Plaything of the Poor – Le Joujou du Pauvre translation

Le Joujou du Pauvre is a piece written by French author Charles Baudelaire in his collection “Le Spleen de Paris”. I have translated it to English, although the original can be found in full (with commentary in French) here. Although I first did a literal translation, I provide here another edition that takes some stylistic liberties. These choices, which I describe more extensively in a separate post titled “Plaything of the Poor – Notes on the Text” were made to preserve some of the non-written components of this poem. (ex. the overall tone of the piece, the clarity and readability, etc.) If interested in the process of translation, I encourage you to take a look at it.

I will give you an idea for innocent entertainment. There are so few amusements that are without guilt!

When you leave in the morning with the intention to stroll through the large streets, fill your pockets with small inventions, — those paper puppets moved by a single thread, the anvil-beating blacksmiths, the rider and his horse whose tail is a whistle – and along the cabarets at the foot of the trees, give the toys in homage to the unknown children and poor that you encounter. You will be able to see their eyes widen immeasurably. At first, they will refuse to take it; they doubt their good luck. Then their hands will grip strongly at the gift, and they will flee from you like cats that take the morsels you have given them and eat far away, having learned to distrust man.

The whiteness of a lovely sun-beaten house appears from behind the gate of a large garden on a road. There, there is a beautiful and well-kempt child, dressed in coquettish country styled clothing.The luxury, recklessness, and the habitual spectacle of wealth, makes these children appear so lovely that one would think them crafted from something different than the children of mediocrity or poverty.

Lying on the grass beside him is a splendid plaything, looking as fresh as its master: varnished, gilded, and costumed in a purple dress covered in feathers and glass beads. But the child does not occupy himself with his preferred toy. Instead, here is what he watches :

On the other side of the gate, on the road between the nettles and the weeds, there is another child. An impartial eye would discover beauty in this dirty, spindly, and sooty child – using the eyes of a connoisseur to discover the ideal paints beneath the veneer of an outcast, and applying the repugnant patina of misery onto their canvas.

The two worlds of the large street and the mansion are separated between a symbolic barrier. The poor child gives the rich one his favorite toy, who avidly examines it like a rare and unknown object. However, this toy, that the slovenly child had irritated and agitated through shaking in its gated box, is a live rat. Undoubtedly, his parents thriftily captured the plaything themselves.

And the two children laugh beside one another as brothers, with teeth of an equal whiteness.


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