Charles Baudelaire

Elizabeth McCauley in her book on Disdéri and the carte de visite contrasts the Parisian flâneur (idler,wanderer) with an alienated poet in the impersonal city and quotes in full Charles Baudelaire's À UnePassante (from Les Fleurs du Mal). Is the poet who glances at the passerby a verbal street photographer? Baudelaire would be horrified to think so, but Cartier-Bresson would probably agree - remember the original title to The Decisive Moment was Images à la sauvette (Pictures on the run). Here is the poem and Richard Howard's translation.

À Une Passante

In Passing |*|

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.

The traffic roared around me, deafening!

Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,

Tall, slender, in mourning - noble grief -

Une femme passa, d'une main fastueuse

a woman passed, and with a jewelled hand

Soulevant, balançant le feston et l'ourlet;

gathered up her black embroidered hem;


Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.

stately yet lithe, as if a stutue walked . . .

Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,

And trembling like a fool, I drank from eyes

Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l'ouragan,

as ashen as the clouds before a gale

La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

the grace that beckons and the joy that kills.


Un éclair... puis la nuit! - Fugitive beauté

Lightening . . . then darkness! Lovely fugitive

Dont le regard m'a fait soudainement renaître,

whose glance has brought me back to life! But where

Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l'éternité?

is life - not this side of eternity?


Ailleurs, bien loin d'ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!

Elsewhere! Too far, too late, or never at all!

Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,

Of me you know nothing, I nothing of you - you

O toi que j'eusse aimé, ô toi qui le savais!

whom I might have loved and who knew that too!

The English translation is by Richard Howard - © 1983.

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