Charles Baudelaire, by Felix Nadar

By Charles Baudelaire
A new translation into English verse by Mike Gunther, (c) 2010


et dicebat eis Iesus quia non est propheta sine honore nisi in patria sua

I gave you every precious thing I had,
Most recently the poems of Fleurs du Mal,
Freshly translated, closest to my soul:
A hundred pages you're the first to read.

But in reply, what good encouragement?
Nothing! Ignored! The cut direct, indeed!
- I think I need to find another friend,
Someone who cares a little more for me,

Or just can fake it more convincingly.
A thank-you, Lucian1, would have been polite.
I don't know any longer what you like;
Apparently it's not my poetry.

If you don't care to view the cast-off skin
Of Michael Angelo, what's that to me?
These days you'll find me in a darkened gym,
Lifting a weight that any fool can see.

Montgomery Village, Md
February 18, 2012

The skin of Michelangelo (detail from The Last Judgement)


A buried temple vomits from its gate
Rubies and mud, the slime from Charon's sewer.
An idol of the carrion god Anubis
Howls like a savage with a burning face.

Wherever gaslight wrings a shady wick,
The Poet feels an old familiar itch -
He's far from home, and drowning in a ditch
Of dissipation, flowing fast and thick.

What dried sachets in rooms that never sleep
Intoxicate like all the flowers that weep
Upon the cenotaph of Baudelaire?

Corruption hidden in a marble grate,
His very shade exudes a poisoned air
That we must breathe, although we suffocate.

-- Stephane Mallarme

Anubis adores...

...the tomb of Baudelaire

by Charles Baudelaire


Stupidity, avarice, folly, and vice
Are burrowing into our spirit and flesh,
And we cherish our sins and our easy regrets
Like vagabonds nourishing lice.

Our sins are persistent, remorse in arrears;
Absolving ourselves in a useless confession,
We bathe in the dirt of our latest transgression,
And wash it with crocodile tears.

In a cradle of evil, Satan Thrice-Great
Is rocking our soul to eternal sleep;
Our adamant will he dissolves in a dream,
That vaporized, dissipates.

And the pleasures we chase through the stinking dark
Are but shadows themselves, and the vilest of things.
It's the Devil himself who is pulling our strings,
As we dance into Hell on a lark.

Like a rake without cash in some clandestine lair
As he nibbles the breast of a wrinkled old whore,
We insist on ingesting just one pleasure more,
Like wringing a dried-up old pear,

Till a roistering horde of fiends in our brain
Carouses in tangles of slithering worms;
Death catches our throat with a groan, and squirms
In our chest with each breath that we take.

If arson, and poison, and rape, and the knife,
Have declined, until now, to embroider our fate
With their pleasant designs - if we still hesitate,
It's because we're afraid of the price.

But among all the jackals, snakes, panthers and hounds,
The monkeys and scorpions, carrion fowl -
The most squalid vices that gambol and howl
In the cage of our soul's filthy round -

There is one yet more fearful, and within its maw -
Though it's quiet and sly, and seems harmless at first -
It would gladly engulf the entire earth,
And destroy all that lives, in a yawn:

It's Boredom! Too etiolated to sin,
It dreams of a hanging while puffing its pipe.
You know it well, reader - its watery eye -
You hypocrite reader, my brother, my twin!

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882)


1. Benediction

It can't be helped: Divinity decrees,
A new-born Poet shakes the startled world.
His mother's damaged, bleeding, hurt, and screams,
Gives God the fist -- O Heaven, pity her!

"I wish I'd borne a knot of twisting snakes,
Instead of feeding such derision!
God damn the night, whose pleasures extricate
From my own womb their expiation!

"You picked me out from every other woman,
God, but why? I'm hated by my man,
And got a scrawny brat I'd like to toss
Into the fire, like some love-letter lost.

"I'll puke up all the hate that weighs me down,
Upon this boy, the instrument of fate,
A twisted twig from which may never grow
A fruitful bud, the stinking cheap ingrate!"

Not understanding what she chokes upon,
Too gross to know what heaven has in mind,
She makes herself a bed in her own hell,
The pyre reserved for a mother's crimes.

Meanwhile, a guardian angel tutors him,
The outcast child, enraptured by the sun;
He finds, in everything he eats and drinks,
A sweetest nectar, ripe ambrosia,

Plays with the wind, and chatters with the clouds,
Gets drunk, and sings the Stations of the Cross;
The guardian angels of his pilgrimage
All weep aloud, to hear this singing bird.

The people he would love, view him with fear,
Or, hating his hard-won tranquillity,
Attempt to wring from his mild face a tear,
As if he were a mangy, scabbed bear.

In bread and wine intended for his mouth
They mix their ashes and their vile spit,
Those hypocrites! Rejecting what he's touched,
They will not even tread in his footprints.

His woman trumpets in the public square:
"Since he believes me worthy of his love,
I'll turn myself into a savage whore,
And make him gild me like the statues old,

"And pour upon me incense, myrrh, and nard,
And genuflect, and offer wine and food,
To know my power, in getting by his art
The homage that is only due to gods!

"But when I'm tired of this impious farce,
I'll claw him with my dainty hardened hand,
Whose talons, like the harpies' curving claws,
Will dig a highway to his beating heart;

"I'll tear him like a bird that, fluttering,
Is thrown a-trembling from its fledgling nest;
His feathers, scattered on the scornful ground,
Will feed the hunger of my bloody hound!"

The Poet lifts his eyes to heaven's throne,
Raises his arms in piety sincere;
His consecrated spirit, clear and pure,
Defies the censure of the multitude:

"I praise you, Lord, the suffering you send
Redeeming every sin, your sacred remedy,
Your blessing and your loving benediction,
That leads the strongest to your holy See!

"I know that you prepared a place for me
Among that sacred company,
Where all the faithful feast eternally
With Powers, and Dominions, and Thrones.

"I know that suffering is the only dignity
That neither earth nor hell can ever mar,
And that the price of every martyr's crown
Is paid in every time, by every man.

"Even the hidden jewels of lost Palmyra,
Silver and gold, or corals of the sea,
Given by Your own hand, would not suffice
That crown to fashion, dazzling and clear,

"For it is made of purest, godly, light,
Drawn from the diamond of your holy font;
Our mortal eyes, however bright they are,
Are but the darkened mirrors of your fire."

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, "Mater Dolorosa" (1660-1670)

A dangerous journey: "Giving Birth," in the Wellcome Collection (1800)

"Whore's Glory," from a documentary film by Michael Glawogger

2. The Albatross

The smiling crew has captured casually
An albatross, a soaring great-winged bird
That followed, like a careless traveller,
Their foaming wake across the bitter sea.

The poor bird skids upon the wooden deck;
His snowy wings are beating to be free,
Like oars that scull and batter clumsily
Upon a mermaid's drifting broken neck.

Sailors torment him with their stabbing pipes,
And mock the cripple with his lurching gait:
A prince of air, now comically constrained
By useless wings that drag along his side.

The Poet wants to soar above the clouds,
Beyond the arrows launched at him for spite;
But scrabbling feet no purchase let for flight,
His great wings fetter him upon the ground.

Gustave Dore, "The Albatross" (1876)

3. Elevation

Above the valleys, high above the lakes,
Above the mountains, woods, and clouds and seas,
Beyond the sun, the sky's ethereal plain,
Beyond the confines of the starry spheres,

You soar, my spirit, strong and true and free,
Like some brave swimmer, blissful in the flood,
Ploughing the vasty deep in ecstasy --
Delight immeasurable! My youthful blood

Won't suffer any morbid, earthly stink,
But flies above to breathe a purer air,
And gives itself Ambrosia to drink,
A fiery nectar, crystalline liquor.

Blessed is he, who in this wretched world,
Weighed down by life and mutability,
Yet soars the skies on sacred wings unfurled
Above the meadows, glowing and serene,

A man whose thoughts like skylarks rise above
The earth, and like the birds will sweetly sing,
Who understands the secret language of
The flowers, and every shy and silent thing!

Colorized engraving from L'atmosphere by Camille Flammarion (1888)

4. Correspondences

The world is a temple whose shadowy wood
Reverberates sometimes with far-off cries,
A forest of images half-understood,
That watch you with too-knowing eyes.

They answer each other - the colors, the sounds,
And the scents, like an echo from far away -
In a union mysterious, deep, and profound,
And as vast as the night and the day.

Some odours are fresh as a child saying grace,
Or as sweet as an oboe, or green like a ley,
But the greatest expand into infinite space,
And are ripe with a hint of decay:

Spice, ambergris, resin, and frankincense -
Melodious raptures of spirit and sense!

Birch Trees in Summer (Linton Wildlife Photography)

5. I Cherish The Memory

I cherish the memory of ancient times,
And naked bodies gilded by the sun,
Where men and women in their prime
Took their sweet exercise,
Caressed by the sun and the amorous sky.
Then Cybele would drop her natural fruits,
Nor thought the gift too heavy to be borne:
A mother wolf who was a friend to Man,
And fed the whole world from her swollen teats.
The men were lusty, handsome, strong,
Proud of the girls that treated them like kings --
Those untouched fruits, unblemished and unscarred,
Whose ripened flesh enticed the lover's teeth!

The Poet of today investigates
That Grecian splendor in a squalid place
Where nudity is shamed to show itself.
He shivers waiting in a darkened room,
Where curtains rise upon a sad tableau
Of scrawny wretches, women without clothes,
Their grotesque bodies worthy of a masque!
Poor twisted bodies, bloated, thin, and slack,
The God of Profit's swaddled them
From infancy in coins of clanging brass.
And still you women, pale as candle wax,
The daughters of corrupt debauchery,
Plague the whole earth with your fecundity!

Although we modern peoples have, it's true,
Unlike the ancients, our own kind of beauty;
Ravaged faces, cankered and deformed,
The beauty, one might say, of wretched whores,

Neither our shame nor their opprobrium
Will keep the old from cherishing their young,
Living reminders of a former age:
I prize their sweetness, and their lovely faces,
Azure eyes like water undisturbed,
Sky-blue, a flower or a bird,
A limpid brook, pure, innocent and free,
Perfume and song, and -oh- their passioned heat!

Capitoline Wolf, 11th-12th century (wolf) with late 15th century addition (twins)

Edouard Manet, "Olympia" (1863)

6. Beacons

Rubens: streams of oblivion, gardens of indolence,
Pillows of flesh where love cannot abide,
Where the currents of life twist and turn endlessly,
Like the wind in the sky and the tides on the sea.

Leonardo da Vinci: mysterious land
Where sweet angels charm with inscrutable smiles
In a country encircled by fog and by shadows,
And distant reflections of glaciers and pines.

Rembrandt shows us a hospital, looming bare walls
That echo with murmurs and pitiful sighs;
Prayers ascend from the floor to a great wooden cross
That's transfixed by a ray of abrupt winter light.

Michelangelo renders through ripped-apart clouds
Resurrection and Judgement, the souls of the dead
As with desperate fingers they stab through their shrouds:
An arena where Christ and Hercules contend,

While the rage of a boxer, the faun's lack of shame,
And the beauty of bestial men in their prime,
You show us, vainglorious, sickly Puget,
Delimning the convicts condemned for our crimes.

Here's Watteau's carnival of our poor vanities,
Where the gaudy chiffon catches glimmers of light
With its butterfly lovers all "making the scene,"
And as long as the foolishness lasts, it's all right,

Till a nightmare of forms no sane human could scan,
Of old women and children in vile display,
And - God help us! - of foetuses cooked in a pan,
Tempt the witches of Goya to come out and play.

And your bloody lake haunted by fiends, Delacroix,
That is shadowed by forests beneath a sad sky,
Reminds me of Weber, and how his sweet voice
Was destroyed by a father's stupidity.

These curses and blasphemies, transports and groans,
The cries and the sobs, helpless tears that we pray,
Work upon our poor hearts like divine opium,
Or an echo that wanders through life's endless maze;

It's a beacon that's lit on each high citadel,
And a password repeated by every guard;
A familiar halloo that we know all too well,
It's the call of the hunter that's lost in the wood,

The sole witness ephemeral men can supply
To prove ourselves worthy, O Saviour, of Thee:
From the pain of our hearts, an everlasting cry
That breaks on the shore of Eternity.

Leonardo da Vinci, "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne" (ca. 1503)

Michelangelo, "The Damned Soul" (detail from "The Last Judgement," 1536-1541)

7. The Sick Muse
(for Fran Green)2

Alas, poor muse, what illness have you caught,
What visions move beneath your sunken lids?
What mars your pale complexion, now distraught
With chills and fever, fear and silences?

Some greenish succubus or rosy imp
Poured out upon you dreams of love and fear;
A cruel nightmare with despotic fist
Is sinking you within its putrid mere.

I pray for health; I want a singing muse
Full of invention, brave and true and strong,
A Christian heart that beats out pagan rhymes

To measured syllables of ancient use
Made by Apollo, father of all song,
And by great Pan, the lord of harvest pipes.

Henry Fuseli, "The Nightmare" (1781)

8. Muse For Sale

Muse of my doubtful heart, when winter blows,
And bitter storms embrace the stony street,
In what dark shivering garret will you hold
A flaking coal to warm your frozen feet?

You wanted warm and golden grand hotels,
But something happened; in the evenings
You wonder how what started out so well
Has turned to grim and desperate extremes.

To earn your daily bread, you have to swing
Your censer like a perfumed celebrant,
Sing sweet Te Deums like a hypocrite,

Display your charms, a starving saltimbanque,
And never show, behind your smile, the sob --
A moment's brief distraction for the mob.


9. A Bad Monk

On cloister walls the monks draw scenes
Depicting sacred verities
To feed their visionary dreams
And warm their chill austerities,

The humble followers of Christ
Who into catecombs descend,
With certitude of Paradise
To bless the pathways of the dead.

-- But no fine pictures will be found
Within the cloister of my head,
A tomb I pace in, round and round,

Do-nothing monk! Although I've bled
From such a barren field to bring
A work of art, some lovely, shining thing.

Claudio Rinaldi, "Four Monks" (ca. 1884)

10. The Enemy

My youth was just a passing storm,
Pierced here and there by brillilant rays,
Its ripe precocious fruits knocked down
To perish in the falling rain.

I carry autumn in my soul
And work with shovel, hod, and spade
To mend the raw eroded holes
That stretch like newly opened graves.

But these new flowers that I plant,
How will they find their proper food
In salted soil, in rock and sand?

Time eats our heart and drinks our blood,
A hidden Enemy who feeds
On every passion that we bleed.

Salvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory" (1931)

11. Doomed

To lift a weight as large as this,
Would break the heart of Sisyphus.
What any man can give, I gave,
In stanzas exquisite and brave,

For life is short, and art is long.
My heart beats like a funeral drum;
Bypassing graveyards of renown,
I walk upon the road alone.

How many hidden jewels sleep
Beneath the shadowed hills unsung,
Their light quenched in oblivion?

How many flowers silently
Exhale their rich effluvium,
Hidden away from everyone?

Titian, "Sisyphus" (1548)

12. In A Previous Life

A thousand years, in spacious porticoes
That sunset colored with a thousand fires,
Reflected off the ocean, till they glowed
In twilight like a dream of vaulted caves.

In solemn harmony, the silver waves
Reflected images of sun and sky,
Till sunset's colors, mirrored in my eyes,
Ravished my soul, and left me blind and dumb.

Between the ocean, sky, and gleaming sun
I lived in calm and tranquil luxury.
The naked perfumed slaves who cared for me,

And cooled my forehead with their palmate fans,
Would ease my care, but could not understand
The hidden wound that left me spent and sad.

Paul Gauguin, "Two Tahitian Women" (1899)

13. Gypsies On The Move

The fortune-telling race with burning eyes
Are on the road again; around their necks
Their children cling, and suck the hanging breasts
That swell to satisfy their appetites.

Beside the creaking wagons, gypsy men
Trudge on, and bare their weapons to the sky;
Beyond all dreaming now, with haunted eyes
They wander as they're led by Providence,

And for no other reason, but to go;
The cricket chirping from his hidden hole
Sings them a cheerful song as they proceed,

And Nature gives them water from a stone;
Forever wandering, lugubrious ghosts,
Into a future they've already seen.

Fernand Cormon, "Cain Flees the Curse" (1880)

14. Man And The Sea

Your spirit loves the restless sea,
The mirror of a human soul
Whose unrelenting currents roll
Upon the vast and boundless deep.

You want to dive into that deep,
Embrace it with ecstatic arms,
And drown the clamor of your heart
Beneath the roaring of the sea.

A taciturn and jealous deep
Obscures within its dark expanse
The inmost mysteries of man,
The hidden treasures of the sea.

Yet still Man fights the raging sea,
Not knowing how alike they are:
Two brothers locked in endless war,
Between the maelstrom and the deep.

Theodore Gericault, detail from "The Raft of the Medusa" (1818 - 1819)

15. Don Juan In Hell

Don Juan has descended Avernus' shore,
Paid a coin for his way;
A cynical Beggar is pulling the oar,
Whom he'd cursed in God's name.

With their breasts hanging down from their ripped-apart robes,
All beneath the black sky,
Women follow his train with a funeral groan,
In their lover's despite.

His jackanapes Servant demands his back pay;
In the ranks of the dead
Don Luis shows the son who had thought it no shame
To mock his white head.

Elvira approaches, seduced and betrayed
By the vows that she took,
And she begs him, so sweet were the promises made,
For one final look.

A Statue of Stone leering down from the height
Steers the barque through the spray,
But the Hero, unmoved by their need or their spite,
Spurns the crowd in his wake.

Jean-Andre Rixens, "Don Juan" (1886)

16. The Punishment of Pride

In a long-ago time, when Theology
Summed up all human philosophy,
Lived a great Man of the Church,
Who could ravish the hardest of hearts,
Stirring men to their innermost depths.
Then mounting by unknown paths
To visions celestial, where only
The purest of spirits might pass,
He cried out in his fear and his pride,
Like a climber who suddenly slips
Into space: "Little Jesus, I set you
Too high! With a stroke of my pen
I unseat you again, silly Infant,
So meek, and too mild!"

Immediately his reason lost its grip,
The brilliance of its light obscured,
And chaos ruled, where once Intelligence
Illuminated carved cathedral walls,
And gilded rafters, ordered and serene!
From thence he fell to silence and to night,
And landed in a crypt whose key was lost;
Thereafter wandered lonely on the road,
A driven dog by heat and winter snow,
And knowing less than any animal:
A random, wind-blown fragment of debris
That laughing children chased along the street.

Carlo Crivelli, St. Thomas Aquinas (from the Demidoff Altarpiece, 1476)

17. Beauty

O mortals, I am fair; my breast is made
To kindle love within the poet's soul.
It bruises anyone who would embrace
My silent and eternal dream of stone.

A sphinx unknowable, I reign on high
With swan's complexion and a heart of snow.
I will not bend to disarrange my pose,
Nor discompose myself to laugh or cry.

The poets study all my Attitudes,
They mark the monuments they're copied from,
Encapsulate them in adoring rhymes,

And worship in obsequious servitude
An idol mirrored in the speculum
Of living eyes, magnificent and bright.

Venus Felix (Vatican Museums, 2d century AD)

18. Ideal

No tainted beauty in an artist's sketch,
The offspring of a good-for-nothing time,
With laced-up boots and clicking castanets,
Will ever satisfy a heart like mine.

I leave to Gavarni his pale coquettes,
Drooping like flowers in a frontispiece;
I want a living rose of ruby red
To match the cruel women of my dreams:

Lady Macbeth whose hands defiled the sea,
Medea singing hymns to Hecate,
Fierce Clytemnestra -- bloody virago,

But most of all, sire Michaelangelo,
Your great, contorted, savage brooding Night,
Whose charms would sate a Titan's appetite!

Michaelangelo, "Night" (1520-1534)

19. Volcano (The Giantess)

In the old days, when Nature's unstinting largesse
Ever brought forth new marvels and fresh prodigies,
I'd have loved to have lived near a young giantess,
Like a cat at the foot of a queen.

I would watch every part of her grow, as she pressed
Between earth and the sky in her thunderous play,
From the vapors encircling her brow, to the depths
Of her heart, and its smoldering flames.

I would wander the sinuous curves of her flesh,
And explore every valley and peak that it made,
From the folds of her lap to the swell of her breasts;

And in summer, when even a Giant must rest,
I would sleep in her shadow, as quiet and still
As a town at the foot of a hill.

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, "Eruption of Mount Vesuvius" (1777)

20. Jewels

My naked mistress, for my pleasure, wore
A jeweled necklace dangling on her breast:
Upon her dusky skin, and nothing more,
The golden chains she knew would please me best.

She knows I like it when the metal swings
Upon her nipples, and reflects the light
From every jewelled facet of the links
That sway and tinkle for my sole delight.

She spread her limbs, and gave herself to love,
Encouraging with smiles my appetite,
Which ebbed and flowed, and finally overcome,
Rose to embrace her like a swelling tide;

She stared at me like some exotic pet,
And turned upon her cushioned couch, and stretched
Her limbs in every pose of wantonness
That lechery and candor could suggest;

Her swan-like arms and legs, and thighs and loins,
Passing before my contemplative eyes,
Were polished with a coat of purest oil;
Her belly and her breasts, grapes of my vine,

Enticed my spirit from the crystal sphere
Where it had rested, tranquil and alone,
And, more seductive than a Circe's tears,
Undid the self-posession of my soul.

Her narrow torso and her generous rump
Were joined so incongruously that it seemed
A woman's shape below, a boy's above!
Upon her tawny skin the proud rouge gleamed,

Lit only by the glow of firelight.
The lamp had long expired when twilight fell,
But in the evening when a glowing ember sighed,
It washed with ruby red her blushing pelt!

Franz von Stuck, "Salome" (1908)

21. The Mask

Allegorical statue in the Renaissance style
To Ernest Christophe, the sculptor

She stands exposed to every passing gaze,
A form of elegance and strength combined,
Whose torsion draws us in, yet turns away
From those who'd worship her as if divine:
A marble made to rule the satin beds
Of popes and princes, cunningly beguiled,
Whom she may tease, but never quite reject.

We see an exquisite, licentious pride
And lips that part as if in ecstasy;
Her indolence and sly provoking smile,
Her every feature, boasts triumphantly:
"Love is my crown, and I am called Delight!"
She holds a delicately veiled mask
Before her, with a prideful, curving arm;
The fascination that her hauteur grants
Attends us as we scrutinize her form.

O blasphemy of art! O deadly shock!
Behind the mask a different, weeping, head!
Her beauty is the mask, a made-up face
That she presents to everyone she meets.
The truth behind that mask is locked away,
Poor prideful beauty! Your abundant flood
Of tears intoxicates, and stirs my blood.

Why does she weep, this paragon of Love,
Who sets a conquered nation at her feet?
She weeps because she lives, because she must
Continue living! That's what she conceals,
And shudders with unhappiness, because
She has to keep on living, day by day,
Tomorrow, and tomorrow - just like us!

Ernest Cristophe, "The Mask" (1876)

22. Hymn To Beauty

You come from the Abyss, or from the sky;
Your glance, O Beauty, hellish and divine,
Bestows commingled ecstasy and crime,
A blessing that is comparable to wine.

Your eye contains the darkness and the dawn;
You shed your perfume like a summer's eve;
From your enticing mouth, the nectar drawn
Emboldens youth, and makes a hero weak.

You issue from the Deep, or Heaven's vault;
Obedient Fortune trails you like a pet;
Of pain or happiness your hands let fall
Without a crumb of pity or regret,

Indifferent to the dead you trample on.
A clutch of jewels dances on your breast,
Burning Desire, Envy pale and wan,
Murder and Horror, that you love the best.

A moth is burning in your candle's fire;
It crisps and dies, and shouts "God bless the flame!"
A panting lover on your marble lies,
Clutching his tombstone in a fond embrace.

O sacred monster Beauty, blasphemy
From hidden depths of hell or heaven come,
What does it matter? You disclose to us
The Infinite that we have never seen,

Satanic Angel! From your glowing eyes,
The sound and scent and glory of a Queen,
You make the world less hideous, the time
Less heavy, and our jaded hearts redeem.

Chamunda (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

23. Exotic Perfume

The night is hot; I lie upon your bed
And close my eyes, breathe in your sweet perfume,
And, floating on the slickness of your sweat,
Imagine islands glowing in the sun,

Sweet lazy islands! Nature, bounteous,
Bears dripping fruit from purple swollen trees;
Proud men, their bodies slim and vigorous,
Escort their Circes with enchanted eyes.

Led by your perfume to these scented climes,
I dream of harbors, and of rolling seas
That rock tall ships at anchor in the wind,

While fragrance of exotic tamarind
Delights my senses on the swelling breeze,
Commingling in my soul with sailors' cries.

Paul Gauguin, "Arearea" (1892)

24. My Mistress's Hair

A mop of fleece descending to your neck,
Your curling locks perfumed with idleness,
O ecstasy! Tonight I want to fill
Our room with all the memories that cense
Your hair, spread out like some exotic wool.

Hot Africa, the dreaming Cameroons,
The distant worlds I populate with you,
Live in the scent my spirit dotes upon;
Let other souls glide on the waves of song,
Mine, O my love! drifts on your rich perfume.

I'll go where men and flowers wilt beneath
The blazing heat of noonday tropic suns,
Your tangled hair the tide that carries me
Across a dazzling ocean in the lee
Of sails and pennants, sloops and galleons,

To busy ports where every libertine
Can drink his fill of color, sound, and scent,
And ships embarking for the Orient
Embrace with open yards the white-capped sea,
And far-off islands shimmer in the heat.

I'll plunge with joy into the drunkenness
Of tides that drown the timid in their spray;
I'll send my heart to fly upon the waves,
And then return to you, O Indolence,
To lie exhausted in your shaded tent.

The curls of ebon that I rest among,
Reflect the smoky shadows of the docks;
Inhaling, in your cloister close, the locks
Of your dark hair, your perfume makes me drunk
With scents of tar, and coconut, and musk;

My palm will drop in your luxuriant strands
Rubies and sapphires, pearls from distant lands.
Beloved, never dream of spurning me:
My root and vine, my cup of memory,
Oasis in a dream of sunlit sands.

Simon Maris, "Isabella" (ca. 1906). Rijksmuseum Netherlands.

25. Je t'adore

I have loved you like heaven,
Cold beauty: a woman
Who lit up my evening
For too brief a time,
Till your sadness and silence
Envenomed the sky --

And I chase after you
Like the worms in a tomb,
And wherever you fly
I will hotter pursue.

Caecilian - a venomous worm (Internet)

26. You'd Stuff It All

You'd stuff it all into your hole;
A savage boredom rules your soul.
To practice for your "little games,"
You have to eat a heart each day.
Your eyes are lit up like boutiques
Illuminating garish streets,
Kaleidoscopic in the night --
A brand that burns on borrowed time,

Mother of spite, deaf, blind and dumb!
Salvator mundi, fed on blood,
You have no shame, although your glass
Reflects a face whose time has passed.
Whore and Madonna, sex machine,
Always enticing, never clean,
Bemired in sluttish lassitude,
Yet Nature from your womb extrudes -
From you, O Woman, Queen and Bitch -
An Angel, rutting in the ditch.

Eugene Galien-Laloue, "The Moulin Rouge, Evening" (ca. 1906)

27. But Still Unsatisfied

Strange deity, your dark skin in the night
Releases mingled scents of pipe and musk,
A perfume mixed by some dark Obeah
To cense your sorcerous and wanton thighs.

I'd rather drink the spittle from your mouth
Than fierce liquors, or wine, or opium;
My lusts approach you like a caravan,
Your eyes a well where all my troubles drown.

Now from those eyes, fougasses of your soul,
Remorseless demon! Pour on me less flame;
I'm not the Styx, to cover you ninefold,

Licentious Megaera; I wish I had
The power to hold you, bring your heart to bay,
And rule like Kore your infernal bed!


28. Gossamer Lace

Gossamer lace swirls on the evening mist;
She's only stepping, but she seems to dance,
Like cobras that Hindu contorsionists
Display upon their carved and polished shafts.

Insensible to human suffering,
Like azure skies or swirling desert sands,
She stretches out, sublime, indifferent,
A wave upon the ocean's wide expanse.

Her polished eyes reflect the sacrament
Of every man who shrivels in their glance;
Angel and virgin, sphinx of darkest cold,

A shining star within a velvet sky
Of steel and diamond, a burning light,
A barren woman in a house of gold.


29. The Dancing Serpent

My dear indolent girl,
It's your skin that I love,
For it shimmers like silk
That the larvas have spun.

And I love your thick tresses,
A wandering sea
With a sharp pungent scent,
Where my spirit floats free:

Like a ship that awakens
At morning's first light,
I will warp and weigh anchor
For far-distant skies.

Your two eyes are dispassionate,
Shining and cold,
Twin gems that are fashioned
Of iron and gold.

You walk with the force
Of unconscious abandon,
A snake who disports
On the end of its staff,

And your head gently sways
Like the bulb of a plant,
Bobbing up on your neck
Like a young elephant,

And your body inclines
Like a delicate barque
As it rolls side to side
And the spray soaks its spars.

But when your saliva
Spills over your teeth,
Like the spring-melt rising
Of some glacial creek,

That Bohemian wine, tart
And all-conquering,
Scatters stars in my heart
With its fine liquid stream!


30. Carrion

Do you remember what we saw
That summer morning mild?
A loathsome corpse beneath the wall,
Its flesh was black as bile.

Legs sticking up, it showed itself,
A woman without shame,
Its belly swollen like a bell,
A carrion displayed.

Beneath the sun it broiled and bent,
A charnel slab of meat
That sweated rot from every rent,
Decaying in the heat.

The sky was fair as in a scene
Of flowers without taint;
The corpse's stench was so obscene
You thought that you would faint.

The maggots in disordered rows
Of Pandemonium
Swarmed up its belly like a robe
That glistened in the sun;

They formed a liquid flowing cloak
By which that corpse was dressed,
As if it lived again, and broached
Black flies with every breath.

And from that world strange music ricked,
A buzzing in the wind,
Like rushing water, or the clicks
Of grain in winnowing.

Its form was changing like a dream
Of some old memory lost;
A sketch upon an ancient sheet
Of canvas, ripped and tossed.

Behind some rocks, a restless kit
Watched us with heaving breast,
As she held back to claim a bit
Of offal that she'd left.

-- You too, my dear, will be like that
One day, when grace has fled
Under the flowers and the grass,
To rot among the dead.

And then, O beauty, tell the worms
That kiss your pretty face
How well I sang the precious turns
Of my sweet love's embrace!

"The Death of a Noble Lady." Japanese, 18th century (Wellcome Collection)

31. De Profundis

I've nothing left, my love; to You I pray!
My heart has fallen into the abyss,
A mournful world of shadows, black and grey,
Where blasphemy and horror writhe and hiss.

For half the year, the sun witholds its heat,
The other half, a dark night covers all:
No animals or flowers, woods or streams,
A land more barren than the northern pole.

There is no horror in the world exceeds
The cruelty of that sun, dark and cold,
And that great night, like Chaos come again;

I lie awake and turn upon my bed,
And grudge the sleep of every animal;
Time's twisted skein unravels all too slow!


32. The Vampire

You stab me like a poisoned knife
That pierces my defenceless heart;
You overcome me like a swarm
Of serpents in the night.

You make your bed upon my soul
And pierce my heart upon your stake;
You bind me to your twisted folds
Like convicts to their chains,

Or reckless gamblers to their games,
Besotted drunkards to their wine,
Foul carrion to clinging lice,
And sickliness to pain.

I sought the swift and sudden knife,
Or poison merciful, to free
Myself from you, and you from me,
And both of us from life.

Alas! The poison and the knife
Rejected my obtuse conceit:
"You are not worthy to receive
The freedom you desire -

If you could extirpate her life,
You'd still embrace throughout the night
Her bloodless body, to revive
The corpse of your Vampire!"

Philip Burne-Jones, "The Vampire" (1897)

33. Oblivion

Come, cruel soul, and lie upon my breast,
Tiger of musk, lion of indolence;
My nerveless fingers tremble to caress
The tangle of your dark-haired wantonness;

Upon the sheets impregnate with your scent,
More than I want to live, I want to rest!
Inhaling, like a withered flower's lament,
The dry perfume of love's abandonment.

I want to lie as careless as the dead,
Sleeping to wake, and wake to sleep again,
And lavish kisses sweet and innocent
Upon the Idol's bronze and polished flesh.

To swallow any faint despairing cry,
There's nothing like the abyss of your bed;
The River Lethe from your lip extends
Oblivion: your kisses stupify.

I'll bow obedient to Providence,
And drink without complaint the cup it sends,
A zealous martyr whose devotion lends
More fury to the fires of punishment.

And I will sip, to drown my holy rage,
Good hemlock, wine of dark forgetfulness,
From those delightful nipples on your chest
That never held a heart within its cage.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "In Bed, The Kiss" (1892)

34. In The Night

Last night I lay beside a wretched whore,
And dreamed about the woman that I loved;
Beside a paid-for body, bought and sold,
I slept as if a corpse beside a corpse,

And conjured, in her den, your gaiety,
Your air of grace with mastery endowed,
The scented hair that drifts across your brow,
The treasure of your troubled memory.

I want to touch your body in the night,
And kiss you like a consecrated queen;
My love for you would rise to ecstasy,

If only, cruel woman, I could prise
One heartfelt tear from every broken dream
To wash the calculation from your eyes.

Gustave Courbet, "Woman With A Parrot" (1866)

35. Posthumous Regrets

Poor shadowed beauty, when you cower at last
Beneath a monument of polished stone -
Confined beneath a sunken rainy tomb,
A chamber for discarded courtesans -

The stone that weighs upon your trembling flanks
Will hold the limbs that once ran free and wild,
The heart that beat with insolent desire;
Your grave, the poet's strictest confidant,

Unceasingly forever will regale
You with the wisdom from its secret store:
"When you were living, you could well ignore

The sorrows that the silent dead display;
Now verses that unheeded poets made
Gnaw on your trembling body, like remorse."

Flickr/Tim Green

36. The Cat (1)

Recline, proud cat, upon my loving breast;
Retract your claws, and let me rest
Within the metalled agate of your eyes.

For when my fingers leisurely caress
The spine extending underneath my touch,
I tingle with your fur's electric shock,

And see, beloved pet with eyes of gold,
The spirit of my woman, dark and cold:
From head to foot, a perilous perfume
That swirls around her body till I drown.

Pixabay/Lucas Bouillon

37. Duellum
(for Phil and Kathy)3

We fought each other, tooth and claw and nail,
My friend and I, all in the name of love;
In such a battle, no one can prevail,
Although you might have thought that you had won.

Our blades are broken like our shining youth,
An ageing heart, a disregarded friend,
But still her lacquered nails and sharpened teeth
Cry down the years that she will be avenged:

A feral lynx, a panther in the trees,
She sank her claws, and would not let us go.
We tear apart, and thorns display our skins;

A hellish gulf is peopled with our friends,
Cruel Amazon! Among their whitened bones
Hatred and love are all the same to me.

Francisco Goya, "Fight with Cudgels" (ca. 1820-1823)

38. The Balcony

O well of memory, O heart's delight,
O Love that I remember, ever green!
The sweetness of your touch by candlelight,
Two hearts anointed by the evening,
O well of memory, O heart's delight.

A glowing ember kissed the fallen night
That rested on your starlit balcony.
So soft your breast, so loud your beating heart;
We spoke as lovers do, of everything.
A glowing ember kissed the fallen night.

The sun descended in the evening -
How powerful the time, how deep the space!
I came to you as if you were my queen,
And I the king within your bright embrace.
The sun descended in the evening.

Within a twilight room the stars uncovering
Your eyes revealed the mirrors of my soul.
I swear to me you were, then, everything.
The rivers of our passion merged and flowed,
Within a twilight room the stars uncovering.

I loved you in the stillness of the night,
Your beauty and your sweetness made me sing.
I turned to you as if with second sight,
And poised above your body, hovering;
I loved you in the stillness of the night.

The promises we made, the things we said --
How will they last, when evening's work is done?
Bathed in the deep, the morning sun ascends
To kiss the heavens with his fiery love:
The promises we made, the things we said.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, "A Little Coaxing" (1890)

39. Possessed

The sun's eclipsed, like you, dear Lunatic.
It doesn't matter; wrap up in a veil,
Or sleep, or smoke, whatever, as you will;
Indulge your boredom, pester us with gloom,

I love you as you are. But if you feel
Like promenading in the foolish crowd,
Go like a star escaping from its cloud,
A dagger liberated from its sheath,

Go wander underneath the chandeliers,
Kindle desire in every passing fool;
I am your man in every vagrant mood,

Black night or rosy dawn; it's you I need.
There's nothing to explain, or to excuse;
Beelzebub, I kiss your calloused feet!

Gustav Klimt, "Lady with Hat and Feather Boa" (1909)

40. Haunted

I. Shadows

In darkened rooms where no one counts the cost,
And brilliant sunbeams never penetrate,
Through waking dreams the lovers wander, lost,
Like spirits intertwined in Plato's cave.

Now and again, a spirit burning bright
Reveals itself, a firefly in the dark,
Against the backdrop of the endless night;
I cook and eat my raw and bleeding heart,

A bitter and reclusive eremite,
Condemned to paint with colors none can see.
But when your shade dissolves in candlelight,

Pale intimation of mortality,
I want to carry on in your despite --
Alas! Your ghost is too well known to me.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

II. Perfume

From sacred altars wafted to my soul
A perfumed scent of frankincense and musk
That overcame my reason, made me drunk
With clinging pleasures, rapturous and slow,

Mysterious charms that conjured from your clasp
A perfumed wine that welled from every pore!
Thus lovers, from the bodies they adore,
Pick every poignant flower of the past.

Your heavy hair lay pliant in my hand,
A springing censer in our silent room;
Luxuriating in that wild perfume,

I lost my senses in your fragrant mass
Of precious clothing, redolent and pure
With youthful scent of linen, soap, and fur.

Cleo de Merode (1875-1966)

III. The Frame

A masterpiece requires a gilded frame,
That serves to set its portraiture apart,
And separates it from the mundane world.

So jewels, metals, gilding, furniture,
Illuminate her beauty as she larks
Within the setting that belongs to her.

She might have traded innocence for fame,
Or thought that you, a trader decked in fur,
Would condescend to love her; in that plain
Consoling to herself a dying heart.

Within her dream she gives herself a name -
Satin or Velvet, wishes on a star,
Exposes to our gaze her nudity,
And shows her shame, a rutting chimpanzee.

Alonso Sanchez Coello, "Lady in a Fur Wrap" (1577-1579)

IV. A Portrait In The Fire

Disease and Death have thrown into the fire
The flames of passion that once burned for us:
The heart that sought its refuge in your mouth,
The sweet surrender in your glowing eyes;

Nothing is left of every fond caress,
Kisses like mint, and joys like noonday sun;
Discarded portraits crumble in the hearth,
As insubstantial as a rubbed-out sketch.

The Poet dies a little more each day
In solitude; Time injures every thing,
And bruises every heart with his rough wing --

Foul Murderer! You never can erase
The memory of her portrait from the past
That haunts my dreams, like some forgotten ghost.

Vincent Van Gogh, "A Peasant Burning Weeds" (1883)

41. I Give You These Verses

I give you these verses so that, if my name
Should land on futurity's shore,
Bringing new dreams to men for your sake, like a ship
That is blown from the north,

Then your memory will glow in that future time,
Like a mystery written in runes,
And, suspended from these haughty rhymes, will encircle
The reader with languid tunes.

From the vault of the sky to the depths of the sea,
Cursed one, there is no one that fits you but me!
Like a ghost with ephemeral tread, floating free,

Far above all the fools who would judge you so bitterly,
Passing them by with barely a glance --
Great statue of stone, dark-eyed angel of brass!

The Statue of Liberty (1886), in New York Harbor.

42. Semper Eadem

You ask me why this sadness, like a strange
Dark sea that breaks upon a barren coast?
When once the heart has reached a certain age,
Life is a burden everybody knows.

It's simple, really, not mysterious -
And clear to all, just like your gaiety.
Ask me no more, beauty so curious,
Hush now, although your voice is dear to me.

We'll excavate my soul some other night;
Live for today, and then turn out the light.
The bonds of death, though faint, sink very deep,

And though my heart is ravaged by a _lie_,
Into the shadow of your eyes I'll creep,
And covered by their lids, fall fast asleep.

Andrea Orturno, "Love and Pain" (2019)

43. Perfection

The Devil popped into my upstairs
Room, and caught me unawares;
"I'd really like to know," he said,
"What parts of her you like the best."

My soul responded to the Fiend:
"Her form in consonance complete,
Delights us with such harmony
That none could favor any part

Among the roses and the dark,
For her enchantment is composed
Of scents of wintergreen and rose,

Sensorium of mingled hues:
Her breath with sweetest sound infused,
Her voice like rare perfume!"

George Romney, "Emma Hamilton As Circe" (ca. 1782)

44. What Do You Want?

What do you want, my solitary soul?
My withered heart, what do you want tonight?
She is so sweet, so dear and beautiful -
When you're with her, you almost feel alive,

And all you have to do is flatter her,
And give up everything - even your pride.
You wonder what a glorious life is worth,
To be so brilliant, shining in the night.

Alone in darkness and in solitude,
Alone among the teeming multitudes,
Her image is a burning torch for you,

For she is beautiful, and she concludes
That only she is worthy of your love,
Madonna, guardian Angel, jealous Muse!

John Singer Sargent, "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw" (1892)

45. The Living Flame

Lit by an Angel from his sacred fire,
They go before me, eyes of living flame,
And scatter on my brow their sacred fire,
Those holy twins, those eyes of living flame.

From sin and death they have the power to save,
And lead to Beauty with their guiding light.
They are my anodyne, and I their slave,
Who lead to Beauty with their guiding light.

Two candles burning in the light of day,
Bewitching eyes! from their intensity
The Sun itself can never dim the flame.

From life, through death, into eternity:
Two candles burning in the light of day,
Two living eyes no mortal sun can slake!

Georges de La Tour, detail from The Penitent Magdalen (ca. 1640)

46. Too Frivolous

Your airs and your graces
Are fresh as a landscape;
You scatter your laughter
Like wind in the sky;

Dull men in the sadness
That swells in your wake
Are astonished by grace
As you leave them behind.

All the clashing bright colors
You sew on your dresses
Reflect like the flowers
That dance in a glade;

You're a crazy girl, made
Of a patchwork brocade,
And I swear that I love you,
So deep is my hate.

In a garden of pleasure
I laid down to rest,
And received like an arrow
Piercing my chest

The sun in the sky;
In my cruel resentment,
I beheaded an insolent
Flower for spite.

In the dark of the night
I would trouble your rest,
And would hurt the sweet breast
That you offered to me;

In the dark of the night
I would sneak up to you,
And whip open your side
With astonishing wounds,

And infect the new lips
That I'd made on you, dear,
With the poisonous kiss
Of my virulent tears.

Vincent van Gogh, "Self-Portrait" (1889)

47. The Other Side
(for Fran Green)4

Bright angel, never know unhappiness --
The letter crumpled in the dead of night,
The heart that breaks in broken love's despite,
Dishonor, tears, frustration and regret --
Bright angel, never know unhappiness.

Sweet angel, never know the sting of hate,
The fists that clench at night, the raging spleen,
The Siren call of knife and guillotine,
Revenge, the howling master of our fate;
Sweet angel, never know the sting of hate.

Angel of health, a stranger to disease,
Pass over pale consumptives as they crawl
And gasp for breath beneath hospital walls,
Begging for copper, or a place to breathe,
Angel of health, a stranger to disease.

Angel of beauty, never know the fear
Of growing old, when witless lovers trace
A new-found line across your furrowed face;
The pity in their eyes is all too clear -
Angel of beauty, never know that fear.

Angel of light and freedom, joy, and air,
A dying saint would beg to resurrect
His failing body in your youthful flesh,
But I have nothing for you but this prayer,
Angel of light and freedom, joy, and air.

Abbott Handerson Thayer, "Angel" (1889)

Mary Cassatt, "Self-Portrait" (1880)

48. Confession

Together just this once, my lady,
On our own;
The memory of that time remains
Within my soul.

A coin suspended in the sky,
The moon shone down;
The quiet river of the night
Flowed through the town.

Beneath the walls and alley-ways
The cats crept in,
Like ghosts of half-forgotten shades
Upon the wind.

I wanted you to dance with me,
Under the moon;
You stopped my venture with a glance
Grown old too soon,

Your bitter voice within the shade,
Descending notes;
Your song in that enchanted glade
Without a hope.

Alas! a bankrupt family sold
Your too-sweet face
To dreams of caskets filled with gold
In darkened caves;

The pleading of a heart forsworn:
"Nothing is left,
And every man is nothing, born
To selfishness.

It's hard to be a Beauty: roses
Kiss our feet,
With automatic smiles for those
We want to please.

Rely on love? That is a foolish thing
For ones like us.
The rocks that build Eternity
Crumble to dust,"

And memories to which I cling,
Know all too well
The song despairing voices sing
In heart's confessional!

Frank Dicksee, "The Confession" (1896)

49. Spiritual Awakening

Among the drunkards, swift avenging Dawn
Arises, pale and rose, to light upon
The blood-shot eyes that twist against the glare.
An Angel rising in the new dawn's flare,

Whose unattainable and crimson skies
Throw dazzled dreamers into the Abyss,
You rouse a lost and lapsed idealist,
And round upon me with a mordant kiss;

Among the smoking ruin of our lives,
A memory dawns of younger, better, days.
I rub the rheum from sleepy waking eyes,

And burn within the fire of your disdain.
You are the sun that chases off the night;
Only your heart can make me whole again.

Matt Talbert, "Awakening" (2020)

50. Evening Harmony

Now evening airs are stirring every branch;
The flowers exhale the perfume that they bear;
Sound and perfume mix in the evening air,
Languidly turning in a pensive dance.

The flowers exhale the perfume that they bear;
A viol quivers like a heart entranced,
Languidly turning in a pensive dance;
The altar of the sky is sad, and fair.

A viol quivers like a heart entranced,
A tender heart that will not cede despair.
The altar of the sky is sad, and fair;
The bleeding sun has set upon the land...

A tender heart that will not cede despair
Accumulates the remnants of the past.
The bleeding sun has set upon the land...
Your memory glows within me like a prayer!

Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)

51. The Flask

Some perfumes are too strong: no glass
Can hold the spirit in the flask.
Inside an Oriental chest,
Or in some dusty cabinet

Replete with odours of the past
That opens with a creaking rasp,
An iridescent bottle lies,
Where perfumed memories reside.

And from that dusty chrysalis
A sleeping memory untwists;
Mother-of-pearl, its wings unfold,
Tinted with azure, crimson, gold,

The hieroglyphics of a scene
That breaks upon us from the past.
In half-forgotten memories
That drift in opalescent glass,

In verdigris, and poisoned clouds
Where Lazarus tears off his shroud,
My fainting soul has well observed
Your shadow in Love's sepulchre.

But when the world's forgotten me,
The broken bottle of a dream
Discarded in a corner, mean,
Besmirched and dusty, buried deep,

Beloved bane! in me find rest,
The proof of your omnipotent
And blissful perfume, freely shed
Among the living and the dead.

Art Deco Perfume Bottle, Butterfly Design (21st century)

52. Poisons

The meanest hovel is by wine
Changed to a castle in the air;
Alcohol tints with ruby light
The smoke-filled atmosphere.

To opium our heart responds
With timeless sensuality:
A drug that fills the soul beyond
Human capacity.

The water welling from your eyes
Reflects my spirit, upside down!
I sink into that bitter tide
Where empty dreams are run aground,

And last, the poison most adored,
Saliva dripping from your mouth,
Given by you without remorse,
I drink until I drown.

Christian Dior, "Poison Girl" Perfume Bottle (2016)

53. Cloudy Skies

Behind the mist that seems to veil your eyes
- What is their color, blue, or gray, or green? -
Your cruel and tender look amazes me
And echoes back the haze of cloudy skies.

Your glance recalls the days of calm and light,
When captivated hearts dissolved in tears.
I wish that we could live forever there;
My twitching nerves keep me awake at night.

Flooded by sunlight spilled from cloudy skies,
You were the shining landscape of my days;
The setting sun in seasons of the rain
Has lit the far horizon with its fire,

Perilous woman of seductive climes!
Now is the season of your killing frost;
From that approaching winter, I must draw
Pleasures more sharp than iron, cold as ice.

Jess Clifton Photography, "Winter Haze" (2013)

54. The Cat's Meow


Inside my head she softly paces,
Back and forth inside my house,
A charming cat, handsome and brave.
One scarcely hears, when she meows,

Her query, tender and discreet;
But when she softly purrs or growls,
An irresistable appeal,
Stirring, melodious, profound,

A voice that trickles and that purls
Within my spirit, there compounds
To thrill me like a graceful verse.
That elixir of poignant sound

Can set aside the cruellest hurts
And warm the heart with melodies;
She has no need of many words
To say more things than libraries.

There is no other bow that plays
Upon the heart-strings of my soul,
And causes them to resonate
So movingly throughout the whole,

As does your voice, uncanny cat,
Seraphic cat, euphonious,
In which, like angels, every strand
Is subtle and harmonious!


From his soft particolored skin
Arises a perfume so sweet
That when I pet him just a bit
It permeates the evening.

He is the Genius of the place:
Is he a fairy, or divine?
He judges, rules, and animates
All that is found in his empire.

My eyes are drawn magnetically
Towards the cat that I adore,
Returning in tranquility
To look inside myself once more,

My soul the mirror of his glance;
There, in astonishment, I see
Two living opals, glowing lamps
Return my gaze unblinkingly.

Kirsten Dunst, by David Shankbone (2010)

55. The Fine Ship

Sweet siren, I want to relate the delight
That I found in your grace,
Like a painting of artful design, where the child
And the woman combine.

When your skirts billow out in the breeze, you are like
A fine ship on the sea,
That spreads all its canvas, and rolls to a rhythm
That's lazy and slow.

Like a maid who is queen for a day, you acknowledge
The crowd on your way,
With a confident air and a smile; in your progress,
Both woman and child.

Sweet siren, I want to relate the delight
That I found in your grace,
Like a painting of artful design, where the child
And the woman combine.

Your breasts push the silk as you sway through the crowd
In electric display,
And the swell of your chest is a fine cabinet
That ascends to a line

Of nipples inscribed with rosettes! A container
Of secrets and gems,
Of perfumes and liqueurs and silk, that a corsair
Could plunder at will.

When your skirts billow out in the breeze, you are like
A fine ship on the sea,
That spreads all its canvas, and rolls to a rhythm
That's lazy and slow.

Like two cunning witches, your thighs churn a mixture
Of pitch and desire
Underneath the soft linen they chase; the force
Of your youthful embrace

Would put any hero to shame, and crush
With your arms like twin snakes,
As if to impress on your heart my image,
Till death do us part.

Like a maid who is queen for a day, you acknowledge
The crowd on your way,
With a confident air and a smile; in your progress,
Both woman and child.

Anna Tarazevich Photography

56. Invitation to a Voyage

Let's go there, my sister;
Imagine the pleasure
Of living together!
We'll cherish our leisure,
And vanish, we two,
In a country like you,
Where the sunshine is hidden
By gossamer mist,
Like the moisture that lies
In your glistening eyes.

There, all is ordered for our pleasure,
Tranquil, calm, and golden leisure.

Our bedroom will hold
Some furniture, old,
Polished up by the years.
The perfume of flowers
Will bless every hour
We consummate there,
And the gilded rafters
Will echo our laughter
And softly repeat
Every sigh that we speak.

There, all is ordered for our pleasure,
Tranquil, calm, and golden leisure.

All the vagabond ships
Rock to sleep in their slips;
They have come from the ends
Of the earth to content
Your every desire!
The sun with its fire
Descends, moving down
Over paddies and towns,
And astonishing temples
Aglow in the round.

There, all is ordered for our pleasure,
Tranquil, calm, and golden leisure.

Olya Kobruseva Photograpy

57. Beyond Repair

We can't undo the things that we have done,
The consequences following in course.
Like maggots feeding on a skeleton,
We gnaw upon implacable remorse,
But can't undo the things that we have done.

We cannot drown the bitter memory
In wine or nicotine, or sex, or drugs;
We chew upon the rind unceasingly,
The tainted fruit of things that we have done;
We cannot drown the bitter memory.

Let any woman comfort, if she can,
The soldier crushed by horrifying wounds,
The lepers clawing suppurating sores,
The men that horses trample underfoot,
Let any woman comfort, if she can.

Wolves follow close upon the dying one,
Vultures descend upon the killing plains;
A man will stumble, but he soldiers on
And wonders who will bury his remains.
Wolves follow close upon the dying one.

Who can illuminate a darkened sky?
The moon and stars are cloaked, indifferent.
A prayer ascends to the refulgent night,
As if a cloud could sigh, and dare to kiss.
Who can illuminate a darkened sky?

A light that flickered as you looked behind
Has suffocated in the pouring rain.
Within the Devil's darkness, who can find
A shelter for the lost upon their way,
A light that flickered as you looked behind?

Enchantress, are you fond of the condemned?
Have you known things that no one can forgive,
And have you felt the arrows of Regret,
That pierce us like the Devil's poisoned kiss -
Enchantress, are you fond of the condemned?

Remorse beyond repair, with rotten teeth
Pursues our soul to the Abyss's edge.
It chews on us, however far we flee,
A hound that brays with putrifying breath,
Remorse beyond repair, with rotten teeth!

But once, upon a tattered stage, I saw
A Fairy, lit by artificial skies,
Personify the miracle of Dawn;
The orchestra played out as if inspired,
And there upon that tattered stage, I saw

A Spirit made of gauze, and gold, and light,
Fling to the earth an effigy of Hate;
Her apparition haunts me in the night.
The empty theatre of my heart awaits
That Spirit, made of gauze, and gold, and light!

Griffon Vultures by Pieter-Jan D'Hondt

Caravaggio, "The Musicians" (1597)

58. Heart To Heart

Your face transparent as the autumn sky,
My sadness rises in me like the sea;
On salted lips, from long receeding tides,
The residue of countless memories.

The sweetness of your hand is all in vain;
It searches out, my love, an edifice
That claws of crueler women have profaned;
Don't look for my heart; the beasts have eaten it.

The perfume floats above your naked breast!
My heart a palace that the mob has burned,
They kill each other there, and riot, drunk.

With eyes of fire, shining in regret,
O Beauty, iron flail of souls, you want
To char the rags that savage beasts have spurned!

J.M.W. Turner, "The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons" (1834)

59. Autumn Song


Farewell, bright sunshine of summer's round!
Soon winter's shadow will freeze our bones;
Already, firewood with hollow sound
Is clattering on the stones.

The horrors of winter will occupy
My body with all the force of hate;
My heart will transmute to a block of ice,
Impervious to love's embrace.

I tremble to hear those bouncing logs;
They sound like a gibbet the carpenters tap,
Or a far-off tower that shudders and falls
To the blows of a battering ram.

They sound like a coffin assembled at night,
As they tip in the nails with indelicate haste;
It's the ominous sound of a lonely goodbye,
But for whom? It's not easy to say.


I love the green glow of your distant eyes,
But today, even love tastes bitter to me.
Not love, nor your bed, nor the welcoming fire
Can subjugate restless seas.

But show me the loving heart of a mother,
Forgive the ungrateful and spiteful one,
And embrace me softly, a sister and lover,
Like autumn's declining sun.

The grave in its hunger lies open for us,
But I would rest in your lap for a while,
Regretting the loss of our brilliant summer,
In autumn's brief glow, before winter arrives!

Autumn scene

60. To a Madonna
Ex-voto in the Spanish style

Madonna and mistress, for you I'll design
In underground caverns a hidden shrine,
Concealed by a roof of the darkest night
From the world's mocking glances and crude appetites:
A niche to display a fine statue of you,
In costly enamels of gold and blue.

Upon your head I will place a great crown,
And cut for your garment an old-fashioned gown
That is made of velvet and cloth of gold
Medieval, and swelling with heavy folds,
Drapery that conceals your charms from the world,
Embroidered with teardrops, instead of pearls!

I'll worship the swelling font of your breast,
Make you slippers of satin from my self-respect,
Under which you might trample beneath your feet
A Serpent that's swollen with longing and spleen,
While in front of your altar, the candles' flame
Ascends, O Virgin Queen, in your name;
My eyes in devotion stare upward and burn
Through clouds of Frankincense, Balsam, and Myrrh.

Then, to consummate fully your Marian role,
I will mix in my love something savage and cold;
I will make seven blades of the Seven Deadly Sins,
With a frisson of conscience while slipping them in.
Like a juggler who launches his razor-sharp knives,
I will target the breast of your sanctified shrine,
Introducing those evils, by fits and by starts,
To your wounded and bleeding, Immaculate Heart!

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

61. Afternoon Song

Enchantress with foreign eyes
Beneath that devilish brow,
No angel! That's no surprise
To anyone, I'll avow.

I'll follow your perfumed spoor,
The track of a cunning beast,
O Passion that I adore!
Like some idolatrous priest.

The pine and the desert rose
Perfume your vagabond feet;
Your head tilts away, in a pose
Of secrets and mysteries.

Your body's enticing scent
Envelops me like the charm
Of an evening's perfumed breath,
O Dryad, enchanting and warm.

The charm of your indolence
Is stronger than sorcery;
The rapture of your caress
Could rouse the dead from their sleep.

Stretching out, you cock your hips
And make love with a steadfast will
On silken sheets that slip
Together as they thrill.

At times, in the darkest night
Holy one! You will lavish on me
The kisses and solemn bites
Of your deliberate frenzy,

And tear me, my love so dark,
With your taunting and careless laughter,
Pour into my bleeding heart
Bitter tears that follow us after.

Beneath your satin soles
I'd caress every ribbon of silk,
And would pledge myself into you,
Like a Poet who bears every ill,

Like a Genius who warms himself
In the fire of your loving heat!
In my dark and frozen Hell
I would kiss your delectable feet.

Frida Kahlo, "Self Portrait With Monkey" (1938)

62. Sisina

You are Diana, fully armed:
Born to the chase, you beat aside
Each obstacle, and cry alarms
To those who'd overthrow your pride!

A woman, murderous and crazed,
You urge along the frenzied mob;
You mount the royal balustrade
And slay the scornful with a sob,

My dear Sisina! But your heart
Is tender still, and womanly;
The man who takes a lover's part

Will find you weeping tenderly,
As if that reservoir of tears
Would ransom one true cavalier.

Eugene Delacroix, "Liberty Leading the People" (1830)

63. To A Creole Lady

In a country of perfume, caressed by the sun,
Where palms drip forgetfulness into the eyes,
I discovered an arbor of violet lies,
And a lady of true Creole blood.

Her pale flesh is tinged with a tropical tan,
But this Circe is proud; she's the queen of the place;
With a confident eye and a smile on her face
She beguiles us, this huntress of Man.

Cher Madame, if you'd visit our glorious parks,
Lend the grace of your presence to ancient chateaux
On the banks of the Seine or the emerald Loire,

Your magnificent eyes in our gardens would grow
Such prolifigate poems in poetical hearts
That we'd bend more abased than the Negroes you know.

Louis Nicolas Adolphe Rinck, "Woman in Tignon" (1844)

64. Moesta et errabunda
(Grieving and wandering)

Tell me, my love, where did your spirit fly,
Above the dirty waters of the town,
Across the ocean, underneath a sky
Clear and transparent as a virgin's gown?
Tell me, my love, where did your spirit fly?

They comfort us, the rhythms of the sea.
What devil gave the sea its rolling song,
That rocks our cradle like a lullaby?
The tide recedes in breakers far and long,
And comforts us with rhythms of the sea.

Take me away, you carriages and ships!
The city's dirt is falling from the cries
That issue from the parting of your lips;
From dissipation's shadow passing by,
Take me away, you carriages and ships.

How far away the perfumed paradise,
Immodest joy that kissed the skies above!
A true heart floated on the swelling tide,
And everything was worthy of their love.
How far away, that perfumed paradise!

A woman I remember, ever green,
Our music, poetry, the precious time
We spent together, when it truly seemed
That nothing more was needed: you, and I,
A woman I remember, ever green,

Inhabiting a sinless paradise,
Now farther off than India, or China;
Landing upon me with its savagery,
Your memory wounds me like a dirty knife,
Inhabiting a sinless paradise!

Berthe Morisot, "The Harbor at Lorient" (1869)

Edouard Manet, "The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil" (1874)

65. The Revenant

Like a night-crawling angel
With eyes of a snake
I'll revisit your room
In a silent glissade,

And I'll kiss you, dark beauty,
With chills like the moon,
And caress you like serpents
Invading your womb.

When the bruised morning comes,
There's a cold vacant space
By your side, and within.

Many others would win you
With kindness, my dear --
But I prefer fear.

A scene from "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)

66. Autumn Sonnet

They say to me, your burning crystal eyes,
"Strange love, what merit can you find in me?"
- Allure, and quiet! Hating every vice
But innocence and sensuality,

I won't disclose to you my secret life.
It is a lullaby that has no sense,
A story writ in words of leaping fire -
I hate all passion and intelligence!

Let us be friends. Love in his tower lies,
Shadowed and ambushed, bends his fatal bow.
I know the weapons of his arsenal:

Crime, horror, madness! — flowers of the soul.
Aren't you, like me, a dappled sunlit foal,
A deer in autumn, shivering and cold?

John William Waterhouse, "Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden" (1903)

67. The Sorrows of the Moon

The moon dreams on tonight in indolence,
A Beauty who, before she goes to sleep,
Caresses, with a hand bemused and light,
The swelling contour of her milky breasts;

Upon the satin backs of tumbling clouds,
She languishes, surrenders to the night,
And casts her eyes upon a pallid dream
That floats into the sky like fragile shrouds.

But when at times, in her futility,
She might disclose a single furtive tear,
The faithful Poet, enemy of sleep,

Will capture in his hand that drop so dear,
And hide that pearl from every jealous eye,
Within his heart, a glow-worm in the night.

Portrait of a courtesan (Venetian, 18th century)

68. Cats

The lovers amorous, the dry savants,
Come to resemble, as they grow more old,
Their sweet and prideful, strong and gentle cats,
Who wrap themselves in fur against the cold.

Patrons of fevered love and languid art,
They prowl in shadows where the dead abide;
I'd even hitch them to my funeral cart,
If they could bear the insult to their pride.

Like sphinxes guarding long-forgotten graves
Who dream forever in the Silent Land,
They crouch unmoving, with a solemn face;

Their loins are teeming with electric sparks,
And in their eyes, a fine and golden sand
Is scattered like a watercourse of stars.

Ernest Hemingway and cat

69. The Owls

The silent owls are perched upon
The shadowed yews that shelter them;
Their bloodshot eyes dart up and down
Like spirits on a shelf.

All motionless they will remain
Until the melancholy hour
Of twilight, and the setting sun,
When darkness drives them out.

Their stillness shows the prancing ones
That in this world the thing to hate
Is novelty's delirium:

Distracted by each passing shade,
Man always bears the punishment
Of wanting to improve his place.

Spotted Owl Babies

70. A Pipe

I am the Author's sooty pipe;
Black as an Aborigine,
Humble and homely, carbonized,
He puffs upon me constantly.

When he is low, my fumes arise
To beckon homeward from the green,
Like cottages whose wives prepare
A supper for the laborer,

And I will catch his wandering soul
Within the tracery of blue
That rises from my glowing mouth,

Releasing nebulas of balm
To warm his heart, and gently heal
The wound he carries from his toil.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe" (1889)

71. Music

When music takes me like the sea,
A fading star
And clouds that hover on the deep
Beckon afar,

My chest puffs out; a running sail,
Canvas unfurled,
I rock upon the swelling waves
That night obscures,

And tremble like a ship unmade
In ecstasy;
The passion of a hurricane

Dismembers me;
After the storm, the calm reflects
My helplessness.

Camille Pissarro, "Bords De Loise, Environs de Pontoise" (1872)

72. A Poet's Tomb

One evening, when you are dead,
Some Christian in charity
Will bury your vaunted flesh
Behind an old rubbish-heap;

The chaste stars, indifferent,
Will lower their eyes in sleep;
The spider will cast his web,
The adder his progeny;

And you will hear endlessly,
Above the ill-fated stones,
The call of a wolf in heat,

The clicking of witches' bones,
The rutting of old libertines,
And the plotting of cut-throat thieves.

An abandoned graveyard

73. The Fourth Horseman
(Une Gravure fantastique)

A jeering skeleton wears nothing but,
Grotesquely perched upon his grinning skull,
A gaudy crown that rings out carne-val.
He needs no whip to spur his horse above
The highways that Apocalypse distains;
With foaming nostrils, epileptic beast,
He crushes underfoot on darkling plains
The aspirations of humanity.
The Horseman lifts his all-consuming blade
Above the armies trampled in his dust;
That cruel Prince, who knows his subjects well,
Inspects their graveyards, infinite and chill,
Illuminated by a lifeless sun,
The human race; past, present, and to come.

John Hamilton Mortimer, "Death on a Pale Horse" (ca. 1775)

74. A Cheerful Dead Man

I want to dig myself a secret trench,
In soil fat and full of crawling worms,
Where I can lay my tired bones and rest
Forever underneath the quiet earth.

I hate memorials and testaments;
While living, I disdained adversity.
Now you may feed upon my tainted flesh,
O worms! Good friends, who neither hear nor see,

I give my blood for your rememberance,
A dead man full of joy for you to taste!
Tunnel my carrion without regret,

Wise hedonists and children of decay,
For this poor body, dead among the dead,
Is nothing - refuse, melting in the rain.


75. Hatred's Vessel

Hatred, a vessel with a hollow leg,
Like Drunkenness, is never satisfied.
Desperate Vengeance mixes in the dregs
Red buckets full of blood and dead men's eyes.

The Devil tunnels out the firmament
To flush away a thousand years of pain,
But Hatred still would bring back from the dead
Its victims, just to torture them again,

For Hatred is an evil carousel
Whose thirst grows greater with each drink it takes;
Cut off one head, another takes its place.

The meanest drunk eventually must fall
Insensible, but Hatred in despite
Drinks on alone, in never-ending night.

Pietro Pajetta, "Hatred" (1896)

76. The Broken Bell

How poignant, on a January night,
To contemplate, before a crackling log,
The sound of bells that sing at eventide,
And memories that peer out from the fog.

Happy the bells with lusty brazen throat,
That chant so proud and strong in spite of age!
Unflaggingly they sound the ancient notes,
And ring the changes old musicians play.

But when my soul would sing until the dawn,
A skeleton inside a ragged coat,
To consecrate the stone it lies upon,

It shudders like a soldier in the rain,
And breaks at last, a rattle in its throat,
Exhausted from the effort that it made.

Bell cemetery (Hamburg, 1947)

77. Spleen (I)

February hates this wretched town;
Its gloomy chill pours down the chimney flues
And covers graveyards like a second shroud --
The cold hates living men, and dead ones too.

My poor thin cat is scratching frozen ground;
He'll scrape raw skin before the night is through.
A ghost is rattling in the waterspout -
E. Poe, I think, or someone of that crew.

A church-bell tolls, a dying coal blinks out,
A rheumy timepiece beats a cracked tattoo,
While in a filthy reeking deck of cards

That some insane old woman left to you,
The Queen of Spades and dubious Jack of Hearts
Dissect the bygone loves that they once knew.

Johan Barthold Jongkind, "Paris in Winter" (1874)

78. Spleen (II)

I have more memories than a thousand years.
A chest of drawers stuffed full of bric-a-brac,
Love-letters, verses, papers in arrears,
Dark locks of hair encased in dull shellac,
Hide fewer secrets than my heavy head:

It is a burial vault, a pyramid
Inhabited by some forgotten corpse;
The silver moon will shun that funeral bed,
Where lazy worms extend without remorse
To chew upon the memories of the dead.

In old boudoirs of withered violets,
Among decaying remnants of the past,
A Boucher print of love and wantonness
Absorbs the scent of every broken flask.

No time so long as every limping day,
And all the snowy years when anarchy
And boredom ravages your shining force.
A heaped-up cairn of immortality,

You think you live, but truly are no more
Than just another ruined block of stone
Who sleeps enchanted in the Silent Land
Until your song awakens with the Sun.

Antique booth

Colossus of Memnon

79. Spleen (III)

I am the King of Rain, and dark and cold;
Rich without power, young and very old,
I scorn all tutors and all pedagogues;
I'm bored with all my beasts and hunting dogs.
The falcon and his pirouetting prey
Disturb my rest with their relentless cries,
And all the foolery of japing clowns
Expires against the granite of my brow.
I lie upon my bed, a cruel crypt;
Ladies who live to love a shining prince
Adorn themselves in silk, but never win
A smile from me, a starving skeleton:
Even the alchemists of old can not
Create a flower from a dried-up clot!
Now in a marble bath the Romans made,
I lie, and open up my bleeding veins;
Unable to revive the dull cadaver,
Let Lethe flow, mingled with blood and water!

Jan Matejko, "Stanczyk" (1862)

80. Spleen (IV)

When heavy skies weigh like a lid
Upon a land the clouds have hid,
And from each quarter of the wind
Day black as night comes rushing in,

Until the earth is beaten flat,
A cage where Longing, like a bat,
Buffets the walls with timid wings
And knocks her head on foul ceilings;

When the monsoon with swollen train
Imprisons you in cells of rain,
And dirty spiders creep and spread
Their cobwebs deep inside your head,

And bells of thunder peal on high,
Hurling invective to the sky,
They clamor like a homeless tribe
Of spirits baying in the night.

Dark hearses in procession grind
Across the landscape of your mind,
Hope dissipates like hollow dreams,
And Anguish plants its flag in me.

Buonamico Buffalmacco, "Hell" (14th century fresco in the Camposanto, Pisa)

81. Obsessions

I fear the forest, like a great
Basilica where echoes boom
Of some dark De Profundis prayed
Within my heart's sad anteroom.

I hate the Ocean, for the roar
That disregards us as it mocks
The heart that seeks a better shore,
Though dashed to ruin on the rocks.

I love the Night when it is starless,
Speaks in tongues I cannot hear;
For I am empty, dark, and bare,

And every shadow is a canvas,
Sparkling on my eyelids where
A thousand frightful creatures stare.

Joseph Vernet, "The Shipwreck" (1772)

82. Death Wish

Discouraged soul, once eager for the fight,
The Dream that spurred you onward to the post
No longer wants to mount you! In the road
You stumble and collapse, and close your eyes.
Sleep like an animal, creature of light!

You are dead tired, subjugated soul!
The rage of war, the fever of desire,
The trumpet's call, the oboe's plaintive sigh,
The pleasure of a fleeting farandole -
Delightful Spring repudiates its hold!

The mouth of Time has eaten me alive,
A stiffened body underneath the snow;
When every refuge on the turning globe
Is lost to me, and every passion flies,
Come, Avalanche, and rip me from the heights!

Rosa Bonheur, "Dead Horse" (1852)

83. The Alchemy Of Sorrow

Nature! One man infuses you
With tears, another with delight.
To some, your vastness is a tomb;
To others, full of life.

Sorrow's a mystagogue I fear,
But follow still with faltering steps,
Reversing Midas' alchemy
To turn my gold to lead.

The power of that chemistry
Can change a sapphire into dust;
Beneath the shrouded sky I pause

To conjure up a former love,
And on that coast of porphyry
Raise her sarcophagus.

Albert Bierstadt, "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie" (1866)

84. Pride

From rolling skies and strange,
Tormented by my fate,
Into my soul a ray
Of lightning penetrates.

I never could forsake
Your dark, uncertain ways;
No Ovid, to bewail
The loss of heaven's grace.

The thunderclouds that sway
Like hearses on the plain,
Illuminate the gage

Of every fool's distain;
Their hellish gleams display
A pride no lust can slake.

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, "The Fall of the Titans" (1588-1590)

85. Self-Torment

I'll slap you calmly, without hate,
Like slaughterers who fell an ox;
The tears that wash your swollen face
Are like the flood from Moses' rock!

Desire from that bitter spring
Releases waters of our faith,
And images of suffering
To sanctify the desert waste.

Within the chambers of my heart
The echoes of your tearful song
Are drumbeats that inflame my soul,
And stanzas of our martyrdom.

I'm neither dead, nor am alive.
My heart is full of agony,
And every tear that fills your eyes
Can only serve to torment me:

Your diatribe within my head,
A memory of bitter pain,
Your poison burning in my blood,
A love I cannot tell from hate;

I smash my fist against my face,
The tortured and the torturer,
And break my limbs upon your brace,
Victim and executioner!

I drink the blood of my own heart,
A vampire burning in the light,
But decomposing in the dark,
Compelled to grimace, never smile!

Francisco Goya, "The Flagellants" (1808-1812)

86. Icarus

Platonic Form, an Ideal
Like Icarus, who flew and fell
Into the sewer of a Styx
Too foul for Heaven to unmix;

A foolish Angel, who esteemed
Humanity as worth his dreams,
And built his house on shifting sand --
A nightmare takes him by the hand.

He struggles in the stink and purl
Of oubliettes and whirlpools
Where Sirens pirouette like larks
And murder sailors in the dark.

With groping, outstretched hands he seeks
A glimpse of light, keys to release
His mind from caverns underground,
Where lizards mate without a sound.

The endless stairs he follows down,
Until, damned spirit, perches on
The edge of some uncharted hole
Whose odours magnify the soul.

The more he loves, the less he knows;
Obedient monsters watch him go.
Their phosphorescent eyes aglow
Will make the darkness darker grow.

A ship imprisoned in the Pole,
As in a cage of bright crystal,
Searching for sunlight to escape
The prison of that frozen strait,

I pause upon the precipice,
As cold as ice, and close my fist;
The Devil knows how, all too well,
To lead an Innocent to Hell!


Then face-to-face, sober and clear,
I see myself as in a mirror!
Truth at the bottom, so they say,
Is just a glimpse of one's own face,

Reflected by a subtle Fiend
Who in his mirror shows to me
The lodestar I have sought so long --
The fatal knowlege of the Wrong!

Charles Holroyd, "The Fall of Icarus" (1902)

87. The Clock

My heart begrudges every knock
That issues from the ticking clock,
Impartial deity, whose hand
Holds every life within its span.

A moth that flutters on the wing,
Time will devour every thing,
And every second takes a slice
From our ephemeral life.

Too soon the present turns to past,
As if we thought our tears would last.
Esto memor! redeem the time,
For you are mortal, and must die.

Our lives are measured by a clock
Whose minutes run out, drop by drop,
Sinner or saint, from all who live.
Time is a gambler, always wins,

And soon or late will come for you,
In spite of everything you do;
Repent or not, the hour will say:
"It's time to die: now, it's too late."

Man Ray, "Indestructible Object" (Madrid/Reina Sofia Museum/1923-1933/1982)


88. Roofscape

I touch the sky, and sing chaste pastorals
In garret rooms; an old astronomer,
I hear the church-bells ringing in my dreams,
And hymns that float upon the freshening wind.
A gargoyle, chin cupped in my hands, I see
The floating roofs of Paris, and converse
With chimneys, steeples, and the tiny birds
Whose songs are fragments of eternity.

How sweet it is to see, through evening fog,
The stars in heaven, evening window lamps,
Rivers of smoke, the glowing firmament,
The moon displaying all of her enchantments,
Every season: Summer, Spring, and Fall,
Winter descending with her pure-white robe;
My windows shuttered tight against the frost,
I build at night my fairy palaces,
And dream of vistas tinged with smoky blue,
Within whose verdant gardens fountains flow
From alabaster basins, children kiss,
And robins chant from rosy dawn to dusk.

Beneath my window, Riot walks the street;
I barely raise my head up from the desk,
For I am plunged in clandestine delight,
A wild magician; from my tower's height,
I conjure up the Springtime by my art,
A rising sun within a burning heart.

Sandro Botticelli, "Saint Augustine in His Study" (1480)

89. The Sun

On ancient streets, whose shuttered windows hide
The secret lusts of citizens inside,
It's noon: the sunlight beats down like a fist
On town and country, roof and pasturage;
I amble on, a headful of conceits,
And fence with rhymes that slip away from me,
And stumble over words like paving stones,
Or bump into a verse dreamed long ago.

The sun, our foster-father, feeds a crown
Of roses springing up in field and town,
Evaporates our cares into the sky,
And fills the heart with honey from his hive.
He sets the cripple skipping like a child
To sing in innocence, so sweet and high,
And fructifies the elegiac art
That blooms forever in our mortal heart.

The blazing sun, a poet and a king,
Illuminates each disregarded thing,
And visits, though disguised in humble clothes,
Each hospital, and every palace close.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Wheat Field behind Saint-Paul with Reaper" (1889)

90. To A Red-headed Beggar Girl

Pale tramp, dirty dress,
Your divine comeliness
Inspires a wretched
Poet, who adores
Your freckled sores.

The arch of your foot
Is to me far more graceful
Than queens in a novel.
Adorable coquette,
I'd clothe you in velvet.

I'd untie your ribbons,
Uncover your breasts,
And paw like a madman
Your sweet decollettes.
O beat me with pale
Ineffectual fists,
The Poet who offers you
This, and this, and this!

All the pearls of the Orient,
Rhymes of Belleau,
A Prince who would lick off
The dirt from your sole,
A Ronsard to worship
The tracks of your feet
And follow them furtively
To your retreat.

You'd collect in your bowers
All kisses and honors,
Subject to your laws
Every noble Valois,
Men who find you at twilight
By trash bins that lie
On the edge of the square.
I would take you right there,
But I can't even buy you
A cheap costume gem;
Who am I to condemn
All the lords that would fly
To your court in the night?
Pale Beauty, pass by!

Emile Deroy, "Petite Mendiante Rousse" (ca. 1843)

91. The Swan
To Victor Hugo


Andromache! I think of you, and weep
Beside the river-banks of Babylon.
Old Paris is no more; its ancient streets
Decline in memory to oblivion.

I walked across a newly-minted square,
And felt like one who'd lived his life apart;
New neighborhoods erupting everywhere,
Changing more quickly than a mortal's heart.

In memory I see the old shop fronts,
The crooked alleys, heaps of piled-up sacks,
Old stones with softened edges in the moss,
And cast-off treasuries of bric-a-brac.

Nearby, some animals were kept on view.
One winter's dawn, as I was walking there,
Through clouds of dust the sidewalk-cleaning crew
Had swept into the cold and silent air,

I saw a swan who had escaped the pound.
His snowy wings were beating in the dust,
His webbed feet stamped upon the hardened ground,
A lonely exile, wandering and lost.

He opened wide his beak, and cried aloud:
"Where is the shining lake where I was born?
When will the rain descend, and thunder sound?"
He stretched out his throat, defying God!


Well, Paris changes. Nothing can retrieve
The past when all its paving-stones are gone.
Rebuild the town, it's all the same to me,
It's just my foolish memories that weigh me down.

And so, on that new square before the Louvre,
I see Andromache, by calloused hands
Of conquering Greeks contemptuously enslaved,
Weeping for Hector in a widow's trance;

I see a negress with her bloodshot eye,
Thin and consumptive, dragging through the mud,
Who tries to get a glimpse of Africa
Beyond the bank of opaque morning fog;

I think of those who lost what can't be found,
Imbibing sadness with their mother's milk,
Shedding their fruitless tears without a sound,
Poor orphans drying out like flowers of silk,

Within the forest of a doubtful life
That only memory can lead us through;
I think of sailors shipwrecked on the tide,
Of exiles, souls enchained, and all of you.

Jan Asselijn, "The Threatened Swan" (ca. 1650)

92. Seven Old Men: To Victor Hugo

O city boiling with a thousand dreams,
Whose ghosts accost us in the light of day!
Through dirty yellow fog I made my way
Along your narrow wagon-cluttered streets,

Constricted in a crooked alleyway
That wrung me dry, and spat me out again.
Tall buildings hemmed me in on every side,
Like towering ships that moor against the quay.

The mirror of my soul was sad, and grey,
A morning mist that rolled upon the tide;
But I was young, and gathering my pride,
I pressed on through the damp and driving rain,

When suddenly a -thing- obstructed me,
A poor old beggar, colored like the mire.
My arms moved almost automatically,
One to secure, the other to relieve,

But this one wasn't easy. From his eyes
A malice deep as winter oozed within;
Even the beard projecting from his chin
Thrust out against the weather like a knife.

His back and legs formed a right-angled hinge,
A shape not bent, but broken; with his stick
He made a perfect quadrilateral
Upon the nasty frozen sidewalk slick.

A three-legged dog that tottered angrily,
He stomped upon the dirty snow and soot
As if to trample corpses underfoot,
And envied their insensibility -

But wait! There's more to come! Six more passed by,
Each like him, in succession; crooked backs,
And walking sticks, and evil eyes, and all
Proceeding from an unknown hell to hell,

Those seven duplicates, cruel apparitions,
Look-alikes erupting from the mist,
Horrific and grotesque, a mad parade!
A man could look on them, and go insane.

Foulness incarnate, each his sire and brother,
Repeat the wretched story over and over,
Crazed and ironic, yet they still survive,
A pack of cripples, wallowing in spite.

Then like a drunkard cursed with double sight,
I stumbled into sleep, but woke disturbed
By chills and fever in the dead of night,
Felled by that vision, crazy and absurd.

In vain my reason tried to keep its hold;
A raging storm had stripped the mast away,
And left my soul to dance upon the waves,
Across the Boundless, infinite and cold.

John Thomas Smith, "An Old Man in Tattered Clothes" (1816)

93. The Little Old Ladies
To Victor Hugo


Upon the Paris streets that wind around
Its peeling monuments in their distress,
The little ladies shuffle up and down;
I'm dumbstruck at the sight, and recollect

These crooked crones were women long ago,
And even Beauties once! See how they go,
With widows' humps and fraying petticoats;
But we should love them, for they still have souls.

They totter on, absurd comediennes,
And shy at every stone upon the path;
Malicious winds have torn away from them
Embroidered purses, relics of the past.

Like wounded birds that drag a broken wing,
They stubbornly endure, like marionettes
Who dance against their will, pulled by the strings
That heartless Time employs without regret!

They may be old, but still their gimlet eyes
Reflect the stars that glittered in the spring,
When young girls' faces echoed the Divine,
And laughed, amazed, at every shining thing.

- When undertakers measure out the size
Of their poor coffins, it is much the same
As they would measure for a sleeping child,
Equality mysterious and strange!

I contemplated that surreal tribe,
Proceeding in the helplessness of age
Across the turmoil of the capital,
Shifting unquiet to their final rest;

I wondered, thinking of their patient lives,
The histories even the old forget,
How many times the workmen must revise
The shape of boxes that contain the dead.

Their eyes are wells that hold a million years,
The crucibles where golden metal bled;
Their breasts are dry, but once were full of tears
By which Unfortunates were kindly fed!


I see the shades of Hazard's votaries,
The chorus girls who tried to get along,
The mercenaries and celebrities
That all the world embraced when they were young -

And more than these, the ones who sought in vain
The threadbare services of sacrifice,
Who blended honey from the bitter pain
That still reflected Heaven in their eyes;

One for her country losing everything,
One for her husband cowering in fear,
Another for her children suffering -
They made a swollen river with their tears!


I followed one of them along a trench
Made bloody by the sky's vermilion hounds;
She sat alone upon a peeling bench
And tilted up her head to hear the sounds

That flooded from a concert, rich in brass,
That soldiers played upon our public parks;
New life emerging with the greening grass,
New valor beating in the townsman's heart.

She sat up straight, with keen and piercing eye,
An eagle scanning patches of the ground
Who stood so still in searching for her prey
That laurel grew upon her marble brow!


I trudge along the streets without complaint,
Along the streets with their chaotic life,
Mothers with bleeding hearts, hetairai, saints,
That every rascal knew, in days gone by.

You dazzled us with all your glorious charms,
But now you pass unknown; a drunken fool
Insults you with a prurient remark;
A dirty, nasty child nips at your heel.

You bend your backs along the crooked street;
Passing the men who worshipped you in vain,
You shuffle slow into eternity,
Poor timid shadows, bashful and ashamed!

But from the wings I watch you tenderly
And fix my eyes on your uncertain steps
As if you were my daughters, and I see
The love that all the vanished time forgets,

The heart that passion brought at last to bloom,
The glorious days, now past, but filled with light,
The soul that shined in me with your virtue,
The spirit that you filled with every vice!

You ancient Eves, women I hold in awe,
I bid you farewell in the evening;
You shudder underneath God's fearsome claw;
Among the wrack, O death, where is your sting?

Giorgione, "La Vecchia" (ca. 1502-1508)

94. The Blind

Those frightening and strange somnambulists
March in the street like blank-faced mannequins,
And dart unseeing glances everywhere.
My soul encounters them, and shrinks in fear.

There is a living spark beneath their lids,
That strain towards heaven as if to catch a glimpse
Of something too far off; forever blind,
Their solemn heads uplift to scan the sky.

They navigate across the evening,
Tapping their withy rods across the street,
Seeing nothing, but hearing everything;

You swirl about them, laugh, and play, and sing,
O pleasure-loving City, cruel and kind;
I stumble on, unseeing as the blind!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Blind Leading The Blind" (1568)

95. A Passing Glance

Persisting through the clamor of the lane,
Slender and tall, but seeming very sad,
A woman dressed in black with careless hand
Lifted the swinging scallop of her hem,

Uncovered to my sight an ivory leg.
Infatuated by her passing glance,
I looked into her eyes: a hurricane,
Pleasure that kills, sweetness that fascinates,

A lightning bolt that flashes and is gone,
Within whose depths I start as one reborn!
I'll meet you somewhere in eternity,

Beautiful girl! Not knowing what you flee.
The moment passed, and you continued on,
A woman that I might have loved, but lost.

William Oxer, "The Glance (2)" (2015)

96. The Digging Skeletons


In anatomical displays
Of books like wrinkled mummies splayed
On albums spread along the quays,
Drifting upon the sooty breeze,

Exemplars of the dignity
And learning of baroque artistes --
Those figures on a Roman hill
Communicate their beauty still

To us, whose eyelids contemplate
Cadavers risen from the grave,
Now put to work again upon
The earth, the digging skeletons.


They dig the soil, cadaverous,
Muscles exhibited and flayed,
Exalt the holes they excavate,
And love the dirt that they heap up.

Dead farmers of a field of stones,
What overlord enchains their will?
Whose barn is it that they must fill,
What is the crop they have to grow?

The lessons that the dead endure
Display the hardness of our fate;
We find that that even in the grave,
Our promised rest is not secure.

Eternity betrays our trust,
Forever we must bend our backs,
And still we have to work, alas!
All things, Death even, lie to us:

In afterlife, eternally
We have to skin the stony clay
And push a heavy iron spade
With ragged, bare, and bleeding feet.

Andreas Vesalius, "De humani corporis fabrica" (1543)

97. Twilight

On padded feet, friend of the criminal,
Evening descends, and stepping like a wolf
The sky envelops us, a grand alcove
That shelters savages and beasts of prey.

Beloved evening, rest of those who work!
The scholar lays his tired head at last,
The laborer is snoring in his croft;
As twilight deepens, shadowing the lost,

Consumptives hack among the gambling dens,
And beauties of the evening descend,
Disclose their imperfections to the lane
Until their lovers make them whole again.

Twilight absolves me in its ring of fire:
Down narrow lanes, the leavings of desire
Attend the kitchens and the orchestras
Where prostitutes and thieves rub up to us.

Burglars and sharps, the shadows of the night,
Are lurking in the darkened alleyways
Where gamblers click their rotten ivory bones;
I stumble on the narrow cobblestones

Among the homeless, hawking gobs of spit,
Poor dying bastards who have never lived!

Luigi Nono, study (1875) for "Abbandonati"

98. The Gamblers

The ancient courtesans in faded chairs,
Who simper underneath their pencilled brows,
Attend with smiling and distracted airs
The jangling coins they try to disavow.

Among the gaming tables, toothless lips
Bite down upon the rictus of a glance;
Their fingers, questing underneath their slips,
Search empty pockets for another chance,

And underneath the dirty ceiling, light
From flickering lamps illuminates the face
Of one poor cursed poet, who's resigned
To live until his blood has boiled away;

I see that picture in a dream again,
Until I close my drunken eyes in sleep:
The gambler lurking in his favorite den,
Leans on his elbows, silent, envying

The stubborn passion of enchanted souls,
The votaries of blissful randomness,
Who gamble everything upon a roll!
They sell themselves for nothing; I confess,

I envy all of them that thrilling blur,
For I am one of them, a fated wretch
Who stares at the Abyss, and who prefers
Suffering to death, and Hell to nothingness!

Georges de La Tour, "The Card Sharp with the Ace of Diamonds" (ca. 1636-1638)

99. Danse macabre
À Ernest Christophe

Around the dusty streets, a skeleton
Is dancing proud and free, as if alive,
With handkerchief and gloves, a bold display
Of flowers, and the mincing style
Of some bizarre coquette on holiday.

The bees swarm up her naked shoulder-bones
Like wanton brooks that rub against the rocks,
Concealing from the whistles of the mob
The funeral charms she wants to cover up:
O do not hate her, you who still can love.

Her deep eye-sockets, vacuous and dark,
A crown of flowers on her head arrayed,
The skull that trembles on her fragile neck,
Her former beauty, cunningly displayed!
Some men will label you a travesty,

Ignorant simpletons, who cannot know
The figurations of mortality:
Tall skeleton, you satisfy my soul!
You come to taunt the living with your smile,
And show your shameless carcass like a dream

Of pleasures long-forgotten, and desire
That binds us to the world that we see.
The song of violins, the candle's flame,
Put off until tomorrow our unquiet rest;
Within our heart, a fire set ablaze

That neither death nor hell can ever quench,
Infinite well of folly and of sin!
Between her ribs, a snake is wandering.
To tell the truth, I think her coquetry
Will never find its merited reward;

What man of us can bear her gallantry?
Only the strongest can endure that storm.
The chaos of her eyes is full of fear;
No mortal man can look without a tear
Upon the smiling rictus of her mouth,

For who has never loved a skeleton,
If only in his dreams? Her rich perfume,
And pretty dress, is just a thing undone
That covers the corruption of the tomb.
Proud skeletons, my friends, the Dance of Death

Will take you places you don't want to go!
From frozen Seine to Ganges' burning bones,
Humanity is dancing, never sees
The Angel's trumpet playing on its keys,
And Death itself is laughing at our jokes.

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel

100. I Love Your Lies

You taunt me with an enigmatic glance,
A lazy hoyden underneath the sky;
Although you're bored, and feeling insolent,
And wandering through the madness of your life,

Reflected in the light upon your crown,
Your beauty draws me in, with morbid charms;
Within your eyes, as in a portrait drawn,
The fires of evening kindle into dawn.

How beautiful you are, and strangely fresh!
Upon your body, swelling like a peach,
A skillful lover carves into your flesh
The symbols of his false concupiscence.

Fruit of my autumn, well I can discern
The fragrance of your ripe and blushing skin;
You are a pillow, and a funeral urn
That lies on beds of flowers and regrets.

I know your eyes, so deep, profound, and sad,
That hold no precious secrets in their orb;
They are two empty sockets, that once held
An image of the girl you might have been;

No, it is not enough that you relent,
Once in a while, to grace us with your "truth."
I love your lies, and your indifference,
Refulgent beauty, and your careless youth.

Paul Antoine de La Boulaye, "Belle Epoque beauty reclining on a settee with roses" (1907)

101. Our Little House
(To the poet's mother)

I still remember, past the city's edge,
The peaceful cottage where we used to live,
A worn Pomona, and the plaster Love
Concealed by shadows in our twilight grove.
The setting sun reposed its lambent beams
Upon us at the turn of evening -
The jealous sun, that eyed us, envious,
And spread itself upon our table cloth,
A linen tinged with opaline and rose
Where, in the twilight, curtains warmly glowed!

Francesco Melzi, "Pomona and Vertumnus" (ca. 1518-1522)

102. The Kindly Nurse
(for Alice Holt)5

I want to lie upon her breast,
Though she is gone;
My kindly nurse is laid to rest
Beneath the lawn.
We still should lay
Some flowers on her grave.

Winds of October weep,
The trees fall down;
Beneath their monuments
And winding-sheets, the dead live on
And suffer the indifference
Of those who sleep
Warm in their beds.

Dissolving in the lea,
Decayed among
The delving worms,
The ice of winter drips upon
Her slighted tomb.

And if, some evening,
I saw her, once again, sitting
In her accustomed chair,
Watching her babe, full-grown,
With love, and weeping there,
What could I give to her?
A life, too hard to bear.

Etienne Aubry, "Farewell to the Wet Nurse" (1776-1777)

103. Mist and Rain

I'll have no season but the autumn fog,
Or winter's damp and cold, or chilly spring,
When weeping rain turns every street to mud.
It fits my mood, this absence of the sun.

Above my roof, a rusty weather-cock
Is screeching in the wind for everyone.
I spread my wings upon the stormy sky;
See me, old friends, and look how far I fly!

I will not mourn the summer that has gone.
Nothing is sweeter to my fainting heart
Than mist and rain, consolers of my breast,

Unless - perhaps - a lover, or a friend,
Would take a chance, one still and moonless night,
To ease my sadness on her unmade bed.


104. Parisian Dream
(To Constantin Guys)


In the morning, a far-off scene
Recalled from the previous night:
A landscape of perfect dream,
None other had seen its like.

From that miraculous sleep,
Obeying a novel whim,
I had banned the disorder of trees,
Of flowers and shrubs that live,

And instead, true visionary,
I conjured within my chamber
The monumentality
Of marble, metal, and water.

In palatial passageways
Where staircases twist and fold,
Cunning waterfalls cascade
Into basins of purest gold.

Like curtains of flawless crystal
Those great waterfalls were hung,
Descending from walls of metal
To precipitous bastions.

Tall columns of marble trees
Encircled the silent lakes
Where sculptures of Naiades
Admired their mirrored shapes,

And vagrant blue rivers flowed
With an irresistible urge
Past embankments of green and rose
To the edge of the universe,

Where clashing cliffs from the height
Their sportive waves deflect,
And glaciers glimmer and shine
From a sea that their facets reflect!

Insouciant and calm,
Dear Ganges, from the heavens,
Poured out the treasure from
Her urn on jewelled canyons.

For my own pleasure, I made
That ocean to flood, in the dark,
A hidden limestone cave
With brilliant shining sparks.

All colors, even the black,
Were shimmering and bright,
Like a train that is stopped on the tracks,
Or a sunbeam crystallized.

No starlight illuminates
The wonders that I require,
That mountains irradiate
By their own internal fire!

And around that shifting light
There hovers, too awful to see,
The negation of sound, and the sight
Of the shores of eternity.


But when I awoke with a start
On the floor of my unswept room,
That dream excavated my heart
Like the bite of advancing doom;

The clockwork with deadly tones
Was brutally striking noon,
And upon my aching bones
The sky opened up like a tomb.

Art museum of the Louis Vuitton Foundation (Frank Gehry, 2014)

105. Sunrise

The morning trumpet rips apart the tents;
The morning wind howls on the battlements.

It is the hour when nightmare's cloven feet
Are trampling adolescents in their beds;
When night-lamps, with their cyclopean eye,
Blood-shot and swinging, stain the dawning day,
When lethargy oppresses every soul,
And sleeping innocents wake up in Hell.
The wind dries out the tears upon your face;
Your heart has run away; you're tired of loving;
And as for me, I'm sick to death of writing.

Now here and there, chimneys begin to smoke.
The ladies of the night lie in repose,
Their jaws wide open and their eyelids closed.
Poor women, with their dangling breasts exposed,
Blow on their fingers and their scavenged coals.
It is the hour when poverty and cold
Make birthing women scream, and men grow old.

Like bloody coughs that swallow up a sob,
A distant cock-crow tears the morning fog.
The walls of hospitals are bathed in mist,
Where invalids hawk out their copper spit
And perish with an interrupted moan.
On broken streets, the rake-hells drift towards home.

Dawn shivers in her gown of rose and green,
Advancing steadily upon the Seine,
And Paris, rubbing sleepy eyes, awakes,
And hitches up its pants to meet the day.



106. The Soul Of Wine

A song of brotherhood within the flask,
The spirit of the wine decanted me:
"Open my prison, tear away the wax,
And let me flow, insouciant and free!

"Give me your life, give me a singing heart
Upon the hilltops! You will not regret
The prospects that you give up for your art;
I'm not ungrateful, nor malevolent.

"I understand your pain, and know the cost,
And feel a boundless joy when I relieve
The Poet of the heart within his breast;
I'll make you happy, for a while at least.

"On Sundays, do you hear the choruses
Of hope that ride upon a game of chess?
Roll up your sleeves, and drink, and be content
To drink until the table hits your chest.

"I'll give you back the kisses of your wife,
Return to you the courage of your son,
And give to you in perpetuity
My knowledge of how the web of time is spun:

"Ambrosia, the precious grains we flung
Into the wine-vats of eternity;
Some flowers there may grow, a drunken mob
Of light and shadow, springing up to God!"

Edgar Degas, "The Absinthe Drinker" (1875-1876)

107. The Rag-Pickers' Wine

In a district of alleyways,
Humanity churns in a mass;
In a lantern, imprisoned flames
Are beating against the glass.

Inclining his head to the mob,
A rag-picker trips on the lane,
And pours out his heart in a sob,
Like a poet with nothing to say.

With curses he faces the crowd;
A drunkard beneath the sky,
He comforts the innocent, sings aloud,
And dictates a law for mankind:

Get out of the street! In the glow,
The carousers have come out to play:
All the drunkards are roistering home,
Singing loud at the end of the day.

A miasma of wine surrounds
These workers upon their march;
They imagine a pathway of flowers,
Of flags, a triumphal arch,

Cheering women, a deafening noise
Of bugles and beating drums,
A vision of friendship and joy
In the semblance of drunken love!

Pouring wine through its thirsty throat
Like a river, Humanity
Does its best just to stay afloat,
And worships the power it feeds,

To comfort the poets who weep
In the knowledge that all men must die.
God from his remorse fashioned sleep;
Man molded the sun-kissed vine!

Jacob Jordaens, "The Feast of the Bean King" (1640-1645)

108. The Murderer's Wine

My woman's dead; I'm free at last!
Now I can drink my fill;
A spendthrift drunkard, love gone bad,
Her crying cut my soul.

But I am happy as a king;
The sky is pure and fair,
The weather pardons everything
That I have done; I swear

It takes so much to cram and swill
The thirst that tortures me,
That all God's vinyards cannot fill
Her grave, eternally!

Invoking tender sentiments
We knew in former times,
The heart that beat within her breast,
A wish to reconcile,

We made a tryst that evening,
A venue she could guess -
And she showed up, the foolish thing!
We're all demented, more or less.

She looked so hopeful at the end;
I took her pain, and cried -
Although I loved her, still I had
To say: "It's time to die!"

I broke her neck, and flung her down -
I would forget it, if I can! -
Into a well, and piled the stones
Upon her body, like a man!

There's none who understands me, none
Among this dirty crowd
Who ever dared, like cursed ones,
To make of wine a shroud.

These dullards, as impervious
As plates of iron, through and through
The winter's cold and summer's rust,
Don't know what love can do:

Its phials of poison, cruel lust,
Alarms and fate, and crashing stones!
Now is the time when clinging dusk
Escorts the drunkards to their homes,

— But I am free, and walk alone;
I'll drink myself to death, or near
As I can come to it tonight,
Lie down without remorse or fear,

Insensate as a sleeping dog,
And I'll not mind if rambling carts,
All loaded down with rods and rocks,
Will tear my savage limbs apart,

Or crush my forehead like a grape!
To Nothingness or Hell I'm bent;
Wherever gone, I'll drink in hate
The wine of Jesus' Sacrament!

Abraham Bosse, "The Wife-Beater" (ca. 1633)

Adriaen Brouwer, "The Smoker" (ca. 1636)

109. The Gambler's Wine

Noise and confusion, shadows circumspect,
The music throbbing like a world in pain,
The touch of some solicitous coquette,
I barely notice, centered on the game.

Between my palms, a shrinking pile of chips
Will win or not, depending on the roll;
She gives me, just for luck, a passing kiss:
Is this the time that I should bet it all?

But none of that is worth as much, O wine,
As all the self-deception you bestow
Upon the gambler's obsessive soul;

You fill him up with unrelenting pride,
Give him a cheat that escalates the odds,
And make him -briefly- equal to the gods!

Paul Cezanne, "The Card Players" (1894-1895)

110. The Lovers' Wine

The heavens open wide today -
Without a bridle, unconstrained,
We'll ride on steeds of wine
To fairy palaces divine!

The bitter melodies we sing
Would agitate an angel's wing,
And leap into the sky -
Our spirits tremble, as we try
To catch the evening flying past,

Until the morning dawns at last;
We'll sow our seed upon the wind,
Our spirit to the Empyrean,
In low cafes, where lovers find
Their Heaven in a glass of wine!

Lovers Embracing (Mughal, ca. 1630)


111. Destruction

A demon agitates my rest,
Perfumes the air that I respire;
I swallow him, and in my chest
I feel the burning of desire.

An Incubus wears the disguise
Of beautiful seductresses,
Who hypocritically apply
Their magic potions to my lip,

And lead me far from Heaven's gate
To lands where poets cover up
Their bloody rags and weeping sores

In marble shrines, and men adore
Their shining effigies in vain:
Destruction lives upon that plain!

Jacob de Wet the Younger, "Sodom and Gomorrah" (ca. 1680)

112. A Martyr
- Drawing by an unknown master

Among scented bottles and robes
Bearing accents of delicate lace,
And portraits of decadent rogues
Wearing doublets in gilded frames,

In a hothouse where wilting boquets
Decompose in the atmosphere,
And the shadows of candle-flames
Are perfumed with the odor of fear,

A headless cadaver pours
Upon saturated sheets
Crimson blood, that the linen absorbs
As thirstily as a field.

We can't look away; in a dream
We behold her severed head
On the table, its coiffure agleam
With jewels and ornaments,

And the eyes of that pale buttercup
Straining upwards, as empty and wan
As the disk of the shivering sun
That stares to the heaven at dawn.

Her corpse in abandon displayed,
Sprawling out with legs open wide,
Shows the splendor that nature made,
Now exposed to each casual eye,

A stocking embroidered with gold
Like a memory passing by,
With a fabric of sheerest rose
And a garter that winks on the sly.

The eyes of a langorous nude
In a portrait hanging above
Are gazing out into the room;
They have witnessed an unwholesome love,

A guilty debauchery,
The kisses that bad angels made,
An exposure enticing to see,
And a devil concealed in the shade.

Her shoulders and narrow waist,
Like a serpent poised to strike,
Are preserved in their posthumous grace
By the candle's flickering light.

For she was quite young, and too bored
To resist her cupidinous life;
And so, once again, for a promised reward,
She gave herself up with a sigh,

A martyr, on whom her man spilled
His lust when she was alive!
Now that she is dead, he will fill
Her body, in ecstasy.

He will lift up her head in his hand,
And press on her frozen teeth
The clandestine kiss of a man
Who has finally set her free

From the passion of living flesh;
She no longer cares who may see
The incontinent stains that are left
On the refuse of life that she led;

O murderer! You, who debauched
Her lips in their dying breath,
Must endure the forgiveness you saw
In her eyes, that will haunt you till death.

Marie (detail from "Rolla" by Henri Gervex, 1878)

Saint Winefride (1929), by Margaret Agnus Rope. Holy Name Church, Oxton.

Fra Angelico, "The Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian" (ca. 1425-1450)

113. Lesbos

Mother of Grecian sensuality,
Lesbos, your kisses moody as a sigh,
Fresh as the melons ripening in heat,
Adorn your languid days and fevered nights,
Mother of Grecian sensuality!

Lesbos, your kisses moody as a sigh,
Secret and stormy, like a waterfall,
Adorn your languid days and fevered nights,
A poetess that legendary time recalls,
Lesbos, your kisses moody as a sigh!

Secret and stormy, like a waterfall,
Sappho, whose every follower is fair!
A poetess that legendary time recalls,
Your kisses fly upon the perfumed air,
Secret and stormy, like a waterfall.

Sappho, whose every follower is fair,
Your body is a curve the god caressed;
Your kisses fly upon the perfumed air,
And every touch is burning as it blessed,
Sappho, whose every follower is fair.

Your body is a curve the god caressed;
Let disapproving Plato turn his eyes.
Your every touch is burning as it blessed.
In secret groves sequestered by your cries,
Your body is a curve the god caressed.

Let disapproving Plato turn his eyes,
You are the priestess of this hallowed place;
In secret groves sequestered by your cries,
Love wins the martyr's palm in your embrace.
Let disapproving Plato turn his eyes!

You are the priestess of this hallowed place,
And earn our pardon by the martyrdom
Of love that wins the palm in your embrace;
Which of the gods will dare to be your judge?
You are the priestess of this hallowed place,

And earn our pardon by the martyrdom
Of tears, that flow from mountains to the sea.
Which of the gods will dare to be your judge,
Or will avenge the treachery you flee?
You earn our pardon by the martyrdom

Of tears that flow from mountains to the sea,
The tears of Lesbos, flowing from the clouds;
Who will avenge the treachery you flee,
Of love forsaken, and the silent sob
Of tears, that flow from mountains to the sea?

The tears of Lesbos, flowing from the clouds
Upon Leucadia's summit, softly weep
For love forsaken, and the silent sob
Of sons and daughters of mortality -
The tears of Lesbos, flowing from the clouds,

Upon Leucadia's summit, softly weep,
Daughter of Lesbos, who betrayed your cult.
The sons and daughters of mortality
Remember you, and eat the bitter salt
Upon Leucadia's summit! Softly weep,

Daughter of Lesbos, who betrayed your cult;
You plumb the sea, and all your poets burn,
Remember you, and eat the bitter salt
Of Man's betrayal, and a heart that yearns,
Daughter of Lesbos, who betrayed your cult!

Raphael, "Sappho" (1511; detail from "The Parnassus" in the Sistine Chapel)

Simeon Solomon, "Sappho and Erinna" (1864)

114. Delphine and Hippolyta

On a cushion impregnate with sweat,
In the glow of a guttering lamp,
Hippolyta dreamed of the potent hand
That parted her innocence.

She was seeking a gem in the sand,
Or the transparent skies of the past,
Like a sailor who cannot turn back,
On an ocean that's too far from land.

Futile tears, unsatisfied
Ran all down her beautiful face;
Undone by emotions unexplained,
She opened her arms with a sigh.

Contentedly at her feet,
Delphine turned a predator's gaze
Like a lion who watches the prey
She'd already slashed with her teeth,

Or a beauty who knelt to the frail,
All the better to beguile;
Delphine savored her triumph awhile,
Then reached out her arms to the girl.

She was searching her eyes, sans regret,
For the pleasure, sharp and bold,
That the face of Experience bestows
On a naive innocent!

"Hippolyta, our secret love
Conceals the north wind from the rose,
Preserving us in chastity;
Hippolyta, do you approve?

My kisses are the lightest touch
Of mayflies on a summer's eve.
Your husband's frenzy will debauch,
Like iron ploughs, your fertile earth,

And crush you like the heavy teams
Of oxen with their cloven hooves,
My sister! Only turn to me,
My soulmate, half of all I am,

My lover! Turn your eyes to me!
For one kind look from you, my sweet,
I'll show you pleasures endlessly,
And gently rock you in your sleep."

Hippolyta then replied:
"I am not ungrateful, and do not repent,
But rather feel unsatisfied,
Like a gourmand whose flavors are spent,

Or a sleeper who's sometimes afraid
Of a nightmare of ragged ghosts
Who march up and down on a fearful plain,
And haunt us upon the road.

This thing we have done - it is strange,
For I tremble afraid and confused,
And I can't help but shudder when you say: 'My angel!'
My lips are still clinging to you.

Don't refuse me, my sweetest heart,
My sister, enshrined in my breast;
Let me make up in ardor what's lacking in art;
Let us love, though it lead us to Death."

But Delphine with a furious eye
Shook her hair out, and stamped her feet:
"Don't talk of such things, Hippolyte,
In the presence of love passing by!

I would curse every man to the root,
With their hearts of blistering glass;
They will beat you, my love, with their arms of brass,
And will worship you like a fool.

They will love you Ideally,
Mixing hot with the cold, and the night with day,
But they never will warm their unyielding flesh
In the sun of a lover's caress!

So go, if you wish, to your fiance,
And offer your heart to his breast;
You will come back to me, either sooner or later,
With a livid and broken chest;

You can serve only one master here!"
But Hippolyta undeceived
Cried aloud: "It's an absence I feel,
And a void in my heart that I fear!

It's the fury of useless remorse,
That no pleasure can satiate;
Like a mountain erupting, a pitiless fate
That pursues me with burning torch.

From the world outside of this room,
Let my curtains conceal the rest!
I would pillow my head on your ivory breast,
Like a statue adorning a tomb!"

- In an uncomprehending hell,
They are punished for crimes without a name;
On the avenues battered by rain,
The wind cries whip-poor-Will,

And their eardrums are battered by storms,
Fragile women of ardent embrace!
No fear or regret can erase
Their passion, from lightning born.

For what is despair to the brave?
It is only a puppet behind a screen,
Like a shadow, a carnival dream,
Or a gypsy that hides in a cave,

For the issue of their desire
Is more rotten than ancient skin,
And someday their youth will expire,
And senescence come burrowing in.

Wander far from the puling crowd,
Like a wolf in the light of the moon;
Flee the circles of Man with a howl,
Native sybarite, destitute!

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "Two Girlfriends" (1895)

Martin Van Maele, etching from "La Grande Danse macabre des vifs" (1905)

Gustave Courbet, "The Sleepers" (1866)

115. Femmes damnées

Pensive women in foreign lands,
Where the blue sky kisses the sea,
Longing, touching, go hand in hand,
Shedding tokens of bitter and sweet.

Wistful hearts make a glowing confession,
Among forests and babbling brooks,
Of the passions of adolescence,
Buried names that are carved in a book;

Stronger women, with resolute tread
Cross a landscape of rocky visions,
Where St. Anthony once saw the breasts,
Tall and glowing, of his apparitions.

From the darkness of pagan caves,
Others call out to you, god of wine!
They will drown in remorse to repay
Your austerities anodyne,

Like a monk who with secret delight
Whips the flesh underneath his robe,
Mixing pleasure and pain in the night
For the health of his dissolute soul.

Fearless martyrs who sacrifice
To an idol of love strange and free,
Shedding tears and unwonted sighs,
In a transport of ecstasy,

Doubtful sisters, whose hearts are replete
With a love not understood, fare you well!
I would wish you goodbye, and God speed,
And would pity you, even in Hell.

Portrait of Two Women. Germany, 1830's.

116. Les Deux Bonnes Soeurs
(for Helena Bonham-Carter)6

Debauchery and Death are party girls
Who cover you with kisses, drink your health,
Always in labor, never giving birth
From barren thighs enwrapped in cerecloth.

Ill-omened poets, foes to family,
But loved by Hell, get by on courtiers' pay;
Without remorse, voluptuaries sleep
And dream of dissolution in the grave.

Debauchery and Death will carry on,
To graft a cypress to the laurel wreath,
And fill your bed and tomb with blasphemy.

Delightful twins, who jolly us along
With fearsome pleasures, terrible and sweet,
Death and Debauch, when will you bury me?

Theodore Chasseriau, "The Artist's Sisters" (1843)

117. A Fountain of Blood

From a lesion no Florentine poet can find,
Like a fountain with sibilant sounds,
I will scatter, like foam on the evening tide,
My heart's blood upon the ground.

My breast is a rampart defended by thorns
That my blood passes by like a moat,
Out of which any mongrel may drink, as it pours
On the dirty cobblestones.

I'll embrace the impossible dream of my love,
On a cushion of red-hot knives;
I will burn on the bed of the torturer's fire,

While a prostitute drinks my blood,
For the only thing nowadays that I require
From wine is oblivion.


118. Allegory

A beauty with a coat that's trimmed in fur,
She dips a wine-glass in her falling hair,
Her body shining like a star
That rains destruction on her paladins;
The darts of love and arrowheads of sin
Are dulled and broken on her granite skin.

Devils with poisoned claws that pierce and catch,
She courts Debauchery and laughs at Death!
A beggar at the feast, she bares her breast
And tempts humanity with moistened eyes;
Her youthful body is the gift of time,
And offers clemency for every crime.

Disporting like a nymph on her divan,
She poses like a Turkish courtesan,
And mocks the need of every lustful man.

She thinks she knows the limits of delight,
But can't imagine Hell, or Nothingness,
And when at last she enters that black night
Then she will look upon the face of Death,
A Newborn, without hatred or regret.

Thomas Francis Dicksee, "Ophelia" (1873)

119. Beatrice

I wandered lonely, and complained
To Nature on the way,
Whetting a dagger on my heart.
As I continued aimlessly,
A leaden cloud foreshadowed me,
And stifled every thought.
The thunderclouds of cruel storms
Were boiling like a troop of dwarves
Who whispered to themselves, and laughed,
Exchanging winks and sighs,
Like rubberneckers passing by
Who see a fool they rally at:

"He's nothing but a travesty,
This ghost of Hamlet, wavering
With indecisive look,
This noble-hearted bon vivant,
An actor lost without a job,
Who sings to eagles, crickets, brooks,
And every such, to play his role,
The Author of a wretched show
Inditing from his Book
The lines you say."

I would have turned my head away,
A monarch in the sun,
But then I saw, among that troop,
A crime that tore my breast from you,
And killed my love;
You stroked them with a lewd caress
And laughed at my distress,
Queen of my soul, bonfire of martyrdom!

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Marriage Feast, Denies Him Her Salutation" (1855)

120. The Vampire's Transformation

A fallen woman, twisting like a snake
Against a red-hot corset, rubs her breasts,
And from her lips, as red as strawberries,
Releases words that float on scented breath:

"My mouth is wet; I know the stratagems
To wrap your conscience in a winding-sheet.
I'll dry your tears on my triumphant chest,
And make you laugh, as if you were a child;
For you who see me naked, old savant,
I'll be your sun and moon, and stars and sky!
For I'm so learned in these wanton schemes
That I would crush you in my fierce embrace,
And yet, both timid and licentious,
Will yield my body to your burning kiss.
Upon my bosom, swelling with desire,
A helpless saint would damn himself for me!"

When she had sucked the marrow from my bones,
I turned to her, exhausted, and perceived
That she was nothing but a putrid skin
Of wine, and rotting flesh, all full of pus!
Frozen with fear, I shuttered fast my lids,
And when at last I opened them again,
In day's harsh light, I saw that mannequin
Who lay beside me, swollen with my blood,
Collapse into a tangled skeleton,
A sign that screeched like some old weather-cock,
Still pivoting upon a rusty hinge,
And battered to and fro upon the wind.

Edvard Munch, "Vampire" (1895)

121. A Voyage to Cythera

As my heart fluttered free like a dove,
All around the rigging, to and fro,
Beneath a pure sky, the good ship rolled
Like an angel imbibing the sun.

In a country exalted in song,
My good ship was broken on the sands
Of Cythera, the home of gallants,
In the paths that they travelled along,

In the secrets of their scented parks,
Where old Venus, a ghost, for a lark,
Filled their hearts with a semblance of love,
And they hovered on her scented lakes.

Fair island of new opened flowers,
Beloved by every nation,
Where heartfelt sighs in adoration
Roll like incense over rose gardens

And the nightengales sing in the wood!
— It's a barren and unwholesome land,
It's a desert disturbed by the cries
Of machines on their metallic stands.

In a temple in amorous shades,
Once a youthful priestess was walking,
Gave her body, with hidden passion,
And half-opened her robe to the breeze;

But we saw, sailing close to the shore
And disturbing the gulls with our sails,
A gallows standing with blackened arms
Like a cypress against the pale sky.

There, the hungry crows were savagely
Tearing the corpse of a new-hanged man,
Plunged their filthy beaks into every
Corner of that bloody putrescence;

His eyes were holes, his intestines hung
Down from his belly; those torturers,
Gorging on their hideous delights,
Had castrated him with their sharp beaks.

Below his feet, unwholesome creatures
Padded and sniffed, circling round and round;
One beast, the largest, moved in their midst
Like a hangman with his disciples.

You, child of a sky so beautiful,
Who endures those insults in silence
To expiate - I don't know what sins -
That even deny to you a grave,

Droll hanged man, your sufferings are mine,
And at the sight of your dangling limbs
The bitter river of your sadness
Rises up like vomit to my teeth;

Standing in front of you, poor devil,
I felt the stabbing beaks of the crows
And the jaws of black panthers who loved
In the old days to tear me to shreds.

— The sky was charming, the sea was smooth,
But for me thereafter all was black,
Since I had in that allegory
Wrapped my heart as in a heavy shroud.

On your island, O Venus! I found
My image, hanging from the gallows!
O Lord, give me the strength and courage
To behold myself, without disgust!

Jean-Antoine Watteau, "Voyage to Cythera" (1717)

122. Love and the Skull:
An old engraving

Love sits on humanity's skull,
Blowing bubbles from his pipe;
He is crossing his legs on a stall,
Laughing shameless, his legs open wide.

He is blowing them into the sky,
Blowing bubbles from out of his cheek;
Floating up to the heavens on high,
Far above the cerulean reef.

They are fragile, refracting the light
And the music of heavenly spheres,
As the day breaks, and bubbles unite
In a rarified atmosphere.

But the skull, with a pitiful cry,
Qizzes bubbles that sail on the air:
Will you know when this folly expires?
Are you dead, or just vanishing there?

Every bubble that bursts in the foam
Is the art of a thousand years;
It's the flesh, and the blood, and the bone
That expresses our dazzling tears.

"Homo Bulla Est" (follower of Jan Gossaert)

123. Saint Peter's Denial

What does the Lord do with the cries
That caress His holy feet?
Like a tyrant who's bloated with dinner and wine,
Our blasphemies rock him to sleep,

And the sobbings of martyrdom
Are enchanting as symphonies,
As if even Heaven cannot get enough
Of their blood and their ecstasies.

O innocent Jesus, who prayed
In the Garden to God, on your knees,
It's a God who has laughed at the noise of the nails
Executioners pound in Your feet.

From the brow of your sacred head,
Blood is dripping from thorns digging deep,
Where once the whole world inhabited
Your dream of Divinity.

Arms distended, you hang on the tree
Like a risible laughingstock,
An apostle whose harrowing agony
Is exposed like a rack to the crowd.

Did you dream of the promise of youth,
With its plan of Promethean fire,
As you entered the gates of Jerusalem,
On a jenny of burning desire?

Long ago, when you were the Teacher,
You whipped them with all of your might;
But now you revisit the money-changers,
Remorse like a spear in your side.

-- I'll forsake with no hint of remorse
This world where to dream is a crime,
And will kill or be killed by the edge of the sword
Of Saint Peter, who Jesus denied.

Raphael, "Christ's Charge to Peter" (1515)

124. Abel and Cain

Children of Abel, your wholesome work
God favors with a smile.
Children of Cain, you must dig in the dirt,
That covers you by and by.

Children of Abel, your offering
Is worthy: God is pleased;
Children of Cain, your dirty thing
Is gnawing you like a thief.

Children of Abel, work your ploughs,
Your fatted geese and hogs;
Children of Cain, your belly growls
With hunger like a dog.

Children of Abel, warm your paunch
Beside your fireplace;
Children of Cain must devour your haunch
Like jackals in the lane.

Children of Abel, from the start
Be fruitful, multiply!
Children of Cain, with burning heart,
Beware of such desires;

Children of Abel your fruitful lands
Redouble and increase;
Children of Cain, with hardened hands
Instruct your family.


Children of Abel, carrion
Will fertilize your fields.
Children of Cain must trudge along
And stagger in the street.

Children of Abel, your iron sword
Must yield to the pen, as they say,
But the Children of Cain, who are marked by the Lord,
Will cross you out, some day.

Mariotto Albertinelli, "The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel" (ca. 1510).

125. The Litanies of Satan

O greatest of the Seraphim,
Betrayed by God, and cursing Him,
Take pity on my deep despair!

An exiled Prince, eternal wrong,
The prize is given to the strong.
Take pity on my deep despair!

You show to us each silent thing,
And comfort Mankind like a king;
Take pity on my deep despair!

A king of lepers, it is true,
For Paradise was lost to you,
Take pity on my deep despair!

And Death, a mistress growing old,
Will devastate your shining hope;
Take pity on my deep despair!

The outlaw's courage is a thing
That damns the crowd that sees him swing;
Take pity on my deep despair!

I carry in my blood and bone
A map of hidden, precious stones;
Take pity on my deep despair!

A company of arsenals,
Where God has buried His metals,
Take pity on my deep despair!

Your hand will ward the crumbling edge
From those who sleepwalk on the ledge,
Take pity on my deep despair!

Protection for the brittle bones
Of drunks who stumble on the stones.
Take pity on my deep despair!

To decorate our seemly tombs,
You teach us how to paint the rooms -
Take pity on my deep despair!

And put your mark, O Croeseus,
Upon the silk that covers us.
Take pity on my deep despair!

The pleading of the prostitutes
Absolves the ones who rub on you;
Take pity on my deep despair!

You staff of exiles, poet's lamp,
Confessor of the lost and hanged,
Take pity on my deep despair!

God Father in His awful spite
Drove all of us from Paradise.
Take pity on my deep despair!


Glory to Satan, in the height
Of Heaven where you used to reign!
Grant that my soul may someday lie
In Hell with you, a vanquished dream,
Under the Tree of Knowledge, led
By fruits that sanctify the dead -
Take pity on my deep despair!

William Blake, "Satan Smiting Job With Boils" (ca. 1805-1810)


126. The Death of Lovers

We'll sleep at last on silken beds,
And sofas deep as tumbled graves,
That flowers with a faded scent
Perfumed for us in better days.

The iron taps upon the coals,
And breaks them with a fearful cry;
Reflected in our mirrored souls,
Twin hearts like torches flare and die.

One evening tinted blue and rose,
We'll bid each other, and the world, goodbye,
Immured in darkened catacombs

Until an Angel lifts the grate,
Joyous and faithful, to revive
That tarnished glass, extinguished flame!

George Frederic Watts, "Paolo and Francesca" (1872)

127. The Death of the Poor

Death comforts us, and lets the poor man know
That every hardship has an end in sight;
It is a wine that makes us drunk on hope,
And helps us bear the work that we're assigned;

It is a shelter from the evening's chill,
An inn that gives the laborer respite,
Where everyone may eat and drink his fill,
And sleep for pennies on the straw at night;

An Angel grants us mesmerizing dreams
Within the compass of a narrow room,
A vision of the glorious world to come,

The gift of sympathetic deities,
A poor man's often-promised legacy,
A gate that opens to an unknown sky!

Isidoro Grunhut, "The Dying Man" (1887)

128. The Death of Artists

How many times must I dress up in motley,
And dance around some lowbrow travesty?
How many eager javelins, shaken from my quiver,
You've turned aside, indifferent and elusive Nature!

We've worn out our souls in desperate maneuvers,
And broken up a thousand armatures,
To try to make just one true image of the Idol
That satisfies, perhaps, our longing for the eternal.

The artists who have not reached that wanted end,
Can only curse the heavens in disgrace,
And wander to and fro, and beat their bloody chest;

Their only hope - a doubtful triumph, grim and strange -
Is that some darker sun will rise in death
To open up the flowers in their brain.

Gustave Wertheimer, "The Kiss of the Siren" (1882)

129. The End of the Day

When underneath the setting sun
Life dances and twists,
Noisy and meaningless;
When over the far horizon

Voluptuous night has come,
Assuaging everything, even hunger,
Erasing everything, even reproach,
The Poet tells himself: "Enough!

My spirit and my broken bones
Cry out for sleep;
My head is full of dreams,

And I shall lie upon the stones;
Come wrap me in your winding clothes,
Refreshing tenebrae!"

Asmus Jakob Carstens, "Night and Her Children, Sleep and Death" (1794)

130. The Dream of a Curious Man
To Felix Nadar

Do you know, as I do, a certain pain?
And do they call you a "peculiar man?"
I dreamed of death, a spirit unconfined.

The more the fatal hourglass declined,
The more my longing grew delirious,
A heart uprooted from the sensual world.

I was a child, too eager for the show,
Who waited restless for the chance to know
The final secret of mortality.

But when at last the obscuring curtain rose -
What, is that all? There's nothing there to see!
Only an empty stage, eternally.


131. Le Voyage
À Maxime du Camp
(for my grandfather)7


To the children who love their engravings and maps,
All the world is as large as their appetite.
Ah! how great it appears by the glow of a lamp,
But how meagre, reflected in memory's eye!

In the morning we ventured, with heads full of flame,
And our hearts full of malice and bitter desire;
We were staggered on swells of a dangerous wave,
In a cradle that rocked between Ocean and sky!

From the country and family that we had escaped,
From the dancing and drinks in the dark afternoon,
From the death in the eyes of a perilous jade -
A tyrannical Circe with dangerous perfume -

Not to turn into monsters, we only got drunk
On the vastness of space, and the crystalline sky,
To be bitten by frost, and caressed by the sun
As we fled disappointment from earlier times.

But the genuine travelers are those who must leave
For the sake of the voyage: a mind set afloat,
And a heart that can never explain its own reasons;
Without knowing why, always saying: let's go!

It's a vagrant desire of indefinite shape,
And a dream that is changing as soon as it's found,
In a country so vast that it's never been named,
A chimera we're after, on unexplored ground.


Like a tireless top spinning upward and down,
Or a monkey performing unnatural flips,
Curiosity rolls us around and around,
Like a Cherub revolving the sun with his whip.

When the fortune we aimed for is scurrying off,
We must venture to find it - unnatural hope,
For wherever we are is like nowhere at all -
Running here, running there, like a bear on a rope.

Every soul's a three-master that's making for shore;
Her commander is calling, "Now keep your eyes peeled!"
From the lookout above comes a passionate roar:
"Glory... love... happiness!" -Ah, damnation! A reef!

And the island the lookouts discern from the height
Seems a Green Land that's promised by destiny,
But it's only a rock in more practical light,
An illusion our fancy mistook for a feast.

O pity the lover of fanciful lands!
They will put him in shackles, and drown in the deep
That old tar in his cups, run aground on the sand
Whose mirage makes more bitter the salt of the sea.

Thus a vagabond raises his brow to the sky,
Tramps along through the mud, dreams of castles in air,
Till a vision of Capua catches his eye
In the glow of a candle from some wretched lair.


Astonishing voyagers! What splendid stories
We read in your eyes as profound as the sea!
You bring back the treasure from distant shores,
Jewels fashioned from starlight and memory.

Help us go where you've been, though we've no steam or sail!
To relieve the dull boredom that holds us in thrall,
Show us canvases, by far horizons framed,
Let our spirits delight in the stories you tell.

Tell us, what have you seen? ...


... "Moons of alabaster,
Stars on the water, a desert shore,
With many a shock and surprising disaster -
And yet, just like here, we were frequently bored.

The fist of the sun beating deserts of fire,
The purple of oceans in haloes of light,
Kindled fancies in hearts with disturbing desire
To plunge into the blue like a bird taking flight;

These magnificent landscapes and cinnamon towns
Were unable to match the mysterious allure
Of the visions we dreamers discerned in the clouds,
Simulacra more ardent, immense and obscure.

As desire increased by its own discontent,
Like a tree marinaded in ripening dung,
Fissured bark covered us like a coat of cement,
And we lengthened our branches to capture the sun!

Tall trees more tenacious than funeral cypress,
We thought we could just keep on growing forever,
But brought back at last several albums of sketches,
Diversions for you to explore at your leisure.

We bowed down to idols elephantine,
Thrones studded with lapis lazuli,
And palaces fashioned of fairy design
That would sink all your wealth in cupidinous dreams;

Jeweled robes that enthralled our enchanted eyes,
Montebanks stroking their hypnotized vipers,
Women whose nails and teeth were dyed --"


What next? Tell us more!...


..."O childish minds!

Would you know every wonder locked up in our head?
No matter what country we found ourselves in,
There was something familiar that dogged every step,
A tedious masque of the wages of sin:

Woman - slavish, conceited, a scandalous fool,
Adorning herself with no concept of shame;
Man - a dissolute tyrant, rapacious and cruel,
King Rat in the gutter, the slave of a slave;

A hangman rejoicing, the cry of a martyr,
A party of statesmen excited by blood,
A despot seduced by the poison of power,
A people in love with the whip and the rod;

A host of religions, resembling our own,
Incessantly shouting that Truth must prevail!
A saintly aesthete with delirious moan
Seeking bloody redemption with horsehair and nails;

Prating humanity, drunk on its cleverness,
Wrestles with angels from earlier times,
Calls out to the Lord in its fight to the death:
'O my master, my brother, O God! Damn your eyes!'

Some wanted to march to a different drum;
Embracing the madness that Destiny hurled,
Took their refuge in pipes full of opium -
And that's our report of the unchanging world."


The knowledge is bitter we get from our travels!
The world is now as it ever has been,
Like a mirror reflecting our image in black,
An oasis of horror in a desert of spleen!

Should we stay, or depart? Live at home if you can,
Run away if you must, though it's useless to hide;
Turn your face to the sun, put the wind at your back,
You will never elude the attentions of Time!

Like a Wandering Jew or Apostle, we fly
To and fro to escape the retiarius' net;
Some try to avoid him from infancy,
But we all feel the weight of his boot on our neck,

And sooner or later it's thumbs down for us.
Then it's time to take courage, and set out again!
Just as we set our courses for Asia once,
With our eyes on the sea and our hair in the wind,

So now we'll embark on the ultimate voyage
With the light-hearted step of a young traveler,
For the Sirens are calling with ravishing voice:
"Come hither my darling, for here you may gather

The Lotus, and every miraculous fruit
That your heart has desired to taste and to eat.
Come join us in endless afternoon;
Here your rest is at hand, and our singing is sweet."

We are haunted by ghosts with compassionate speech.
Our familiar companions are waving to us,
And a sister cries, "Dearest one! Comfort in me,
Lay your head on the lap you delighted to kiss!"


O Death, my old captain, it's time; let us go!
For this country is wearisome! Let us depart!
When the sky and the sea are the blackest, they show
Every light that with longing illumined the heart.

There were dishes of poison that lunatics dared,
And the fires that burned out our brains. If we flew
To the bowels of Heaven, or Hell, did we care?
In the deepest Unknown, to discover the New!

Henry Clay Holt, Jr., 1892 - 1975

Pierre Mortier, "Carte Particuliere d'une Partie d'Asie..." (1700)

Calvert Lithograph Co., "Trapeze Artists In Circus" (1890)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "Equestrienne (At the Cirque Fernando)" (1887-1888)

Joseph Mallord William Turner, "The Shipwreck" (1805)

The Wreck of the Titanic (Internet)


1. The Fountain

Your beautiful eyes, my love,
Are weary: don't open them.
Stay a while in that artless pose
Of a woman astonished by pleasure.
In the courtyard the chattering fountain,
Never silent by night or by day,
Sweetly lengthens the ecstasy
Into which love has plunged you this evening.

Into countless flowers
The spray unfolds,
Shedding colors the playful
Moon has dropped there,
And falls like a shower
Of womanly tears.

Now your heart, that was set ablaze
By a burning explosion of pleasure,
Springs heavenward, fearless and swift
Toward the boundless, enchanted skies,
And then overflowing, expires
In a wave of languid sadness
That by an invisible river
Descends to the depths of your soul.

Into countless flowers
The spray unfolds,
Shedding colors the playful
Moon has dropped there,
And falls like a shower
Of womanly tears.

Oh fairest star of the evening,
How sweet, bending over your breast
To list to the endless complaint
Of the sobbings of the fountain!
Oh moon, and the quivering trees,
And the blessed night that surrounds us:
Your innocent sadness proclaims
The mirror of my devotion.

Into countless flowers
The spray unfolds,
Shedding colors the playful
Moon has dropped there,
And falls like a shower
Of womanly tears.

Showalter Fountain (Indiana University)

Latona Fountain (Versailles)

2. Berthe's Eyes

The eyes of my child put all others to shame;
Her glance is as sweet and as soft as the night,
Like a shadow beguiling the onlooker's gaze,
Or a blanket that covers the light.

The eyes of my child are adored and profound;
They resemble a cave in a country of dark
Where, among shadows heaped upon indistinct ground,
Unknown treasures may flicker and spark.

The eyes of my child are as deep as the space
Of an infinite night, where the stars scintillate
In a mirror of love and a promise of faith,
Shining in the abyss, sybaritic and chaste.

Charles Baudelaire, sketch of Berthe (1864)

3. Hymn

To the dearest, most beautiful,
Setting hearts ablaze with her light,
To my idol, immortal soul,
I call out, in the dead of night!

Oh! You savor, who season life
With the salty air of the sea,
Into spirits unsatisfied
Pour a taste of eternity.

Vital reservoir of perfume,
Smoulder secretly through the night!
In the bliss of your darkened room
We will shrug off the world's despite.

How may I describe you, my love,
And remember you truthfully?
As a seedling of choler and musk,
In the soil of eternity!

To the dearest, most beautiful,
Setting hearts ablaze with your light,
To my idol, immortal soul,
I call out to you in delight!

The goddess Sarasvati. Hoysala dynasty, 12th century.

4. The Promises of a Face

I love your beauty, and the brow
From which your shadows flow,
Two mordant tears to indicate
The path my fingers go.

I love the blackness of your hair
That stands in crinilique,
The burning eyes that shimmer where
Our souls' reflection meets.

I love the hope I found in you,
The fancies you professed;
I love your body, and in sooth
Your navel to the cess;

I love your slick and heavy breasts
Shielded in points of bronze;
Your belly, smooth and soft and wet,
Dark as the skin of a Bonze,

Your curly fleece of ormolu
So thick, and damp; your arms
That make me want to come to you,
In a night that has no stars!

Marie-Guillemine Benoist, "Portrait of Madeleine" (1800)

5. Three Epigraphs

(1) Honoré Daumier

The cartoonist displayed
Is a genius, who helps
Us to laugh at ourselves -
Tip your hats to a sage!

His satirical bent
And the pictures devised
Of our follies, advises
His pious intent;

From the heat and the cold,
Mephilostophes' grimace
Is nothing to bold
Father Daumier's spear -

He's a generous hero
Who captures the night
With his laughter, like light,
Open-hearted, sincere!

(2) Lola de Valence

Among the beauties of Manet
Desire can only hesitate;
But in this painting of her close
I see a jewel, black and rose.

(3) Tasso In The Madhouse
(painting by Eugene Delacroix)

The insane poet with disordered clothes
Crushes a manuscript beneath his foot.
He'd bear the blackest horror that he knows
To cancel just one letter from that book.

Afraid of nothing and of everything,
Echoes of insane laughter torment him.
Upon the doubt the death of reason brings,
His mind is battered by a fearful wind.

Genius confined within a dripping chamber
Shivers, tries to disregard the odor
Of the walls, companion to his sleep,

A madman who with horror must awake
Night after night upon the bed he hates --
That is your symbol, soul of obscure dreams!

Honore Daumier, "Trio of Amateurs" (1863 - 1867)

Edouard Manet, "Lola de Valence" (1862)
Eugene Delacroix, "Tasso in the Madhouse" (1839)

6. The Voice

My crib was shadowed by the dusty shelves
Of books where scientists in ordered rows
And storytellers spoke among themselves;
I was no taller than a folio.

Two voices spoke to me. One, sly and sure,
Offered to me the trappings of success:
"Take some elite profession in the world
You're suited for, lawyer or diplomat."

The other: "Come, and sail upon a dream,
Beyond the possible, beyond the known!"
It was a light insinuating breeze,
That came from nowhere, unexpected ghost

That tickled and caressed my virgin ear.
I answered you, bewitching voice! From then
My fate was settled, and the cross I bear.
I found such things behind the painted scrim

Of everyday - within that dreadful night
Another universe was there concealed.
Ecstatic victim of the second sight,
I dragged along the snakes that bit my heels,

Like the old prophets. Ever since that time
I wandered in the desert and the sea,
Found pleasant taste in the most bitter wine,
Giggled at funerals and sobbed at feasts,

Fell in a hole from gazing at the sky,
And could not tell a falsehood from the truth.
The Voice said, "Keep your dreams; those of the Wise
Are far less beautiful than those of fools."

Thomas Cole, "The Ages of Life: Youth" (1842)

7. L'Imprevu (The Unforseen)

Harpagon's father with a breath
Expires upon a shelf.
"I'll find some scraps, now he is dead,
And bury him myself."

Celimene: "My heart is sweet,
For beauty I am famed."
What heart is that? A cut of meat
That crackles in the flame!

A man who thinks himself a torch
Is scribbling in the rain:
"Where is the God that you adore,
The Savior you proclaim?"

I know myself of all the best,
Repeating day and night
In lamentation, "Yes, I wish
To make amends - sometime."

The clock is growling: "He is ripe,
I know the rotting flesh,
Decaying wood destroyed by termites,
Doomed and blind and deaf!"

I take from His ciborium -
A Man whom all denied -
The flesh of dark communion,
His blood turned into wine.

Satan! I kiss your nether parts,
And make for you a shrine
Immaculate, within my heart
With infamy combined.

You love your gelt, you hypocrites,
And think it possible
To go to Heaven, and be rich!
You mock Him at your peril.

The gallows mark an old chasseur
Who watches for his prey.
Companions of my holy doom
Are charming me away

Through blind imaginings of stone,
Whose curiosity
Displays their scattered blocks upon
The shoreline of the sea;

Those walls are made of endless sin,
Containing ecstasy!
Meanwhile, an angel deep within
Trumpets the victory

Of those whose hearts say: "Blessed be
Our Father, in your keep!
Our soul within your hands is deep,
Your power infinite."

A trumpet, sounding like the rose
Of blessed evening,
Is permeating every close
Where chamber music sings.

Laurent Tirard (director), "The Amorous Adventures of Young Moliere" (2007)

Wayne S. Turney (director), "The Miser" (DeSales University, 2014)

8. To A Malabar Girl

Your hips are ample, feet refined and thin,
Your velvet eyes are darker than your skin!
More fair than White mistresses you appear,
To dreaming men who hold your body dear.

The land where you were born was hot and blue,
Islands of rain and redolent perfume!
But here, you have to hold your master's pipe,
And fan away a lonely fly or two.

When morning dawns upon the sycamores
You shuffle out to buy, in the bazaars,
Pineapples and bananas, golden fruit
That catch the memory of times when you

Stretched out the evening like a scarlet cloak.
Upon the mattress of our dreams, we spoke
Of you and me, and quiet pleasant hours
When humming birds sipped nectar from the flowers.

Why did you want, my child, to come to France?
You know we hardly welcome immigrants,
But still you bade farewell to your country,
Trusted your life to the uncertain sea.

When you arrived here, in your ragged clothes
You bowed your head to hail and dirty snow,
And - unbelievably! - gave sincere thanks
For whalebone corsets fastening your flanks.

You had to glean your supper in our streets
And sell your charms to reprobates like me.
With pensive eye you wandered in the fog,
And dreamed of harbors, lined with coco trees.

A Nayar girl in Malabar

9. Far Away from Here

I remember the secret room
Of a woman who revels in calm,
Always ready, and richly adorned.

As she brushes her breast with her hand,
Rests her elbow upon the cushions,
Hears the weeping of the fountains,

Where the waters and breezes are sobbing
In order to lull into sleep
The dreams of that pampered child,

Her delicate skin is polished
From her head to the toes of her feet
With emollients of saffron and spice.

Bartolomeo Veneto, "A Courtesan" (ca. 1520)

10. The Sundown of Romance

In promises, the rising sun
Gives us "good day!" as he ascends.
- More fortunate the loving sons
Who know his glory as he sets!

I've seen the meadows, flowers, lakes
That swoon beneath his torrid cast...
Let's run forever, though it's late,
To catch a slanting ray at last.

We prosecute the sun in vain;
He sinks his beauty in the sea,
While underneath a deadly moon

My feet disturb a mass of snails
Whose shells I crush unwillingly,
Releasing odors of a tomb.

Snail shells (Internet)

11. Examination of Conscience

The tolling clock with every tick
Inquired of us what use we made
Of Friday 13th, fateful day!
-- We spent it like a heretic,

Denying Jesus on the cross,
And sat at table, compromised;
Eating the bread that we despised,
We flattered monsterous Croeseus,

His folly, and his brow of brass.
Descending to oblivion,
We paid our insincere devotion.
All the while the shifting sand

Poured down the glass, a poet drowned
Vertigo in delirium,
Snuffed out the lamp, so that he might
In darkness come at last to hide!

Jesus forgives (Internet)

12. Sad Madrigal


What do I care if you are wise?
Be beautiful, and sad! Your tears
Add to the glamour of your face;
Like rivers to the countryside,
Storms make the flowers fresh.

I love you most when happiness
Flees from your disregarded brow,
A broken heart in horror drowned,
A darkened sky of bitterness
That spreads upon us now.

I love it when your eyelids shed
Tears hot as blood, from me to you;
In spite of my allaying hand
Your pain unbearable comes through
Like rales of a dying man,

As I inhale your snivelling,
Your sobbing and delightfulness
Is like a captivating hymn;
The cries that issue from your breast
Are pearls that redeem the rest.


And if your heart should overflow
With memories of uprooted love,
Yet still it blazes like a coal,
And still there smolders in your glance
The exaltation of the damned;

But still my dear, if in your dreams
You haven't gone to Hell,
In nightmares laid without respite,
In dreaming of poisons and knives,
Embellished with powder and steel,

Nor opened every door with fear,
Seeing misfortune everywhere,
And flinching with every striking hour;
If you've not felt yourself embraced
By irresistible Disgust,

You cannot, lustful slave and queen,
Although you have an artless fear
Of every terror of the night,
Say to me, truthfully,
"I am your equal, O my King!"

Caravaggio, "The Lute Player" (ca. 1596)

13. The Rebel

An angel furious descends,
And grabs a handful of the sinner's hair.
Who do you think you are? This is a test!
For I am your good angel, do you hear?

That grotesque angel orders you to love
The poor, the heinous, and the idiots,
And make for Jesus when His kingdom comes
The goodness that He favors with a kiss.

Before your heart becomes indifferent,
Return to God! - it is your only chance,
And you won't get another. God forgives,

At least I think he does, if you repent.
He beats upon your heart with giant fists,
But still the damned one answers: "I will not!"

Giovanni Baglione, "Sacred Love and Profane Love" (1602)

14. The Prayer of a Pagan

Inflame my heart with a coal
Of desire that burns and flares,
O Pleasure, torment of souls!
O Goddess! Give ear to my prayer!

As perfume upon a breeze
Awakens desire that dims,
Come, steal on me suddenly -
I offer you brazen hymns.

O Pleasure, be always my queen!
Or put on a siren's mask
Of velvet, rapturous musk,

Or pour on me heavy sleep
In wine, of consciousness lost,
O Pleasure, illusive ghost!

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, "La Jeunesse De Bacchus" (1884)

15. Meditation

My heavy heart, be quiet and discreet;
The city is obscured; advancing dusk
Brings restlessness to some, to others peace.
The night you longed for now approaches us.

Whipped on by Pleasure with its fatal sting,
The vulgar crowd abandons all restraint;
A Feast of Fools encroaches everything -
Sorrow, give me your hand; let's come away.

The dying sun is setting in the West,
Where all the bygone years in antique gowns
Are leaning on the balconies of Heaven.

Smiling Regret is rising from the ground;
Listen, my dear, to evening as she steps
And wraps the eastern sky in silken shrouds.

Thomas Moran, "The Red Sun" (1875-1876)

16. Insomnia

Pascal had his Abyss, and I have mine;
It swallows act and word, desire and dream.
Across my scalp I feel the wind of Fear -
It makes my hair stand up on end at night.

Above, below, the Void on every side -
Precipitous, unbounded, deep, and vast -
Where God draws hideous shapes with cunning hand
Upon the infinite canvas of the sky.

To sleep: it is to drop into a pit
Of frightful horrors, leading who knows where,
A gaping doorway into the abyss;

Among the multitudes assembled there
Are things that reason trembles to express;
I wish that I could fall to nothingness.


17. Icarus' Complaint

Once I visited prostitutes,
And was fleetingly satisfied,
But my wings became broken and useless,
Attempting to circle the sky.

It was only the light of the stars
That reflected in burned-out eyes,
Till the flames of a wandering heart
Fell at last in the lake with a cry.

Every meteor is different,
Geodesics of time and space;
In an evening too late to repent,
I think of the paths that I traced,

And turn, and hide my face
In the loneliness of my room;
It's a hollow without a name
That will serve me as well as a tomb.

Herbert James Draper, "The Lament for Icarus" (1898)

18. The Lid

No matter where he goes, by land or sea,
Beneath a pallid sun or flaming skies,
A devotee of Venus or of Christ,
A beggar in the dark or gaudy Croesus,

Stay-at-home or vagabond, a city
Boy or rustic, dull or full of wit,
Turns fearful eyes to Heaven from a ditch,
And cowers in the face of Mystery.

The sky above! A cave, a coffin-lid,
A ceiling lit as for a comedy
Where every player tramples bloody clots;

Hope of the recluse, scourge of libertines,
Heaven! Black lid of an enormous pot
That boils the ocean of Humanity.

Artist unknown (Cristovao de Figueiredo?), "Hell" (ca. 1515). Museu da Arte Antiga, Lisbon

19. The Ageing Courtesan

Moon that our sires (discreetly!) visited,
From that blue height where stars in bright array
Are swirling in the glamour of your train --
Old Cynthia, cynosure of the den,

Do you see lovers, on their blissful mats,
Expose their dentures as they snore along?
The poet butt his forehead on a song?
The snakes that couple, underneath the grass?

Wrapped in your yellow robe, do you still come
Night after night, as long as darkness lasts,
To kiss the mouth of old Endymion?

- "Child of a ruined age, I see your dam,
Bent over with her years before the glass,
Still powdering the breast you used to suck!"

Bernardo Strozzi, "Vanitas (Old Coquette)" (ca. 1637)

20. Epigraph For A Condemned Book

O reader! If you're one who's satisfied
With received opinions and your bourgeois life,
Then throw away this lewd, outrageous book;
Toss it, I say! Don't take another look.

You wouldn't understand it, anyway,
Unless the Devil tought you how to write.
But if you have a rare discerning eye
That plummets the Abyss, is not afraid,

A searching soul that suffers to be wise,
However lost and battered on its way,
Delving in dirt its dream of Paradise -

Then read me in my book. If I'm insane,
At least I've written some things that are true.
If you don't care for that, to Hell with you.

Judith Rothchild, from "Epigraphe pour un Livre Condamne" (limited ed. 2007)


  1. Translator's dedication to my friend Lucian Endicott
  2. Translator's dedication to Fran, a woman I knew in college
  3. Translator's dedication to Phil, a friend from college, and to Kathy, the woman he married
  4. Translator's dedication to Fran, again
  5. Translator's dedication to Alice Holt, my grandmother
  6. Translator's dedication to Helena Bonham-Carter, an actress that I admire but do not know personally
  7. Translator's dedication to Clay Holt, Jr., my grandfather
  8. Baudelaire died in 1867, so many of these illustrations postdate him. He was, I think, a man truly ahead of his time.