Poems that may have inspired JRR Tolkien



by: Charles Baudelaire 

N Nature’s temple living pillars rise,
And words are murmured none have understood,
And man must wander through a tangled wood
Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.
As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim
Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;
Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,
Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.
Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,
Have all the expansion of things infinite:
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense’s and the soul’s delight.

3 thoughts on “Poems that may have inspired JRR Tolkien”

  1. I like this poem a lot, but have you seen the other translation, where they they don’t rhyme as hard as in this one? (Baudelaire had softer rhymes, and also eased into prose poetry quite a bit)

    This is the one, tell me what you think:

    Nature is a temple where living pillars
    Let escape sometimes confused words;
    Man traverses it through forests of symbols
    That observe him with familiar glances.

    Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
    In a dark and profound unity,
    Vast like the night and like the light,
    The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.

    There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
    Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
    —And others corrupted, rich and triumphant

    That have the expanse of infinite things,
    Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
    Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.

    Even though the upper translation follows Baudelaire’s rhyme couples, this one captures the reflective mood of the original better, IMO.
    Have you studied Swedenborg? The title is taken from a Swedenborgian term where there is a correspondence between spiritual and natural things.

  2. reodwyn, As we all know translating poetry is not a science,but an art.I find it fascinating to compare different interpretations of the same.It’s hard to say which is my favorite. I’d love to know what JRR would say. I was not familiar with Swedenborg. I’ll look him up,thanks.
    La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
    Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
    L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
    Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
    Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
    Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
    Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
    Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
    II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
    Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
    — Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
    Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
    Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
    Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.
    — Charles Baudelaire

    Nature is a temple in which living pillars
    Sometimes give voice to confused words;
    Man passes there through forests of symbols
    Which look at him with understanding eyes.
    Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
    In a deep and tenebrous unity,
    Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
    Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.
    There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
    Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
    — And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
    With power to expand into infinity,
    Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
    That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
    — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)


    Nature’s a temple where each living column,
    At times, gives forth vague words. There Man advances
    Through forest-groves of symbols, strange and solemn,
    Who follow him with their familiar glances.
    As long-drawn echoes mingle and transfuse
    Till in a deep, dark unison they swoon,
    Vast as the night or as the vault of noon —
    So are commingled perfumes, sounds, and hues.
    There can be perfumes cool as children’s flesh,
    Like fiddIes, sweet, like meadows greenly fresh.
    Rich, complex, and triumphant, others roll
    With the vast range of all non-finite things —
    Amber, musk, incense, benjamin, each sings
    The transports of the senses and the soul.
    — Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

    All nature is one temple, the living aisles whereof
    Murmur in a soft language, half strange, half understood;
    Man wanders there as through a cabalistic wood,
    Aware of eyes that watch him in the leaves above.
    Like voices echoing in his senses from beyond
    Life’s watery source, and which into one voice unite,
    Vast as the turning planet clothed in darkness and light,
    So do all sounds and hues and fragrances correspond.
    Perfumes there are as sweet as the music of pipes and strings,
    As pure as the naked flesh of children, as full of peace
    As wide green prairies — and there are others, having the whole
    Corrupt proud all-pervasiveness of infinite things,
    Like frankincense, and musk, and myrrh, and ambergris,
    That cry of the ecstasy of the body and of the soul.
    — George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

    In Nature’s temple, living pillars rise,
    Speaking sometimes in words of abstruse sense;
    Man walks through woods of symbols, dark and dense,
    Which gaze at him with fond familiar eyes.
    Like distant echoes blent in the beyond
    In unity, in a deep darksome way,
    Vast as black night and vast as splendent day,
    Perfumes and sounds and colors correspond.
    Some scents are cool as children’s flesh is cool,
    Sweet as are oboes, green as meadowlands,
    And others rich, corrupt, triumphant, full,
    Expanding as infinity expands:
    Benzoin or musk or amber that incenses,
    Hymning the ecstasy of soul and senses.
    — Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

    Nature’s a fane where down each corridor
    of living pillars, darkling whispers roll,
    — a symbol-forest every pilgrim soul
    must pierce, ‘neath gazing eyes it knew before.
    like echoes long that from afar rebound,
    merged till one deep low shadowy note is born,
    vast as the night or as the fires of morn,
    sound calls to fragrance, colour calls to sound.
    cool as an infant’s brow some perfumes are,
    softer than oboes, green as rainy leas;
    others, corrupt, exultant, rich, unbar
    wide infinities wherein we move at ease:
    — musk, ambergris, frankincense, benjamin
    chant all our soul or sense can revel in.
    — Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)

    Nature is a temple where living pillars
    Let sometimes emerge confused words;
    Man crosses it through forests of symbols
    Which watch him with intimate eyes.
    Like those deep echoes that meet from afar
    In a dark and profound harmony,
    As vast as night and clarity,
    So perfumes, colors, tones answer each other.
    There are perfumes fresh as children’s flesh,
    Soft as oboes, green as meadows,
    And others, corrupted, rich, triumphant,
    Possessing the diffusion of infinite things,
    Like amber, musk, incense and aromatic resin,
    Chanting the ecstasies of spirit and senses.
    — Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

  3. I like several of these translations, but I am deeply in favor of some wordings above others, for instance the usage of “pillars” instead of other options. Thanks for posting!

Leave a Reply