France

Charles Baudelaire
Les fleurs du mal, 1857

Chant d’automne

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J’entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l’hiver va rentrer dans mon être:
colère, Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon cœur ne sera plus qu’un bloc rouge et glacé.

J’écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe
L’échafaud qu’on bâtit n’a pas d’écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

II me semble, bercé par ce choc monotone,
Qu’on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui? — C’était hier l’été; voici l’automne!
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ

Song of Automne

Soon we will plunge into the cold darkness;
Farewell, vivid brightness of our short-lived summers!
Already I hear the dismal sound of firewood
Falling with a clatter on the courtyard pavement.

All of winter will return to my being: anger,
Hate, horror, shivering, hard and forced labor,
And, like the sun in his polar hell,
My heart will be no more than a frozen and red block.

I listen trembling to each falling log
The scaffold that is built has no sound more dull.
My spirit resembles the tower which crumbles
Under the tireless blows of the battering ram.

It seems to me, lulled by these monotonous shocks,
That somewhere one nails a coffin in great haste.
For whom? — Yesterday was summer; here is autumn!
This mysterious noise sounds like a departure.


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is one of France’s most celebrated poets and his iconic work, Les Fleurs du Mal, has achieved international fame. Baudelaire began work on Les fleurs du mal after a trip to India in 1841. The influence of his trip—the themes of journey and of the sea—are apparent in the collection as the poems constitute a voyage through time and space. During his lifetime, Baudelaire would play an active role in the political discourse revolving around the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe as a writer for various French newspapers. His work takes on a reporter-like quality as he sheds light on the inevitability of change and the constant evolution of both the city and its inhabitants.


In “Chant d’automne,” the first half of which is featured here, Baudelaire addresses the changing of seasons in relation to the changing of his temperament. The poem opens with an address that simultaneously bids farewell to the past while looking towards the future. The opening exclamation signals the end of summer, a season that Baudelaire associates with the sun and its warmth and light. Contrasting with summer is the winter, which looms on the horizon as a frigid and dark omen. Baudelaire parallels the dichotomy between summer and winter with that of life and death. Haunted by the looming threat of entrapment, the narrator realizes that between summer and winter comes autumn, a season which presents the mysterious possibility of change. Baudelaire’s invocation of the changing of seasons, with particular emphasis on the tension between summer and winter, highlights the cyclic nature of time. Presented as a period of transition by Baudelaire, autumn represents a point of interest as it symbolizes the tranquility of a space between past life and future death.

 

Baudelaire, Charles. “LVI Chant d’automne.” Les fleurs du mal. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. 57-8. Print.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

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