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Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

The Complaint of Lisa


(Double Sestina)

DECAMERON, x. 7

              1There is no woman living that draws breath
              2So sad as I, though all things sadden her.
              3There is not one upon life's weariest way
              4Who is weary as I am weary of all but death.
              5Toward whom I look as looks the sunflower
              6All day with all his whole soul toward the sun;
              7While in the sun's sight I make moan all day,
              8And all night on my sleepless maiden bed
              9Weep and call out on death, O Love, and thee,
            10That thou or he would take me to the dead,
            11And know not what thing evil I have done
            12That life should lay such heavy hand on me.

            13Alas, Love, what is this thou wouldst with me?
            14What honour shalt thou have to quench my breath,
            15Or what shall my heart broken profit thee?
            16O Love, O great god Love, what have I done,
            17That thou shouldst hunger so after my death?
            18My heart is harmless as my life's first day:
            19Seek out some false fair woman, and plague her
            20Till her tears even as my tears fill her bed:
            21I am the least flower in thy flowery way,
            22But till my time be come that I be dead
            23Let me live out my flower-time in the sun
            24Though my leaves shut before the sunflower.

            25O Love, Love, Love, the kingly sunflower!
            26Shall he the sun hath looked on look on me,
            27That live down here in shade, out of the sun,
            28Here living in the sorrow and shadow of death?
            29Shall he that feeds his heart full of the day
            30Care to give mine eyes light, or my lips breath?
            31Because she loves him shall my lord love her
            32Who is as a worm in my lord's kingly way?
            33I shall not see him or know him alive or dead;
            34But thou, I know thee, O Love, and pray to thee
            35That in brief while my brief life-days be done,
            36And the worm quickly make my marriage-bed.

            37For underground there is no sleepless bed:
            38But here since I beheld my sunflower
            39These eyes have slept not, seeing all night and day
            40His sunlike eyes, and face fronting the sun.
            41Wherefore if anywhere be any death,
            42I would fain find and fold him fast to me,
            43That I may sleep with the world's eldest dead,
            44With her that died seven centuries since, and her
            45That went last night down the night-wandering way.
            46For this is sleep indeed, when labour is done,
            47Without love, without dreams, and without breath,
            48And without thought, O name unnamed! of thee.

            49Ah, but, forgetting all things, shall I thee?
            50Wilt thou not be as now about my bed
            51There underground as here before the sun?
            52Shall not thy vision vex me alive and dead,
            53Thy moving vision without form or breath?
            54I read long since the bitter tale of her
            55Who read the tale of Launcelot on a day,
            56And died, and had no quiet after death,
            57But was moved ever along a weary way,
            58Lost with her love in the underworld; ah me,
            59O my king, O my lordly sunflower,
            60Would God to me too such a thing were done!

            61But if such sweet and bitter things be done,
            62Then, flying from life, I shall not fly from thee.
            63For in that living world without a sun
            64Thy vision will lay hold upon me dead,
            65And meet and mock me, and mar my peace in death.
            66Yet if being wroth God had such pity on her,
            67Who was a sinner and foolish in her day,
            68That even in hell they twain should breathe one breath,
            69Why should he not in some wise pity me?
            70So if I sleep not in my soft strait bed
            71I may look up and see my sunflower
            72As he the sun, in some divine strange way.

            73O poor my heart, well knowest thou in what way
            74This sore sweet evil unto us was done.
            75For on a holy and a heavy day
            76I was arisen out of my still small bed
            77To see the knights tilt, and one said to me
            78"The king," and seeing him, somewhat stopped my breath,
            79And if the girl spake more, I heard not her,
            80For only I saw what I shall see when dead,
            81A kingly flower of knights, a sunflower,
            82That shone against the sunlight like the sun,
            83And like a fire, O heart, consuming thee,
            84The fire of love that lights the pyre of death.

            85Howbeit I shall not die an evil death
            86Who have loved in such a sad and sinless way,
            87That this my love, lord, was no shame to thee.
            88So when mine eyes are shut against the sun,
            89O my soul's sun, O the world's sunflower,
            90Thou nor no man will quite despise me dead.
            91And dying I pray with all my low last breath
            92That thy whole life may be as was that day,
            93That feast-day that made trothplight death and me,
            94Giving the world light of thy great deeds done;
            95And that fair face brightening thy bridal bed,
            96That God be good as God hath been to her.

            97That all things goodly and glad remain with her,
            98All things that make glad life and goodly death;
            99That as a bee sucks from a sunflower
          100Honey, when summer draws delighted breath,
          101Her soul may drink of thy soul in like way,
          102And love make life a fruitful marriage-bed
          103Where day may bring forth fruits of joy to day
          104And night to night till days and nights be dead.
          105And as she gives light of her love to thee,
          106Give thou to her the old glory of days long done;
          107And either give some heat of light to me,
          108To warm me where I sleep without the sun.

          109O sunflower made drunken with the sun,
          110O knight whose lady's heart draws thine to her,
          111Great king, glad lover, I have a word to thee.
          112There is a weed lives out of the sun's way,
          113Hid from the heat deep in the meadow's bed,
          114That swoons and whitens at the wind's least breath,
          115A flower star-shaped, that all a summer day
          116Will gaze her soul out on the sunflower
          117For very love till twilight finds her dead.
          118But the great sunflower heeds not her poor death,
          119Knows not when all her loving life is done;
          120And so much knows my lord the king of me.

          121Aye, all day long he has no eye for me;
          122With golden eye following the golden sun
          123From rose-coloured to purple-pillowed bed,
          124From birthplace to the flame-lit place of death,
          125From eastern end to western of his way.
          126So mine eye follows thee, my sunflower,
          127So the white star-flower turns and yearns to thee,
          128The sick weak weed, not well alive or dead,
          129Trod underfoot if any pass by her,
          130Pale, without colour of summer or summer breath
          131In the shrunk shuddering petals, that have done
          132No work but love, and die before the day.

          133But thou, to-day, to-morrow, and every day,
          134Be glad and great, O love whose love slays me.
          135Thy fervent flower made fruitful from the sun
          136Shall drop its golden seed in the world's way,
          137That all men thereof nourished shall praise thee
          138For grain and flower and fruit of works well done;
          139Till thy shed seed, O shining sunflower,
          140Bring forth such growth of the world's garden-bed
          141As like the sun shall outlive age and death.
          142And yet I would thine heart had heed of her
          143Who loves thee alive; but not till she be dead.
          144Come, Love, then, quickly, and take her utmost breath.

          145Song, speak for me who am dumb as are the dead;
          146From my sad bed of tears I send forth thee,
          147To fly all day from sun's birth to sun's death
          148Down the sun's way after the flying sun,
          149For love of her that gave thee wings and breath,
          150Ere day be done, to seek the sunflower.


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, 338-43.
First publication date: February 1870
Publication date note: Fortnightly Review (February 1870): 176-79; Poems and Ballads, 2nd series: 60-68.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Form: double sestina


Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne