A Carcass

Recall to mind the sight we saw, my soul,
That soft, sweet summer day:
Upon a bed of flints a carrion foul,
Just as we turn’d the way,

Its legs erected, wanton-like, in air,
Burning and sweating pest,
In unconcern’d and cynic sort laid bare
To view its noisome breast.

The sun lit up the rottenness with gold,
To bake it well inclined,
And give great Nature back a hundredfold
All she together join’d.

The sky regarded as the carcass proud
Oped flower-like to the day;
So strong the odour, on the grass you vow’d
You thought to faint away.

The flies the putrid belly buzz’d about,
Whence black battalions throng
Of maggots, like thick liquid flowing out
The living rags along.

And as a wave they mounted and went down,
Or darted sparkling wide;
As if the body, by a wild breath blown,
Lived as it multiplied.

From all this life a music strange there ran,
Like wind and running burns;
Or like the wheat a winnower in his fan
With rhythmic movement turns.

The forms wore off, and as a dream grew faint,
An outline dimly shown,
And which the artist finishes to paint
From memory alone.

Behind the rocks watch’d us with angry eye
A bitch disturb’d in theft,
Waiting to take, till we had pass’d her by,
The morsel she had left.

Yet you will be like that corruption too,
Like that infection prove —
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature, you,
My angel and my love!

Queen of the graces, you will even be so,
When, the last ritual said,
Beneath the grass and the fat flowers you go,
To mould among the dead.

Then, O my beauty, tell the insatiate worm
Who wastes you with his kiss,
I have kept the godlike essence and the form
Of perishable bliss!

– translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem Une Charogne by Richard Herne Shepherd, 1869.