Summer Poem: "L'invitation au voyage" by Charles Baudelaire

'A View of a Town along the Rhine', Cornelis Springer (19th c.) | ©WikiCommons
'A View of a Town along the Rhine', Cornelis Springer (19th c.) | ©WikiCommons
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UK Literary Editor
Updated: 28 June 2017
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Charles Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage” (Invitation to the Voyage) is part of our summer poetry series, dedicated to making the season of vacation lyrical again. Originally published in Les Fleurs du mal in 1857, it is something of the the first great call for holiday getaway. Or so we like to think.
Taken by Felix Nadar (c. 1855)

It ought to surprise some, I think, that the poet of misery and ennuis, whose entire artistic project is predicated upon the making of beauty out of murk (an idea neatly encapsulated in the title of his greatest collection: The Flowers of Evil), could write in longing terms about a foreign locale. Yet it is worth remarking that the idyllic land Baudelaire found so captivating was in fact inspired by the Netherlands. There’s thus no reason this poem couldn’t still very well be in evil-flower territory.

The land of order, beauty, luxury, calm and sensuousness (in no particular order) inspires the great Romantic to some of his lushest verse, not easily replicable in translation. The chorus, which has gone on to become almost ubiquitous in French culture, is particularly hard to replicate: “Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, / Luxe, calme et volupté.” And although Edna St. Vincent Millay got close to it in 1936, Jack Collings Squire’s earlier effort—which has the benefit of not being bound by copyright—is decent enough to be our translation of choice:

The Invitation to the Voyage, by Charles Baudelaire (trans. Jack Collings Squire, 1909)

How sweet, my own,
Could we live alone
Over beyond the sea!
To love and to die
In the land that’s akin to thee!
Where the suns which rise
In the watery skies
Weave soft spells over my sight,
As thy false eyes do
When they flicker through
Their tears with a dim, strange light.

There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.

Years that have gone
Have polished and shone
The things that would fill our room;
The flowers most rare
Which scent the air
In the richly-ceiling’d gloom,
And the mirrors profound,
And the walls around
With Orient splendour hung,
To the soul would speak
Of things she doth seek
In her gentle native tongue.

There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.

The canals are deep
Where the strange ships sleep
Far from the land of their birth;
To quench the fire
Of thy least desire
They have come from the ends of the earth.
The sunsets drown
Peaceful town
And meadow, and stagnant stream
In bistre and gold,
And the world enfold
In a warm and luminous dream.

There all is beauty and symmetry,
Pleasure and calm and luxury.

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