"When he had stretched himself on the sofa, he looked at the title-page of the book. It was Gautier's Émaux et Camées, Charpentier's Japanese-paper edition, with the Jacquemart etching. The binding was of citron-green leather, with a design of gilt trellis-work and dotted pomegranates... As he turned over the pages, his eye fell on the poem about the hand of Lacenaire, the cold yellow hand 'du supplice encore mal laveé,' with its downy red hairs and its 'doigts de faune.' He glanced at his own white taper fingers, shuddering slightly in spite of himself, and passed on, till he came to those lovely stanzas upon Venice:"
And at this point Oscar Wilde (we're in Chapter XIV of The Picture of Dorian Gray) inserts three stanzas of a Gautier poem, from the second of four short verses on the subject of Venice. In the novel, the stanzas are in French. I'll get a dictionary and ma femme and try to translate a stanza very literally (please feel free to correct me), the one Dorian finds particularly evocative of Venice:
The skiff lands and disembarks me,
Throwing its rope around the pillar,
In front of a pink facade,
On the marble stairs.
L'esquif aborde et me dépose,
Jetant son amarre au pilier,
Devant une façade rose,
Sur le marbre d'un escalier.
Delicate, not too complex looking, not too exciting in English. Hard to see what Dorian is getting from them, exactly. The joke, such as it is, is that he has just murdered a friend, and is looking for distraction from Gautier's volume of exquisitely crafted miniatures, the enamels and cameos of the title. Dorian is finding a use for the useless. In the first poem, the "Préface," Gautier says he is like Goethe, who wrote his East-West Divan against the noise of the cannons; without worrying about the hurricane that whipped his windows shut, "I, I have made Enamels and Cameos," decorative, useless things.
About that hand of Lacenaire. Gautier wrote two "Studies of Hands," the first about a clay woman's hand, a sculptor's model - Gautier has this, let's call it a thing, about preferring sculptures of women to actual women - the second, "Pour contraste," about the severed hand of a murderer, still unwashed:
Mummified and all yellow,
Like the hand of a pharaoh,
It stretched its animal-like fingers
Frozen by temptation.
So I see why Dorian did not want to linger over this poem.
The problem is that Gautier's poems are too lyrical, too simple-seeming (but not actually simple) - whatever magic they might have is ineffable. All of Gautier's poems are like this. Here we have a complete Englishing of Émaux et Camées from 1903 which I have read in its entirety, and which, I have concluded, is basically terrible (the 1903 New York Times agrees!). The insertions of extraneous matter, the bizarre choices of rhyme words, the occasional total abandonment of English grammar, what a mess. It's the only complete Enamels and Cameos I have found. I need to find a better translation. These poems can't be harder to translate than Charles Baudelaire, and the Richard Howard Flowers of Evil I'm reading is fantastic.
And here, by the way, is the lovely 1887 Émaux et Camées, the source of the images, yours for free.