They pass upon their old, tremulous feet, Creeping with little satchels down the street, And they remember, many years ago, Passing that way in silks. They wander, slow And solitary, through the city ways, And they alone remember those old days Men have forgotten. In their shaking heads A dancer of old carnivals yet treads The measure of past waltzes, and they see The candles lit again, the patchouli Sweeten the air, and the warm cloud of musk Enchant the passing of the passionate dusk. Then you will see a light begin to creep Under the earthen eyelids, dimmed with sleep, And a new tremor, happy and uncouth, Jerking about the corners of the mouth. Then the old head drops down again, and shakes, Muttering.
Sometimes, when the swift gaslight wakes The dreams and fever of the sleepless town, A shaking huddled thing in a black gown Will steal at midnight, carrying with her Violet bags of lavender, Into the taproom full of noisy light; Or, at the crowded earlier hour of night, Sidle, with matches, up to some who stand About a stage-door, and, with furtive hand, Appealing: "I too was a dancer, when Your fathers would have been young gentlemen!" And sometimes, out of some lean ancient throat, A broken voice, with here and there a note Of unspoiled crystal, suddenly will arise Into the night, while a cracked fiddle cries Pantingly after; and you know she sings The passing of light, famous, passing things. And sometimes, in the hours past midnight, reels Out of an alley upon staggering heels, Or into the dark keeping of the stones About a doorway, a vague thing of bones And draggled hair.
And all these have been loved. And not one ruinous body has not moved The heart of man's desire, nor has not seemed Immortal in the eyes of one who dreamed The dream that men call love. This is the end Of much fair flesh; it is for this you tend Your delicate bodies many careful years, To be this thing of laughter and of tears, To be this living judgment of the dead, An old gray woman with a shaking head.