The Seven Old Man
for Victor Hugo
City of swarming, city full of dreams
Where ghosts in daylight tug the stroller's sleeve!
Mysteries everywhere run like the sap
That fills this great colossus' conduits.
One morning, while along the sombre street
The houses, rendered taller by the mist,
Seemed to be towering wharves at riverside,
And while (our stage-set like the actor's soul)
A dirty yellow steam filled all the space,
I followed, with a hero's iron nerve
To set against my spirit's lassitude,
The district streets shaken by rumbling carts.
Then, an old man whose yellowed rags
Were imitations of the rainy sky,
At whose sight charity might have poured down,
Without the evil glitter in his eyes,
Appeared quite suddenly to me. I'd say
His eye was steeped in gall; his glance was sharp
As frost, his shaggy beard, stiff as a sword,
Stood out, and Judas came into my mind.
You would not call him bent, but cut in two -
His spine made a right angle with his legs
So neatly that his cane, the final touch,
Gave him the figure and the clumsy step
Of some sick beast, or a three-legged Jew.
In snow and filth he made his heavy way,
As if his old shoes trampled on the dead
In hatred, not indifference to life.
His double followed: beard, eye, back, stick, rags,
No separate traits, and come from the same hell.
This second ancient man, baroque, grotesque,
Trod with the same step towards their unknown goal.
To what conspiracy was I exposed,
What wicked chance humiliated me?
For one by one I counted seven times
Multiples of this sinister old man!
Those who would laugh at my frenetic state,
Who are not seized by a fraternal chill,
Must ponder that, despite their feebleness,
These monsters smacked of all eternity!
Could I still live and look upon the eighth
Relentless twin, fatal, disgusting freak,
Trick Phoenix, son and father of himself?
- I turned my back on this parade from Hell.
Bedazzled, like a double-visioned drunk,
I staggered home and shut the door, aghast,
Shaking and sick, the spirit feverous,
Struck by this mystery, this absurdity!
Vainly my reason reached to clutch the helm;
The giddy tempest baffled every grasp,
And my soul danced in circles like a hull
Dismasted, on a monstrous shoreless sea!
Přeložil James McGowan