History Back to The Swan
posted by March 23 at 11:28 AMon
Today the P-I published a rather flat article on the gentrification of the Central District. It offers no new ideas about what has happened in that part of Seattle—how and why it was transformed from a hood to a neighborhood. And the mood of the article—its sense of shock, loss, and saudade (an excellent Portuguese word that needs to be fully adopted by English)—is the same mood of the world’s first poem about gentrification, Charles Baudelaire’s The Swan, which was published near the middle of the 19th century in response to the Haussmannization of Paris. This passage makes up the poem’s end and final meaning:
Paris may change; my melancholy is fixed.
New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,
And suburbs old, are symbols all to me
Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.
And so, before the Louvre, to vex my soul,
The image came of my majestic swan
With his mad gestures, foolish and sublime,
As of an exile whom one great desire
Gnaws with no truce. And then I thought of you,
Andromache! torn from your hero’s arms;
Beneath the hand of Pyrrhus in his pride;
Bent o’er an empty tomb in ecstasy;
Widow of Hector — wife of Helenus!
And of the negress, wan and phthisical,
Tramping the mud, and with her haggard eyes
Seeking beyond the mighty walls of fog
The absent palm-trees of proud Africa;
Of all who lose that which they never find;
Of all who drink of tears; all whom grey grief
Gives suck to as the kindly wolf gave suck;
Of meagre orphans who like blossoms fade.
And one old Memory like a crying horn
Sounds through the forest where my soul is lost …
I think of sailors on some isle forgotten;
Of captives; vanquished … and of many more.
Indeed, that lost and consumptive black woman in Haussmannized Paris can be seen even today in the gentrified Central District.