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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Atalanta in Calydon



            65When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
            66     The mother of months in meadow or plain
            67Fills the shadows and windy places
            68     With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;
            69And the brown bright nightingale amorous
            70Is half assuaged for Itylus,
            71For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
            72     The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.

            73Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,
            74     Maiden most perfect, lady of light,
            75With a noise of winds and many rivers,
            76     With a clamour of waters, and with might;
            77Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,
            78Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;
            79For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,
            80     Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.

            81Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,
            82     Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?
            83O that man's heart were as fire and could spring to her,
            84     Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!
            85For the stars and the winds are unto her
            86As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;
            87For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,
            88     And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing.

            89For winter's rains and ruins are over,
            90     And all the season of snows and sins;
            91The days dividing lover and lover,
            92     The light that loses, the night that wins;
            93And time remembered is grief forgotten,
            94And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
            95And in green underwood and cover
            96     Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

            97The full streams feed on flower of rushes,
            98     Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,
            99The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes
          100     From leaf to flower and flower to fruit;
          101And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,
          102And the oat is heard above the lyre,
          103And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes
          104     The chestnut-husk at the chestnut root.

          105And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
          106     Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
          107Follows with dancing and fills with delight
          108     The Mænad and the Bassarid;
          109And soft as lips that laugh and hide
          110The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
          111And screen from seeing and leave in sight
          112     The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

          113The ivy falls with the Bacchanal's hair
          114     Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;
          115The wild vine slipping down leaves bare
          116     Her bright breast shortening into sighs;
          117The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves,
          118But the berried ivy catches and cleaves
          119To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare
          120     The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.

                    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


          314Before the beginning of years
          315     There came to the making of man
          316Time, with a gift of tears;
          317     Grief, with a glass that ran;
          318Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
          319     Summer, with flowers that fell;
          320Remembrance fallen from heaven,
          321     And madness risen from hell;
          322Strength without hands to smite;
          323     Love that endures for a breath;
          324Night, the shadow of light,
          325     And life, the shadow of death.

          326And the high gods took in hand
          327     Fire, and the falling of tears,
          328And a measure of sliding sand
          329     From under the feet of the years;
          330And froth and drift of the sea;
          331     And dust of the labouring earth;
          332And bodies of things to be
          333     In the houses of death and of birth;
          334And wrought with weeping and laughter,
          335     And fashioned with loathing and love
          336With life before and after
          337     And death beneath and above,
          338For a day and a night and a morrow,
          339     That his strength might endure for a span
          340With travail and heavy sorrow,
          341     The holy spirit of man.

          342From the winds of the north and the south
          343     They gathered as unto strife;
          344They breathed upon his mouth,
          345     They filled his body with life;
          346Eyesight and speech they wrought
          347     For the veils of the soul therein,
          348A time for labour and thought,
          349     A time to serve and to sin;
          350They gave him light in his ways,
          351     And love, and a space for delight,
          352And beauty and length of days,
          353     And night, and sleep in the night.
          354His speech is a burning fire;
          355     With his lips he travaileth;
          356In his heart is a blind desire,
          357     In his eyes foreknowledge of death;
          358He weaves, and is clothed with derision;
          359     Sows, and he shall not reap;
          360His life is a watch or a vision
          361     Between a sleep and a sleep.


65] This is the first chorus in the drama. It celebrates the goddess of chastity; hunting, and the moon, i.e., Artemis or Diana. See the complete verse drama.

66] The mother of months: Artemis, who controls the phases of the moon. Shelley calls her "the mother of months" in his Prometheus Unbound, IV.

69] This story is used by Swinburne in "Itylus." Returning to Thrace, King Tereus, husband of Procne, ravished her sister Philomela and cut out her tongue. However, Philomela managed to tell her story in needlework. In revenge the sisters slew Itylus, Tereus's son by Procne, and served him up for Tereus to eat. This was at a place called Daulis (see "Itylus," line 48). The angry gods turned the protagonists into birds, Philomela into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow.

74] Artemis, goddess of hunting and patron of unmarried girls.

82-87] A manuscript version of these lines, reproduced in The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise (London: William Heinemann, 1926): I, 77, reads as follows:

Her who is more than love or than spring?
Wine shall we shed for her, wreaths shall we bring to her,
Life shall we give her, and fire shall we bring?
For her feet are fair in the wet sweet ways,
From the sea-bank to the sea-bays;
And the risen stars and the fallen cling to her

102] oat: reed-pipe.

103] satyr: half-man, half-beast, a mythical creature of the woods.

105] Pan: god of shepherds.
Bacchus: god of wine.

108] Mænad, Bassarid, and Bacchanal (49) are female worshippers of Bacchus.

111-12] chiastic (Greek, `set out diagonally'): the god is left in sight, and the maiden is screened.

316] inversion as a figure of speech: Grief usually sheds tears, and Time usually has an hour-glass.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1924): II, 249-50.
First publication date: 1865
Publication date note: Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon; a tragedy (London: E. Moxon, 1865). end S956 A83 1865 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto)
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.367.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Rhyme: ababccab

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne