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To a Malabar Woman by Charles Baudelaire (À une Malabaraise)


After Baudelaire's step-father sent him off to Calcutta in 1841, his ship wrecked, forcing him onto the lands of Mauritius. While there, he met a girl from Malabar whom this poem is written for. The original version is written in couplet rhymes.

We all know what it is like to meet someone like the woman in "To a Malabar Woman". They are the women that we find exotic and enticing at the same time. They are women who make us want to write poetry about the moment we see them. Baudelaire was lucky enough to have his wit and poetry to help him out with this woman. We all wish we could possess such talents.

As well, this poem shows us that good things happen in the strangest ways. He was sent away from his family and then his ship crashed, yet he was still able to find happiness where he wrecked.


To a Malabar Woman

Your feet are as slender as your hands and your hips
Are broad; they'd make the fairest white woman jealous;
To the pensive artist your body's sweet and dear;
Your wide, velvety eyes are darker than your skin.

In the hot blue country where your God had you born
It is your task to light the pipe of your master,
To keep the flasks filled with cool water and perfumes,
To drive far from his bed the roving mosquitoes,
And as soon as morning makes the plane-trees sing, to
Buy pineapples and bananas at the bazaar.
All day long your bare feet follow your whims,
And, very low, you hum old, unknown melodies;
And when evening in his scarlet cloak descends,
You stretch out quietly upon a mat and there
Your drifting dreams are full of humming-birds and are
Like you, always pleasant and adorned with flowers.

Why, happy child, do you wish to see France,
That over-peopled country which suffering mows down,
And entrusting your life to the strong arms of sailors,
Bid a last farewell to your dear tamarinds?
You, half-dressed in filmy muslins,
Shivering over there in the snow and the hail,
How you would weep for your free, pleasant leisure, if,
With a brutal corset imprisoning your flanks,
You had to glean your supper in our muddy streets
And sell the fragrance of your exotic charms,
With pensive eye, following in our dirty fogs
The sprawling phantoms of the absent coco palms!

Published in .

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


À une Malabaraise

Tes pieds sont aussi fins que tes mains, et ta hanche
Est large À faire envie À la plus belle blanche;
À l'artiste pensif ton corps est doux et cher;
Tes grands yeux de velours sont plus noirs que ta chair.
Aux pays chauds et bleus où ton Dieu t'a fait naître,
Ta tâche est d'allumer la pipe de ton maître,
De pourvoir les flacons d'eaux fraîches et d'odeurs,
De chasser loin du lit les moustiques rôdeurs,
Et, dès que le matin fait chanter les platanes,

D'acheter au bazar ananas et bananes.
Tout le jour, où tu veux, tu mènes tes pieds nus,
Et fredonnes tout bas de vieux airs inconnus;
Et quand descend le soir au manteau d'écarlate,
Tu poses doucement ton corps sur une natte,
Où tes rêves flottants sont pleins de colibris,
Et toujours, comme toi, gracieux et fleuris.

Pourquoi, l'heureuse enfant, veux-tu voir notre France,
Ce pays trop peuplé que fauche la souffrance,
Et, confiant ta vie aux bras forts des marins,
Faire de grands adieux À tes chers tamarins?
Toi, vêtue À moitié de mousselines frêles,
Frissonnante lÀ-bas sous la neige et les grêles,
Comme tu pleurerais tes loisirs doux et francs
Si, le corset brutal emprisonnant tes flancs
Il te fallait glaner ton souper dans nos fanges
Et vendre le parfum de tes charmes étranges,
Oeil pensif, et suivant, dans nos sales brouillards,
Des cocotiers absents les fantômes épars! 

Poème de 

Publié en .

Next: The Death of Lovers

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