La Beauté (Beauty) is from Charles Baudelaire's first and most famous collection of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), published in 1857. One of the remarkable things, now that this collection has withstood the test of time and has been inducted into the hall of French classics, thus making it a hallowed bastion of acceptable culture, is that soon after its publication, the author was brought up on charges, fined and forced to suppress some of the poems-- the claim being that with this collection, he had insulted religion and violated public morality. He was not officially exonerated until 1949, after nearly 100 years. Though there was much uproar and ridicule from some camps, Gustave Flaubert celebrated Baudlaire's work saying, "You have found a way to rejuvenate Romanticism... You are as unyielding as marble, and as penetrating as an English mist".
The poem La Beauté came to my attention in the course of a short exchange between Ron Whitehead and Rinaldo Rasa on Facebook, after which I translated the poem as a way of getting closer to the text. Though the structure is that of a sonnet, I have not strayed far from the original French construction and semantics, rather than making the changes, as some translators have done, necessary to make it conform to the rhyme structure for a sonnet in English.
Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.
Je trône dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J'unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.
Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j'ai l'air d'emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d'austères études;
Car j'ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clarités éternelles!
— Charles Baudelaire
I am lovely, oh mortals, like a dream of stone,
And my bosom, where each is slain in turn,
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
Eternal and speechless like matter.
I preside in the azure like an unfathomed sphinx;
I unite the heart of snow with the whiteness of swans;
I hate those movements that skew lines,
And I never weep and I never laugh.
Poets, before my grand poses,
borrowed from the proudest monuments,
will consume their days in austere study.
For I have, in order to fascinate these docile lovers,
Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:
My eyes, my large eyes of eternal clarity!
— Charles Baudelaire. (Translation by Lauren Wolfman)