Andromache, I think of you. The Simois,
Little river that once shone with reflections
Of the majesty of your widow's sorrow,
Great with your tears, that now sadly runs,
Brought back to life my fertile memory
As I was crossing the new Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more (the heart of a city
Changes sooner, alas, than the heart of a mortal);
In my mind's eye only, I see barracks,
Rough-hewn capitals and columns, grass,
Blocks turning green in puddles, bric-a-brac
Scattered in windows, shining behind the glass.
There was a display, a menagerie,
And once I saw there, at the time of day
When Labor wakes under a clear, cold sky
And a dust storm rises from the highway,
A swan that somehow had escaped its cage,
Scraping webbed feet on the stony walk,
Over rough ground dragging its white plumage,
Near a dry stream bed opening its beak,
Bathe its wings in the dust. And with a heart
Full of its beautiful native lake, it said,
"Water, when will you rain? Thunder, when will you start?"
I see the unhappy one, so strangely fated,
Toward the sky, like the man in Ovid,
Toward the cruelly blue, ironic sky,
On its convulsive neck stretch its avid head,
As though it were reproaching the Deity!
Paris changes! But none of my melancholy
Has budged. New palaces, scaffolds, blocks
Old suburbs . . . all becomes an allegory.
My memories are heavier than the rocks.
Standing before the Louvre, I feel the weight
Of an image, my big swan, with his insane
Gestures, like exiles, ridiculous but great,
Gnawed by unappeasable desire. And then,
Andromache, you, from your hero's embrace
Torn like cattle, under the hand of Pyrrhus,
Kneeling by a tomb, praying to empty space;
Widow of Hector, wife of Helenus!
I think of the negress, gaunt, tubercular,
Trudging in the mud, and looking around her
With haggard eyes for the palms of Africa
Behind the huge wall of fog that surrounds her;
Of those who have lost what can never again
about:blank Loading... Be found. Never! Who water Grief with tears
And like a good she-wolf suckle their pain;
I think of orphans shriveling like flowers.
In the forest where my spirit lives in exile
Memory sounds again . . . le son du Cor!
I think of sailors deserted on an isle,
Of captives, the vanquished . . . and many more!
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 1, on page 36
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