Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN; TO VICTOR HUGO, by CHARLES BAUDELAIRE



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN; TO VICTOR HUGO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In the winding folds of old capitals
Last Line: On whom the dreaful claw of god lies heavy?
Subject(s): Dreams; Old Age; Nightmares


I

In the winding folds of old capitals,
Where horror itself turns to enchantment,
Following my fatal moods, I spy on
Certain beings, decrepit and charming,

Misshapen creatures, these were once women,
Eponine or Lais! Broken or humped,
Or twisted, let us love them! they are souls.
Whipped by iniquitous north-winds they creep

In their tattered skirts and chilly fabrics,
Shaken by the din of omnibuses,
Clasping to their sides like relics tiny
Bags embroidered with flowers or rebuses;

They toddle like little marionettes,
Or drag their bodies like hurt animals,
Or dance without wishing to dance, poor bells
Swung by a pitiless demon! Broken

As they are, they have eyes that pierce like drills
And glimmer like the holes where water sleeps
At night; the divine eyes of little girls,
Who laugh with amazement at shiny things.

Have you noticed how the coffins of old
Women are often as small as a child's?
Canny Death in these like biers evinces
A bizarre and captivating taste,

And whenever I see one of these ghosts
Threading the teeming tableau of Paris,
It seems to me that the fragile creature
Is going softly towards a new cradle;

Unless, meditating on geometry,
I conjecture from the discordant limbs
How many times the workman must vary
The shape of the box that will hold these forms.

-Their eyes are ponds made of a million tears,
Crucibles spangled with a cooled metal . . .
Mysterious eyes, invincibly charming
To one suckled by austere misfortune!

II

Enamored vestal of the old Frascati;
Priestess of Thalia, alas! whose name
The dead prompter knows; famed butterfly
Whom Tivoli once sheltered in her prime,

All intoxicate me! but of these frail
Creatures some, making a honey of grief,
Have cried to the Devotion that lent them wings:
Great Hippogriff, carry me to heaven!

One educated to adversity,
One loaded with sorrow by her husband,
One a Madonna, transpierced for her child,
All might have made a river with their tears!

III

Ah how many of them I have followed!
And one, at the hour when the sinking sun
Bloodies the sky with vermillion wounds,
Sat thoughtfully by herself on a bench

To hear one of those concerts rich with brass
With which the soldiers sometimes flood our parks,
Pouring on golden evenings a kind of
Heroism in the hearts of burgesses.

She, still straight, proud, and feeling the rhythm,
Drank in avidly the bright, warlike song,
Her eye opening like an old eagle's,
And her brow as if made for the laurel!

IV

You go your way, stoic and uncomplaining,
Threading the chaos of living cities,
Mothers of the bleeding heart, courtesans
Or saints, whose names were once on every tongue.

You who were all of grace or all of glory,
None recognizes you! A rude drunkard
Mocks you in passing with a show of love;
A wretched child runs skipping at your heels.

Ashamed to be alive, shrunken shadows,
Fearful, with bent backs you hug the walls;
And no one speaks to you, strangely destined!
Human debris ripe for eternity!

But I, who watch tenderly, anxiously
At a distance your uncertain footsteps,
As if I were your father, what marvel!
Without your knowledge, taste clandestine pleasures:

I watch your novice passions unfolding;
Dark or bright, I summon up your lost days;
My heart, multiplied, revels in your vices!
My soul grows resplendent with your virtues!

O ruins! congeneric brains! each night I
Take solemn adieu of you! Where will you be
Tomorrow, octogenarian Eves,
On whom the dreaful claw of God lies heavy?





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