Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A VOYAGE TO CYTHERA, by CHARLES BAUDELAIRE



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A VOYAGE TO CYTHERA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: My heart, like a bird, ahover joyously
Last Line: Heart, body-without loathing, without hate.


My heart, like a bird, ahover joyously,
circled the rigging, soaring light and free;
beneath a cloudless sky the ship rolled on
like an angel drunk with blazing rays of sun.

What is that black, sad island? -We are told
it is Cythera, famed in songs of old,
trite El Dorado of worn-out roues.
Look, after all, it's but a paltry place.

-Isle of sweet mysteries and festal loves,
above your waters antique Venus moves;
like an aroma, her imperious shade
burdens the soul with love and lassitude.

Green-myrtled island, fair with flowers in bloom,
reversed by every nation for all time,
where sighing hearts send up their fervent praises
afloat like incense over beds of roses

or like a ringdove's endless cooing call!
-Cythera now was but a meager soil,
a flinty desert moiled with bitter cries.
And yet, half-glimpsed, a strange shape met my eyes.

It was no temple couched in shady groves
where the young priestess, lover of flowers, moves,
her body fevered by obscure desires,
her robe half opened to the fleeting airs;

but as we passed, skirting the coast so near
that our white canvas set the birds astir,
we saw it was a three-branched gibbet, high
and black-etched, like a cypress, on the sky.

Perched on their prey, ferocious birds were mangling
with frenzied thrusts a hanged man, ripe and dangling,
each driving like a tool his filthy beak
all through that rot, in every bleeding crack;

the eyes were holes, and from the ruined gut
across the thighs the heavy bowels poured out,
and crammed with hideous pleasures, peck by peck,
his butchers had quite stripped him of his sex.

Beneath his feet, a pack of four-legged brutes
circled and prowled, with upraised avid snouts;
a larger beast was ramping in the midst
like a hangman flanked by his apprentices.

Child of Cythera, born of so fair a sky,
you suffered these defilements silently:
atonement for your impure rituals
and sins that have forbid you burial.

Ridiculous corpse, I know your pains full well.
At sight of your loose-hanging limbs I felt
the bitter-flowing bile of ancient grief
rise up, like a long puke, against my teeth;

poor wretch, so dear-remembered, in your presence
I felt each beak-thrust of those stabbing ravens,
and the black panthers' jaws-each rip and gash-
that once took such delight to grind my flesh.

The sky was suave, and level was the sea,
yet all was blood and blackness then to me,
alas! and my heart in this parable,
as in a heavy shroud, found burial.

On your isle, Venus, I saw but one thing standing,
gallows-emblem from which my shape was hanging . . .
God! give me strength and will to contemplate
heart, body-without loathing, without hate.





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