by: Charles Baudelaire

      SWARMING city, city full of dreams,
      Where in a 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 Seven Old Men' is reprinted from The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire. Ed. James Huneker. New York: Brentano's, 1919.




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