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Les Bijoux par Charles Baudelaire

Your girlfriend gets naked. She puts on all of the jewelry you’ve ever bought her. Then she dances only for you. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Yet in Les Bijoux the poetry excites and entices all of the senses so that those reading, men and women of every persuasion, feel very alive when Baudelaire finishes with them. The poem was banned in France from 1857 to 1949, the year I was born.

Jeanne Duval was Baudlaire’s muse and girlfriend, a Haitian actress who seems to have held her own among his friends. Manet painted a portrait of her. When times were hard, and Baudelaire was suffering from syphilis, Jeanne sold her jewels to help take care of him. She would die five years before the poet of the same disease although some claimed to have seen her years after Baudelaire’s death. In Les Bijoux Jeanne Duval lives.

Les Bijoux

La très chère était nue, et, connaissant mon coeur,
Elle n’avait gardé que ses bijoux sonores,
Dont le riche attirail lui donnait l’air vainqueur
Qu’ont dans leurs jours heureux les esclaves des Mores.

Quand il jette en dansant son bruit vif et moqueur,
Ce monde rayonnant de métal et de pierre
Me ravit en extase, et j’aime à la fureur
Les choses où le son se mêle à la lumière.

Elle était donc couchée et se laissait aimer,
Et du haut du divan elle souriait d’aise
À mon amour profond et doux comme la mer,
Qui vers elle montait comme vers sa falaise.

Les yeux fixés sur moi, comme un tigre dompté,
D’un air vague et rêveur elle essayait des poses,
Et la candeur unie à la lubricité
Donnait un charme neuf à ses métamorphoses;

Et son bras et sa jambe, et sa cuisse et ses reins,
Polis comme de l’huile, onduleux comme un cygne,
Passaient devant mes yeux clairvoyants et sereins;
Et son ventre et ses seins, ces grappes de ma vigne,

S’avançaient, plus câlins que les Anges du mal,
Pour troubler le repos où mon âme était mise,
Et pour la déranger du rocher de cristal
Où, calme et solitaire, elle s’était assise.

Je croyais voir unis par un nouveau dessin
Les hanches de l’Antiope au buste d’un imberbe,
Tant sa taille faisait ressortir son bassin.
Sur ce teint fauve et brun, le fard était superbe!

— Et la lampe s’étant résignée à mourir,
Comme le foyer seul illuminait la chambre
Chaque fois qu’il poussait un flamboyant soupir,
Il inondait de sang cette peau couleur d’ambre!


The Jewels

My darling was naked and knowing my heart
she only kept on those jewels
whose janglings made her seem as conquering
as Moorish slaves were in their happier days

flashing as she dances a lively mocking noise
this shining world of metal and stone
ravishes me in ecstasy and I love in the fury
of things how light and sound get mixed.

Then she sat down and ready, open
smiled with ease from the height of the couch
at my deep love deep as the sea
rising toward her as toward its promontory.

Her eyes met mine like a tamed tiger’s.
Like a daydream she tried her poses
in a light united with her candor
giving new charms to her metamorphoses

her arms, her legs, her thighs, her groin polished
with oil, undulate like a swan, passed before
my calm all-seeing eyes and her belly
and her breasts, bunches from my vineyard

came forward, more winning than evil angels
to trouble my spirit’s rest
and made it go crazy with crystal-rocks
where calm and solitary it once had sat.

I believed I saw joined in a new way
haunches of a goddess to the bust of a boy
so wide her hips so thin her waist was.
On her brown flesh the rouge was superb

and the lamp resigned to its death
left only the fireplace to light the room
where now and then a flame’s fluttering breath
would fill her amber skin with blood.

Charles Baudelaire

Salome by Franz von Stuck (1908)


  1. Wow. Very nice and inspiring poem. .

  2. Anastasiya Tsapenko

    Such a great poem, such vivid images.

  3. What we know of this cadence, we would recollect many ways from now!

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