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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Galloping Hearse

By Paul Verlaine

Lowbrow, I was descending by the top of the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette street, smoking a cigar, without thinking of anything, as it happens to me the third quarter of the time. Morning’s tenth hour resounded everywhere. It was one of those wet suns of summer’s end. The lukewarm and heavy air was predisposing to nuisance. The passers-by, numerously enough, went by with tardy step, while the peddlers voices raised themselves, in the unctuous smoke of the chimneys and the soft mephitis of the puddles towards the low sky.

A sudden racket of carriage at full blast made me raise my eyes, and I saw a low-end hearse coming, one of those narrow ones, so-called for “poor people”, with a semi-cylindrical roof and a copper hourglass, inlaid between four stars, as all ornament.

In that hearse, there was a coffin covered by a black canopy, without embroideries, nor cross, nor wreaths, nor anything; a coffin with a black canopy over it, and behind, nobody.

Nobody behind. Around, four drivers, at full blast. And the hearse went by trotting, like a rented coach paid by career. This spectacle, so common, besides, in Paris, and which would not have impressed me, in any other moment, impressed me strongly, enervated without doubt, as I was, by the atmospheric height, or, better yet, but the same thing I was thinking about nothing.

Of course, I myself represented the dead, in his twenty sous box, the mouth open, the fists clenched---clenched?---, wrapped in any way in a too-narrow shroud, the dry feet looming, terribly shaken by the coach’s ups and downs, its teeth clashing, its head hitting from hither to thither, its gray hair curling up over the yellow brow and escaping from its bosom with a deaf groan.

”---Who is this dead without relatives nor friends to follow its burial, without a priest to wish it a good journey to its soul?---A criminal elder?---It is that those peoples do not always have accomplices, dear ones, or adoptive sons or legitimate ones, in case of necessity!---A suicidal?---may well be---A miser?---Surely; but of what nature?---A beggar, a swindler, a laborer, a bohemian, a poet?…”

A poet! And since the times in which we live in are not conducive to those who occupy themselves in versification, suddenly, I myself saw myself, aged, in a twenty francs coffin, the mouth open, the fists clenched---clenched?---, wrapped in any way in a too-narrow shroud, the dry feet looming, terribly shaken by the hearse’s ups and downs, the teeth clashing, my head hitting from hither to thither, my gray hair curling over my yellow brow, and escaping from my bosom like a deaf groan. And nobody behind the hearse. And a passer-by, asking himself: “Who is that dead?…”

Like this did my spirit wander, when mechanically I turned for the last time to watch the hearse, that was going by the middle of the Fontaine street, always carrying its racing from hell, and always without anyone behind. In its wake the women and children crossed themselves, galloping too.

The men were discovering…

I only remember that, be it for the consequence of my perturbation, be it for the incorrigible and simple disparagement of poverty which characterizes me, I had completely neglected  greeting that hearse, which had suggested so melancholic reflections, so picturesque, and so prophetic, probably.

Translated By Lex Taylor.

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