Charles Baudelaire’s (author) poetry has been translated into virtually all the world’s major languages, a celebrity the more impressive, since it’s based on only two books– Les Fleurs du Mal (1857/ 1861) and Paris Spleen, Petites Poemes en Prose (1869). Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. He attended boarding school in Lyon followed by the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. In 1869, he received his baccalauréat from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, and for the next few years, lived the bohemian life. After returning from a voyage to the East, in 1841, he acquired a reputation as a dandy and drug addict, and fell into financial difficulties. The first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal brought prosecution for obscenity but its notoriety was not enough to save him, either financially or in terms of his reputation as a poet. He died in 1867, after a two year battle with paralysis.
Lola Haskins (translator) has published twelve collections of poetry. Her awards include the Iowa Poetry Prize, two Florida Book Awards, two NEA fellowships, and several awards for narrative poetry. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Quarterly, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Another Chicago Magazine, and elsewhere. For more information, please visit her at lolahaskins.com.
The Chinese tell time by the eyes of cats.
One day a missionary walking into a Nanjing bank realized
he had forgotten his watch, and asked a street urchin what
time it was.
The child of the Celestial Empire demurred at first, then
changing his mind, he replied: “I’ll tell you.” A few moments
later he reappeared, with a very large cat in his arms, and
looking, as they said, at the whites of its eyes, he ventured
without hesitation that it was not quite noon. Which was true.
For myself, if I lean toward my beautiful Feline, so aptly
named, who is the honor of her sex, the pride of my heart,
and my mind’s perfume, whether it be night, or day in its
most full light or its deepest shadow, in the depths of her
adorable eyes I always see the time distinctly, always the
same, an hour as wide and solemn and grand as space,
without the divisions of minutes or seconds, an immovable
hour unmarked on any clock, yet light as a sigh, quick as a
And if something inopportune should interrupt while my eyes
are resting on this delicious face, if some dishonest and
intolerant genie, some contrary demon should appear and
ask: “Why are you looking at that woman so carefully?
What are you looking for in her eyes? Do you see the time,
you prodigal, lazy mortal?” I would answer without
hesitation: “Yes, I see the time, and it is Eternity.”
And is it not the case, Madame, that here we have a truly
worthwhile madrigal, as emphatic as yourself? The truth is
that I had so much fun stitching up this pretentious
gallantry, that I won’t ask a single thing of you in exchange.