Saturday, February 01, 2014

Dawn

Outside the barracks now the bugle called, and woke
The morning wind, which rose, making the lanterns smoke.
It was that hour when tortured dreams of stealthy joys
Twist in their beds the thin brown bodies of growing boys;
When, like a blood-shot eye that blinks and looks away,
The lamp still burns, and casts a red stain on the day;
When the soul, pinned beneath the body's weight and brawn,
Strives, as the lamplight strives to overcome the dawn;
The air, like a sad face whose tears the breezes dry,
Is tremulous with countless things about to die;
And men grow tired of writing, and women of making love.


Blue smoke was curling now from the cold chimneys of
A house or two; with heavy lids, mouths open wide,
Prostitutes slept their slumber dull and stupefied;
While laborers' wives got up, with sucked-out breasts, and stood
Blowing first on their hands, then on the flickering wood.
It was that hour when cold, and lack of things they need,
Combine, and women in childbirth have it hard indeed.


Like a sob choked by frothy hemorrhage, somewhere
Far-off a sudden cock-crow tore the misty air;
A sea of fog rolled in, effacing roofs and walls;
The dying, that all night in the bare hospitals
Had fought for life, grew weaker, rattled, and fell dead;
And gentlemen, debauched and drunk, swayed home to bed.


Aurora now in a thin dress of green and rose,
With chattering teeth advanced. Old somber Paris rose,
Picked up its tools, and, over the deserted Seine,
Yawning, rubbing its eyes, slouched forth to work again.

~ Charles Baudelaire (trans. Edna St. Vincent Millay)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Baudelaire! For me, he is like a hard hit to the solar plexus and still, somehow, sad and loving

Thanks for the poem.

Jill

FDChief said...

Agreed. The thing about his work that always gets to me is that I get the sense that he had been ALL the way down; seen the worst, most vile aspects of men and women, had no illusions of what people are capable of...and yet, still loved them, and life.

Lisa said...

Anything in particular bring you to this poem? "Dawn" ... waking up can be painful, too.

I love this:

When the soul, pinned beneath the body's weight and brawn,
Strives, as the lamplight strives to overcome the dawn;

FDChief said...

Well, it WAS dawn, or almost dawn; I was sitting alone in the pre-dawn quiet, a stillness so deep that I could hear the ragged edges of my hip-bones grind together. And I felt very old, and tired, and sick at heart.

I have lived long enough to see my country, and the people I grew up thinking of in the terms my father taught me, torn down and fed to the harpies of wealthy indifference and rapacious greed, set upon themselves like starving beasts in a pit. I have seen the nation, and the people, who thought of themselves as great, and good, and One (out of many) become small, and mean, and fractious as a heap of snakes.

And I felt tired of writing. And given that she was asleep my Bride was not interested in making love. So, there.

I don't always feel pinned, within my own failing body and my despair of the future. But I did that moment, and reading Baudelaire helped me to mentally shrug and pick up my tools again and slouch off to work, Gauloise hanging from my lip.

Lisa said...


I have seen the nation, and the people, who thought of themselves as great, and good, and One (out of many) become small, and mean, and fractious as a heap of snakes.

You have voiced it poignantly, and I feel the sorrow, too. I have felt pushed into an ideological corner, and also, not felt like sharing my thoughts only to have them set upon by beasts with sharp claws, beasts I once thought my fellows. The factionalism today is horrific.

... but I like the rugged image of the "Gauloise hanging from my lip" ;)

Podunk Paul said...

Maybe as a nation we have become “small, and mean, and fractious as a heap of snakes.” But there are men and women like yourself, Chief, who “feel very old, sick and tired” and who nevertheless “slouch off to work.” In other words, they keep the faith, even in those still morning hours when faith seems to count for nothing against cold facts.

And Lisa, I think you and I are children of the old South and have far more in common that the few issues that divide us.

Lisa said...

Paul,

No doubt Chief embodies the best that is us: a military man, hardworking, erudite -- nay, brilliant, sensitive and caring, creative ... the list goes on. If the world were full of Chiefs, we'd be a fine place.

And we are all connected, Paul. You and I are not separated, and issues do not "divide us." It is the thinking that matters, compassionate application of all we know and have experienced, and the desire for a better way.

Only foolish or fearful people believe that sincere dialog can not be entered in order to achieve something greater. Sadly, fear is the rule of the day.