William Ruleman – Three Translations


I am lovely, mortals, like a dream of stone;
And my breast, where every man is slain in turn,
Is fit to move a poet’s heart to burn
With love as endless, mute as their verses’ own.

As sly as a sphinx, I sit enthroned in the sky
And join a heart of ice with a swan’s purity.
I loathe all motion that mars my symmetry
And never laugh, and never do I cry.

The poets, faced with lofty attitudes
I seem to take from proudest monuments,
Consume their time away in stern études;

But I, to fascinate these docile gents,
Have mirrors to lend everything a lovelier mien:
My huge, clear eyes with their eternal sheen.

La Beauté

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s’est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

Je trône dans l’azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J’unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j’ai l’air d’emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d’austères études;

Car j’ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

-Charles Baudelaire


The Young Boys and the Girl

The beauties in our dreams became a feast
For our starved eyes, embodied in your limbs’
Soft sway, though otherwise, you seemed a beast.
Still, at your feet, our longing sang strange hymns.

Our rapture stammered as at an altar rail
In hopes your gaze would bring embodiment
To what within you still lay blind and frail:
The soul and sense of all we sought and meant.

But you feel not those hours’ joy and pain
When we submerge your image in our dream.
Yet you are life to us. And it is plain
That we are shadows that your beauty’s beam
Must drink in first, so we might breathe.

Die Jünglinge und das Mädchen

Was unsern Träumen Schönheit hieß, ward Leib in dir
Und holde Schwingung sanft gezogner Glieder
Im Schreiten, anders nicht als wie in einem Tier.
Doch unsre Sehnsucht sinkt zu deinen Füßen nieder,

Erhöhung stammelnd wie vor dem Altar,
Und daß dein Blick Erfüllung ihr befehle,
Was blind in deinem Körper Trieb und Odem war,
Das wurde staunend unserm Suchen Sinn und Seele.

Du ahnst nicht dieser Stunden Glück und Qual,
Da wir dein Bild in unsern Traum versenken –
Doch du bist Leben. Wir sind Schatten.
Deiner Schönheit Strahl
Muß, daß wir atmen, funkelnd erst uns tränken.

-Ernst Stadler



He who once has countered beauty’s stare
Too soon will find himself consigned to death,
Unfit for any earthly chore or fare.
Yet he will tremble, faced with cease of breath:
He who once has countered beauty’s stare!

For him, the pain of love will never die.
A fool alone will feel within his heart
A way on earth to satisfy the cry
Inside he feels when stung by beauty’s dart.
For him, the pain of love will never die.

Ah, he would sicken, dry up like a spring,
Tasting poison in each breath of air,
Breathing death from every flowering thing:
He who once has countered beauty’s stare.
Ah, he would sicken, dry up like a spring!


Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen,
Ist dem Tode schon anheimgegeben,
Wird für keinen Dienst auf Erden taugen,
Und doch wird er vor dem Tode beben,
Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen!

Ewig währt für ihn der Schmerz der Liebe,
Denn ein Tor nur kann auf Erden hoffen,
Zu genügen einem solchen Triebe:
Wen der Pfeil des Schönen je getroffen,
Ewig währt für ihn der Schmerz der Liebe!

Ach, er möchte wie ein Quell versiegen,
Jedem Hauch der Luft ein Gift entsaugen
Und den Tod aus jeder Blume riechen:
Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen,
Ach, er möchte wie ein Quell versiechen!

-August von Platen


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Definitions of beauty can be reductive. Still, we may know when we have gazed on it—or when its stare has transfixed us—for it can take hold of our total being, soul and sense alike.

When it does, we agree that beauty is, as Pietro Bembo in Castiglione’s Il Courtier affirms, “a holy thing”: one that stems from the eternal creator, or God. As such, it ideally fills us with awe and reverence. To be sure, our regard for it may be insufficient, as seems the case with Tennyson’s Lancelot, who, when faced with the fairy Lady of Shalott, is oblivious to the fact that she has perished out of love for him. Indeed, some forms of beauty may prove inaccessible to us.

Some may even prove perilous. The sun, for instance, is beautiful, yet we cannot eye it from too close a range without danger to our mortal lives. Baudelaire and von Platen depict that kind of beauty in their poems here—a beauty that can, as Yeats warned in “A Prayer for My Daughter,” make one’s “eyes distraught.”

In any event, given its power over us, perhaps it is best to approach beauty with humility. (I say this even while having to admit that beauty often catches us unawares, as when I first heard Mahler’s Eighth Symphony or, as one who had never been an admirer of tapestries, came upon some by William Morris on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum one afternoon and was reduced to tears.) Great works of art can surprise us in this way.

Still, one of the most memorable expressions of awe and reverence in the face of beauty that I have ever witnessed came from the lips of my three-year-old daughter (now thirty and with a child of her own). I was seated in the breakfast room one morning when she appeared at the threshold, half-running, half-tripping, her long brown hair flying, her cherubic form clad in naught but my wife’s sheer baby-blue negligee as it danced and shimmered like mist behind her, its bodice revealing her little dove’s breasts.

“It’s so beautiful I just can’t believe it,” she sobbed, her voice hushed and gushing with joyous wonder.

In trying to capture that moment’s beauty, I feel as helpless as she did then.

William Ruleman’s recent books include the poetry collection From Rage to Hope (White Violet Books, 2016), as well as his translations of Hermann Hesse’s early poems (Cedar Springs Books, 2017) and Stefan Zweig’s unfinished novel Clarissa (Ariadne Press, 2017). He is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. More at: williamruleman.com.