For the last few years I've been sporadically translating Baudelaire, a fascinating but difficult task, given the compression of most of his work. At first I thought I'd concentrate on his poems about women--mostly one woman, whom he seems to have adored, perhaps partly due to her "coldness" to him. There are odes to her hair, to her skin colour ("amber," "tawny"), to her perfumes. Like Gauguin, like Rimbaud, he dreams of sailing off to some exotic, tropical, warm, blessed isle with her, or failing that to Amsterdam, with its sleeping ships and canals. I've since broadened my focus and my current title is "Invitation to the Voyage" after the famous poem. I think I've decided to include some prose works, because often these were the spark for poems, and it's fun to compare the prose with the poem.

When will this be done? Never maybe. Most Baudelaire translations are failures (you can see reams of them online), but Lowell's, however unfaithful and ramped up they are, are the watermark, and it's impossible to match.

Damp Paris morning. The zinc roof tiles around us are...well, damp, and not drying off quickly. The lady who lives across the street on the roof of the church puts out scraps for the crows on a bit of flying buttress. Somewhere else in the neighbourhood they find a piece of chicken and bring it back to a low roof outside our kitchen window, and nibble it down to the bones. A week or two later the bones are still sitting there, occasionally washed lower down by rain, occasionally moved higher up by hopeful crows.

Smart birds, crows.