Charles Baudelaire

Little Old Women

To Victor Hugo

I In the sinuous folds of the old capitals, Where all, even horror, becomes pleasant, I watch, obedient to my fatal whims, For singular creatures, decrepit and charming. These disjointed monsters were women long ago, Eponine or Lais! Monsters, hunch-backed, broken Or distorted, let us love them! they still have souls. Clothed in tattered petticoats and flimsy dresses They creep, lashed by the iniquitous wind, Trembling at the clatter of the omnibuses, Each pressing to her side, as if it were a relic, A small purse embroidered with rebuses or flowers; They trot exactly like marionettes; They drag themselves along like wounded animals, Or dance, against their will, poor little bells Pulled constantly by a heartless Demon! Broken Though they are, they have eyes as piercing as gimlets, That shine like those holes in which water sleeps at night; They have the divine eyes of little girls Who are amazed and laugh at everything that gleams. - Have you observed how frequently coffins For old women are almost as small as a child's? Clever Death brings to these similar biers A symbol of a strange and captivating taste, And when I catch a glimpse of a feeble specter Crossing the swarming scene that is Paris, It always seems to me that that fragile creature Is going quietly toward a second cradle; Unless, pondering on geometry, I try, at the sight of those discordant members, To figure how many times the workman changes The shape of the boxes where those bodies are laid. - Those eyes are wells filled with a million tears, Crucibles which a quenched metal spangled... Those mysterious eyes have invincible charms For one whom austere Misfortune has suckled! II Vestal in love with the late Frascati; High priestess of Thalia, whose name is known To her buried prompter; vanished celebrity Whom Tivoli sheltered at the peak of her fame, They all enrapture me; among those frail beings There are some who, making honey out of sorrow, Have said to Devotion who had lent them his wings: "Powerful hippogriff, carry me to the sky!" One, inured to misfortune by her fatherland, Another, overwhelmed with grief by her husband, Another, a Madonna transfixed by her child, Each could have made a river with her tears! III Ah! how many of these women I have followed! One, among others, at the hour when the sunset Makes the sky bloody with vermilion wounds, Pensive, used to sit alone on a bench To hear one of those concerts rich in brass, With which the soldiers sometimes flood our public parks On those golden evenings when one feels new life within And which inspire heroism in the townsman's heart. Proud, still erect, feeling she must sit thus, She thirstily drank in that stirring, martial song; Her eyes opened at times like the eyes of an old eagle; Her marble brow seemed to be made for the laurel! IV Thus you trudge along, stoical, uncomplaining, Amid the confusion of cities full of life, Mothers with bleeding hearts, courtesans, saints, Whose names in years gone by were on everyone's lips. O you who were charming or who were glorious, None recognizes you! A drunken ruffian Passing by insults you with an obscene remark; A dirty, nasty child frisks about at your heels. Wizened shadows, ashamed of existing, With bent backs, you timidly keep close to the walls And no person greets you, strange destinies! Human wreckage, ripe for eternity! But I, I watch you tenderly from a distance; My anxious eyes are fixed on your uncertain steps, As if I were your own father; how wonderful! I taste unknown to you clandestine pleasures: I see your untried passions come into full bloom; I live your vanished days, gloomy or filled with light; My heart multiplied enjoys all of your vices! My soul is resplendent with all of your virtues! Ruins! my family! O kindred minds! I bid you each evening a solemn farewell! Octogenarian Eves, upon whom rests God's terrible claw, where will you be tomorrow? Translated by - William Aggeler The Little Old Women I in sinuous folds of cities old and grim, Where all things, even horror, turn to grace, I follow, in obedience to my whim, Strange, feeble, charming creatures round the place. These crooked freaks were women in their pride, Fair Eponine or Lais! Humped and bent, Love them! Because they still have souls inside. Under their draughty skirts in tatters rent, They crawl: a vicious wind their carrion rides; From the deep roar of traffic see them cower, Pressing like precious relies to their sides Some satchel stitched with mottoes or a flower. They trot like marionettes along the level, Or drag themselves like wounded deer, poor crones! Or dance, against their will, as if the devil Were swinging in the belfry of their bones. Cracked though they are, their eyes are sharp as drills And shine, like pools of water in the night, - The eyes of little girls whom wonder thrills To laugh at all that sparkles and is bright. The coffins of old women very often Are near as small as those of children are. Wise Death, who makes a symbol of a coffin Displays a taste both charming and bizarre. And when I track some feeble phantom fleeing Through Paris's immense ant-swarming Babel, I always think that such a fragile being Is moving softly to another cradle. Unless, sometimes, in geometric mood, To see the strange deformities they offer, I muse how often he who saws the wood Must change the shape and outline of the coffer. Those eyes are wells a million teardrops feed, Crucibles spangled by a cooling ore, Invincible in charm to all that breed Austere Misfortune suckled with her lore. II Vestal whom old Frascati could enamour: Thalia's nun, whose name was only known To her dead prompter: madcap full of glamour Whom Tivoli once sheltered as its own - They all elate me. But of these a few, Of sorrow having made a honeyed leaven, Say to Devotion, "Lend me wings anew, O powerful Hippogriff, and fly to heaven." One for her fatherland a martyr: one By her own husband wronged beyond belief: And one a pierced Madonna through her son - They all could make a river with their grief. III Yes, I have followed them, time and again! One, I recall, when sunset, like a heart, Bled through the sky from wounds of ruddy stain, Pensively sat upon a seat apart, To listen to the music, rich in metal That's played by bands of soldiers in the parks On golden, soul-reviving eves, to fettle, From meek civilian hearts, heroic sparks. This one was straight and stiff, in carriage regal, She breathed the warrior-music through her teeth, Opened her eye like that of an old eagle, And bared a forehead moulded for a wreath. IV Thus, then, you journey, uncomplaining, stoic Across the strife of modern cities flung, Sad mothers, courtesans, or saints heroic, Whose names of old were heard on every tongue, You once were grace, and you were glory once. None know you now. Derisory advances Some drunkard makes you, mixed with worse affronts. And on your heels a child-tormentor prances. But I who watch you tenderly: and measure With anxious eye, your weak unsteady gait As would a father - get a secret pleasure On your account, as on your steps I wait. I see your passionate and virgin crazes; Sombre or bright, I see your vanished prime; My soul, resplendent with your virtue, blazes, And revels in your vices and your crimes. Poor wrecks! My family! Kindred in mind, you Receive from me each day my last addresses. Eighty-year Eves, will yet tomorrow find you On whom the claw of God so fiercely presses? Translated by - Roy Campbell

Don't have an account?

You will be identified by the alias - name will be hidden