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Charles Baudelaire
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Lesbos (Lesbos)
by Charles Baudelaire (1857); translated by Richard Herne Shephard (1879).

Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights,
Where kisses languishing or pleasureful,
Warm as the suns, as the water-melons cool,
Adorn the glorious days and sleepless nights,
Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights,

Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls
That fearless into gulfs unfathom'd leap,
Now run with sobs, now slip with gentle brawls,
Stormy and secret, manifold and deep;
Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls!

Lesbos, where Phryne Phryne to her draws,
Where ne'er a sigh did echoless expire,
As Paphos' equal thee the stars admire,
Nor Venus envies Sappho without cause!
Lesbos, where Phryne Phryne to her draws,

Lesbos, the land of warm and langorous nights,
Where by their mirrors seeking sterile good,
The girls with hollow eyes, in soft delights,
Caress the ripe fruits of their womanhood,
Lesbos, the land of warm and langorous nights.

Leave, leave old Plato's austere eye to frown;
Pardon is thine for kisses' sweet excess,
Queen of the land of amiable renown,
And for exhaustless subtleties of bliss,
Leave, leave old Plato's austere eye to frown.

Pardon is thine for the eternal pain
That on the ambitious hearts for ever lies,
Whom far from us the radiant smile could gain,
Seen dimly on the verge of other skies;
Pardon is thine for the eternal pain!

Which of the gods will dare thy judge to be,
And to condemn thy brow with labour pale,
Not having balanced in his golden scale
The flood of tears thy brooks pour'd in the sea?
Which of the gods will dare thy judge to be?

What boot the laws of just and of unjust?
Great-hearted virgins, honour of the isles,
Lo, your religion also is august,
And love at hell and heaven together smiles!
What boot the laws of just and of unjust?

For Lesbos chose me out from all my peers,
To sing the secret of her maids in flower,
Opening the mystery dark from childhood's hour
Of frantic laughters, mix'd with sombre tears;
For Lesbos chose me out from all my peers.

And since I from Leucate's top survey,
Like a sentinel with piercing eye and true,
Watching for brig and frigate night and day,
Whose distant outlines quiver in the blue,
And since I from Leucate's top survey,

To learn if kind and merciful the sea,
And midst the sobs that make the rock resound,
Brings back some eve to pardoning Lesbos, free
The worshipp'd corpse of Sappho, who made her bound
To learn if kind and merciful the sea!

Of her the man-like lover-poetess,
In her sad pallor more than Venus fair!
The azure eye yields to that black eye, where
The cloudy circle tells of the distress
Of her the man-like lover-poetess!

Fairer than Venus risen on the world,
Pouring the treasures of her aspect mild,
The radiance of her fair white youth unfurl'd
On Ocean old enchanted with his child;
Fairer than Venus risen on the world.

Of Sappho, who, blaspheming, died that day
When trampling on the rite and sacred creed,
She made her body fair the supreme prey
Of one whose pride punish'd the impious deed
Of Sappho who, blaspheming, died that day.

And since that time it is that Lesbos moans,
And, spite the homage which the whole world pays,
Is drunk each night with cries of pain and groans,
Her desert shores unto the heavens do raise,
And since that time it is that Lesbos moans!


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AUTHOR: Charles Baudelaire (1857); translated by Richard Herne Shephard (1879).
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