Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SEVEN OLD MEN; TO VICTOR HUGO, by CHARLES BAUDELAIRE



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THE SEVEN OLD MEN; TO VICTOR HUGO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Teeming city, full of dreams, where in broad / daylight the specter grips
Last Line: Without masts, on a monstrous, shoreless sea!
Subject(s): Aging; Dreams; Nightmares


Teeming city, full of dreams, where in broad
Daylight the specter grips the passer-by!
Mystery flows everywhere like sap
In the ducts of the mighty colossus.

One morning when mist in the gloomy street
Made the houses seem taller, like the two
Quays of a swollen river; when-decor
In harmony with the state of my soul-

A foul, yellow fog inundated space,
I went, steeling my nerves like a hero,
Disputing with my Soul, already weary,
Along the faubourg jarred by heavy carts.

Suddenly I saw an old man, in rags
Of the same yellow as the rainy sky,
Whose aspect would have made alms rain down
Except for the wicked gleam in his eye.

You might have thought the pupils of his eyes
Were soaked in bile; his gaze sharpened the sleet,
And his beard of long hairs, stiff as a sword,
Jutted forward like the beard of Judas.

He was not bowed, but broken, for his spine
Made a perfect right angle with his leg,
So that his staff, completing his presence,
Gave him the bearing and the clumsy gait

Of a crippled dog or three-legged Jew.
He stumbled over the snow and mud as though
He were grinding the dead under his shoes,
Hostile to life, more than indifferent.

His like followed him: beard, eye, back, staff, rags,
Nothing distinguished, come from the same hell,
This centenarian twin, and these specters
Walked with the same step towards an unknown goal.

Of what infamous scheme was I the butt
Or what ill chance humiliated me?
Full seven times, from minute to minute,
I saw this old man multiply himself!

Let him who laughs at my disquietude
And is not seized by a fraternal chill
Ponder that, for all their decrepitude,
These seven monsters appeared eternal!

Would I, and lived, have beheld the eighth
Counterpart, ironical and fatal,
Vile Phoenix, father and son of himself?
-I turned my back on the procession.

Enraged as a drunk man who sees double,
I went inside and closed my door, frightened,
Sick and chilled, my mind feverish and turbid,
Offended by the senseless mystery!

In vain my reason tried to take the helm;
The tempest rollicking led it astray,
And my soul danced, danced, like an old lighter
Without masts, on a monstrous, shoreless sea!





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