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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

The Wine of the Ragpickers

Charles Baudelaire


Les fleurs du mal
published in 1857

View this work in the exhibition Les chiffonniers

The Wine of the Ragpickers

Often, in some red street-lamp's glare, whose flame
The wind flaps, rattling at its glassy frame,
In the mired labyrinth of some old slum
Where crawling multitudes ferment their scum —

With judge-like nods, a rag-picker comes reeling,
Bumping on walls, like poets, without feeling,
And scorning cops, now vassals of his state,
Begins on glorious subjects to dilate,

Takes royal oaths, dictates his laws sublime,
Exalts the injured, and chastises crime,
And, spreading his own dais on the sky,
Is dazzled by his virtues, starred on high.

Yes, these folk, badgered by domestic care,
Ground down by toil, decrepitude, despair,
Buckled beneath the foul load that each carries,
The motley vomit of enormous Paris —

Come home, vat-scented, trailing clouds of glory,
Followed by veteran comrades, battle-hoary,
Whose whiskers stream like banners as each marches.
— Flags, torches, flowers, and steep triumphal arches

Rise up for them in magic hues and burn,
Since through this dazzling orgy they return,
While drums and clarions daze the sun above,
With glory to a nation drunk with love!

Thus Wine, through giddy human life, is rolled,
Like Pactolus, a stream of burning gold;
Through man's own throat his exploits it will sing
And reign by gifts, as best befits a king.

To lull their laziness and drown their rancour,
For storm-tossed wrecks a temporary anchor,
God, in remorse, made sleep. Man added Wine,
Child of the Sun, immortal and divine!

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Translated by Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)