Poems

-POEMS-


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The Orphans’ New Year’s Gift

Les étrennes des Orphelins

book

I

The room is full of shadow; you can hear, indistinctly, the sad soft whispering of two children. Their foreheads lean forward, still heavy with dreams, beneath the long white bed-curtain which shudders and rises…

Outside the birds crowd together, chilled; their wings are benumbed under the grey tints of the skies; and the New Year, with her train of mist, trailing the folds of her snowy garment, smiles through her tears, and shivering, sings…

II

But the little children, beneath the swaying curtain, talk in low voices as one does on a dark night. Thoughtfully they listen as to a far-off murmur…

They tremble often at the clear golden voice of the morning chime repeatedly striking its metallic refrain beneath its glass dome…

And then, the room is icy… you can see, strewn here and there on the
floor round the beds, mourning clothes: the bitter blast of winter which moans at the threshold blows its melancholy breath into the house! You can feel, in all this, that there is something missing…

Is there then no mother for these little children? No mother full of fresh
smiles and looks of triumph?

Did she forget, last night, stooping down by herself, to kindle a flame
saved from these ashes, and to heap up the blankets and eiderdown on them before leaving them, calling out to them: forgive me! Did she not forsee the chill of the morning?

Did she forget to close the door against the blast of winter? A mother’s
dream is the warm coverlet, the downy nest, where children, huddled like pretty birds rocked by the branches, sleep their sweet sleep full of white dreams. — And here? — it is like a nest without feathers or warmth, where the little ones are cold, do not sleep, are afraid; a nest that the bitter blast must have frozen…

III

Your heart has understood: — these children are motherless. No mother in the place any more!… and their father is far away!… — An old servant woman, then, has taken them under her care.

The little ones are alone in the icy house; four-year-old orphans, see
how in their thoughts, little by little, a smiling memory awakes… It’s like a rosary which you tell, praying: — Ah, what a beautiful morning, that New Year’s morning!

Everyone had dreamt of his dear ones that night, in some strange dream where you could see toys, sweets covered with gold, sparkling jewels, all whirling an echoing dance, and then disappearing beneath the curtain,
and then reappearing!

You awoke in the morning and got up full of joy with your mouth watering,
rubbing your eyes… You went with tangled hair and shining eyes, as on holiday mornings, little bare feet brushing the floor, to tap softly on your parents’ door… You went in!…

And then came the greetings… in your nightshirt, kisses upon kisses,
and fun all allowed!

IV

Ah how charming it was, those words so often spoken! — But how the old home has changed! There used to be a big fire crackling bright in the grate, so that the old bedroom was all lit up by it; and the red reflection from the great hearth would play over the gleaming
furniture… —

There was no key in the cupboard!… the big brown cupboard with no key!… You kept looking at the dark brown door… No key!… That was strange!… you kept wondering about the mysteries sleeping within its wooden sides; and you seemed to hear, from the bottom of the huge keyhole, a far-off sound, an indistinct and joyful murmur…

Their parents’ bedroom is quite empty now: there is no red reflection
shining under the door; there are no parents, no fire, no hidden keys; and so there are no kisses either, or pleasant surprises! Oh how sad their New Year’s Day will be! — And
sadly, while a bitter tear falls silently from their big blue eyes, they murmur: ‘Oh when will our mother come back?’…

 V

Now the little ones are dozing sadly: you would say, to see them, that they are crying in their sleep, their eyes are so swollen, their breathing so painful!

Small children have such sensitive hearts! — But the guardian angel of
the cradle comes and wipes their eyes and puts a happy dream into their heavy slumber, such a joyous dream that their half-open lips seem, smiling, to murmur something. They are dreaming that, leaning on their small round arms, in the sweet gesture of awakening, they lift their heads and gaze mildly about them… They seem to have fallen asleep in some rose-coloured paradise…

The fire crackles merrily in the bright hearth… Through the window you
can see a lovely blue sky over there; nature is awakening and becoming drunk again with sunlight… the earth, half-bare, happy to be alive again, trembles with joy beneath the sun’s kisses. In the old home all is warm and flushed: no longer are there mourning garments strewn on the floor, and the draught has at least ceased to moan under the door… You would say that a fairy had passed this way!… The children, full of happiness, give two cries…

Here, near their mother’s bed in a beautiful rose-coloured ray of light, here on the big carpet, something shines… It is two silvery plaques, black and white, glittering with mother-of-pearl and jet; little black frames and wreaths of glass, with three words engraved in gold: ‘TO OUR MOTHER’…

December
1869

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The First Evening

Première Soirée

book

She was very much half dressed, and big indiscreet trees threw out their leaves against the pane: cunningly, and close, quite close.

Sitting half naked in my big chair, she clasped her hands. Her small and so delicate feet trembled with pleasure on the floor.

The colour of wax, I watched a little wild ray of light flutter on her smiling lips and on her breast – an insect on the rose-bush.

I kissed her delicate ankles. She laughed softly and suddenly, a string of clear trills, a lovely laugh of crystal.

The small feet fled beneath her petticoat: ‘Stop it, do!’ – The first act of daring permitted, her laugh pretended to punish me!

Softly I kissed her eyes – trembling beneath my lips, poor things – she threw back her fragile head: ‘Oh come now! that’s going too far!’

‘Listen, sir, I have something to say to you .. ‘ I transferred the rest to her breast in a kiss which made her laugh with a kind laugh that was willing…

She was very much half-dressed, and big indiscreet tress threw out their leaves against the pane: cunningly, and close, quite close.

1870 

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Sensation

Sensation

book

On the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths,

And walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat:

Daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet.

I will let the wind bathe my bare head. I will not speak,

I will have no thoughts: But infinite love will mount in my soul;

And I will go far, far off, like a gypsy,

through the countryside – as happy as if I were a woman.

March
1870

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The Blacksmith

Le Forgeron

book

His hand on a gigantic hammer, terrifying

In size and drunkenness, vast-browed, laughing

Like a bronze trumpet, his whole mouth displayed,

Devouring the fat man, now, with his wild gaze,

The Blacksmith spoke with Louis, with the king,

The People there, all around him, cavorting,

Trailing their dirty coats down gilded panels.

But the dear king, belly upright, was pallid,

Pale as the victim led to the guillotine,

Submissive like a dog, cowed by the scene,

Since that wide-shouldered forge-black soul

Spoke of things past and other things so droll,

He had him by the short hairs, just like that!

 

‘Now, Sir, you know how we’d sing tra-la-la,

And drive the ox down other people’s furrows:

The Canon spun paternosters in the shadows

On rosaries bright with golden coins adorned,

Some Lord, astride, passed blowing on his horn,

 

One with the noose, another with whip-blows

Lashed us on. – Dazed like the eyes of cows,

Our eyes no longer wept; on and on we went,

And when we’d ploughed a whole continent,

When we had left behind in that black soil

A little of our own flesh…to reward our toil:

They’d set alight our hovels in the night;

Our little ones made burnt cakes alright.

 

…Oh, I’m not complaining! All my follies,

They’re between us. I’ll let you contradict.

But, isn’t it fine to see, in the month of June,

The enormous hay-wains entering the barns?

To smell the odour of burgeoning things,

The orchards in fine rain, the oats reddening?

To see wheat, wheat, ears filled with grain,

To think it promises us good bread again?…

Oh! You’d go to the forge, be more cheerful,

Sing and hammer joyfully at the anvil,

If you were sure to gain a little in the end –

Being, in fact, a man – of what God intends!

– But there it is, always the same old story!…

 

But now I know! I don’t credit it any more,

Owning two strong hands, a head, a hammer,

That a man in a cloak, wearing a dagger

Can say: go and sow my land, there, fellow;

Or that another, if maybe war should follow,

Can take my son like that, from where I’m living!

– Suppose I were a man, and you a king,

You’d say: I will it!… – What stupidity.

You think your splendid barn pleases me,

Your gilded servants, your thousand rogues,

Your fancy bastards, peacocks in a row:

Filling your nest with our daughters’ odour,

Warrants to the Bastille for us, moreover

That we should say: fine: make the poor poorer!

We’ll give you our last sous to gild the Louvre!

While you get drunk and enjoy the feast,

– And they all laugh, riding our backs beneath!

 

No. Those puerilities were our fathers!

The People is no one’s whore now, three steps further

And then, we razed your Bastille to the ground.

That monster sweated blood from every mound,

Was an abomination, that Bastille standing,

With leprous walls its every story yielding,

And, we forever held fast in its shadow!

– Citizen! That was the past, its sorrow,

That broke, and died, when we stormed the tower!

We had something in our hearts like true ardour.

We had clutched our children to our breast.

And like chargers, snorting at the contest,

We went, proud and strong, beating here inside…

We marched in the sun – like this – heads high

Into Paris! They greeted us in our ragged clothes.

At last! We felt ourselves Men! We were sallow,

Sire, drunk, and pallid with terrifying hopes:

And there, in front of those black prison slopes,

Waving our bugles and our sprigs of oak,

Pikes in our fists; did we feel hatred, no!

– We felt such strength we wanted to be gentle! …

 

And since that day, we have proved elementals!

A mass of workers sprang up in the street,

And, cursed, are gone, a swelling crowd replete.

With ghostly shades, to haunt the rich man’s gate.

I, I run with them, and set informers straight:

I scour Paris, dark-faced, wild, hammer on shoulder,

Sweeping something droll out of every corner,

And, if you smile at me, then I’ll do for you!

– Well, count on it: all this is going to cost you

And your men in black, culling our requests

To bat them about on their racquets all in jest,

And whisper, the rascals, softly: “Oh, what sots!”

To cook up laws, and stick up little pots,

Filled with cute pink decrees, and sugar pills,

Cutting us down to size, to amuse themselves,

Then they hold their noses when we pass by,

– Our kind representatives who hate the sty! –

Fearful of nothing, nothing, but bayonets….

That’s fine. Enough of snuff and lorgnettes!

We’ve had our fill, here, of those dull heads

And bellies of gods. Ah! That’s the bread

You serve us, bourgeoisie, while we rage here,

While we shatter the sceptre and the crozier!…’

 

He takes his arm, tears back the velvet curtain

And shows the vast courtyards beneath them,

Where the mob swarms, and seethes, where rise,

Out of the frightful mob those storm-filled cries,

Howling as bitches howl, or like the sea,

With their knotted stakes, their pikes of steel,

With the clamour of their market-halls and slums,

A ragged mass of blood-stained caps, and drums:

The Man, through the open window, shows all

To the pale sweating king, reeling, about to fall,

Sick at the sight of it!

‘Those are the Scum, Sire.

Licking the walls, seething, rising higher:

– But then they’ve not eaten, Sire, these beggars!

I’m a blacksmith: my wife, madwoman, is there!

She thinks she’ll get bread at the Tuileries!

– They’ll have none of us in the bakeries.

I’ve three youngsters. I’m scum, too – I know

Old women weeping under their bonnets so

Because they’ve taken a daughter or a son:

One man was in the Bastille – oh, they’re scum –

Another the galleys: both honest citizens.

Freed, they’re treated like dogs, these men:

Insulted! Then, they have something here

That hurts them, see! It’s terrible, it’s clear

They feel broken, feel themselves damned,

There, screaming beneath you where you stand!

Scum. – Down there girls, infamous, shriek,

Because – well, you knew girls were weak –

Gentlemen of the court – gave all you sought –

You’d spit on their souls, as if they were naught!

Now, your pretty ones are there. They’re scum.

 

Oh, all the Wretched, whose backs, in the fierce sun

Burn, and yet they still work on and on,

Feeling their heads burst with their exertion,

Hats off, you bourgeoisie! Those are Men.

We are the Workers, Sire! Workers! And then

We’re for the great new age, of knowledge, light,

When Man will forge from morning to night,

Pursuing great effects, chasing great causes,

When he will tame things, slowly victorious,

And like a horse, mount the mighty All!

Oh! Splendour of the forges! And no more

Evil, then! – What’s unknown, its terror maybe

We’ll know! – Hammer in hand, let’s sieve freely

All that we know: then, Brothers, we’ll go on!

Sometimes we dream that dream’s vast emotion

Of the simple ardent life, where you revile

All evil, working beneath the august smile,

Of a woman you love with love’s nobility:

And all day long you labour on proudly,

Hearing the clarion call of duty sounding!

And you feel so happy; and nothing, nothing,

Oh, above all, no-one makes you kneel!

Over the fireplace, there, you’d have a rifle…

 

Oh! But the air is filled with the scent of battle.

What did I say? I too am one of the rascals!

And there are still sharks and informers.

But we are free! With our moments of terror

When we feel we are great, so great! Just now

I was talking of peaceful work, of how…

Look at that sky! – Too small for us, you see,

If we feared the heat, we’d live on our knees!

Look at that sky! – I’ll return to the crowd,

To the vast fearful mob who cry aloud

And roll your cannon through the cobbles’ sty;

– Oh! We will wash them clean when we die!

– And if, against our cries and our vengeance,

The claws of old gilded kings, all over France,

Urge on their regiments in full battle-dress,

Well then, you lot? Shit to those dogs, no less!’

 

– He shoulders his hammer once more.

The crowd feels soul-drunk close to that man, and now

Through the great courtyard, all those rooms,

Where Paris pants and the voices boom,

A shudder shakes the immense populace.

Then, with his broad hand, its grimy grace

Gilded, while the pot-bellied king sweats,

The Blacksmith set his red cap on that head!

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Sun and Flesh

Soleil et Chair

book

I

The sun,

the hearth of affection and life,

pouts burning love on delighted earth,

and when you lie down in the valley you can smell

how the earth is nubile and very full-blooded;

how its huge breast, heaved up by a soul,

is , like God, made of love, and, like woman, of flesh;

and that it contains, big with sp and with sunlight,

the vast pullulation of all embryos!

 

And everything grows, and everything rises!

– O Venus, O Goddess!

I long for the days of antique youth,

of lascivious satyrs, and animal fauns,

gods who bit, mad with love, the bark of the boughs,

and among water-lilies kissed

the Nymph with fair hair!

 

I long for the time when the sap of the world,

river water, the rose-coloured blood of green trees,

put into the veins of Pan a whole universe!

When the earth trembled, green, beneath his goat-feet;

when softly kissing the fair Syrinx, his lips formed

under heaven the great hymn of love;

when, standing on the plain, he heard round about him

living Nature answer his call;

when the silent trees cradling the singing bird,

earth cradling mankind, and the whole blue Ocean,

and all living creatures loved, loved in God!

 

I long for the time of great Cybele

who was said to travel,

gigantically lovely, in a great bronze chariot,

through splendid cities; her twin breasts poured,

through the vast deeps,

the pure streams of infinite life.

Mankind sucked joyfully at her blessed nipple,

like a small child playing on her knees.

– Because he was strong, Man was gentle and chaste.

 

Misfortune! Now he says: I understand things;

and goes about with eyes shut and ears closed. –

And again: No more gods! no more gods! Man is King,

Man is God! – But the great Faith is Love!

Oh if only man still drew substance from your nipple,

great mother of gods and of men, Cybele!

If only he had not forsaken immortal astarte,

who long ago, rising in the tremendous brightness of blue waters

– flower-flesh perfumed by the wave –

showed her rosy navel, towards which the foam came snowing

and being a goddess

with great conquering black eyes –

made the nightingale sing in the woods and love in men’s hearts!

II

I believe!

I believe in you! divine mother, sea-borne Aphrodite!

– oh, the path is bitter, since the other God harnessed us to his cross!

Flesh, marble, flower, Venus: in you I believe! –

Yes: Man is sad and ugly ; sad under the vast sky;

he possesses clothes because he is no longer chaste,

because he has defiled his proud, godlike head,

and because he has bent, like an idol in the furnice,

his Olympian form towards base slaveries!

Yes: even after death, in the form of pale skeletons,

he wishes to live and insult the original beauty!

– And the Idol in whom you placed such maidenhood,

Woman, in whom you rendered our clay divine,

so that Man might bring light into his poor soul,

and slowly ascend, in unbounded love,

from the earthly prison to the beauty of day –

Woman no longer knows even how to be a courtesan!

– It’s a fine farce! and the world snickers

at the sweet and sacred name of great Venus!

III

If only the times which have come and gone might come again! –

For Man is finished! Man has played all the parts!

In the broad daylight, wearied with breaking idols,

he will revive, free of all his gods; and since he is of haven,

he will scan the heavens! The Ideal, the eternal, invincible thought,

which is all – the living god within his fleshy clay – will rise, mount,

burn beneath his brow! And when you see him

plumbing the whole horizon,

despising old yokes, and free from all fear,

you will come and give him holy Redemption!

Resplendent, radiant, from the bosom of the huge seas,

you will rise up and give to the vast Universe infinite Love

with its eternal smile!

The World will vibrate like an immense lyre in the trembling

of an infinite kiss! –

The World thirsts for love: you will come and slake its thirst.

—— (Oh! Man has raised his free, proud head!

And the sudden blaze of primordial beauty makes the god

quiver in the altar of the flesh!

Happy in the present good, place from all ill suffered,

Man wishes to plumb all depths – and know all things!

Thought, so long a jade, and for so long oppressed,

springs from his forehead! She will know Why!

Let her but gallop free, and Man will find Faith! –

Why the blue silence, unfathomable space?

Why the golden stars, teeming like sands?

If one ascended forever, what would one see up there?

Does a shepherd drive this enormous flock of worlds

on a journey through this horror of space?

And do all these worlds, contained in vast ether,

tremble at the tones of an eternal voice? –

And Man, can e see? can he say: I believe?

Is the language of thought any more than a dream?

If man is born so quickly, if life is so short, whence does he come?

Does he sink into the deep Ocean of germs, of Foetuses, of Embryos,

to the bottom of the huge Crucible where

Nature the Mother will resuscitate him,

a living creature, to love in the rose and to grow in the corn?…

We cannot know!

We are weighted down with a cloak of ignorance,

hemmed in by chimaeras!

Men like apes, dropped from our mothers’ wombs,

our feeble reason hides the infinite from us!

We wish to perceive: – and Doubt punishes us!

Doubt, dismal bird, beats us down with its wing…

and the horizon rushes away in the endless flight!…

The vast heaven is open! the mysteries lie dead

before erect Man who folds his strong arms

among the vast splendour of abundant Nature!

He sings… and the woods sing: the river murmurs

a song full of happiness which rises towards the light!…

– It is Redemption! It is love! It is love!…) ——

IV

O splendour of flesh! O ideal splendour!

O renewal of love, triumphal dawn when,

prostrating the Gods and the Heroes before their feet,

white Callipyge and little Eros, covered with the snow of rose petals,

will caress women and flowers beneath their lovely outstretched feet!-

O great Aridne who pour out your tears on the shore,

as you see, out there on the waves,

the sail of Theseus flying while under the sun;

O sweet virgin child whom a night has broken, be silent!

On his golden chariot studded with black grapes Lysios,

who has been drawn through Phrygian fields by lascivious

tigers and russet panthers, reddens the dark mosses along the blue rivers.

– Zeus, the Bull, cradles on his neck like a child the nude body

of Europa who throws her white arm around the God’s muscular neck

which shivers in the wave Slowly he turns his dreamy eye towards her;

she droops her pale flowerlike cheek on the brow of Zeus;

her eyes are closed;

she is dying in a divine kiss; and the murmuring waters strew

the flowers of their golden foam on her hair. –

Between the oleander and the gaudy lotus tree slips amorously

the great dreaming Swan,

enfolding Leda in the whiteness of his wing; –

And while Cypris goes by, strangely beautiful, and , arching

the marvelous curves of her back, proudly displays the golden

vision of her big breasts

and snowy belly embroidered with black moss – Hercules,

Tamer the beasts, in the strength,

robes his huge body with the lion’s skin as with a glory,

and faces the horizon, his brow terrible and sweet!

Vaguely lit by the summer moon, erect, naked,

dreaming in her pallor of gold,

streaked by the heavy wave of her long blue hair,

in the shadowy glade where stars spring in the moss,

the Dryad gazes up at the silent sky – White Selene, timidly,

lets her veil float over the feet of beautiful Endymion,

and throws him a kiss in a pale beam The Spring sobs

far off in a long ecstasy

It is the nymph who dreams, with one elbow on her urn,

of the handsome white stripling her wave has pressed against. –

A soft wind of love has passed in the night, and in the sacred woods,

amid the standing hair of the great trees, erect in majesty,

the shadowy Marbles, the Gods,

on whose brows the Bullfinch has his next

– the Gods listen to Men, and to the infinite World.

May 70

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Ophelia

Ophélie

book

I

Where the stars sleep in the calm black stream,

Like some great lily, pale Ophelia floats,

Slowly floats, wound in her veils like a dream.

— Half heard in the woods, halloos from distant throats.

 

A thousand years has sad Ophelia gone Glimmering on the water, a phantom fair;

A thousand years her soft distracted song Has waked the answering evening air.

The wind kisses her breasts and shakes

Her long veils lying softly on the stream;

The shivering willows weep upon her cheeks;

 

Across her dreaming brows the rushes lean.

The wrinkled water lilies round her sigh;

And once she wakes a nest of sleeping things

And hears the tiny sound of frightened wings;

Mysterious music falls from the starry sky.

II

Oh pale Ophelia, a beautiful as snow!

Yes, die, child, die, and drift away to sea!

For from the peaks of Norway cold winds blow

And whisper low of bitter liberty;

 

For a breath that moved your long heavy hair

Brought strange sounds to your wandering thoughts;

Your heart heard Nature singing everywhere,

In the sighs of the trees and the whispering of night.

 

For the voice of the seas, endless and immense,

Breaks your young breast, too human and too sweet;

For on an April morning a pale young prince,

Poor lunatic, sat wordless at your feet!

 

Sky! Love! Liberty! What dream, poor young Thing!

you sank before him, snow before fire,

Your own great vision strangling your tongue,

Infinity flaring in your blue eye!

III

And the Poet says that by starlight you came

To pick the flowers you loved so much,

at night, And he saw, wound in her veils like a dream,

Like some great lily, pale Ophelia float.

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Dance of the Hanged Man

Bal des Pendus

book

On the black gallows, one-armed friend,
The paladins are dancing, dancing
The lean, the devil’s paladins
The skeletons of Saladins.

Sir Beelzebub pulls by the scruff
His little black puppets who grin at the sky,
And with a backhander in the head like a kick,
Makes them dance, dance, to an old Carol-tune!

And the puppets, shaken about, entwine their thin arms:
Their breasts pierced with light, like black organ-pipes
Which once gentle ladies pressed to their own,
Jostle together protractedly in hideous love-making.

Hurray! the gay dancers, you whose bellies are gone!
You can cut capers on such a long stage!
Hop! never mind whether it’s fighting or dancing!
– Beelzebub, maddened, saws on his fiddles!

Oh the hard heels, no one’s pumps are wearing out!
And nearly all have taken of their shirts of skin;
The rest is not embarrassing and can be seen without shame.
On each skull the snow places a white hat:

The crow acts as a plume for these cracked brains,
A scrap of flesh clings to each lean chin:
You would say, to see them turning in their dark combats,
They were stiff knights clashing pasteboard armours.

Hurrah! the wind whistles at the skeletons’ grand ball!
The black gallows moans like an organ of iron !
The wolves howl back from the violet forests:
And on the horizon the sky is hell-red…

Ho there, shake up those funereal braggarts,
Craftily telling with their great broken fingers
The beads of their loves on their pale vertebrae:
Hey the departed, this is no monastery here!

Oh! but see how from the middle of this Dance of Death
Springs into the red sky a great skeleton, mad,
Carried away by his own impetus, like a rearing horse:
And, feeling the rope tight again round his neck,

Clenches his knuckles on his thighbone with a crack
Uttering cries like mocking laughter,
And then like a mountebank into his booth,
Skips back into the dance to the music of the bones!

On the black gallows, one-armed friend,
The paladins are dancing, dancing
The lean, the devil’s paladins
The skeletons of Saladins.

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