Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN, by CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: In sinuous streets of ancient cities, where
Last Line: -- there, where lies close the awful claw of god?


IN sinuous streets of ancient cities, where
E'en horror flames to mystic loveliness,
Obedient to the dictates of Despair,
I watch the masque of moribund distress.

Maids once these twisted women were, perchance
Epione or Lais -- hideous forms!
Yet still a soul streams from each countenance
Above the threadbare gowns no vigour warms.

Lean crones, they crawl beneath the tempest's flail,
Alarmed when rolls the alarum of the cars,
Each clutching to her breast a token frail --
A bag or purse embossed with flowers or stars.

Mechanically they run like marionettes
Or creep as animals with mortal stings;
Dance, with no will to dance, sad minuets,
Poor bells, to which a pitiless demon clings.

Broken and worn, their eyes still gleam and glance
And shine like ruts, where sleeps the rain at night.
Yet these are eyes of beauty and romance,
The maiden's eyes that laugh at all things bright.

How small the shells of aged women are,
Slight as the tiny tenement of the child.
Death places in straight chests most similar
A something subtly wonderful and wild.

And when a feeble phantom I behold
Limned on the cloth of Paris, swirled, aswarm,
It seems to me this being frail and old
Moves softly toward a cradle new and warm.

In seeing these distorted forms recede,
And if to life geometry apply,
'Twould seem the coffin-maker oft would need
To change the casket's shape for such as die.

Their eyes are wells of sorrows manifold,
Yea, crucibles whose sparks died long ago.
Their eyes of mystery have charms untold
For one nursed in the catacombs of woe.


I muse on that old Roman, vestal-thrawn
By Thalia's priestess -- nameless save to one --
The vanished prompter, vaporous as the dawn
That heralded her red Tivolian sun!

The past! the elusive past! These fragile things!
Yet some of sadness draw their honeyed leaven
And cry to Duty when he lifts his wings:
"Bear me, all-potent Hippogriff, to heaven!"

One, by her country disciplined to bane;
And one whom wedlock surfeited with woe;
Madonna by her daughter pierced with pain --
From eyes of each a flood of tears might flow.


How often have I sought these aged dames?
One such I saw what time the falling sun
Wounded the sky with swords of crimson flames.
Pensive she sat, upon a bench, alone.

She drank the martial music, rich with brass,
With which the Guards our parks and gardens flood;
Who, on the golden nights, when languors pass,
Pour courage in the jaded townsmen's blood.

Apart she sat, erect, austere and proud,
Inhaling still the lively, warlike song.
An eagle's eye flashed from its wrinkled shroud;
Her brow was that to which the bays belong.


Thus, stoical you walk! (None hears your plaints.)
Across the chaos of enfevered towns,
Mothers a-hungered, courtesans and saints,
Once magic names to noblemen and clowns.

O Ye, who were the glory and the grace,
Who now salutes you? He, the drunken boor,
With insults which Love's testament debase;
The bestial urchin with his evil roar.

Starved, wilted shadow-wights, ashamed to live,
Bowed down with fears, you slink along the walls
None succoureth your fortunes fugitive,
Debris, for which the eternal dustman calls.

Yet I, the sentinel of the kindly shades,
Watch with betroubled eyes your tremulous feet
Like as a father; and ere fancy fades,
Unknown to you, sip pleasures sly and sweet.

I see again your vernal passions bloom,
Sombre or luminous, your vanished days.
My heart enjoys the vices of your doom;
Around my soul your splendid virtues blaze.

Outcasts! O Kin, to whom my spirit cleaves,
Each night I guard this trystful period.
Where shall the morrow find you, aged Eves
-- There, where lies close the awful claw of God?

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