THE SEVEN OLD MEN
by: Charles Baudelaire
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.
MORE POEMS BY CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
'The Seven Old Men' is reprinted
from The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire.
Ed. James Huneker. New York: Brentano's, 1919.