Tuesday 20 March 2018

Poetry: Impersonating the great Mangan

Ulick O'Connor

After I had reread the Mangan poem And Then No More umpteen times alongside Baudelaire's one I decided that it was a case of two poets with similar temperaments arriving at a similar point. Here is Mangan's poem which, as in Baudelaire's The Passerby, tells of beauty seen in a passing glance, and then no more. What do you think - was Baudelaire a copycat?


Once, when translating some ­Baudelaire poems into English, I felt that there was something in one of the poems which could have been stolen from James ­Clarence Mangan. Could ­Baudelaire, the greatest French poet of the 19th Century have used, without acknowledgement, a poem by the greatest Irish 19th-Century poet?

Here is part of my translation of Baudelaire.

Une Passante

(The passerby)

I saw her once, one little while, and then no more:

'Twas Eden's light on Earth awhile, and then no more.

Amid the throng she passed along the meadow-floor:

Spring seemed to smile on Earth awhile, and then no more:

But whence she came, which way she went, what garb she wore

I noted not; I gazed awhile, and then no more!

I saw her once, one little while, and then no more:

Earth looked like Heaven a little while, and then no more.

Her presence thrilled and lighted to its inner core

My desert breast a little while, and then no more.

So may, perchance, a meteor glance at midnight o'er

Some ruined pile a little while, and then no more!

James Clarence Mangan 1803-49

And then no more

My ears deafened in the street's mayhem:

A woman in full mourning passes by

Majestic, sad, a languid hand held high,

Lifting and balancing the borders of her hem.

A flash of lightning - night - beauty fled

In whose glance I have been suddenly reborn

Shall I see you in another world instead?

Elsewhere; perhaps never; condemned to mourn

I know not where you fled - or you not where I go

You whom I could have loved - you who knew it so.

Charles Baudelaire 1821-67

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