Yes, the work of art emerges
more beautiful from a form that
               resists working,
verse, marble, onyx, enamel.

No false hindrances!
But to march straight,
               put on,
O Muse, a narrow buskin.

Shame on the easy rhythm,
like a shoe that is too large,
               of the kind
that every foot takes off and puts on!

Sculptor, reject
clay moulded by
               the thumb
when the mind hovers elsewhere!

Struggle with Carrara marble,
with the hard,
               rare Parian,
keepers of the pure outline;

Borrow from Syracuse
its bronze where the proud
stroke is firmly marked;

With a delicate hand
hunt the profile
               of Apollo
in a vein of agate.

Painter, flee the water-colour,
and fix too delicate
               a tint
in the enameller’s oven.

Create blue sirens,
writhing their tails
               in a hundred ways,
create the monsters of heraldry;

Create the Virgin and her Jesus
in their three-lobed halo,
               create the globe
with the cross above it.

Everything passes. – Only strong art
possesses eternity:
               The bust
outlives the city.

And the austere medal
found by a labourer beneath
               the earth
reveals an emperor.

The gods themselves die.
But sovereign lines of verse
stronger than brass.

Carve, file, and chisel;
Let your hazy dream
               be sealed
in the hard block!

Théophile Gautier



Over there, trees are sheltering
A hunchbacked hut… A slum, no more…
Roof askew, walls and wainscoting
Falling away… Moss hides the door.

Only one shutter, hanging…
But Seeping over the windowsill,
Like frosted breath, proof that this hut,
This slum, is living, breathing still.

Corkscrew of smoke… A wisp of blue
Escapes the hovel, whose soul it is…
Rises to God himself, and who
Receives the news and makes it his.

Théophile Gautier

the cloud

Yonder, a climbing cloud, arrayed
Against the azure, seems to take
A sculpted form, like naked maid
Rising from a pure-rippling lake.

Standing in her shell opal-hued,
She floats over the clear blue air,
Figure of foam and froth, a nude,
Translucent Aphrodite fair.

One sees her vaguely contoured shape
Contort in softly shifting poses,
As on her satin back and nape
The dawning daybreak strews its roses.

Her snow-and-marble whites — like those
Correggio chiaroscuros, showing
Antiope lying a-doze —
Blend, lovingly together flowing…

She glides on light, higher above
Than any Alp or Appenine,
Primal reflection, sister of
Beauty’s ‘‘eternal feminine.’’

My soul, on passion’s wings, goes flying
To that cloud-body, bent upon
Love’s joy; and, brooking no denying,
Clutches her close, like Ixion.

Reason says: ‘‘Only smoke one sees
In shapes born of such dream-display,
Shadow buffeted by the breeze,
Bubble that bursts, then slips away…’’

Sentiment answers: ‘‘Oh? Dear me!
After all, what is beauty? For
Only a charming specter, she,
Blown on the wind, and then no more!

‘‘Let the ideal infuse your soul;
Love a cloud, love a woman, but,
With heaven-filled heart, love be your goal:
Love what you will!… No matter what!’’

Théophile Gautier