Well, well, well…where have I been? It seems much too much time has passed since I’ve heard from, let alone seen, many of you dear classmates! However, it was mere illness and no ill-will that kept me away – next time I get the flu I’ll set up some kind of video conference so I can still nerd it up with you all from under my piles of tissues.
SO! Has no one tackled the obvious and problematic difference in William Aggeler and Geoffrey Wagner’s translation of “À une passante”? Aggeler titles the poem merely, “To a Passer-by”, whereas Wagner translates it as “To a Woman Passing By”. These slight differences are not trivial! And it’s in the title! Reading Aggeler’s poem with his title in mind, the first two stanzas read very much as Wagner’s do: as descriptors of the city, of the woman (presumably a prostitute), and of the power she has seemingly entranced him with. However, in the final two stanzas, when Baudelaire shifts the focus on a “you”, suddenly, the title makes a world of difference. With Wagner’s translation, it is easy to assume that the “you” is specifically this woman passing by, and thus the poem is an ode to her mystique. With Aggeler’s looser, more open-ended title of “To a Passer-by”, the “you” could still be the woman, but the intended recipient of the poem is no longer just her. Suddenly, we are privy to this chance encounter, as if we were alongside Baudelaire on the sidewalk when he sees her. (Imagine standing next to him on a street in Paris, this woman passes by, he has a moment where he mentally converses with her and then he turns to you and says, “HOLY COW, DID YOU SEE THAT?”) Does this make sense? If you include the word “woman” in the title, it becomes narrower, like a private joke between Baudelaire and the lady that we happened to find evidence of in writing. But without it, when the title is merely, “To a Passer-By”, perhaps it is we who are there sharing this private joke; maybe you are the passer-by!
Very confusing, I know. So please let’s all talk more in the morning, shall we?