Baudelaire on Moving

I was reading Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) by the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) the other day, and came across a poem that really struck me. I first discovered Baudelaire when I was at school, studying French A-level. Although I found the language hard to understand when I was studying, there was something about his painful melancholy poems that spoke to my tortured teenage soul.

This poem in particular describes something that I have felt a million times. The need to move, to not be in the same place, the place where I am. After all, what we want when we feel like this is to be anywhere, but not in this world. Whenever someone asks me whether I’m over my travel bug, I silently ask myself whether my longing to travel and move is some kind of illness. There have been many points in my life where I would have given anything to be somewhere else, anywhere, just not where I was. Once, during my degree, I had just come back from a short trip and I mentioned to my friend Sean that I wanted to move to the place I’d just come back from. He said, “Miss W wants to move to wherever she goes…”

Here is the English translation and the French below for those of you qui parlent Français.

The Seine, Paris, France
Paris Spleen

Anywhere Out of the World

Life is a hospital, in which every patient is possessed by the desire to change his bed.  This one would prefer to suffer in

front of the stove, and that one believes he would get well if he were placed by the window.

It seems to me that I should always be happier elsewhere than where I happen to be, and this question of moving is one that I am continually talking over with my soul.

“Tell me, my soul, poor chilled soul, what do you say to living in Lisbon?  It must be very warm there, and you would bask merrily, like a lizard.  It is by the sea; they say that it is built of marble, and that the people have such a horror of vegetation that they uproot all the trees.  There is a landscape that would suit you — made out of light and minerals, with water to reflect them.”

My soul does not answer.

“Since you love tranquillity, and the sight of moving things, will you come and live in Holland, that heavenly land?  Perhaps you could be happy in that country, for you have often admired pictures of Dutch life.  What do you say to Rotterdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships anchored at the doors of houses?”

My soul remains silent.

Perhaps Batavia seems more attractive to you?  There we would find the intellect of Europe married to the beauty of the tropics.

Not a word. Can my soul be dead?

“Have you sunk into so deep a stupor that only your own torment gives you pleasure?  If that be so, let us flee to those lands constituted in the likeness of Death.  I know just the place for us, poor soul!  We will leave for Torneo.  Or let us go even farther, to the last limits of the Baltic; and if possible, still farther from life.  Let us go to the Pole.  There the sun obliquely grazes the earth, and the slow alternations of light and obscurity make variety impossible, and increase that monotony which is almost death.  There we shall be able to take baths of darkness, and for our diversion,from time to time the Aurora Borealis shall scatter its rosy sheaves before us, like reflections of the fireworks of Hell!”

At last my soul bursts into speech, and wisely cries to me:  “Anywhere, anywhere, as long as it be out of this world!”

Translation by Arthur Symons.

N’importe où Hors du Monde 

Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu’il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre.
Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.
“Dis-moi, mon âme, pauvre âme refroidie, que penserais-tu d’habiter Lisbonne? Il doit y faire chaud, et tu t’y ragaillardirais comme un lézard. Cette ville est au bord de l’eau; on dit qu’elle est bâtie en marbre, et que le peuple y a une telle haine du végétal, qu’il arrache tous les arbres. Voilà un paysage selon ton goût; un paysage fait avec la lumière et le minéral, et le liquide pour les réfléchir!”
Mon âme ne répond pas.
“Puisque tu aimes tant le repos, avec le spectacle du mouvement, veux-tu venir habiter la Hollande, cette terre béatifiante? Peut-être te divertiras-tu dans cette contrée dont tu as souvent admiré l’image dans les musées. Que penserais-tu de Rotterdam, toi qui aimes les forêts de mâts, et les navires amarrés au pied des maisons?”
Mon âme reste muette.
“Batavia te sourirait peut-être davantage? Nous y trouverions d’ailleurs l’esprit de l’Europe marié à la beauté tropicale.”
Pas un mot. – Mon âme serait-elle morte?
“En es-tu donc venue à ce point d’engourdissement que tu ne te plaises que dans ton mal? S’il en est ainsi, fuyons vers les pays qui sont les analogies de la Mort.
– Je tiens notre affaire, pauvre âme! Nous ferons nos malles pour Tornéo. Allons plus loin encore, à l’extrême bout de la Baltique; encore plus loin de la vie, si c’est possible; installons-nous au pôle. Là le soleil ne frise qu’obliquement la terre, et les lentes alternatives de la lumière et de la nuit suppriment la variété et augmentent la monotonie, cette moitié du néant. Là, nous pourrons prendre de longs bains de ténèbres, cependant que, pour nous divertir, les aurores boréales nous enverront de temps en temps leurs gerbes roses, comme des reflets d’un feu d’artifice de l’Enfer!”
Enfin, mon âme fait explosion, et sagement elle me crie: “N’importe où! n’importe où! pourvu que ce soit hors de ce monde!”

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