Tag Archives: translation

Thoughts on “The Punishment of Pride” by Charles Baudelaire

In those old times wherein Theology
Flourished with greater sap and energy,
A celebrated doctor—so they say—
Having stirred many careless hearts one day
Down to their dullest depths, and having shown
Strange pathways leading to the heavenly throne—
Tracks he himself had never journeyed on
(Whereby maybe pure spirits alone had gone)—
Frenzied and swollen by the devilish pride,
Like to a man who has climbed too high, outcried:
“Ah, little Jesus, I have lifted thee!
But had I willed to assault thy dignity,
Thy shame had matched they present fame, and lo!
Thou wouldst be but a wretched embryo!”

Straightway his reason left him; that keen mind,
Sunbright before, was darkened and made blind;
All chaos whirled within that intellect
Erewhile a shrine with all fair gems bedeckt,
Beneath whose roof such pomp had shone so bright;
He was possessed by silence and thick night
As is a cellar when its key is lost . . .

Thenceforth he was a brute beast; when he crossed
The fields at times, not seeing any thing,
Knowing not if ’twere winter or green spring,
Useless, repulsive, vile, he made a mock
For infants, a mere children’s laughing-stock.

(translation by Sir John Squire)

On my first read through of this poem, my immediate question was: Who is the doctor Baudelaire is referring to? My initial thought was John Dee, but upon my second pass, I didn’t think so. Dee did not have a tragic ending such as the poem depicts. Then I thought, “Lucifer?” No, Lucifer’s pride and fall predates the time when Theology flourished. So I did a little investigation online, and it seems that Baudelaire was referring to Doctor Faustus in this poem. That made sense to me, although, I think the dominant theme of the poem is universal and could be applied to many figures, historical and fictional. Just like the myth of Icarus—if you dare fly to close to the Sun, you will inevitably fall and suffer.

While the concept of pride leading to a fall is evident on the surface of this poem, I also got a sense of a secondary caution that is less obvious, but just as important. This is a warning to those who are called to follow the mystical arts.

We are told that the doctor traveled “Strange pathways leading to the heavenly throne.” I interpret this as the practice of occult rituals, with the intention of experiencing direct contact with the divine. While I applaud those who seek to glimpse the ineffable, every guidebook for those stepping onto the paths of mysticism emphasizes the importance of remaining grounded. Once you begin on the labyrinth, it is easy to lose one’s self and suffer the anguish of mental illness.

So the cautionary message Baudelaire is conveying to the seeker is two-fold. Remain humble in your accomplishments and in the light of divine majesty; and remain balanced and grounded, not allowing your spiritual quest to consume you to the point where you neglect and lose touch with earthly experience.

Thanks for sharing in my thoughts, and as always, if you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 51” by Lao Tzu

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Tao gives them life,
Virtue nurses them,
Matter shapes them,
Environment perfects them.
Therefore all things without exception worship Tao and do homage to Virtue.
They have not been commanded to worship Tao and do homage to Virtue,
But they always do so spontaneously.

It is Tao that gives them life:
It is Virtue that nurses them, grows them, fosters them, shelters them, comforts them, nourishes them, and covers them under her wings.
To give life but to claim nothing,
To do your work but to set no store by it,
To be a leader, not a butcher,
This is called hidden Virtue.

This passage is interesting and somewhat challenging. I read it a couple times, and I think I have a sense of what Lau Tzu was trying to convey.

The Tao is the source of all existence, and hence, all things that exist in our universe, whether those things are animate or inanimate. Everything is a manifestation of the divine source, or, explained in terms of physics, everything is comprised of energy.

So how does Virtue come in to play? I think the problem is that we’ve been trained to relate virtue with ethics or some form of moral code, which really only applies to sentient beings. But I don’t think that this is what Lau Tzu was referring to. I feel that what he meant by Virtue is the interconnectedness and relationship between all things, that there is really no separation. We are part of the environment, and the environment is a part of us. We share an intrinsic connection with all living things, plant and animal, as well as a connection to the elements. To understand and respect this relationship is the source of wisdom, which is the goal of individuals on the path of the Tao.

I’m not sure if this is what Lau Tzu meant, but it is the impression I get from reading this passage. As always, if you have other insights to share, please do so in the comments section.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 50” by Lao Tzu

When one is out of Life, one is in Death. The companions of life are thirteen; the companions of Death are thirteen; and, when a living person moves into the Realm of Death, his companions are also thirteen. How is this? Because he draws upon the resources of Life too heavily.

It is said that he who knows well how to live meets no tigers or wild buffaloes on his road, and comes out from the battle-ground untouched by the weapons of war. For, in him, a buffalo would find no butt for his horns, a tiger nothing to lay his claws upon, and a weapon of war no place to admit its point. How is this? Because there is no room for Death in him.

So this passage completely baffles me. In addition, there seems to be differences in translation. When I tried to find some information online about this passage, I noticed that other translators did not use “thirteen,” but instead translated the text as “three out of ten,” or “three in ten.” Anyway, some of these sites interpret this passage as a guideline on how to live, that 3 out of 10 follow the path of life to old age, 3 out of 10 die right after birth, and 3 out of 10 rush through life toward death. This leaves only 1 in 10 who follow the true path of the Tao.

I’m not sure I buy this interpretation, but I have nothing better to offer. I guess it makes sense, but not from the Wu translation, which I am reading.

Anyway, if anyone has any insight into this passage, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.

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Thoughts on “Don Juan in Hell” by Charles Baudelaire

Painting by Carlos Schwabe

The night Don Juan came to pay his fees
To Charon, by the caverned water’s shore,
A beggar, proud-eyed as Antisthenes,
Stretched out his knotted fingers on the oar.

Mournful, with drooping breasts and robes unsewn
The shapes of women swayed in ebon skies,
Trailing behind him with a restless moan
Like cattle herded for a sacrifice.

Here, grinning for his wage, stood Sganarelle,
And here Don Luis pointed, bent and dim,
To show the dead who lined the holes of Hell,
This was that impious son who mocked at him.

The hollow-eyed, the chaste Elvira came,
Trembling and veiled, to view her traitor spouse.
Was it one last bright smile she thought to claim,
Such as made sweet the morning of his vows?

A great stone man rose like a tower on board,
Stood at the helm and cleft the flood profound:
But the calm hero, leaning on his sword,
Gazed back, and would not offer one look round.

(translation by James Elroy Flecker)

So I read this poem through a couple times, and had no sense on what Baudelaire was expressing. Mainly, because I did not understand all the references within the text. So I systematically went through and looked up all the references, and then the meaning became clear. So before I provide my interpretation of the poem as a whole, let me quickly share what I found regarding all the names mentioned in the text.

Charon was easy enough—the ferryman who brings the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the Underworld. Antisthenes, I discovered, was a pupil of Socrates and was known for being very ethical and “advocating an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue.” (Source) Sganarelle is a one-act play by Moliere, also coined “The Imaginary Cuckold.” “The story deals with the consequences of jealously and hasty assumptions in a farcical series of quarrels and misunderstandings involving Sganarelle (the imagined cuckold of the title), his wife, and the young lovers, Célie and Lélie.” (Source) Don Luis had a bet with Don Juan to see who could “conquer more women and kill more men than the other,” a bet which Don Juan won. (Source) And finally, Elvira is a reference to Donna Elvira, a lady of Burgos abandoned by Don Giovanni in the Mozart opera. (Source)

So, now that all the references are cleared up, we can look at the poem as a whole.

Don Juan is the antithesis of Antisthenes. He is an unrepentant womanizer and someone ruled by his baser desires. On his journey into Hell, he looks around at the souls of those he destroyed and used, and feels no remorse whatsoever. In fact, one gets the sense that he almost feels a sense of pride in regard to his past exploits.

So how does Baudelaire feel about Don Juan? This is less clear. I suspect that Baudelaire wishes he could be more like Don Juan, trampling through life ruled solely by his passions and not caring about people who he may use and hurt along the way. But my impression is that Baudelaire is not as void of feelings for others as he may appear. While it may make things easier for him to not harbor emotions for others, he does, and even though he is prone to giving in to his desires, he feels remorse, unlike his anti-hero Don Juan.

These are just my thoughts on the poem. If you have other thoughts or insights, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 49” by Lao Tzu

The Sage has no interests of his own,
But takes the interests of the people as his own.
He is kind to the kind;
He is also kind to the unkind:
For Virtue is kind.
He is faithful to the faithful;
He is also faithful to the unfaithful:
For Virtue is faithful.

In the midst of the world, the Sage is shy and self-effacing.
For the sake of the world he keeps his heart in its nebulous state.
All the people strain their ears and eyes:
The Sage only smiles like an amused infant.

In this passage, Lao Tzu appears to be offering guidance to rulers and leaders. In the first two lines, the emphasis is on placing the interests of the populace above those of the ruling self. The rest of the first stanza expresses the “love thy enemy” mindset. It is easy to be kind to those who are kind toward you; but the ability to be kind to those who are unkind is a sign of deep spirituality.

The second stanza almost seems like it should be a stand-alone passage. For me, this stanza is expressing the importance of remaining childlike, of nurturing that sense of wonder when interacting with the world around you. It is so easy to get caught up in the stress, and the hustle and bustle of daily life. But when we allow this to happen, our happiness and our connection with the divine is diminished. It is only when we open ourselves to the childlike fascination that is buried within that we again experience the unbridled joy and deep connection that we felt when we were young.

As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have a blessed day!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 48” by Lao Tzu

Learning consists in daily accumulating;
The practice of Tao consists in daily diminishing.

Keep on diminishing and diminishing,
Until you reach the state of Non-Ado.
No-Ado, and yet nothing is left undone.

To win the world, one must renounce all.
If one still has private ends to serve,
One will never be able to win the world.

This passage really hits home for me. I have always considered learning to be of utmost importance in my life, the gathering and accumulation of knowledge and wisdom. But over the years, I have had to accept the fact that thoughts and knowledge are also just things to which we become attached. So for me, I have had to practice the subtle art of letting go of things I have learned, of not clinging to old ideas. In doing so, I am opening myself up to the inflow of new concepts, new knowledge and wisdom. As I look around at the social insanity that plays out in the world around me, I can see how so much of the discord is a direct result of the tenacious clinging to the antiquated ideas which we have learned. And this is not limited to one side of the socio-political spectrum. It’s rampant everywhere.

There is a line in the song “Soul Kitchen” by The Doors which encourages the listener to “Learn to forget.” I believe that Jim Morrison was echoing the ideas expressed by Lao Tzu in this passage. We must let go of the things we learned that no longer serve us or society, and make room for new ideas.

Thanks for sharing in my musings today. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 47” by Lao Tzu

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Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go,
The less you know.

Thus, the Sage knows without travelling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado.

In this passage, Lao Tzu uses a house as a metaphor for the individual. Essentially, this can be summed up by saying that the spiritual path lies within, and the more that a person searches outside the self for the divine connection, the farther away one will wander from the path to enlightenment.

There’s really not much else to say about this passage. It is succinct and focused. Cheers!

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