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Charles Baudelaire 87  Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) “Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville . . .” I remember it well enough, on the edge of town, That little house, and its quiet, and out in back The fertile goddesses, naked Venus and so on, Up to their plaster breasts in wild sumac; And the sun at evening, flooding the whole place, Ignited the window with bursting Catherine wheels, And seemed like a great eye in a prying face, Watching our mute, interminable meals And diffusing its votive radiance on all shapes, On the frowsy tablecloth, the worsted drapes. The Swan I Andromache, I think of you. The little stream, A yellowing mirror that onetime beheld The huge solemnity of your widow’s grief, (This deceiving Simois that your tears have swelled) Suddenly flooded the memory’s dark soil As I was crossing the Place du Carrousel. The old Paris is gone (the face of a town Is more changeable than the heart of mortal man). I see what seem the ghosts of these royal barracks, The rough-hewn capitals, the columns waiting to crack, Weeds, and the big rocks greened with standing water, And at the window, Their Majesty’s bric-a-brac. One time a menagerie was on display there, And there I saw one morning at the hour 88 French Of cold and clarity when Labor rises And brooms make little cyclones of soot in the air A swan that had escaped out of his cage, And there, web-footed on the dry sidewalk, Dragged his white plumes over the cobblestones, Lifting his beak at the gutter as if to talk, And bathing his wings in the sifting city dust, His heart full of some cool, remembered lake, Said, “Water, when will you rain? Where is your thunder?” I can see him now, straining his twitching neck Skyward again and again, like the man in Ovid, Toward an ironic heaven as blank as slate, And trapped in a ruinous myth, he lifts his head As if God were the object of his hate. II Paris changes, but nothing of my melancholy Gives way. Foundations, scaffoldings, tackle and blocks, And the old suburbs drift off into allegory, While my frailest memories take on the weight of rocks. And so at the Louvre one image weighs me down: I think of my great swan, the imbecile strain Of his head, noble and foolish as all the exiled, Eaten by ceaseless needs—and once again Of you, Andromache, from a great husband’s arms Fallen to the whip and mounted lust of Pyrrhus, And slumped in a heap beside an empty tomb, (Poor widow of Hector, and bride of Helenus) And think of the consumptive negress, stamping In mud, emaciate, and trying to see Charles Baudelaire 89  The vanished coconuts of hidden Africa Behind the thickening granite of the mist; Of whoever has lost what cannot be found again, Ever, ever; of those who lap up the tears And nurse at the teats of that motherly she-wolf, Sorrow; Of orphans drying like flowers in empty jars. So in that forest where my mind is exiled One memory sounds like brass in the ancient war: I think of sailors washed up on uncharted islands, Of prisoners, the conquered, and more, so many more. Anthony Hecht, 1961 ...


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