The Game

A poem by Charles Baudelaire

Old courtesans in washed-out armchairs,
pale, eyebrows blacked, eyes ‘tender’, ‘fatal’,
simpering still, and from their skinny ears
loosing their waterfalls of stone and metal:

Round the green baize, faces without lips,
lips without blood, jaws without the rest,
clawed fingers that the hellish fever grips,
fumbling an empty pocket, heaving breast:

below soiled ceilings, rows of pallid lights,
and huge candelabras shed their glimmer,
across the brooding brows of famous poets:
here it’s their blood and sweat they squander:

this the dark tableau of nocturnal dream
my clairvoyant eye once watched unfold.
In an angle of that silent lair, I leaned
hard on my elbows, envious, mute, and cold,

yes, envying that crew’s tenacious passion,
the graveyard gaiety of those old whores,
all bravely trafficking to my face, this one
her looks, that one his family honour,

heart scared of envying many a character
fervently rushing at the wide abyss,
drunk on their own blood, who’d still prefer
torment to death, and hell to nothingness!

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