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Poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Chorus from ATALANTA

WHEN the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,

The mother of months in meadow or plain

Fills the shadows and windy places

With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;

And the brown bright nightingale amorous

Is half assuaged for Itylus,

For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces.

The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.
Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,

Maiden most perfect, lady of light,

With a noise of winds and many rivers,

With a clamour of waters, and with might;

Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,

Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;

For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,

Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.

Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,

Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?

O that man's heart were as fire and could spring to her,

Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!

For the stars and the winds are unto her

As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;

For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,

And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing.

For winter's rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remember'd is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

The full streams feed on flower of rushes,

Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,

The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes

From leaf to flower and flower to fruit;

And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,

And the oat is heard above the lyre,

And the hoofed heel of a satyr crushes

The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.

And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,

Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,

Follows with dancing and fills with delight

The Maenad and the Bassarid;

And soft as lips that laugh and hide

The laughing leaves of the trees divide,

And screen from seeing and leave in sight

The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

The ivy falls with the Bacchanal's hair

Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;

The wild vine slipping down leaves bare

Her bright breast shortening into sighs;

The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves,

But the berried ivy catches and cleaves

To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare

The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.

Love, what ailed thee to leave life that was made lovely, we thought, with love?

What sweet visions of sleep lured thee away, down from the light above?

What strange faces of dreams, voices that called, hands that were raised to wave,

Lured or led thee, alas, out of the sun, down to the sunless grave?

Ah, thy luminous eyes! once was their light fed with the fire of day;

Now their shadowy lids cover them close, hush them and hide away.

Ah, thy snow-coloured hands! once were they chains, mighty to bind me fast;

Now no blood in them burns, mindless of love, senseless of passion past.

Ah, thy beautiful hair! so was it once braided for me, for me;

Now for death is it crowned, only for death, lover and lord of thee.

Sweet, the kisses of death set on thy lips, colder are they than mine;

Colder surely than past kisses that love poured for thy lips as wine.

Lov'st thou death? is his face fairer than love's, brighter to look upon?

Seest thou light in his eyes, light by which love's pales and is overshone?

Lo the roses of death, grey as the dust, chiller of leaf than snow!

Why let fall from thy hand love's that were thine, roses that loved thee so?

Large red lilies of love, sceptral and tall, lovely for eyes to see;

Thornless blossom of love, full of the sun, fruits that were reared for thee.

Now death's poppies alone circle thy hair, girdle thy breasts as white;

Bloodless blossoms of death, leaves that have sprung never against the light.

Nay then, sleep if thou wilt; love is content; what should he do to weep?

Sweet was love to thee once; now in thine eyes sweeter than love is sleep.


In the month of the long decline of roses

I, beholding the summer dead before me,

Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent,

Gazing eagerly where above the sea-mark

Flame as fierce as the fervid eyes of lions

Half divided the eyelids of the sunset;

Till I heard as it were a noise of waters

Moving tremulous under feet of angels

Multitudinous, out of all the heavens;

Knew the fluttering wind, the fluttered foliage,

Shaken fitfully, full of sound and shadow;

And saw, trodden upon by noiseless angels,

Long mysterious reaches fed with moonlight,

Sweet sad straits in a soft subsiding channel,

Blown about by the lips of winds I knew not,

Winds not born in the north nor any quarter,

Winds not warm with the south nor any sunshine;

Heard between them a voice of exultation,

'Lo, the summer is dead, the sun is faded,

Even like as a leaf the year is withered,

All the fruits of the day from all her branches

Gathered, neither is any left to gather.

All the flowers are dead, the tender blossoms,

All are taken away; the season wasted,

Like an ember among the fallen ashes.

Now with light of the winter days, with moonlight,

Light of snow, and the bitter light of hoarfrost,

We bring flowers that fade not after autumn,

Pale white chaplets and crowns of latter seasons,

Fair false leaves (but the summer leaves were falser),

Woven under the eyes of stars and planets

When low light was upon the windy reaches

Where the flower of foam was blown, a lily

Dropt among the sonorous fruitless furrows

And green fields of the sea that make no pasture:

Since the winter begins, the weeping winter,

All whose flowers are tears, and round his temples

Iron blossom of frost is bound for ever.'

Insularum Ocelle
Sark, fairer than aught in the world that the lit skies cover,

Laughs inly behind her cliffs, and the seafarers mark

As a shrine where the sunlight serves, though the blown clouds hover,

We mourn, for love of a song that outsang the lark,

That nought so lovely beholden of Sirmio's lover

Made glad in Propontis the flight of his Pontic bark.

Here earth lies lordly, triumphal as heaven is above her,

And splendid and strange as the sea that upbears as an ark,

As a sign for the rapture of storm-spent eyes to discover,


Mater Dolorosa
Who is this that sits by the way, by the wild wayside,
In a rent stained raiment, the robe of a cast-off bride,
In the dust, in the rainfall sitting, with soiled feet bare,
With the night for a garment upon her, with torn wet hair?
She is fairer of face than the daughters of men, and her eyes,
Worn through with her tears, are deep as the depth of skies.

This is she for whose sake being fallen, for whose abject sake,

Earth groans in the blackness of darkness, and men's hearts break.
This is she for whose love, having seen her, the men that were
Poured life out as water, and shed their souls upon air.
This is she for whose glory their years were counted as foam;
Whose face was a light upon Greece, was a fire upon Rome.

Is it now not surely a vain thing, a foolish and vain,

To sit down by her, mourn to her, serve her, partake in the pain?
She is grey with the dust of time on his manifold ways,
Where her faint feet stumble and falter through year-long days.
Shall she help us at all, O fools, give fruit or give fame,
Who herself is a name despised, a rejected name?

We have not served her for guerdon. If any do so,

That his mouth may be sweet with such honey, we care not to know.
We have drunk from a wine-unsweetened, a perilous cup,
A draught very bitter. The kings of the earth stood up,
And the rulers took counsel together, to smite her and slay;
And the blood of her wounds is given us to drink today.

Can these bones live? or the leaves that are dead leaves bud?

Or the dead blood drawn from her veins be in your veins blood?
Will ye gather up water again that was drawn and shed?
In the blood is the life of the veins, and her veins are dead.
For the lives that are over are over, and past things past;
She had her day, and it is not; was first, and is last.

Is it nothing unto you then, all ye that pass by,

If her breath be left in her lips, if she live now or die?
Behold now, O people, and say if she be not fair,
Whom your fathers followed to find her, with praise and prayer,
And rejoiced, having found her, though roof they had none nor bread;
But ye care not; what is it to you if her day be dead?

It was well with our fathers; their sound was in all men's lands;

There was fire in their hearts, and the hunger of fight in their hands.
Naked and strong they went forth in her strength like flame,
For her love's and her name's sake of old, her republican name.
But their children, by kings made quiet, by priests made wise,
Love better the heat of their hearths than the light of her eyes.

Are they children of these thy children indeed, who have sold,

O golden goddess, the light of thy face for gold?
Are they sons indeed of the sons of thy dayspring of hope,
Whose lives are in fief of an emperor, whose souls of a Pope?
Hide then thine head, O beloved; thy time is done;
Thy kingdom is broken in heaven, and blind thy sun.

What sleep is upon you, to dream she indeed shall rise,

When the hopes are dead in her heart as the tears in her eyes?
If ye sing of her dead, will she stir? if ye weep for her, weep?
Come away now, leave her; what hath she to do but sleep?
But ye that mourn are alive, and have years to be;
And life is good, and the world is wiser than we.

Yea, wise is the world and mighty, with years to give,

And years to promise; but how long now shall it live?
And foolish and poor is faith, and her ways are bare,
Till she find the way of the sun, and the morning air.
In that hour shall this dead face shine as the face of the sun,
And the soul of man and her soul and the world's be one.

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