To a Passerby

By: Charles Baudelaire

Translated by: Meagan Parmenter


The deafening street around me howled.

Tall, slim, in immense mourning, dignified sorrow,

A woman passed, of a sumptuous hand

Lifting, swinging the festoon and the hem;


Nimble and noble, with her statuesque leg.

Me, I drank, twitching like an eccentric,

In her eye, pallid sky where the hurricane brews,

The sweetness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills.


Lighting…then night!-Fugitive beauty

In whose look I was suddenly reborn,

Will I see you more than in eternity?


Elsewhere, faraway from here!  Too late!  Never, maybe!

For I do not know where you fled, you do not know where I go,

O you who I would have loved, o you who knew it!


About the Author

The following is a poem from Charles Baudelaire’s collection, Les Fleurs du Mal, “À Une Passante.” The narrator is his strolling flâneur, whose subject is a female passerby, his “passante”. Baudelaire’s flâneur spends the entire poem obsessing over this elusive woman, this passante possessing a “the sweetness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills”. The dynamic between the flâneur and his passante is a sexual one in which the passante has little to no participation, except for in her eye (pallid sky where the hurricane brews) that gives “rebirth” to the flâneur, with limited acknowledgment on her part.


About the Translator

Meagan Parmenter is a graduating senior in the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts at the University of Michigan, graduating with honors in Comparative Literature on the hopeful completion of her thesis entitled, “J’Aimerais M’Apercevoir À Travers Votre Regard: Animating Baudelaire’s Passante In the Works of Sophie Calle and Isabelle Mège.” The following translation to English of Baudelaire’s French intends to update his poem for a contemporary reading while still making a concerted effort to preserve his original intent through guesses educated by the poet’s context and choice of specific words. As a result, there are several French words that resist translation that I keep as vestiges, testaments to Baudelaire’s intent, which I considered foremost in this translation. I translate too the idea of la passante, tracing her 19th-century beginnings in updating her to modern times.

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