Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WANDERER: 2. IN FRANCE: AU CAFE ***, by EDWARD ROBERT BULWER-LYTTON



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THE WANDERER: 2. IN FRANCE: AU CAFE ***, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A party of friends, all light-hearted and gay
Last Line: In thy heart lurks a weird necromancer -- 't is thought.
Alternate Author Name(s): Meredith, Owen; Lytton, 1st Earl Of; Lytton, Robert
Subject(s): France; Paris, France; Parties; Travel; Journeys; Trips


A PARTY of friends, all light-hearted and gay,
At a certain French cafe, where every one goes,
Are met, in a well-curtained warm cabinet,
Overlooking a street there, which every one knows.

The guests are, three ladies well known and admired:
One adorns the Lyrique; one ... I oft have beheld her
At the Vaudeville, with raptures; the third lives retired
"Dans ses meubles" ... (we all know her house) ... Rue de Helder.

Besides these is a fourth ... a young Englishman, lately
Presented the round of the clubs in the town.
A taciturn Anglican coldness sedately
Invests him: unthawed by Clarisse, he sits down.

But little he speaks, and but rarely he shares
In the laughter around him; his smiles are but few;
There's a sneer in the look that his countenance wears
In repose; and fatigue in the eyes' weary blue.

The rest are three Frenchmen. Three Frenchmen (thank heaven!)
Are but rarely morose, with Champagne and Bordeaux:
And their wit, and their laughter, suffices to leaven
With mirth their mute guest's imitation of snow.

The dinner is done: the Lafitte in its basket,
The Champagne in its cooler, is passed in gay haste;
Whatever you wish for, you have but to ask it:
Here are coffee, cigars, and liqueurs to your taste.

And forth from the bottles the corks fly; and chilly,
The bright wine, in bubbling and blushing, confounds
Its warmth with the ice that it seethes round; and shrilly
(Till stifled by kisses) the laughter resounds.

Strike, strike the piano, beat loud at the wall!
Let wealthy old Lycus with jealousy groan
Next door, while fair Chloris responds to the call,
Too fair to be supping with Lycus alone!

Clarisse, with a smile, has subsided, opprest, --
Half, perhaps, by Champagne ... half, perhaps, by affection, --
In the arms of the taciturn, cold, English guest,
With, just rising athwart her imperial complexion,

One tinge that young Evian himself might have kist
From the fairest of Maenads that danced in his troop;
And her deep hair, unloosed from its sumptuous twist,
Overshowering her throat and her bosom a-droop.

The soft snowy throat, and the round, dimpled chin,
Upturned from the arm-fold where hangs the rich head!
And the warm lips apart, while the white lids begin
To close over the dark languid eyes which they shade!

And next to Clarisse (with her wild hair all wet
From the wine, in whose blush its faint fire-fly gold
She was steeping just now), the blue eyed Juliette
Is murmuring her witty bad things to Arnold.

Cries Arnold to the dumb English guest ... "Mon ami,
What's the matter? ... you can't sing ... well, speak, then, at least:
More grave, had a man seen a ghost, could he be?
Mais quel drole de farceur! ... comme il a le vin triste!"

And says Charles to Eugene (vainly seeking to borrow
Ideas from a yawn) ... "At the club there are three of us
With the Duke, and we play lansquenet till to-morrow:
I am off on the spur ... what say you? ... will you be of us?"

"Mon enfant, tu me boudes -- tu me boudes, cheri,"
Sighs the soft Celestine on the breast of Eugene;
"Ah bah! ne me fais pas poser, mon amie,"
Laughs her lover, and lifts to his lips -- the Champagne.

And loud from the bottles the corks fly; and chilly
The wine gurgles up to its fine crystal bounds.
While Charles rolls his paper cigars round, how shrilly
(Till kist out) the laughter of Juliette resounds!

Strike, strike the piano! beat loud at the wall!
Let wealthy old Lycus with jealousy groan
Next door, while fair Chloris responds to the call,
Too fair to be supping with Lycus alone.

There is Celestine singing, and Eugene is swearing. --
In the midst of the laughter, the oaths, and the songs,
Falls a knock at the door; but there's nobody hearing:
Each, uninterrupted, the revel prolongs.

Said I ... "nobody hearing?" one only; -- the guest,
The morose English stranger, so dull to the charms
Of Clarisse, and Juliette, Celestine, and the rest;
Who sits, cold as a stone, with a girl in his arms.

Once, twice, and three times, he has heard it repeated;
And louder, and fiercer, each time the sound falls.
And his cheek is death pale, 'mid the others so heated;
There's a step at the door, too, his fancy recalls.

And he rises ... (just so an automaton rises, --
Some man of mechanics made up, -- that must move
In the way that the wheel moves within him; -- there lies his
Sole path fixt before him, below and above).

He rises ... and, scarcely a glance casting on her,
Flings from him the beauty asleep on his shoulder;
Charles springs to his feet; Eugene mutters of honor;
But there's that in the stranger that awes each beholder.

For the hue on his cheek, it is whiter than whiteness:
The hair creeps on his head like a strange living thing.
The lamp o'er the table has lost half its brightness;
Juliette cannot laugh; Celestine cannot sing.

He has opened the door in a silence unbroken:
And the gaze of all eyes where he stands is fixt wholly:
Not a hand is there raised; not a word is there spoken:
He has opened the door; ...and there comes through it slowly

A woman, as pale as a dame on a tombstone,
With desolate violet eyes, open wide;
Her look, as she turns it, turns all in the room stone:
She sits down on the sofa, the stranger beside.

Her hair it is yellow, as moonlight on water
Which stones in some eddy torment into waves;
Her lips are as red as new blood spilt in slaughter;
Her cheek like a ghost's seen by night o'er the graves.

Her place by the taciturn guest she has taken;
And the glass at her side she has filled with Champagne.
As she bows o'er the board, all the revellers awaken.
She has pledged her mute friend, and she fills up again.

Clarisse has awaked; and with shrieks leaves the table.
Juliette wakes, and faints in the arms of Arnold.
And Charles and Eugene, with what speed they are able,
Are off to the club, where this tale shall be told.

Celestine for her brougham, on the stairs, was appealing,
With hysterical sobs, to the surly concierge,
When a ray through the doorway stole to her, revealing
A sight that soon changed her appeal to "La vierge."

All the light-hearted friends from the chamber are fled:
And the cafe itself has grown silent by this.
From the dark street below, you can scarce hear a tread,
Save the Gendarme's, who reigns there as gloomy as Dis.

The shadow of night is beginning to flit:
Through the gray window shimmers the motionless town.
The ghost and the stranger, together they sit
Side by side at the table -- the place is their own.

They nod and change glances, that pale man and woman;
For they both are well known to each other: and then,
Some ghosts have a look that's so horribly human,
In the street you might meet them, and take them for men.

"Thou art changed, my beloved! and the lines have grown stronger,
And the curls have grown scanter, that meet on thy brow.
Ah, faithless! and dost thou remember no longer
The hour of our passion, the words of thy vow?

"Thy kiss, on my lips it is burning forever!
I cannot sleep calm, for my bed is so cold.
Embrace me! close ... closer ... O let us part never,
And let all be again as it once was of old!"

So she murmurs repiningly ever. Her breath
Lifts his hair like a night-wind in winter. And he ...
"Thy hand, O Irene, is icy as death,
But thy face is unchanged in its beauty to me."

"'T is so cold, my beloved one, down there, and so drear."
"Ah, thy sweet voice, Irene, sounds hollow and strange!"
"'T is the chills of the grave that have changed it, I fear:
But the voice of my heart there's no chill that can change."

"Ha! thy pale cheek is flusht with a heat like my own.
Is it breath, is it flame, on thy lips that is burning?
Ha! thy heart flutters wild, as of old, 'neath thy zone.
And those cold eyes of thine fill with passionate yearning."

Thus, embracing each other, they bend and they waver,
And, laughing and weeping, converse. The pale ghost,
As the wine warms the grave-worm within her, grown braver,
Fills her glass to the brim, and proposes a toast.

"Here's a health to the glow-worm, Death's sober lamplighter,
That saves from the darkness below the gravestone
The tomb's pallid pictures ... the sadder the brighter;
Shapes of beauty each stony-eyed corpse there hath known:

"Mere rough sketches of life, where a glimpse goes for all,
Which the Master keeps (all the rest let the world have!)
But though only rough-scrawled on the blank charnel wall,
Is their truth the less sharp, that 't is sheathed in the grave?

"Here's to Love ... the prime passion ... the harp that we sung to
In the orient of youth, in the days pure of pain;
The cup that we quaffed in: the stirrup we sprung to,
So light, ere the journey was made -- and in vain!

"O the life that we lived once! the beauty so fair once!
Let them go! wherefore weep for what tears could not save?
What old trick sets us aping the fools that we were once,
And tickles our brains even under the grave?

"There's a small stinging worm which the grave ever breeds
From the folds of the shroud that around us is spread:
There's a little blind maggot that revels and feeds
On the life of the living, the sleep of the dead.

"To our friends! ..." But the full flood of dawn through the pane,
Having slowly rolled down the huge street there unheard
(While the great, new, blue sky, o'er the white Madeleine
Was wide opening itself), from her lip washed the word;

Washed her face faint and fainter; while, dimmer and dimmer,
In its seat, the pale form flickered out like a flame,
As broader, and brighter, and fuller, the glimmer
Of day through the heat-clouded window became.

And the day mounts apace. Some one opens the door.
In shuffles a waiter with sleepy red eyes:
He stares at the cushions flung loose on the floor,
On the bottles, the glasses, the plates, with surprise.

Stranger still! he sees seated a man at the table,
With his head on his hands: in a slumber he seems,
So wild, and so strange, he no longer is able
In silence to thrid through the path of his dreams.

For he moans, and he mutters: he moves and he motions:
To the dream that he dreams o'er his wine-cup he pledges.
And his sighs sound, through sleep, like spent winds over ocean's
Last verge, where the world hides its outermost edges.

The gas-lamp falls sick in the tube: and so, dying,
To the fumes of spilt wine, and cigars but half smoked,
Adds the stench of its last gasp: chairs broken are lving
All about o'er the carpet stained, littered, and soaked.

A touch starts the sleeper. He wakes. It is day.
And the beam that dispels all the phantoms of night
Through the rooms sends its kindly and comforting ray:
The streets are new-peopled: the morning is bright.

And the city's so fair! and the dawn breaks so brightly!
With gay flowers in the market, gay girls in the street.
Whate'er the strange beings that visit us nightly,
When Paris awakes, from her smile they retreat.

I myself have, at morning, beheld them departing;
Some in masks, and in dominos, footing it on;
Some like imps, some like fairies; at cockcrow all starting,
And speedily flitting from sight one by one.

And that wonderful night-flower, Memory, that, tearful,
Unbosoms to darkness her heart full of dew,
Folds her leaves round again, and from day shrinks up fearful
In the cleft of her ruin, the shade of her yew.

This broad daylight life's strange enough: and wherever
We wander, or walk; in the club, in the streets;
Not a straw on the ground is too trivial to sever
Each man in the crowd from the others he meets.

Each walks with a spy or a jailer behind him
(Some word he has spoken, some deed he has done);
And the step, now and then, quickens, just to remind him,
In the crowd, in the sun, that he is not alone.

But 't is hard, when by lamplight, 'mid laughter and songs too,
Those return, ... we have buried, and mourned for, and prayed for,
And done with...and, free of the grave it belongs to,
Some ghost drinks your health in the wine you have paid for.

Wreathe the rose, O Young Man; pour the wine. What thou hast
That enjoy all the days of thy youth. Spare thou naught.
Yet beware! ... at the board sits a ghost -- 't is the Past;
In thy heart lurks a weird Necromancer -- 't is Thought.





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