Skeletons Digging

A poem by Charles Baudelaire


In anatomical designs
That hang about these dusty quays
Where books' cadavers lie and sleep
Like mummies of the ancient times,

Drawings of which the gravity
And the engraver's knowing hand,
Although the theme be less than grand,
Communicate an artistry,

One sees, which renders more intense
The horror and the mystery,
Like field-hands working wearily
Some skeletons and skinless men.


Out of the land you're digging there,
Obedient and woeful drones,
With all the effort of your bones,
Of all your muscles, stripped and bare,

Say, what strange harvest do you farm,
Convicts from the charnel house,
And what contractor hired you out
To fill what farmer's empty barn?

Do you (our dreadful fate seems clear
In your design) intend to show
That in the pit we may not know
The sleep we have been promised there;

Non-being will not keep its faith;
That even Death can tell a lie,
And that, Alas! eternally
It falls to us, perhaps, at death

In some anonymous retreat
To see the stubborn land is flayed
By pushing the reluctant spade
Under our bare and bleeding feet?

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