Rubens, garden of idleness watered by oblivion,
Where quick flesh pillows the impotence of dreams,
Where life's affluence writhes in eddying abandon
Like air in the air, or water in streams.
Leonardo da Vinci, deep mirror of darkness,
Where angels appear, their smiles charged with mystery
And tenderness, within the shadowy enclosures
Of pines and glaciers that shut in their country.
Rembrandt, tragic hospital re-echoing round a sigh;
A tall crucifix for only ornament
Traversed obliquely by a single wintry ray
Through which prayers rise, exhaling from excrement.
Michelangelo, no man's land where Hercules and Christ
Are at one; where powerful phantoms in crowds
Erect themselves deliberately in darkening twilights,
With pressed, rigid fingers ripping open their shrouds.
Rage of the wrestler, impudence of the faun;
Puget the convict's melancholy emperor,
Caging the lion's pride in a weak, jaundiced man,
Deducing beauty from crime, vice and terror.
Watteau, carnival where many a distinguished soul
Flutters like a moth, lost in the brilliance
Of chandeliers shedding frivolity on the cool
Clear decors enclosing the changes of the dance.
Goya, nightmare compact of things incredible:
Foetuses fried for a witch's sabbath feast;
An old woman at a mirror, a little naked girl
Lowering an artful stocking to tempt a devil's lust.
Delacroix, blood lake haunted by evil angels
In the permanent green darkness of a forest of firs,
Where under a stricken sky a muffled sigh fills
The air like a faintly echoed fanfare of Weber's.
Such, O Lord, are the maledictions, the tears,
The ecstasies, the blasphemies, the cries of Te Deum
Re-echoing along labyrinthine corridors:
A dream for mortal hearts distilled from divine opium,
The watchword reiterated by sentinels
A thousand times, the message whispered from post to post,
A beacon burning on a thousand citadels,
A call of all the hunters lost in the great forest.
For is this not indeed, O Lord, the best witness
That our dignity can render to Your pity,
This tide of tears which age after age gathers
To fail and fall on the shore of Your eternity?
(translated from the French by David Paul)
The poem that initially inspired this whole theme. What's lovely about it is the way Baudelaire captures so perfectly the individual style of each painter, so that reading the poem is like wandering through a gallery of (pre-1850) European art. An altogether amazing experience.