upon the desert sand,
They gaze incuriously at nothing, calm and wise.

Their fecund loins give forth electric flashes, and
Thousands of golden particles drift ceaselessly,
Like galaxies of stars, in their mysterious eyes.

— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

The Cats

The lover and the stern philosopher
Both love, in their ripe time, the confident
Soft cats, the house's chiefest ornament,
Who like themselves are cold and seldom stir.

Of knowledge and of pleasure amorous,
Silence they seek and Darkness' fell domain;
Had not their proud souls scorned to brook his rein,
They would have made grim steeds for Erebus.

Pensive they rest in noble attitudes
Like great stretched sphinxes in vast solitudes
Which seem to sleep wrapt in an endless dream;

Their fruitful loins are full of sparks divine,
And gleams of gold within their pupils shine
As 'twere within the shadow of a stream.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


The ardent lovers and the stern students
in their maturity, love equally,
the gentle, powerful cats, pride of the family,
they too feel the cold and favour indolence.

Companions of knowledge and desire
they seek the silent horrors darkness breeds,
Erebus would take them for his funeral steeds,
were they able to soften their pride.

They take as they dream the noble pose
of the great sphinxes, reclined in desolate land,
lost, it seems, in an endless doze

Their fecund loins brim with enchanting glitter,
whilst their haunting eyes at random flicker
with particles of gold, like fine sand.

— Claire Trevien

message 3: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13416 comments Mod
I love cats and Baudelaire!!! Great choice Tejas Janet

message 4: by Greg (last edited May 04, 2015 02:58AM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
I have two cats myself Tejas Janet. A charming poem! :)

And thanks so much for the multiple translations!! Whenever I buy translated poetry, I like to go to a huge store where I can compare translations before I buy. It makes such a difference!

For the first stanza, I like a few of the different translations.

For the second stanza, I like Trevien's translation best. It feels a bit more active, direct, and sleek than the others.

For the third stanza, I like Aggeler's best. I like the sense of majestic mystery I get from both his and Squire's translations (that seems the proper context for the Sphinx image).

The last stanza seems the toughest to capture - quite a lot of variance. I like Aggeler's and Dillon's translation for that one. "Magic sparks" and "electric flashes" are both pleasingly sharp with just a touch of peculiarity. I like the lovely economy of "spangle dimly their mystic eyes." Very nice. Dillon's last line has a little less zap to it as it lingers on the adjective on the previous line, but I do like the "galaxy of stars" part.

Overall, hard to say! If I only had this one poem to judge by, which translation would I buy? Hmm. Maybe Aggeler's?

It's been a long time since I read Flowers of Evil and Other Works/Les Fleurs du Mal et Oeuvres Choisies : A Dual-Language Book (Dover Foreign Language Study Guides)! I think I'm due for a re-read. And I much prefer Aggeler's translation to the one I read before.

message 5: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Thanks so much for the different translations, Tejas Janet! I'm another cat person so the poem is a hit with me but as you said, each translation is subtly different. I think that overall I like Squire's translation best...

message 6: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Bradshaw (llawryf) | 658 comments Well, I cast my vote for Dillon!

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I really like the different translations. I think I like the Dillon best

message 8: by Tejas Janet (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments I wanted to note that this website, featuring Baudelaire's poetry from "Fleurs du mal," is the source I relied on here:
It has the complete poems from the various editions of his "Flowers of Evil."

Yes, I guess as is no doubt patently obvious, I am a feline fan! My husband and I have five dear kitties plus one equally beloved dog.

I find that poetry and stories about cats tend toward the extremes. Thus cats are else portrayed in excessively saccharin tones or else in dark shades of malevolence. I'm always appreciative of writing that strikes a more realistic balance while doing justice to their fascinating mystique.

I think Baudelaire does this well in this poem. Dillon is also my favorite overall of these translations, but I prefer the French above all. Not that I'm fluent in French, but I've studied it and have an appreciation for the language.

message 9: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
I love cats as well Tejas Janet! :)

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Tejas Janet, you're amazing! It was fascinating to read the different versions. I like each of them for different reasons. The last verse was my favorite, and seeing the variations in this was so much fun. Thank you!

message 11: by Alice (new)

Alice Poon (alice_poon) I've always wanted to read some of Baudelaire's poems. Thanks Tejas Janet for introducing this one!

I think I like William Aggeler's translation best - it's the closest in meaning to the French. The other translations seem to be more liberal in their interpretations.

message 12: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
That's interesting Alice since the Aggeler translation was my favorite (by a hair). I don't know French, but I liked it anyway.

That's quite a feat - to translate something in such a way that it had vibrancy in English and yet to remain the most faithful to the original at the same time!

message 13: by Alice (new)

Alice Poon (alice_poon) I think so too, Greg :)

message 14: by Tejas Janet (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments The Aggeler is a close second for me even tho I do agree it's closest word for word to the French. But as Greg pointed out previously, all the translations have their appeal.

I found it fascinating in its own right to see and compare such a variety of translations side by side : )

message 15: by Tejas Janet (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments Here are links to two recitations of this poem in French.

The first is from same site I posted earlier. To listen, click on this link, scroll to Les Chats, and click on musical note next to title:

Second reading, also in French:

Would love if someone could provide good Spanish translation(s) or link(s) for this and/or other Baudelaire poems.

message 16: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Thanks for the links Tejas Janet (both these and the prior ones)! It's wonderful you found all of this to share with us!

message 17: by Tejas Janet (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments Thanks all for your responses and interest.

message 18: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I so enjoyed reading the different translations Tejas Janet! It's so interesting how they differ, how different translators try to transfer into language what they think is the essence of the poem or of a specific line. There's this interesting philosophy of translation that you need to move away from something in order to stay close, which you can see in some translations more than in others. I've always thought that was really interesting.
We've had a long discussion about this in the past when Akhmatova was our seasonal poet and one of the translators of her poetry (into English) joined our discussion. So thanks again!

message 19: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 83 comments Thanks Tejas Janet for this wonderful poem and all the translations of it. I like every one ! Being a cat lover, I feel it is hard to capture the exact essence of a cat... but these various translations of the original poem go a long way. I especially love the last verse of Dillon's.

message 20: by Tejas Janet (new)

Tejas Janet (tejasjanet) | 440 comments I share your view, Ruth, that capturing the true cat essence is difficult.

I love that Baudelaire approaches cats with obvious respect and reverence, and all the translations consistently convey this as well I think.

Thanks for your post.

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