Paul Verlaine

(1844-1896 / France)

Birds In The Night


You were not over-patient with me, dear;
This want of patience one must rightly rate:
You are so young! Youth ever was severe
And variable and inconsiderate!

You had not all the needful kindness, no;
Nor should one be amazed, unhappily:
You're very young, cold sister mine, and so
'Tis natural you should unfeeling be!

Behold me therefore ready to forgive;
Not gay, of course! but doing what I can
To bear up bravely,-deeply though I grieve
To be, through you, the most unhappy man.


II
But you will own that I was in the right
When in my downcast moods I used to say
That your sweet eyes, my hope, once, and delight!
Were come to look like eyes that will betray.

It was an evil lie, you used to swear,
And your glance, which was lying, dear, would flame,-
Poor fire, near out, one stirs to make it flare!-
And in your soft voice you would say, 'Je t'aime!'

Alas! that one should clutch at happiness
In sense's, season's, everything's despite!-
But 'twas an hour of gleeful bitterness
When I became convinced that I was right!

III
And wherefore should I lay my heart-wounds bare?
You love me not,-an end there, lady mine;
And as I do not choose that one shall dare
To pity,-I must suffer without sign.

Yes, suffer! For I loved you well, did I,-
But like a loyal soldier will I stand
Till, hurt to death, he staggers off to die,
Still filled with love for an ungrateful land.

O you that were my Beauty and my Own,
Although from you derive all my mischance,
Are not you still my Home, then, you alone,
As young and mad and beautiful as France?


IV
Now I do not intend-what were the gain?-
To dwell with streaming eyes upon the past;
But yet my love which you may think lies slain,
Perhaps is only wide awake at last.

My love, perhaps,-which now is memory!-
Although beneath your blows it cringe and cry
And bleed to will, and must, as I foresee,
Still suffer long and much before it die,-

Judges you justly when it seems aware
Of some not all banal compunction,
And of your memory in its despair
Reproaching you, 'Ah, fi! it was ill done!'


V
I see you still. I softly pushed the door-
As one o'erwhelmed with weariness you lay;
But O light body love should soon restore,
You bounded up, tearful at once and gay.

O what embraces, kisses sweet and wild!
Myself, from brimming eyes I laughed to you
Those moments, among all, O lovely child,
Shall be my saddest, but my sweetest, too.

I will remember your smile, your caress,
Your eyes, so kind that day,-exquisite snare!-
Yourself, in fine, whom else I might not bless,
Only as they appeared, not as they were.


VI
I see you still! Dressed in a summer dress,
Yellow and white, bestrewn with curtain-flowers;
But you had lost the glistening laughingness
Of our delirious former loving hours.

The eldest daughter and the little wife
Spoke plainly in your bearing's least detail,-
Already 'twas, alas! our altered life
That stared me from behind your dotted veil.

Forgiven be! And with no little pride
I treasure up,-and you, no doubt, see why,-
Remembrance of the lightning to one side
That used to flash from your indignant eye!


VII
Some moments, I'm the tempest-driven bark
That runs dismasted mid the hissing spray,
And seeing not Our Lady through the dark
Makes ready to be drowned, and kneels to pray.

Some moments, I'm the sinner at his end,
That knows his doom if he unshriven go,
And losing hope of any ghostly friend,
Sees Hell already gape, and feels it glow.

Oh, but! Some moments, I've the spirit stout
Of early Christians in the lion's care,
That smile to Jesus witnessing, without
A nerve's revolt, the turning of a hair!

Submitted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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