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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Ave Atque Vale
In Memory of Charles Baudelaire

Nous devrions pourtant lui porter quelques fleurs;
Les morts, les pauvres morts, ont de grandes douleurs,
Et quand Octobre souffle, émondeur des vieux arbres,
Son vent mélancolique à l'entour de leurs marbres,
Certe, ils doivent trouver les vivants bien ingrats.

Les Fleurs du Mal.

              1Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,
              2    Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?
              3    Or quiet sea-flower moulded by the sea,
              4Or simplest growth of meadow-sweet or sorrel,
              5    Such as the summer-sleepy Dryads weave,
              6    Waked up by snow-soft sudden rains at eve?
              7Or wilt thou rather, as on earth before,
              8    Half-faded fiery blossoms, pale with heat
              9    And full of bitter summer, but more sweet
            10To thee than gleanings of a northern shore
            11    Trod by no tropic feet?

            12For always thee the fervid languid glories
            13    Allured of heavier suns in mightier skies;
            14    Thine ears knew all the wandering watery sighs
            15Where the sea sobs round Lesbian promontories,
            16    The barren kiss of piteous wave to wave
            17    That knows not where is that Leucadian grave
            18Which hides too deep the supreme head of song.
            19    Ah, salt and sterile as her kisses were,
            20    The wild sea winds her and the green gulfs bear
            21Hither and thither, and vex and work her wrong,
            22    Blind gods that cannot spare.

            23Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother,
            24    Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us:
            25    Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,
            26Bare to thy subtler eye, but for none other
            27    Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime;
            28    The hidden harvest of luxurious time,
            29Sin without shape, and pleasure without speech;
            30    And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep
            31    Make the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep;
            32And with each face thou sawest the shadow on each,
            33    Seeing as men sow men reap.

            34O sleepless heart and sombre soul unsleeping,
            35    That were athirst for sleep and no more life
            36    And no more love, for peace and no more strife!
            37Now the dim gods of death have in their keeping
            38    Spirit and body and all the springs of song,
            39    Is it well now where love can do no wrong,
            40Where stingless pleasure has no foam or fang
            41    Behind the unopening closure of her lips?
            42    Is it not well where soul from body slips
            43And flesh from bone divides without a pang
            44    As dew from flower-bell drips?

            45It is enough; the end and the beginning
            46    Are one thing to thee, who art past the end.
            47    O hand unclasped of unbeholden friend,
            48For thee no fruits to pluck, no palms for winning,
            49    No triumph and no labour and no lust,
            50    Only dead yew-leaves and a little dust.
            51O quiet eyes wherein the light saith nought,
            52    Whereto the day is dumb, nor any night
            53    With obscure finger silences your sight,
            54Nor in your speech the sudden soul speaks thought,
            55    Sleep, and have sleep for light.

            56Now all strange hours and all strange loves are over,
            57    Dreams and desires and sombre songs and sweet,
            58    Hast thou found place at the great knees and feet
            59Of some pale Titan-woman like a lover,
            60    Such as thy vision here solicited,
            61    Under the shadow of her fair vast head,
            62The deep division of prodigious breasts,
            63    The solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep,
            64    The weight of awful tresses that still keep
            65The savour and shade of old-world pine-forests
            66    Where the wet hill-winds weep?

            67Hast thou found any likeness for thy vision?
            68    O gardener of strange flowers, what bud, what bloom,
            69    Hast thou found sown, what gathered in the gloom?
            70What of despair, of rapture, of derision,
            71    What of life is there, what of ill or good?
            72    Are the fruits grey like dust or bright like blood?
            73Does the dim ground grow any seed of ours,
            74    The faint fields quicken any terrene root,
            75    In low lands where the sun and moon are mute
            76And all the stars keep silence? Are there flowers
            77    At all, or any fruit?

            78Alas, but though my flying song flies after,
            79    O sweet strange elder singer, thy more fleet
            80    Singing, and footprints of thy fleeter feet,
            81Some dim derision of mysterious laughter
            82    From the blind tongueless warders of the dead,
            83    Some gainless glimpse of Proserpine's veiled head,
            84Some little sound of unregarded tears
            85    Wept by effaced unprofitable eyes,
            86    And from pale mouths some cadence of dead sighs --
            87These only, these the hearkening spirit hears,
            88    Sees only such things rise.

            89Thou art far too far for wings of words to follow,
            90    Far too far off for thought or any prayer.
            91    What ails us with thee, who art wind and air?
            92What ails us gazing where all seen is hollow?
            93    Yet with some fancy, yet with some desire,
            94    Dreams pursue death as winds a flying fire,
            95Our dreams pursue our dead and do not find.
            96    Still, and more swift than they, the thin flame flies,
            97    The low light fails us in elusive skies,
            98Still the foiled earnest ear is deaf, and blind
            99    Are still the eluded eyes.

          100Not thee, O never thee, in all time's changes,
          101    Not thee, but this the sound of thy sad soul,
          102    The shadow of thy swift spirit, this shut scroll
          103I lay my hand on, and not death estranges
          104    My spirit from communion of thy song --
          105    These memories and these melodies that throng
          106Veiled porches of a Muse funereal --
          107    These I salute, these touch, these clasp and fold
          108    As though a hand were in my hand to hold,
          109Or through mine ears a mourning musical
          110    Of many mourners rolled.

          111I among these, I also, in such station
          112    As when the pyre was charred, and piled the sods,
          113    And offering to the dead made, and their gods,
          114The old mourners had, standing to make libation,
          115    I stand, and to the gods and to the dead
          116    Do reverence without prayer or praise, and shed
          117Offering to these unknown, the gods of gloom,
          118    And what of honey and spice my seedlands bear,
          119    And what I may of fruits in this chilled air,
          120And lay, Orestes-like, across the tomb
          121    A curl of severed hair.

          122But by no hand nor any treason stricken,
          123    Not like the low-lying head of Him, the King,
          124    The flame that made of Troy a ruinous thing,
          125Thou liest, and on this dust no tears could quicken
          126    There fall no tears like theirs that all men hear
          127    Fall tear by sweet imperishable tear
          128Down the opening leaves of holy poets' pages.
          129    Thee not Orestes, not Electra mourns;
          130    But bending us-ward with memorial urns
          131The most high Muses that fulfil all ages
          132    Weep, and our God's heart yearns.

          133For, sparing of his sacred strength, not often
          134    Among us darkling here the lord of light
          135    Makes manifest his music and his might
          136In hearts that open and in lips that soften
          137    With the soft flame and heat of songs that shine.
          138    Thy lips indeed he touched with bitter wine,
          139And nourished them indeed with bitter bread;
          140    Yet surely from his hand thy soul's food came,
          141    The fire that scarred thy spirit at his flame
          142Was lighted, and thine hungering heart he fed
          143    Who feeds our hearts with fame.

          144Therefore he too now at thy soul's sunsetting,
          145    God of all suns and songs, he too bends down
          146    To mix his laurel with thy cypress crown,
          147And save thy dust from blame and from forgetting.
          148    Therefore he too, seeing all thou wert and art,
          149    Compassionate, with sad and sacred heart,
          150Mourns thee of many his children the last dead,
          151    And hallows with strange tears and alien sighs
          152    Thine unmelodious mouth and sunless eyes,
          153And over thine irrevocable head
          154    Sheds light from the under skies.

          155And one weeps with him in the ways Lethean,
          156    And stains with tears her changing bosom chill:
          157    That obscure Venus of the hollow hill,
          158That thing transformed which was the Cytherean,
          159    With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine
          160    Long since, and face no more called Erycine;
          161A ghost, a bitter and luxurious god.
          162    Thee also with fair flesh and singing spell
          163    Did she, a sad and second prey, compel
          164Into the footless places once more trod,
          165    And shadows hot from hell.

          166And now no sacred staff shall break in blossom,
          167    No choral salutation lure to light
          168    A spirit sick with perfume and sweet night
          169And love's tired eyes and hands and barren bosom.
          170    There is no help for these things; none to mend
          171    And none to mar; not all our songs, O friend,
          172Will make death clear or make life durable.
          173    Howbeit with rose and ivy and wild vine
          174    And with wild notes about this dust of thine
          175At least I fill the place where white dreams dwell
          176    And wreathe an unseen shrine.

          177Sleep; and if life was bitter to thee, pardon,
          178    If sweet, give thanks; thou hast no more to live;
          179    And to give thanks is good, and to forgive.
          180Out of the mystic and the mournful garden
          181    Where all day through thine hands in barren braid
          182    Wove the sick flowers of secrecy and shade,
          183Green buds of sorrow and sin, and remnants grey,
          184    Sweet-smelling, pale with poison, sanguine-hearted,
          185    Passions that sprang from sleep and thoughts that started,
          186Shall death not bring us all as thee one day
          187    Among the days departed?

          188For thee, O now a silent soul, my brother,
          189    Take at my hands this garland, and farewell.
          190    Thin is the leaf, and chill the wintry smell,
          191And chill the solemn earth, a fatal mother,
          192    With sadder than the Niobean womb,
          193    And in the hollow of her breasts a tomb.
          194Content thee, howsoe'er, whose days are done;
          195    There lies not any troublous thing before,
          196    Nor sight nor sound to war against thee more,
          197For whom all winds are quiet as the sun,
          198    All waters as the shore.


1] Swinburne on May 22, 1867, wrote to George Powell: "I am writing a little sort of lyric dirge for my poor Baudelaire, which I think is good as far as it has got" (The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise [London: William Heinemann, 1926]: I, 246).
Charles Baudelaire (1821-67), French poet of melancholic verse, author of the Fleurs du Mal (1857; 1861). The epigraph is from poem C (100; see the edition by Jean-Paul Sartre [Librairie Gallimard, 1961]: 120-21), beginning "La servante au grand coeur dont vous étiez jalouse."

5] Dryads: nymphs of the forests.

15] Lesbian: of Lesbos, a Greek isle associated with love.

17] Leucadian grave: the Greek poet Sappho was thought to have jumped from the cliffs of Leucadia, an island in the Ionian sea, from her unrequited love for Phaon.

59] Titan-woman: daughters of Uranus and Ge, the great gods of Greek myth overthrown by Zeus.

120] Orestes-like: son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestrawho killed his mother and her lover Aegisthus for their murder of his father.

155] Lethean: the river of the Greek hell, Hades, whose name means `oblivion.'

158] Cytherean: worshipper of Aphrodite.

160] Erycine: Venus-like, so-called after Eryx, a mountain and nearby city in Sicily renowned for its temple to her.

192] Niobean womb: Niobe, wife of Amphion whose twelve sons and daughters were all killed by Apollo and Artemis and who was transformed from grief into a stone that wept.

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): I, 346-53.
First publication date: January 1868
Publication date note: Fortnightly Review (Jan. 1868): 71-76; and then Poems and Ballads, 2nd series (1878): 71-83.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Rhyme: abbaccdeede

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne