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The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire / with an Introductory Preface by James Huneker By Charles Baudelaire Characters: 17841

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Often, when seated at the play,

And sonorous music lights the stage,

I see the frail hand of a Fay

With magic dawn illume the rage

Of the dark sky. Oft at the play

A being made of gauze and fire

Casts to the earth a Demon great.

And my heart, whence all hopes expire,

Is like a stage where I await,

In vain, the Fay with wings of fire!

* * *

A FORMER LIFE.

Long since, I lived beneath vast porticoes,

By many ocean-sunsets tinged and fired,

Where mighty pillars, in majestic rows,

Seemed like basaltic caves when day expired.

The rolling surge that mirrored all the skies

Mingled its music, turbulent and rich,

Solemn and mystic, with the colours which

The setting sun reflected in my eyes.

And there I lived amid voluptuous calms,

In splendours of blue sky and wandering wave,

Tended by many a naked, perfumed slave,

Who fanned my languid brow with waving palms.

They were my slaves-the only care they had

To know what secret grief had made me sad.

* * *

DON JUAN IN HADES.

When Juan sought the subterranean flood.

And paid his obolus on the Stygian shore.

Charon, the proud and sombre beggar, stood

With one strong, vengeful hand on either oar.

With open robes and bodies agonised,

Lost women writhed beneath that darkling sky;

There were sounds as of victims sacrificed:

Behind him all the dark was one long cry.

And Sganarelle, with laughter, claimed his pledge;

Don Luis, with trembling finger in the air,

Showed to the souls who wandered in the sedge

The evil son who scorned his hoary hair.

Shivering with woe, chaste Elvira the while,

Near him untrue to all but her till now,

Seemed to beseech him for one farewell smile

Lit with the sweetness of the first soft vow.

And clad in armour, a tall man of stone

Held firm the helm, and clove the gloomy flood;

But, staring at the vessel's track alone,

Bent on his sword the unmoved hero stood.

* * *

THE LIVING FLAME.

They pass before me, these Eyes full of light,

Eyes made magnetic by some angel wise;

The holy brothers pass before my sight,

And cast their diamond fires in my dim eyes.

They keep me from all sin and error grave,

They set me in the path whence Beauty came;

They are my servants, and I am their slave,

And all my soul obeys the living flame.

Beautiful Eyes that gleam with mystic light

As candles lighted at full noon; the sun

Dims not your flame phantastical and bright.

You sing the dawn; they celebrate life done;

Marching you chaunt my soul's awakening hymn,

Stars that no sun has ever made grow dim!

* * *

CORRESPONDENCES.

In Nature's temple living pillars rise,

And words are murmured none have understood.

And man must wander through a tangled wood

Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.

As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim

Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;

Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,

Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.

Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,

Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;

Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,

Have all the expansion of things infinite:

As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,

Which sing the sense's and the soul's delight.

* * *

THE FLASK.

There are some powerful odours that can pass

Out of the stoppered flagon; even glass

To them is porous. Oft when some old box

Brought from the East is opened and the locks

And hinges creak and cry; or in a press

In some deserted house, where the sharp stress

Of odours old and dusty fills the brain;

An ancient flask is brought to light again,

And forth the ghosts of long-dead odours creep.

There, softly trembling in the shadows, sleep

A thousand thoughts, funereal chrysalides,

Phantoms of old the folding darkness hides,

Who make faint flutterings as their wings unfold,

Rose-washed and azure-tinted, shot with gold.

A memory that brings languor flutters here:

The fainting eyelids droop, and giddy Fear

Thrusts with both hands the soul towards the pit

Where, like a Lazarus from his winding-sheet,

Arises from the gulf of sleep a ghost

Of an old passion, long since loved and lost.

So I, when vanished from man's memory

Deep in some dark and sombre chest I lie.

An empty flagon they have cast aside,

Broken and soiled, the dust upon my pride,

Will be your shroud, beloved pestilence!

The witness of your might and virulence,

Sweet poison mixed by angels; bitter cup

Of life and death my heart has drunken up!

* * *

REVERSIBILITY.

Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?

Shame and remorse and sobs and weary spite,

And the vague terrors of the fearful night

That crush the heart up like a crumpled leaf?

Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?

Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?

With hands clenched in the shade and tears of gall,

When Vengeance beats her hellish battle-call,

And makes herself the captain of our fate,

Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?

Angel of health, did ever you know pain,

Which like an exile trails his tired footfalls

The cold length of the white infirmary walls,

With lips compressed, seeking the sun in vain?

Angel of health, did ever you know pain?

Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?

Know you the fear of age, the torment vile

Of reading secret horror in the smile

Of eyes your eyes have loved since long ago?

Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?

Angel of happiness, and joy, and light,

Old David would have asked for youth afresh

From the pure touch of your enchanted flesh;

I but implore your prayers to aid my plight,

Angel of happiness, and joy, and light.

* * *

THE EYES OF BEAUTY.

You are a sky of autumn, pale and rose;

But all the sea of sadness in my blood

Surges, and ebbing, leaves my lips morose,

Salt with the memory of the bitter flood.

In vain your hand glides my faint bosom o'er,

That which you seek, beloved, is desecrate

By woman's tooth and talon; ah, no more

Seek in me for a heart which those dogs ate.

It is a ruin where the jackals rest,

And rend and tear and glut themselves and slay-

A perfume swims about your naked breast!

Beauty, hard scourge of spirits, have your way!

With flame-like eyes that at bright feasts have flared

Burn up these tatters that the beasts have spared!

* * *

SONNET OF AUTUMN.

They say to me, thy clear and crystal eyes:

"Why dost thou love me so, strange lover mine?"

Be sweet, be still! My heart and soul despise

All save that antique brute-like faith of thine;

And will not bare the secret of their shame

To thee whose hand soothes me to slumbers long,

Nor their black legend write for thee in flame!

Passion I hate, a spirit does me wrong.

Let us love gently. Love, from his retreat,

Ambushed and shadowy, bends his fatal bow,

And I too well his ancient arrows know:

Crime, horror, folly. O pale marguerite,

Thou art as I, a bright sun fallen low,

O my so white, my so cold Marguerite.

* * *

THE REMORSE OF THE DEAD.

O shadowy Beauty mine, when thou shalt sleep

In the deep heart of a black marble tomb;

When thou for mansion and for bower shalt keep

Only one rainy cave of hollow gloom;

And when the stone upon thy trembling breast,

And on thy straight sweet body's supple grace,

Crushes thy will and keeps thy heart at rest,

And holds those feet from their adventurous race;

Then the deep grave, who shares my reverie,

(For the deep grave is aye the poet's friend)

During long nights when sleep is far from thee,

Shall whisper: "Ah, thou didst not comprehend

The dead wept thus, thou woman frail and weak"-

And like remorse the worm shall gnaw thy cheek.

* * *

THE GHOST.

Softly as brown-eyed Angels rove

I will return to thy alcove.

And glide upon the night to thee,

Treading the shadows silently.

And I will give to thee, my own,

Kisses as icy as the moon,

And the caresses of a snake

Cold gliding in the thorny brake.

And when returns the livid morn

Thou shalt find all my place forlorn

And chilly, till the falling night.

Others would rule by tenderness

Over thy life and youthfulness,

But I would conquer thee by fright!

* * *

TO A MADONNA.

(An Ex-Voto in the Spanish taste.)

Madonna, mistress. I would build for thee

An altar deep in the sad soul of me;

And in the darkest corner of my heart,

From mortal hopes and mocking eyes apart,

Carve of enamelled blue and gold a shrine

For thee to stand erect in, Image divine!

And with a mighty Crown thou shalt be crowned

Wrought of the gold of my smooth Verse, set round

With starry crystal rhymes; and I will m

ake,

O mortal maid, a Mantle for thy sake,

And weave it of my jealousy, a gown

Heavy, barbaric, stiff, and weighted down

With my distrust, and broider round the hem

Not pearls, but all my tears in place of them.

And then thy wavering, trembling robe shall be

All the desires that rise and fall in me

From mountain-peaks to valleys of repose,

Kissing thy lovely body's white and rose.

For thy humiliated feet divine,

Of my Respect I'll make thee Slippers fine

Which, prisoning them within a gentle fold,

Shall keep their imprint like a faithful mould.

And if my art, unwearying and discreet,

Can make no Moon of Silver for thy feet

To have for Footstool, then thy heel shall rest

Upon the snake that gnaws within my breast,

Victorious Queen of whom our hope is born!

And thou shalt trample down and make a scorn

Of the vile reptile swollen up with hate.

And thou shalt see my thoughts, all consecrate,

Like candles set before thy flower-strewn shrine,

O Queen of Virgins, and the taper-shine

Shall glimmer star-like in the vault of blue,

With eyes of flame for ever watching you.

While all the love and worship in my sense

Will be sweet smoke of myrrh and frankincense.

Ceaselessly up to thee, white peak of snow,

My stormy spirit will in vapours go!

And last, to make thy drama all complete,

That love and cruelty may mix and meet,

I, thy remorseful torturer, will take

All the Seven Deadly Sins, and from them make

In darkest joy, Seven Knives, cruel-edged and keen,

And like a juggler choosing, O my Queen,

That spot profound whence love and mercy start,

I'll plunge them all within thy panting heart!

* * *

THE SKY.

Where'er he be, on water or on land,

Under pale suns or climes that flames enfold;

One of Christ's own, or of Cythera's band,

Shadowy beggar or Cr?sus rich with gold;

Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate'er

His little brain may be, alive or dead;

Man knows the fear of mystery everywhere,

And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.

The heaven above? A strangling cavern wall;

The lighted ceiling of a music-hall

Where every actor treads a bloody soil-

The hermit's hope; the terror of the sot;

The sky: the black lid of the mighty pot

Where the vast human generations boil!

* * *

SPLEEN.

I'm like some king in whose corrupted veins

Flows aged blood; who rules a land of rains;

Who, young in years, is old in all distress;

Who flees good counsel to find weariness

Among his dogs and playthings, who is stirred

Neither by hunting-hound nor hunting-bird;

Whose weary face emotion moves no more

E'en when his people die before his door.

His favourite Jester's most fantastic wile

Upon that sick, cruel face can raise no smile;

The courtly dames, to whom all kings are good,

Can lighten this young skeleton's dull mood

No more with shameless toilets. In his gloom

Even his lilied bed becomes a tomb.

The sage who takes his gold essays in vain

To purge away the old corrupted strain,

His baths of blood, that in the days of old

The Romans used when their hot blood grew cold,

Will never warm this dead man's bloodless pains,

For green Lethean water fills his veins.

* * *

THE OWLS.

Under the overhanging yews,

The dark owls sit in solemn state.

Like stranger gods; by twos and twos

Their red eyes gleam. They meditate.

Motionless thus they sit and dream

Until that melancholy hour

When, with the sun's last fading gleam,

The nightly shades assume their power.

From their still attitude the wise

Will learn with terror to despise

All tumult, movement, and unrest;

For he who follows every shade,

Carries the memory in his breast,

Of each unhappy journey made.

* * *

BIEN LOIN D'ICI.

Here is the chamber consecrate,

Wherein this maiden delicate,

And enigmatically sedate,

Fans herself while the moments creep,

Upon her cushions half-asleep,

And hears the fountains plash and weep.

Dorothy's chamber undefiled.

The winds and waters sing afar

Their song of sighing strange and wild

To lull to sleep the petted child.

From head to foot with subtle care,

Slaves have perfumed her delicate skin

With odorous oils and benzoin.

And flowers faint in a corner there.

* * *

MUSIC.

Music doth oft uplift me like a sea

Towards my planet pale,

Then through dark fogs or heaven's infinity

I lift my wandering sail.

With breast advanced, drinking the winds that flee,

And through the cordage wail,

I mount the hurrying waves night hides from me

Beneath her sombre veil.

I feel the tremblings of all passions known

To ships before the breeze;

Cradled by gentle winds, or tempest-blown

I pass the abysmal seas

That are, when calm, the mirror level and fair

Of my despair!

* * *

CONTEMPLATION.

Thou, O my Grief, be wise and tranquil still,

The eve is thine which even now drops down,

To carry peace or care to human will,

And in a misty veil enfolds the town.

While the vile mortals of the multitude,

By pleasure, cruel tormentor, goaded on,

Gather remorseful blossoms in light mood-

Grief, place thy hand in mine, let us be gone

Far from them. Lo, see how the vanished years,

In robes outworn lean over heaven's rim;

And from the water, smiling through her tears,

Remorse arises, and the sun grows dim;

And in the east, her long shroud trailing light,

List, O my grief, the gentle steps of Night.

* * *

TO A BROWN BEGGAR-MAID.

White maiden with the russet hair,

Whose garments, through their holes, declare

That poverty is part of you,

And beauty too.

To me, a sorry bard and mean,

Your youthful beauty, frail and lean,

With summer freckles here and there,

Is sweet and fair.

Your sabots tread the roads of chance,

And not one queen of old romance

Carried her velvet shoes and lace

With half your grace.

In place of tatters far too short

Let the proud garments worn at Court

Fall down with rustling fold and pleat

About your feet;

In place of stockings, worn and old,

Let a keen dagger all of gold

Gleam in your garter for the eyes

Of roués wise;

Let ribbons carelessly untied

Reveal to us the radiant pride

Of your white bosom purer far

Than any star;

Let your white arms uncovered shine.

Polished and smooth and half divine;

And let your elfish fingers chase

With riotous grace

The purest pearls that softly glow.

The sweetest sonnets of Belleau,

Offered by gallants ere they fight

For your delight;

And many fawning rhymers who

Inscribe their first thin book to you

Will contemplate upon the stair

Your slipper fair;

And many a page who plays at cards,

And many lords and many bards,

Will watch your going forth, and burn

For your return;

And you will count before your glass

More kisses than the lily has;

And more than one Valois will sigh

When you pass by.

But meanwhile you are on the tramp,

Begging your living in the damp,

Wandering mean streets and alleys o'er,

From door to door;

And shilling bangles in a shop

Cause you with eager eyes to stop,

And I, alas, have not a son

To give to you.

Then go, with no more ornament,

Pearl, diamond, or subtle scent,

Than your own fragile naked grace

And lovely face.

* * *

THE SWAN.

Andromache, I think of you! The stream,

The poor, sad mirror where in bygone days

Shone all the majesty of your widowed grief,

The lying Simo?s flooded by your tears,

Made all my fertile memory blossom forth

As I passed by the new-built Carrousel.

Old Paris is no more (a town, alas,

Changes more quickly than man's heart may change);

Yet in my mind I still can see the booths;

The heaps of brick and rough-hewn capitals;

The grass; the stones all over-green with moss;

The débris, and the square-set heaps of tiles.

There a menagerie was once outspread;

And there I saw, one morning at the hour

When toil awakes beneath the cold, clear sky,

And the road roars upon the silent air,

A swan who had escaped his cage, and walked

On the dry pavement with his webby feet,

And trailed his spotless plumage on the ground.

And near a waterless stream the piteous swan

Opened his beak, and bathing in the dust

His nervous wings, he cried (his heart the while

Filled with a vision of his own fair lake):

"O water, when then wilt thou come in rain?

Lightning, when wilt thou glitter?"

Sometimes yet

I see the hapless bird-strange, fatal myth-

Like him that Ovid writes of, lifting up

Unto the cruelly blue, ironic heavens,

With stretched, convulsive neck a thirsty face,

As though he sent reproaches up to God!

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