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Putrescence






D ost thou recall, my loved one, what thing we saw that fair and dewy summer's morn we trod the winding country land and sudden came upon the stone-strewn bed of an unspeakable putrescence.

With legs wide spread, as by some woman in mid-lechery, it oozed with sweltering poisons and in callous and abandoned wise unto the air of Heaven revealed its belly, swollen with noisesome exhalations. The sun beat down upon this rotting mass as though to ripen it with broiling heat and to Nature, the great artificer and usurer, return her single creature melted unto its myriad atoms. The heavens watched the burgeoning corpse burst like a flower to florid bloom, whose noxious reek o'erwhelmed the swooning senses.

Over the festering belly buzzed the flies, out of it crawled the worms of decay, in squadrons dark and sluggish stream seething along the ragged flesh. And the whole mass swelled and receded like the surge of the sea, or sputtered and twitched; it seemed that the dead, inflated with faint breath, lived - and living had increase. And music strange it made, as of running water or crackling wind, or of the grain which the winnower with steady rhythm shakes and revolves.

Effaced were the lines of the form and the features, no more than a dream, a sketch by the artist blurredly outlined, cast aside and forgotten, consummated but in vague recollection.

Behind the rocks lurked a restless bitch with watchful angry eye, waiting to come again to take the piece her jaws had torn.

Yet like to this filth shalt thou too be, star of my eyes, sun of my universe, thou, my angel and my obsession. Yea, such shalt thou be, queen of all graces, when the last sacraments have been given, when 'neath the grass and the lusty spring buds thou art laid to mouler 'mid orts of dead men's bones.

Then whisper, beauteous goddess, to the worm whose
kisses shall riddle thee, witness that I in memory
guard the form and the essence divine
of my liquescent love.



From Baudelaire's Les Fleurs Du Mal (Flowers of Evil), 1947 translation by Beresford Egan.



Beresford Egan's translations of Baudelaire tend to be the most visceral that I have seen. Most late 19th century versions play it safe, and it was not until this limited edition 1947 work that limits were pushed.

In most translations, this poem is entitled "A Carrion."