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THE SEVEN OLD MEN

Written by: Charles Baudelaire | Biography
 | Quotes (59) |
 O 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.



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