Danse macabre

A poem by Charles Baudelaire

For Ernest Christophe

Proud, like one living, of her noble height,
With handkerchief and gloves, her great bouquet,
She has the graceful nonchalance that might
Befit a gaunt coquette with lavish ways.

At any ball does one see waist so slim?
In all their regal amplitude, her clothes
Unfurl down to a dry foot, pinched within
A pomponned shoe as lovely as a rose.

The frill that plays along her clavicles,
As a lewd streamlet rubs its stony shores,
Modestly shields from jeering ridicule
Enticements her revealing gown obscures.

Her eyes, made of the void, are deep and black;
Her skull, coiffured in flowers down her neck,
Sways slackly on the column of her back,
o charm of nothingness so madly decked!

You will be called by some, 'caricature',
Who do not know, lovers obsessed with flesh,
The grandeur of the human armature.
You please me, skeleton, above the rest!

Do you display your grimace to upset
Our festival of life? Some ancient fire,
Does it ignite your living carcass yet,
And push you to the sabbath of Desire?

Can you dismiss the nighnnare mocking you,
With candle glow and songs of violins,
And will you try what floods of lust can do
To cool the hell that brands the heart within?

Eternal well of folly and of fault!
Alembic of the old and constant griefs!
I notice how, along the latticed vault
Of ribs, the all-consuming serpent creeps.

Truly, your coquetry will not evoke
Any award that does not do it wrong;
Who of these mortal hearts can grasp the joke?
The charms of horror only suit the strong!

Full of atrocious thoughts, your eyes' abyss
Breathes vertigo - no dancer could begin
Without a bitter nausea to kiss
Two rows of teeth locked in a steady grin.

But who has not embraced a skeleton?
Who has not fed himself on carrion meat?
What matter clothes, or how you put them on?
The priggish dandy shows his self-deceit.

Noseless hetaera, captivating quean,
Tell all those hypocrites what you know best:
'Proud darlings though you powder and you preen,
O perfumed skeletons, you reek of death!

Favourites faded, withered-in the mob
Antinous, and many a lovelace
The ceaseless swirling of the danse macabre
Sweeps you along to some unheard-of place!

From steamy Ganges to the freezing Seine
The troop of mortal leaps and swoons, and does
Not see the Angel's trumpet aimed at them
Down through the ceiling, that black blunderbuss.

In every climate Death admires you
In your contortions, 0 Humanity,
And perfuming herself as you would do,
Into your madness blends her irony!'

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