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Struggle For Life | by Ben Heine
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Struggle For Life

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Voyage to Cythera


A poem by Charles Baudelaire


Free as a bird and joyfully my heart

Soared up among the rigging, in and out;

Under a cloudless sky the ship rolled on

Like an angel drunk with brilliant sun.


"That dark, grim island there--which would that be?"

"Cythera," we're told, "the legendary isle

Old bachelors tell stories of and smile.

There's really not much to it, you can see."


O place of many a mystic sacrament!

Archaic Aphrodite's splendid shade

Lingers above your waters like a scent

Infusing spirits with an amorous mood.


Worshipped from of old by every nation,

Myrtle-green isle, where each new bud discloses

Sighs of souls in loving adoration

Breathing like incense from a bank of roses


Or like a dove roo-cooing endlessly . . .

No; Cythera was a poor infertile rock,

A stony desert harrowed by the shriek

Of gulls. And yet there was something to see:


This was no temple deep in flowers and trees

With a young priestess moving to and fro,

Her body heated by a secret glow,

Her robe half-opening to every breeze;


But coasting nearer, close enough to land

To scatter flocks of birds as we passed by,

We saw a tall cypress-shaped thing at hand--

A triple gibbet black against the sky.


Ferocious birds, each perched on its own meal,

Were madly tearing at the thing that hung

And ripened; each, its filthy beak a drill,

Made little bleeding holes to root among.


The eyes were hollowed. Heavy guts cascading

Flowed like water halfway down the thighs;

The torturers, though gorged on these vile joys,

Had also put their beaks to use castrating


The corpse. A pack of dogs beneath its feet,

Their muzzles lifted, whirled and snapped and gnawed;

One bigger beast amidst this jealous lot

Looked like an executioner with his guard.


O Cytherean, child of this fair clime,

Silently you suffered these attacks,

Paying the penalty for whatever acts

Of infamy had kept you from a tomb.


Grotesquely dangling, somehow you brought on--

Violent as vomit rising from the chest,

Strong as a river bilious to taste--

A flow of sufferings I'd thought long gone.


Confronted with such dear remembered freight,

Poor devil, now it was my turn to feel

A panther's slavering jaws, a beak's cruel drill--

Once it was my flesh they loved to eat.


The sky was lovely, and the sea divine,

but something thick and binding like a shroud

Wrapped my heart in layers of black and blood;

Henceforth this allegory would be mine.


O Venus! On your isle what did I see

But my own image on the gallows tree?

O God, give me the strength to contemplate

My own heart, my own body without hate!




The poem appeared on

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Taken on October 18, 2010