Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Swinburne again

Really, Swinburne is one of my favorites. Those gloomy topics appeal to me in poetry, but more than that, Swinburne does wonderful things with rhythm and rhyme and alliteration.

Here’s a poem I didn’t use for the titles for the Death’s Lady series, but thought about seriously. It’s not truly suitable in theme or tone, but I do love this poem. Oddly, the second-to-the-last stanza is the one that I clearly recognize. One would think any Lit textbook would quote the whole thing. Either this stanza stood out for me at the time or perhaps I’ve seen it quoted elsewhere.

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.

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3 Comments Swinburne again

  1. Kristi

    Swinburne’s a favourite of mine; I was introduced to him by another fantasy author. E.R. Eddison quotes him in his fascinating but rather unreadable Mistress of Mistresses, a section from Ballad of Death that I can still recite from memory because of that inescapable rhythm:

    By night there stood over against my bed
    Queen Venus with a hood striped gold and black,
    Both sides drawn fully back
    From brows wherein the sad blood failed of red,
    And temples drained of purple and full of death.
    Her curled hair had the wave of sea-water
    And the sea’s gold in it.
    Her eyes were as a dove’s that sickeneth.
    Strewn dust of gold she had shed over her,
    And pearl and purple and amber on her feet.

    The poem ends:
    Now, ballad, gather poppies in thine hands
    And sheaves of brier and many rusted sheaves
    Rain-rotten in rank lands,
    Waste marigold and late unhappy leaves
    And grass that fades ere any of it be mown;
    And when thy bosom is filled full thereof
    Seek out Death’s face ere the light altereth,
    And say “My master that was thrall to Love
    Is become thrall to Death.”
    Bow down before him, ballad, sigh and groan.
    But make no sojourn in thy outgoing;
    For haply it may be
    That when thy feet return at evening
    Death shall come in with thee.

    Some potential epigraphs for Death’s Lady…

  2. Kim Aippersbach

    He’s really all about the dead flowers, isn’t he?! I’m wondering if he was just a really bad gardener … ;P

    (What gorgeous, gorgeous lines he comes up with, though.)

    (Now I want someone to write a book called “Nor Wake With Wings,” and another one called “Even The Weariest River.”)

    (And, yeah, what perfect epigraph lines!)

  3. Rachel

    Nor Wakes With Wings would be a great title! I mean, puzzling, but SO evocative.

    Probably Swinburne got too involved with poetry and, whenever he looked around, there his plants would be, withered and dead.

    Thanks for posting that, Kristi! I could spend weeks posting gloomy but beautiful Swinburne poems.

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