The HyperTexts

Norman R. Shapiro

Norman R. Shapiro is Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Wesleyan University. He is also Writer in Residence at Adams House, Harvard University. Among his many award-winning translations are Four Farces by Georges Feydeau (University of Chicago Press), nominated for a National Book Award; The Fabulists French: Verse Fables of Nine Centuries (University of Illinois Press), named Distinguished Book of the Year by the American Literary Translators Association; One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine, recipient of the MLA’s Scaglione Prize; and Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from "Les Fleurs du mal," the last two published by Chicago Press. He has also published the Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (University of Illinois Press), recipient of the Lewis Galantière Prize, and a volume of La Fontaine's Contes (Black Widow Press). Other translations include Lyrics of the French Renaissance (Yale University Press), The Comedy of Eros: Medieval French Guides to the Art of Love (University of Illinois Press), and Nine Centuries of French Women Poets (Johns Hopkins University Press). Recent volumes include poetry collections of Théophile Gautier (in Yale’s Margellos World Republic of Letters series), Anna de Noailles, Jacques Prévert, Cécile Périn, and eminent Belgian poet Pierre Coran (Black Widow Press) as well as Fe-Lines: French Cat Poems through the Ages (University of Illinois Press). Long a specialist in French-African and Caribbean literature, he has several collections to his credit, including a number in Louisiana French poetry and theater, among the latter a verse translation of Victor Séjour’s romantic tragedy The Jew of Seville (“Diégarias”). He is also the author of several collections of French farce by a variety of 19th-century playwrights.


You ...

When you were but the merest tot,
Babbling in cowering awkwardness,
When you were only fresh-begot,
Flesh of my flesh, I loved you less ...
What are you now? I scarce know what.

You are Yourself, not part of me:
So little mine, the soul within,
I cannot pierce your mystery!
Be beautiful, be good! Yes, be
Everything I could not have been.

I placed my desperate hopes upon
Your childhood ... Light of heart, as then,
Joys will be born anew, anon,
As when you gave them birth. Though gone
Life holds them fast, to come again ...

You are this, you are that ... Ah yes ...
You are our fruit of twofold race,
Who, with each step, bear off, caress
Against your breast, a bit of space.
You are this, you are that ... Ah yes ...

―Yet you are You, no more, no less.

Translated from the French of Cécile Périn. This translation appeared in The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn. Copyright © 2016 by Norman R. Shapiro and Black Widow Press. Reprinted by permission of Norman Shapiro.



In the Gold Chalice of Caresses ...

In the gold chalice of caresses
We drank wine's draught, a-dallying,
That wakes the blood and makes it sing,
and moves the heart to drunk excesses ...

Languid-eyed, languid-fingered, this
Quivering deep within the flesh ...
Shivering bodies' lustful bliss,
Dying, to be reborn a-fresh!

Fervent hands, soft and cool—yours, mine—
Ecstasy-pouring pythonesses:
Here are our hearts ... Come, pour the wine
From the gold chalice of caresses.

Translated from the French of Cécile Périn. This translation appeared in The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn. Copyright © 2016 by Norman R. Shapiro and Black Widow Press. Reprinted by permission of Norman Shapiro.



The Explorer and the Lion

He bought a lion that
He painted green, and he,
Decked out in mauve ... Whereat,
Explorer and said cat
Roamed the world, roving free ...
When home he comes—worn out
From gadding roundabout—
No one spouts righteous awe
To see his pupil feast
On him, and eat him raw!
Some, though, pity the beast,
Distressed—distraught—to see
Man's needless cruelty:
Poor hungry creature! Why,
Assassin on the sly,
Kill him summarily?
"Animal rights!" they cry,
Ranting bolder and bolder ...

Morality is in the eye
           Of the beholder.

Translated from the French of Pierre Coran. This translation appeared in Fables in a Modern Key. Copyright © 2014 by Pierre Coran and Norman R. Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Norman Shapiro.



Last Hope

Beside a humble stone, a tree
Floats in the cemetery’s air,
Not planted in memoriam there,
But growing wild, uncultured, free.

A bird comes perching there to sing,
Winter and summer, proffering
Its faithful song—sad, bittersweet.
That tree, that bird are you and I:

You, memory; absence, me, that tide
And time record. Ah, by your side
To live again, undying! Aye,

To live again! But ma petite,
Now nothingness, cold, owns my flesh. . .
Will your love keep my memory fresh?

Translated from the French of Paul Verlaine. This translation appeared in One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine: A Bilingual Edition. Copyright © 1999 by Norman R. Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.



Innocents We

Their long skirts and high heels battled away:
Depending on the ground's and breezes' whim,
At times some stocking shone, low on the limb—
Too soon concealed!—tickling our naïveté.

At times, as well, an envious bug would bite
Our lovelies' necks beneath the boughs, and we
Would glimpse a flash—white flash, ah! ecstasy!—
And glut our mad young eyes on sheer delight.

Evening would fall, the autumn day would draw
To its uncertain close: our belles would cling
Dreamingly to us, cooing, whispering
Lies that still set our souls trembling with awe.

Translated from the French of Paul Verlaine. This translation appeared in One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine: A Bilingual Edition. Copyright © 1999 by Norman R. Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.



To the Reader

Folly, depravity, greed, mortal sin
Invade our souls and rack our flesh; we feed
Our gentle guilt, gracious regrets, that breed
Like vermin glutting on foul beggars' skin.

Our sins are stubborn; our repentance, faint.
We take a handsome price for our confession,
Happy once more to wallow in transgression,
Thinking vile tears will cleanse us of all taint.

On evil's cushion poised, His Majesty,
Satan Thrice-Great, lulls our charmed soul, until
He turns to vapor what was once our will:
Rich ore, transmuted by his alchemy.

He holds the strings that move us, limb by limb!
We yield, enthralled, to things repugnant, base;
Each day, towards Hell, with slow, unhurried pace,
We sink, uncowed, through shadows, stinking, grim.

Like some lewd rake with his old worn-out whore,
Nibbling her suffering teats, we seize our sly
Delight, that, like an orange—withered, dry—
We squeeze and press for juice that is no more.

Our brains teem with a race of Fiends, who frolic
Thick as a million gut-worms; with each breath,
Our lungs drink deep, suck down a stream of Death—
Dim-lit—to low-moaned whimpers melancholic.

If poison, fire, blade, rape do not succeed
In sewing on that dull embroidery
Of our pathetic lives their artistry,
It's that our soul, alas, shrinks from the deed.

And yet, among the beasts and creatures all—
Panther, snake, scorpion, jackal, ape, hound, hawk—
Monsters that crawl, and shriek, and grunt, and squawk,
In our vice-filled menagerie's caterwaul,

One worse is there, fit to heap scorn upon—
More ugly, rank! Though noiseless, calm and still,
Yet would he turn the earth to scraps and swill,
Swallow it whole in one great, gaping yawn:

Ennui! That monster frail!—With eye wherein
A chance tear gleams, he dreams of gibbets, while
Smoking his hookah, with a dainty smile. . .
—You know him, reader,—hypocrite,—my twin!

Translated from the French of Charles Baudelaire's "Au Lecteur" (please click the hyperlink to see the text of the original poem side-by-side with the translation, and to find information about purchasing Norman R. Shapiro's Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from "Les Fleurs du mal" from the University of Chicago Press). Copyright notice: Excerpted from Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Norman R. Shapiro, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 1998 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of both the author and the University of Chicago Press.



Invitation to the Voyage

           Imagine, ma petite,
           Dear sister mine, how sweet
Were we to go and take our pleasure
           Leisurely, you and I—
           To lie, to love, to die
Off in that land made to your measure!
           A land whose suns' moist rays,
           Through the skies' misty haze,
Hold quite the same dark charms for me
           As do your scheming eyes
           When they, in their like wise,
Shine through your tears, perfidiously.

There all is order, naught amiss:
Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss.

           Treasure galore—ornate,
           Time-glossed—would decorate
Our chamber, where the rarest blooms
           Would blend their lavish scent,
           Heady and opulent,
With wisps of amber-like perfumes;
           Where all the Orient's
           Splendid, rich ornaments—
Deep mirrors, ceilings fine—would each,
           In confidential tone,
           Speak to the soul alone
In its own sweet and secret speech.

There all is order, naught amiss:
Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss.

           See how the ships, asleep—
           They who would ply the deep!—
Line the canals: to satisfy
           Your merest whim they come
           From far-flung heathendom
And skim the seven seas. —On high,
           The sunset's rays enfold
           In hyacinth and gold,
Field and canal; and, with the night,
           As shadows gently fall,
           Behold! Life sleeps, and all
Lies bathed in warmth and evening light.

There all is order, naught amiss:
Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss.

Translated from the French of Charles Baudelaire's " L'Invitation au voyage" (please click the hyperlink to see the text of the original poem side-by-side with the translation, and to find information about purchasing Norman R. Shapiro's Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from "Les Fleurs du mal" from the University of Chicago Press). Copyright notice: Excerpted from Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Norman R. Shapiro, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 1998 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of both the author and the University of Chicago Press.



End of the Day

In all its raucous impudence
Life writhes, cavorts in pallid light,
With little cause or consequence;
And when, with darkling skies, the night

Casts over all its sensuous balm,
Quells hunger's pangs and, in like wise,
Quells shame beneath its pall of calm,
"Aha, at last!" the Poet sighs.

"My mind, my bones, yearn, clamoring
For sweet repose unburdening.
Heart full of dire, funereal thought,

I will lie out; your folds will cling
About me: veils of shadow wrought,
O darkness, cool and comforting!"

Translated from the French of Charles Baudelaire's "La Fin de la Journée" (please click the hyperlink to see the text of the original poem side-by-side with the translation, and to find information about purchasing Norman R. Shapiro's Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems from "Les Fleurs du mal" from the University of Chicago Press). Copyright notice: Excerpted from Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Norman R. Shapiro, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 1998 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of both the author and the University of Chicago Press.

The HyperTexts