Peter O’ Neill – Three Translations From Baudelaire

peterPeter O’ Neill (1967) was born in Cork where he grew up before moving to live in France in the nineties. He returned to Dublin in 1998, where he has been living ever since. He has been writing poetry sine the eighties, and has been published in reviews in Ireland, USA, UK and France. His debut collection Antiope (Stonesthrow Poetry, 2013) was critically acclaimed: ‘certainly a voice to be reckoned with.’ Dr Brigitte Le JueZ (Dublin City University). With over six collections behind him, he is currently translating Les Fleurs Du Mal.


When, by a decree of supreme power,
The Poet appeared into this atrocious world,
His Mother, full of disgust and outrage,
Raised her fists skyward, and hurled the following:

“Ah! If only I had delivered a nest of vipers
Instead of having given birth to this abomination!
Cursed be the night of ephemeral pleasure
When my womb ever conceived of such an expiation.

And, because you chose me, out of all women!
– to the utter disgust of his step father –
And because I can’t just… delete him,
Like some unwanted email; (the stunted freak)

I will rekindle all of the hatred which overwhelmed me,
Through the medium of his accursed verse,
And destroy the miserable plant,
So that it might never itself be able to proliferate.

Next, his girlfriend appeared and she thinks to herself:
“ Because he finds me beautiful enough to be adored
I will accept the role of the classic idol, and I too,
Like those others, will become immortalised!

I too will become drunk on shopping for designer wear,
His prostrations, the dinners with the finest wines;
And then, just to see how far I can use him, I will
Laugh in his face at his ‘divine’ offerings.

And, when I tire of this unholy farce,
I shall lay my feminine, yet strong, hand upon him,
Rip apart his chest with these harpies talons,
Now revealed, and delve deep within to find his heart.

And, when I am palpitating, almost in a swoon,
I shall literally rip it out from his chest.
And then, just to please my little pet,
I shall throw it on the floor before him… with some disdain

And so, under the invisible tutelage of the Muse,
Drunk on the sun, the disinherited child
Finds in every single thing which he eats and drinks
All of the nectar and ambrosia that comes of pain.

In the bread and wine destined for his lips
There is always a mix of ash and hateful spit,
But then skyward he looks and he also sees
The vast sea of illumination, in which his spirit balms.

And then raising his arms, he offers up a blessing:

“I know that there is a place for the Poet
In the circle of the sainted legions,
And there in the habitus of the eternal feast
Belong the thrones, virtues and Dominations.

I know also that this post is lit by an ancient light,
Burning in the halls of antiquity, and that mortal
Eyes, in all of their multifaceted splendour,
Appear then to be but obscure and plaintive mirrors.”



Nature is a temple where living pillars
Utter at times confused words;
Man passes through the forest of symbols
Which observe him with familiar eyes.

Deep echoes from afar become mixed up
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night, and lit through with
Perfumes, the colours and sounds respond.

And, they are as sweet as the scent off children,
As soft and as sonorous as the notes emitting from an oboe,
Verdant as prairies, and just as richly corrupted and triumphant.

Having the expanse of infinity,
Like amber, musk, and the need for incense
Whose song transports both the body, and the mind.


Reference Points

Reubens, river of forgetfulness lounging in pleasure gardens
Lie cushioned the youthful flesh, which can but be loved,
There where life rushes, an AmaZon with no end,
Fathomless- like the air in the sky, the sea in the sea;

Leoardo Da Vinci, somber and profound mirror,
With the Angels upon the Rocks smiling tenderly,
Super-charged with mystery, kneeling within the cavernous
Shadows, fermenting with the glaciers and pines his mystery;

Rembrandt, hospitalised with the murmurs of history,
Supplanted by the great crucifix which is decorated solely
With the prayers and tears exuding the stench of winter
Landscapes, and biblical deserts traversed fleetingly;

Michelangelo, that obscure station where Hercules and
Christ conjoin, and together boldly rise Promethean-
There with the phantom doom of judgements, tearing
The shrouds from them with their crepuscular fingers;

The rage of the pugilists, impudence of pricks,
You who pick up all the beauty of the shits,
Great heart bloated full of humility and a savage pride,
Francis Bacon, you funerary, melancholy emperor of human skin;

Watteau , this carnival of good where illustrious hearts,
Like Nabokov’s butterflies, flamboyantly err
Among decors light and clear -as laughter-
Pour out their folly onto the ballroom floor;
Goya, nightmare full of unknown things,
Foetus’ which were conceived at a black Sabbath,
Old crones vein still before mirrors, while babies are exposed
To paedophile rings – here, our collective insanity lies;

Delacroix, a lake of Syrian blood we bathe in,
Cloaked in a wood of corpses in rigor mortis,
Under a jet-less sky are heard strange fanfares
Reminiscent of Hollywood and Wagner, to stoke boy’s fantasies;

All these maledictions, these ‘blasphemous’ cries,
These ecstatic screams, these tears, these Te Deum,
Are but an echo redirected by a million labyrinths,
Which for the human heart work like a divine opium!

They are the cries which have been repeated by an army of sentinels,
And order resent by a million human voices;
A beacon lit by in a thousand neighbouring cities,
A cry of help sent up by the hunter lost in the wood of suicides.

For, they are really, sweet Christ, the greatest human testimony
And which have the power to give us back our dignity,
All of these bloody tears which drip from age to age,
And which die upon the shores of your eternity.



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