MoboReader> Literature > The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire / with an Introductory Preface by James Huneker

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The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire / with an Introductory Preface by James Huneker By Charles Baudelaire Characters: 5501

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Paris may change; my melancholy is fixed.

New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,

And suburbs old, are symbols all to me

Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.

And so, before the Louvre, to vex my soul,

The image came of my majestic swan

With his mad gestures, foolish and sublime,

As of an exile whom one great desire

Gnaws with no truce. And then I thought of you,

Andromache! torn from your hero's arms;

Beneath the hand of Pyrrhus in his pride;

Bent o'er an empty tomb in ecstasy;

Widow of Hector-wife of Helenus!

And of the negress, wan and phthisical,

Tramping the mud, and with her haggard eyes

Seeking beyond the mighty walls of fog

The absent palm-trees of proud Africa;

Of all who lose that which they never find;

Of all who drink of tears; all whom grey grief

Gives suck to as the kindly wolf gave suck;

Of meagre orphans who like blossoms fade.

And one old Memory like a crying horn

Sounds through the forest where my soul is lost....

I think of sailors on some isle forgotten;

Of captives; vanquished ... and of many more.

* * *

THE SEVEN OLD MEN.

O swarming city, city full of dreams,

Where in full day the spectre walks and speaks;

Mighty colossus, in your narrow veins

My story flows as flows the rising sap.

One morn, disputing with my tired soul,

And like a hero stiffening all my nerves,

I trod a suburb shaken by the jar

Of rolling wheels, where the fog magnified

The houses either side of that sad street,

So they seemed like two wharves the ebbing flood

Leaves desolate by the river-side. A mist,

Unclean and yellow, inundated space-

A scene that would have pleased an actor's soul.

Then suddenly an aged man, whose rags

Were yellow as the rainy sky, whose looks

Should have brought alms in floods upon his head,

Without the misery gleaming in his eye,

Appeared before me; and his pupils seemed

To have been washed with gall; the bitter frost

Sharpened his glance; and from his chin a beard

Sword-stiff and ragged, Judas-like stuck forth.

He was not bent but broken: his backbone

Made a so true right angle with his legs,

That, as he walked, the tapping stick which gave

The finish to the picture, made him seem

Like some infirm and stumbling quadruped

Or a three-legged Jew. Through snow and mud

He walked with troubled and uncertain gait,

As though his sabots trod upon the dead,

Indifferent and hostile to the world.

His double followed him: tatters and stick

And back and eye and beard, all were the same;

Out of the same Hell, indistinguishable,

These centenarian twins, these spectres odd,

Trod the same pace toward some end unknown.

To what fell complot was I then exposed!

Humiliated by what evil chance?

For as the minutes one by one went by

Seven times I saw this sinister old man

Repeat his image there before my eyes!

Let him who smiles at my inquietude,

Who never trembled at a fear like mine,

Know that in their decrepitude's despite

These seven old hideous monsters had the mien

Of beings immortal.

Then, I thought, must I,

Undying, contemplate the awful eighth;

Inexorable, fatal, and ironic double;

Disgusting Phoenix, father of himself

And his own son! In terror then I turned

My back upon the infernal band, and fled

To my own place, and closed my door; distraught

And like a drunkard who sees all things twice,

With feverish troubled spirit, chilly and sick,

Wounded by mystery and absurdity!

In vain my reason tried to cross the bar,

The whirling storm but drove her back again;

And my soul tossed, and tossed, an outworn wreck,

Mastless, upon a monstrous, shoreless sea.

* * *

THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN.

Deep in the tortuous folds of ancient towns,

Where all, even horror, to enchantment turns,

I watch, obedient to my fatal mood,

For the decrepit, strange and charming beings,

The dislocated monsters that of old

Were lovely women-La?s or Eponine!

Hunchbacked and broken, crooked though they be,

Let us still love them, for they still have souls.

They creep along wrapped in their chilly rags,

Beneath the whipping of the wicked wind,

They tremble when an omnibus rolls by,

And at their sides, a relic of the past,

A little flower-embroidered satchel hangs.

They trot about, most like to marionettes;

They drag themselves, as does a wounded beast;

Or dance unwillingly as a clapping bell

Where hangs and swings a demon without pity.

Though they be broken they have piercing eyes,

That shine like pools where water sleeps at night;

The astonished and divine eyes of a child

Who laughs at all that glitters in the world.

Have you not seen that most old women's shrouds

Are little like the shroud of a dead child?

Wise Death, in token of his happy whim,

Wraps old and young in one enfolding sheet.

And when I see a phantom, frail and wan,

Traverse the swarming picture that is Paris,

It ever seems as though the delicate thing

Trod with soft steps towards a cradle new.

And then I wonder, seeing the twisted form,

How many times must workmen change the shape

Of boxes where at length such limbs are laid?

These eyes are wells brimmed with a million tears;

Crucibles where the cooling metal pales-

Mysterious eyes that are strong charms to him

Whose life-long nurse has been austere Disaster.

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