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The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire / with an Introductory Preface by James Huneker By Charles Baudelaire Characters: 31835

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

He was born at Paris, April 9, 1821 (Flaubert's birth year), and not April 21, as Gautier has it. His father was Joseph Francis Baudelaire, or Baudelaire, who occupied a government position. A cultivated art lover, his taste was apparent in the home he made for his second wife, Caroline Archimbaut-Dufays, an orphan and the daughter of a military officer. There was a considerable difference in the years of this pair; the mother was twenty-seven, the father sixty-two, at the birth of their only child. By his first marriage the elder Baudelaire had one son, Claude, who, like his half-brother Charles, died of paralysis, though a steady man of business. That great modern neurosis, called Commerce, has its mental wrecks, too, and no one pays attention; but when a poet falls by the wayside is the chase begun by neurologists and other soul-hunters seeking victims. After the death of Baudelaire's father, the widow, within a year, married the handsome, ambitious Aupick, then chef de bataillon, lieutenant-colonel, decorated with the Legion of Honour, and later general and ambassador to Madrid, Constantinople, and London. Charles was a nervous, frail youth, but unlike most children of genius, he was a scholar and won brilliant honours at school. His stepfather was proud of him. From the Royal College of Lyons, Charles went to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, but was expelled in 1839, on various discreditable charges. Troubles soon began at home. He was irascible, vain, precocious, and given to dissipation. He quarreled with General Aupick, and disdained his mother. But she was to blame, she has confessed; she had quite forgotten the boy in the flush of her second love. He could not forget, or forgive what he called her infidelity to the memory of his father. Hamlet-like, he was inconsolable. The good Bishop of Montpellier, who knew the family, said that Charles was a little crazy-second marriages usually bring woe in their train. "When a mother has such a son, she doesn't re-marry," said the young poet Charles signed himself Baudelaire-Dufays, or sometimes Dufais. He wrote in his journal: "My ancestors, idiots or maniacs ... all victims of terrible passions"; which was one of his exaggerations. His grandfather on the paternal side was a Champenois peasant, his mother's family presumably Norman, but not much is known of her forbears. Charles believed himself lost from the time his half-brother was stricken. He also believed that his instability of temperament-and he studied his "case" as would a surgeon-was the result of his parents' disparity in years.

After his return from the East, where he did not learn English as has been said-his mother taught him as a boy to converse in and write the language-he came into his little inheritance, about fifteen thousand dollars. Two years later he was so heavily in debt that his family asked for a guardian on the ground of incompetency. He had been swindled, being young and green. How had he squandered his money? Not exactly on opera-glasses, like Gérard de Nerval, but on clothes, pictures, furniture, books. The remnant was set aside to pay his debts. Charles would be both poet and dandy. He dressed expensively but soberly, in the English fashion; his linen dazzling, the prevailing hue of his habiliments black. In height he was medium, his eyes brown, searching, luminous, the eye of a nyctalops, "eyes like ravens"; nostrils palpitating, cleft chin, mouth expressive, sensual jaw, strong and square. His hair was black, curly, glossy, his forehead high, square and white. In the Deroy portrait he wears a beard; he is there what Catulle Mendès nicknamed him: "His Excellence, Monseigneur Brummel!" Later he was the elegiac Satan, the author of L'Imitation de N.S. le Diable; or the Baudelaire of George Moore: "the clean-shaven face of the mock priest, the slow cold eyes and the sharp cunning sneer of the cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better know the worthlessness of temptation." In the heyday of his blood he was perverse and deliberate. Let us credit him with contradicting the Byronic notion that ennui could best be cured by dissipation; in sin Baudelaire found the saddest of all consolations. Mendès laughs at the legend of Baudelaire's violence, of his being given to explosive phrases. Despite Gautier's stories about the H?tel Pimodan and its club of hasheesh-eaters, M. Mendès denies that Baudelaire was a victim of the hemp. What the majority of mankind does not know concerning the habits of literary workers is this prime fact: men who work hard, writing verse-and there is no mental toil comparable to it-cannot drink, or indulge in opium, without inevitable collapse. The old-fashioned ideas of "inspiration," spontaneity, easy improvisation, the sudden bolt from heaven, are delusions still hugged by the world. To be told that Chopin filed at his music for years, that Beethoven in his smithy forged his thunderbolts by the sweat of his brow, that Manet toiled like a labourer on the dock, that Baudelaire was a mechanic in his devotion to poetic work, that Gautier was a hard-working journalist, are disillusions for the sentimental. Minerva springing full-fledged from Jupiter's skull to the desk of the poet is a pretty fancy; but Balsac and Flaubert did not encourage this fancy. Work literally killed Poe, as it killed Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert and Daudet. Maupassant went insane because he would work and he would play the same day. Baudelaire worked and worried. His debts haunted him his life long. His constitution was flawed-Sainte-Beuve told him that he had worn out his nerves-from the start, he was détraqué; but that his entire life was one huge debauch is a nightmare of the moral police in some red cotton nightcap country.

His period of mental production was not brief nor barren. He was a student. Du Camp's charge that he was an ignorant man is disproved by the variety and quality of his published work. His range of sympathies was large. His mistake, in the eyes of his colleagues, was to write so well about the seven arts. Versatility is seldom given its real name-which is protracted labour. Baudelaire was one of the elect, an aristocrat, who dealt with the quintessence of art; his delicate air of a bishop, his exquisite manners, his modulated voice, aroused unusual interest and admiration. He was a humanist of distinction; he has left a hymn to Saint Francis in the Latin of the decadence. Baudelaire, like Chopin, made more poignant the phrase, raised to a higher intensity the expressiveness of art.

Women played a commanding r?le in his life. They always do with any poet worthy of the name, though few have been so frank in acknowledging this as Baudelaire. Yet he was in love more with Woman than the individual. The legend of the beautiful creature he brought from the East resolves itself into the dismal affair with Jeanne Duval. He met her in Paris, after he had been in the East. She sang at a café concert in Paris. She was more brown than black. She was not handsome, not intelligent, not good; yet he idealized her, for she was the source of half his inspiration. To her were addressed those marvellous evocations of the Orient, of perfume, tresses, delicious dawns on strange far-away seas and "superb Byzant," domes that devils built. Baudelaire is the poet of perfumes; he is also the patron saint of ennui. No one has so chanted the praise of odours. His soul swims on perfume as do other souls on music, he has sung. As he grew older he seemed to hunt for more acrid odours; he often presents an elaborately chased vase the carving of which transports us, but from which the head is quickly averted. Jeanne, whom he never loved, no matter what may be said, was a sorceress. But she was impossible; she robbed, betrayed him; he left her a dozen times only to return. He was a capital draughtsman with a strong nervous line and made many pen-and-ink drawings of her. They are not prepossessing. In her rapid decline she was not allowed to want. Madame Aupick paid her expenses in the hospital. A sordid history. She was a veritable flower of evil for Baudelaire. Yet poetry, like music, would be colourless, scentless, if it sounded no dissonances. Fancy art reduced to the beatific and banal chord of C major!

He fell in love with the celebrated Madame Sabatier, a reigning beauty, at whose salon artistic Paris assembled. She had been christened by Gautier Madame la Présidente, and her sumptuous beauty was portrayed by Ricard in his La Femme au Chien. She returned Baudelaire's love. They soon parted. Again a riddle which the published letters hardly solve. One letter, however, does show that Baudelaire had tried to be faithful, and failed. He could not extort from his exhausted soul the sentiment; but he put its music on paper. His most seductive lyrics were addressed to Madame Sabatier: "A la très chère, à la très-belle," a hymn saturated with love. Music, spleen, perfumes-"colour, sound, perfumes call to each other as deep to deep; perfumes like the flesh of children, soft as hautboys, green as the meadows" -criminals, outcasts, the charm of childhood, the horrors of love, pride, and rebellion, Eastern landscapes, cats, soothing and false; cats, the true companions of lonely poets; haunted clocks, shivering dusks, and gloomier dawns-Paris in a hundred phases-these and many other themes this strange-souled poet, this "Dante, pacer of the shore," of Paris has celebrated in finely wrought verse and profound phrases. In a single line he contrives atmosphere; the very shape of his sentence, the ring of the syllables, arouse the deepest emotion. A master of harmonic undertones is Baudelaire. His successors have excelled him in making their music more fluid, more lyrical, more vapourous-many young French poets pass through their Baudelarian green-sickness-but he alone knows the secrets of moulding those metallic, free sonnets, which have the resistance of bronze; and of the despairing music that flames from the mouths of lost souls trembling on the wharves of hell. He is the supreme master of irony and troubled voluptuousness.

Baudelaire is a masculine poet. He carved rather than sang; the plastic arts spoke to his soul. A lover and maker of images. Like Poe, his emotions transformed themselves into ideas. Bourget classified him as mystic, libertine, and analyst. He was born with a wound in his soul, to use the phrase of Père Lacordaire. (Curiously enough, he actually contemplated, in 1861, becoming a candidate for Lacordaire's vacant seat in the French Academy. Sainte-Beuve dissuaded him from this folly.) Recall Baudelaire's prayer: "Thou, O Lord, my God, grant me the grace to produce some fine lines which will prove to myself that I am not the last of men, that I am not inferior to those I contemn." Individualist, egoist, anarchist, his only thought was letters. Jules Laforgue thus described Baudelaire: "Cat, Hindoo, Yankee, Episcopal, Alchemist." Yes, an alchemist who suffocated in the fumes he created. He was of Gothic imagination, and could have said with Rolla: "Je suis venu trop tard dans un monde trop vieux." He had an unassuaged thirst for the absolute. The human soul was his stage, he its interpreting orchestra.

In 1857 The Flowers of Evil was published by Poulet-Malassis, who afterward went into bankruptcy-a warning to publishers with a taste for fine literature. The titles contemplated were Limbes, or Lesbiennes. Hippolyte Babou suggested the one we know. These poems were suppressed on account of six, and poet and publisher summoned. As the municipal government had made a particular ass of itself in the prosecution of Gustave Flaubert and his Madame Bovary, the Baudelaire matter was disposed of in haste. He was condemned to a fine of three hundred francs, a fine which was never paid, as the objectionable poems were removed. They were printed in the Belgian edition, and may be read in the new volume, ?uvres. Posthumes.

Baudelaire was infuriated over the judgment, for he knew that his book was dramatic in expression. He had expected, like Flaubert, to emerge from the trial with flying colours; therefore to be classed as one who wrote objectionable literature was a shock. "Flaubert had the Empress back of him," he complained; which was true; the Empress Eugénie, also the Princess Mathilde. But he worked as ever and put forth those polished intaglios called Poems in Prose, for the form of which he had taken a hint from Aloys Bertrand's Gaspard de la Nuit. He filled this form with a new content; not alone pictures, but moods, are to be found in those miniatures. Pity is their keynote, a tenderness for the abject and lowly, a revelation of sensibility that surprised those critics who had discerned in Baudelaire only a sculptor of evil. In one of his poems he described a landscape of metal, of marble and water; a babel of staircases and arcades, a palace of infinity, surrounded by the silence of eternity. This depressing yet magical dream was utilized by Huysmans in his A Rebours. But in the tiny landscapes of the Prose Poems there is nothing rigid or artificial. Indeed, the poet's deliberate attitude of artificiality is dropped. He is human. Not that the deep fundamental note of humanity is ever absent in his poems; the eternal diapason is there even when least overheard. Baudelaire is more human than Poe. His range of sympathy is wider. In this he transcends him as a poet, though his subject-matter often issues from the very dregs of life. Brother to pitiable wanderers, there are, nevertheless, no traces of cant, no "Russian pity" à la Dostoi?vsky, no humanitarian or socialistic rhapsodies in his work. Baudelaire is an egoist He hated the sentimental sapping of altruism. His prose-poem, Crowds, with its "bath of multitude," may have been suggested by Poe; but in Charles Lamb we find the idea: "Are there no solitudes out of caves and the desert? or cannot the heart, in the midst of crowds, feel frightfully alone?"

His best critical work is the Richard Wagner and Tannhauser, as significant an essay as Nietzsche's Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. And Baudelaire's polemic appeared at a more critical period in Wagner's career. Wagner sent a brief hearty letter of thanks to the critic, and later made his acquaintance. To Wagner, Baudelaire introduced a young Wagnerian, Villiers de l'Isle Adam. This Wagner letter is included in the volume of Crépet; but there are no letters published from Baudelaire to Franz Liszt, though they were friends. In Weimar I saw at the Liszt Museum several from Baudelaire which should have been included in the Letters. The poet understood Liszt and his reforms as he understood Wagner. The German composer admired the French poet, and his Kundry, in the sultry second act of Parsifal, has a Baudelairian hue, especially in the temptation scene.

The end was at hand. Baudelaire had been steadily, rather, unsteadily, going downhill; a desperate figure, a dandy in shabby attire. He went out only after dark, he haunted the exterior boulevards, associated with birds of nocturnal plumage. He drank without thirst, ate without hunger, as he has said. A woeful decadence for this aristocrat of life and letters. Most sorrowful of sinners, a morose delectation scourged his nerves and extorted the darkest music from his lyre. He fled to Brussels, there to rehabilitate his dwindling fortunes. He gave a few lectures, and met Rops, Lemonnier, drank to forget, and forgot to work. He abused Brussels, Belgium, its people. A country, he cried, where the trees are black, the flowers without odour, and where there is no conversation! He, the brilliant causeur, the chief blaguer of a circle in which young James McNeill Whistler was reduced to the r?le of a listener-this most spiritual among artists, found himself a failure in the Belgian capital. It may not be amiss to remind o

urselves that Baudelaire was the creator of many of the paradoxes attributed, not only to Whistler, but to an entire school-if one may employ such a phrase. The frozen imperturbability of the poet, his cutting enunciation, his power of blasphemy, his hatred of Nature, his love of the artificial, have been copied by the ?sthetic blades of our day. He it was who first taunted Nature with being an imitator of art, with always being the same. Oh, the imitative sunsets! Oh, the quotidian eating and drinking! And as pessimist, too, he led the mode. Baudelaire, like Flaubert, grasped the murky torch of pessimism once held by Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, and Senancour. Doubtless, all this stemmed from Byronism. And now it is as stale as Byronism.

His health failed, and he lacked money enough to pay for doctor's prescriptions; he even owed for the room in his hotel. At Namur, where he was visiting the father-in-law of Felician Rops (March, 1866), he suffered from an attack of paralysis. He was removed to Brussels. His mother, who lived at Honneur, in mourning for her husband, came to his aid. Taken to France, he was placed in a sanatorium. Aphasia set in. He could only ejaculate a mild oath, and when he caught sight of himself in the mirror he would bow pleasantly as if to a stranger. His friends rallied, and they were among the most distinguished people in Paris, the élite of souls. Ladies visited him, one or two playing Wagner on the piano-which must have added a fresh nuance to death-and they brought him flowers. He expressed his love for flowers and music to the last. He could not bear the sight of his mother; she revived in him some painful memories, but that passed, and he clamoured for her when she was absent. If anyone mentioned the names of Wagner or Manet, he smiled. And with a fixed stare, as if peering through some invisible window opening upon eternity, he died, August 31, 1867, aged forty-six.

Barbey d'Aurevilly himself a Satanist and dandy (oh, those comical old attitudes of literature), had prophesied that the author of Fleurs du Mal would either blow out his brains or prostrate himself at the foot of the cross. (Later he said the same of Huysmans.) Baudelaire had the alternative course forced upon him by fate after he had attempted spiritual suicide for how many years? (He once tried actual suicide, but the slight cut in his throat looked so ugly to him that he went no farther.) His soul had been a battle-field for the powers of good and evil. That at the end he brought the wreck of both soul and body to his God should not be a subject for comment. He was an extraordinary poet with a bad conscience, who lived miserably and was buried with honours. Then it was that his worth was discovered (funeral orations over a genius are a species of public staircase-wit). His reputation waxes with the years. He is an exotic gem in the crown of French poetry. Of him Swinburne has chanted Ave Atque Vale:

Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,

Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?

* * *


* * *


Carrying bouquet, and handkerchief, and gloves,

Proud of her height as when she lived, she moves

With all the careless and high-stepping grace,

And the extravagant courtesan's thin face.

Was slimmer waist e'er in a ball-room wooed?

Her floating robe, in royal amplitude,

Palls in deep folds around a dry foot, shod

With a bright flower-like shoe that gems the sod.

The swarms that hum about her collar-bones

As the lascivious streams caress the stones,

Conceal from every scornful jest that flies,

Her gloomy beauty; and her fathomless eyes

Are made of shade and void; with flowery sprays

Her skull is wreathed artistically, and sways,

Feeble and weak, on her frail vertebr?.

O charm of nothing decked in folly! they

Who laugh and name you a Caricature,

They see not, they whom flesh and blood allure,

The nameless grace of every bleached, bare bone

That is most dear to me, tall skeleton!

Come you to trouble with your potent sneer

The feast of Life! or are you driven here,

To Pleasure's Sabbath, by dead lusts that stir

And goad your moving corpse on with a spur?

Or do you hope, when sing the violins,

And the pale candle-flame lights up our sins,

To drive some mocking nightmare far apart,

And cool the flame hell lighted in your heart?

Fathomless well of fault and foolishness!

Eternal alembic of antique distress!

Still o'er the curved, white trellis of your sides

The sateless, wandering serpent curls and glides.

And truth to tell, I fear lest you should find,

Among us here, no lover to your mind;

Which of these hearts beat for the smile you gave?

The charms of horror please none but the brave.

Your eyes' black gulf, where awful broodings stir,

Brings giddiness; the prudent reveller

Sees, while a horror grips him from beneath,

The eternal smile of thirty-two white teeth.

For he who has not folded in his arms

A skeleton, nor fed on graveyard charms,

Recks not of furbelow, or paint, or scent,

When Horror comes the way that Beauty went.

O irresistible, with fleshless face,

Say to these dancers in their dazzled race:

"Proud lovers with the paint above your bones,

Ye shall taste death, musk-scented skeletons!

Withered Antinous, dandies with plump faces,

Ye varnished cadavers, and grey Lovelaces,

Ye go to lands unknown and void of breath,

Drawn by the rumour of the Dance of Death.

From Seine's cold quays to Ganges' burning stream,

The mortal troupes dance onward in a dream;

They do not see, within the opened sky,

The Angel's sinister trumpet raised on high.

In every clime and under every sun,

Death laughs at ye, mad mortals, as ye run;

And oft perfumes herself with myrrh, like ye

And mingles with your madness, irony!"

* * *


RUBENS, oblivious garden of indolence,

Pillow of cool flesh where no man dreams of love,

Where life flows forth in troubled opulence,

As airs in heaven and seas in ocean move,

LEONARD DA VINCI, sombre and fathomless glass,

Where lovely angels with calm lips that smile,

Heavy with mystery, in the shadow pass,

Among the ice and pines that guard some isle.

REMBRANDT, sad hospital that a murmuring fills,

Where one tall crucifix hangs on the walls,

Where every tear-drowned prayer some woe distils,

And one cold, wintry ray obliquely falls.

Strong MICHELANGELO, a vague far place

Where mingle Christs with pagan Hercules;

Thin phantoms of the great through twilight pace,

And tear their shroud with clenched hands void of ease.

The fighter's anger, the faun's impudence,

Thou makest of all these a lovely thing;

Proud heart, sick body, mind's magnificence:

PUGET, the convict's melancholy king.

WATTEAU, the carnival of illustrious hearts,

Fluttering like moths upon the wings of chance;

Bright lustres light the silk that flames and darts,

And pour down folly on the whirling dance.

GOYA, a nightmare full of things unknown;

The f?tus witches broil on Sabbath night;

Old women at the mirror; children lone

Who tempt old demons with their limbs delight.

DELACROIX, lake of blood ill angels haunt,

Where ever-green, o'ershadowing woods arise;

Under the surly heaven strange fanfares chaunt

And pass, like one of Weber's strangled sighs.

And malediction, blasphemy and groan,

Ecstasies, cries, Te Deums, and tears of brine,

Are echoes through a thousand labyrinths flown;

For mortal hearts an opiate divine;

A shout cried by a thousand sentinels,

An order from a thousand bugles tossed,

A beacon o'er a thousand citadels,

A call to huntsmen in deep woodlands lost.

It is the mightiest witness that could rise

To prove our dignity, O Lord, to Thee;

This sob that rolls from age to age, and dies

Upon the verge of Thy Eternity!

* * *


The Moon more indolently dreams to-night

Than a fair woman on her couch at rest.

Caressing, with a hand distraught and light,

Before she sleeps, the contour of her breast.

Upon her silken avalanche of down,

Dying she breathes a long and swooning sigh;

And watches the white visions past her flown,

Which rise like blossoms to the azure sky.

And when, at times, wrapped in her languor deep,

Earthward she lets a furtive tear-drop flow,

Some pious poet, enemy of sleep,

Takes in his hollow hand the tear of snow

Whence gleams of iris and of opal start,

And hides it from the Sun, deep in his heart.

* * *


When with closed eyes in autumn's eves of gold

I breathe the burning odours of your breast,

Before my eyes the hills of happy rest

Bathed in the sun's monotonous fires, unfold.

Islands of Lethe where exotic boughs

Bend with their burden of strange fruit bowed down.

Where men are upright, maids have never grown

Unkind, but bear a light upon their brows.

Led by that perfume to these lands of ease,

I see a port where many ships have flown

With sails outwearied of the wandering seas;

While the faint odours from green tamarisks blown,

Float to my soul and in my senses throng,

And mingle vaguely with the sailor's song.

* * *


I am as lovely as a dream in stone,

And this my heart where each finds death in turn,

Inspires the poet with a love as lone

As clay eternal and as taciturn.

Swan-white of heart, a sphinx no mortal knows,

My throne is in the heaven's azure deep;

I hate all movements that disturb my pose,

I smile not ever, neither do I weep.

Before my monumental attitudes,

That breathe a soul into the plastic arts,

My poets pray in austere studious moods,

For I, to fold enchantment round their hearts,

Have pools of light where beauty flames and dies,

The placid mirrors of my luminous eyes.

* * *


Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,

O thou, my pleasure, thou, all my desire,

Thou shalt recall the beauty of caresses,

The charm of evenings by the gentle fire,

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses!

The eves illumined by the burning coal,

The balcony where veiled rose-vapour clings-

How soft your breast was then, how sweet your soul!

Ah, and we said imperishable things,

Those eves illumined by the burning coal.

Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,

And space profound, and strong life's pulsing flood,

In bending o'er you, queen of every charm,

I thought I breathed the perfume in your blood.

The suns were beauteous in those twilights warm.

The film of night flowed round and over us,

And my eyes in the dark did your eyes meet;

I drank your breath, ah! sweet and poisonous,

And in my hands fraternal slept your feet-

Night, like a film, flowed round and over us.

I can recall those happy days forgot,

And see, with head bowed on your knees, my past.

Your languid beauties now would move me not

Did not your gentle heart and body cast

The old spell of those happy days forgot.

Can vows and perfumes, kisses infinite,

Be reborn from the gulf we cannot sound;

As rise to heaven suns once again made bright

After being plunged in deep seas and profound?

Ah, vows and perfumes, kisses infinite!

* * *


Poor Muse, alas, what ails thee, then, to-day?

Thy hollow eyes with midnight visions burn,

Upon thy brow in alternation play,

Folly and Horror, cold and taciturn.

Have the green lemure and the goblin red,

Poured on thee love and terror from their urn?

Or with despotic hand the nightmare dread

Deep plunged thee in some fabulous Minturne?

Would that thy breast where so deep thoughts arise,

Breathed forth a healthful perfume with thy sighs;

Would that thy Christian blood ran wave by wave

In rhythmic sounds the antique numbers gave,

When Ph?bus shared his alternating reign

With mighty Pan, lord of the ripening grain.

* * *


Muse of my heart, lover of palaces,

When January comes with wind and sleet,

During the snowy eve's long wearinesses,

Will there be fire to warm thy violet feet?

Wilt thou reanimate thy marble shoulders

In the moon-beams that through the window fly?

Or when thy purse dries up, thy palace moulders,

Reap the far star-gold of the vaulted sky?

For thou, to keep thy body to thy soul,

Must swing a censer, wear a holy stole,

And chaunt Te Deums with unbelief between.

Or, like a starving mountebank, expose

Thy beauty and thy tear-drowned smile to those

Who wait thy jeste to drive away thy spleen.

* * *


The ancient cloisters on their lofty walls

Had holy Truth in painted frescoes shown,

And, seeing these, the pious in those halls

Felt their cold, lone austereness less alone.

At that time when Christ's seed flowered all around,

More than one monk, forgotten in his hour,

Taking for studio the burial-ground,

Glorified Death with simple faith and power.

And my soul is a sepulchre where I,

Ill cenobite, have spent eternity:

On the vile cloister walls no pictures rise.

O when may I cast off this weariness,

And make the pageant of my old distress

For these hands labour, pleasure for these eyes?

* * *


The Demon, in my chamber high.

This morning came to visit me,

And, thinking he would find some fault,

He whispered: "I would know of thee

Among the many lovely things

That make the magic of her face,

Among the beauties, black and rose,

That make her body's charm and grace,

Which is most fair?" Thou didst reply

To the Abhorred, O soul of mine:

"No single beauty is the best

When she is all one flower divine.

When all things charm me I ignore

Which one alone brings most delight;

She shines before me like the dawn,

And she consoles me like the night.

The harmony is far too great,

That governs all her body fair,

For impotence to analyse

And say which note is sweetest there.

O mystic metamorphosis!

My senses into one sense flow-

Her voice makes perfume when she speaks,

Her breath is music faint and low!"

* * *


Can we suppress the old Remorse

Who bends our heart beneath his stroke,

Who feeds, as worms feed on the corse,

Or as the acorn on the oak?

Can we suppress the old Remorse!

Ah, in what philtre, wine, or spell,

May we drown this our ancient foe,

Destructive glutton, gorging well,

Patient as the ants, and slow?

What wine, what philtre, or what spell?

Tell it, enchantress, if you can,

Tell me, with anguish overcast,

Wounded, as a dying man,

Beneath the swift hoofs hurrying past.

Tell it, enchantress, if you can,

To him the wolf already tears

Who sees the carrion pinions wave,

This broken warrior who despairs

To have a cross above his grave-

This wretch the wolf already tears.

Can one illume a leaden sky,

Or tear apart the shadowy veil

Thicker than pitch, no star on high,

Not one funereal glimmer pale

Can one illume a leaden sky?

Hope lit the windows of the Inn,

But now that shining flame is dead;

And how shall martyred pilgrims win

Along the moonless road they tread?

Satan has darkened all the Inn!

Witch, do you love accursèd hearts?

Say, do you know the reprobate?

Know you Remorse, whose venomed darts

Make souls the targets for their hate?

Witch, do you know accursèd hearts?

The Might-have-been with tooth accursed

Gnaws at the piteous souls of men,

The deep foundations suffer first,

And all the structure crumbles then

Beneath the bitter tooth accursed.

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