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Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs)


              1Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel
              2    Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour;
              3The heavy white limbs, and the cruel
              4    Red mouth like a venomous flower;
              5When these are gone by with their glories,
              6    What shall rest of thee then, what remain,
              7O mystic and sombre Dolores,
              8    Our Lady of Pain?

              9Seven sorrows the priests give their Virgin;
            10    But thy sins, which are seventy times seven,
            11Seven ages would fail thee to purge in,
            12    And then they would haunt thee in heaven:
            13Fierce midnights and famishing morrows,
            14    And the loves that complete and control
            15All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows
            16    That wear out the soul.

            17O garment not golden but gilded,
            18    O garden where all men may dwell,
            19O tower not of ivory, but builded
            20    By hands that reach heaven from hell;
            21O mystical rose of the mire,
            22    O house not of gold but of gain,
            23O house of unquenchable fire,
            24    Our Lady of Pain!

            25O lips full of lust and of laughter,
            26    Curled snakes that are fed from my breast,
            27Bite hard, lest remembrance come after
            28    And press with new lips where you pressed.
            29For my heart too springs up at the pressure,
            30    Mine eyelids too moisten and burn;
            31Ah, feed me and fill me with pleasure,
            32    Ere pain come in turn.

            33In yesterday's reach and to-morrow's,
            34    Out of sight though they lie of to-day,
            35There have been and there yet shall be sorrows
            36    That smite not and bite not in play.
            37The life and the love thou despisest,
            38    These hurt us indeed, and in vain,
            39O wise among women, and wisest,
            40    Our Lady of Pain.

            41Who gave thee thy wisdom? what stories
            42    That stung thee, what visions that smote?
            43Wert thou pure and a maiden, Dolores,
            44    When desire took thee first by the throat?
            45What bud was the shell of a blossom
            46    That all men may smell to and pluck?
            47What milk fed thee first at what bosom?
            48    What sins gave thee suck?

            49We shift and bedeck and bedrape us,
            50    Thou art noble and nude and antique;
            51Libitina thy mother, Priapus
            52    Thy father, a Tuscan and Greek.
            53We play with light loves in the portal,
            54    And wince and relent and refrain;
            55Loves die, and we know thee immortal,
            56    Our Lady of Pain.

            57Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges;
            58    Thou art fed with perpetual breath,
            59And alive after infinite changes,
            60    And fresh from the kisses of death;
            61Of languors rekindled and rallied,
            62    Of barren delights and unclean,
            63Things monstrous and fruitless, a pallid
            64    And poisonous queen.

            65Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
            66    Men touch them, and change in a trice
            67The lilies and languors of virtue
            68    For the raptures and roses of vice;
            69Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,
            70    These crown and caress thee and chain,
            71O splendid and sterile Dolores,
            72    Our Lady of Pain.

            73There are sins it may be to discover,
            74    There are deeds it may be to delight.
            75What new work wilt thou find for thy lover,
            76    What new passions for daytime or night?
            77What spells that they know not a word of
            78    Whose lives are as leaves overblown?
            79What tortures undreamt of, unheard of,
            80    Unwritten, unknown?

            81Ah beautiful passionate body
            82    That never has ached with a heart!
            83On thy mouth though the kisses are bloody,
            84    Though they sting till it shudder and smart,
            85More kind than the love we adore is,
            86    They hurt not the heart or the brain,
            87O bitter and tender Dolores,
            88    Our Lady of Pain.

            89As our kisses relax and redouble,
            90    From the lips and the foam and the fangs
            91Shall no new sin be born for men's trouble,
            92    No dream of impossible pangs?
            93With the sweet of the sins of old ages
            94    Wilt thou satiate thy soul as of yore?
            95Too sweet is the rind, say the sages,
            96    Too bitter the core.

            97Hast thou told all thy secrets the last time,
            98    And bared all thy beauties to one?
            99Ah, where shall we go then for pastime,
          100    If the worst that can be has been done?
          101But sweet as the rind was the core is;
          102    We are fain of thee still, we are fain,
          103O sanguine and subtle Dolores,
          104    Our Lady of Pain.

          105By the hunger of change and emotion,
          106    By the thirst of unbearable things,
          107By despair, the twin-born of devotion,
          108    By the pleasure that winces and stings,
          109The delight that consumes the desire,
          110    The desire that outruns the delight,
          111By the cruelty deaf as a fire
          112    And blind as the night,

          113By the ravenous teeth that have smitten
          114    Through the kisses that blossom and bud,
          115By the lips intertwisted and bitten
          116    Till the foam has a savour of blood,
          117By the pulse as it rises and falters,
          118    By the hands as they slacken and strain,
          119I adjure thee, respond from thine altars,
          120    Our Lady of Pain.

          121Wilt thou smile as a woman disdaining
          122    The light fire in the veins of a boy?
          123But he comes to thee sad, without feigning,
          124    Who has wearied of sorrow and joy;
          125Less careful of labour and glory
          126    Than the elders whose hair has uncurled:
          127And young, but with fancies as hoary
          128    And grey as the world.

          129I have passed from the outermost portal
          130    To the shrine where a sin is a prayer;
          131What care though the service be mortal?
          132    O our Lady of Torture, what care?
          133All thine the last wine that I pour is,
          134    The last in the chalice we drain,
          135O fierce and luxurious Dolores,
          136    Our Lady of Pain.

          137All thine the new wine of desire,
          138    The fruit of four lips as they clung
          139Till the hair and the eyelids took fire,
          140    The foam of a serpentine tongue,
          141The froth of the serpents of pleasure,
          142    More salt than the foam of the sea,
          143Now felt as a flame, now at leisure
          144    As wine shed for me.

          145Ah thy people, thy children, thy chosen,
          146    Marked cross from the womb and perverse!
          147They have found out the secret to cozen
          148    The gods that constrain us and curse;
          149They alone, they are wise, and none other;
          150    Give me place, even me, in their train,
          151O my sister, my spouse, and my mother,
          152    Our Lady of Pain.

          153For the crown of our life as it closes
          154    Is darkness, the fruit thereof dust;
          155No thorns go as deep as a rose's,
          156    And love is more cruel than lust.
          157Time turns the old days to derision,
          158    Our loves into corpses or wives;
          159And marriage and death and division
          160    Make barren our lives.

          161And pale from the past we draw nigh thee,
          162    And satiate with comfortless hours;
          163And we know thee, how all men belie thee,
          164    And we gather the fruit of thy flowers;
          165The passion that slays and recovers,
          166    The pangs and the kisses that rain
          167On the lips and the limbs of thy lovers,
          168    Our Lady of Pain.

          169The desire of thy furious embraces
          170    Is more than the wisdom of years,
          171On the blossom though blood lie in traces,
          172    Though the foliage be sodden with tears.
          173For the lords in whose keeping the door is
          174    That opens on all who draw breath
          175Gave the cypress to love, my Dolores,
          176    The myrtle to death.

          177And they laughed, changing hands in the measure,
          178    And they mixed and made peace after strife;
          179Pain melted in tears, and was pleasure;
          180    Death tingled with blood, and was life.
          181Like lovers they melted and tingled,
          182    In the dusk of thine innermost fane;
          183In the darkness they murmured and mingled,
          184    Our Lady of Pain.

          185In a twilight where virtues are vices,
          186    In thy chapels, unknown of the sun,
          187To a tune that enthralls and entices,
          188    They were wed, and the twain were as one.
          189For the tune from thine altar hath sounded
          190    Since God bade the world's work begin,
          191And the fume of thine incense abounded,
          192    To sweeten the sin.

          193Love listens, and paler than ashes,
          194    Through his curls as the crown on them slips,
          195Lifts languid wet eyelids and lashes,
          196    And laughs with insatiable lips.
          197Thou shalt hush him with heavy caresses,
          198    With music that scares the profane;
          199Thou shalt darken his eyes with thy tresses,
          200    Our Lady of Pain.

          201Thou shalt blind his bright eyes though he wrestle,
          202    Thou shalt chain his light limbs though he strive;
          203In his lips all thy serpents shall nestle,
          204    In his hands all thy cruelties thrive.
          205In the daytime thy voice shall go through him,
          206    In his dreams he shall feel thee and ache;
          207Thou shalt kindle by night and subdue him
          208    Asleep and awake.

          209Thou shalt touch and make redder his roses
          210    With juice not of fruit nor of bud;
          211When the sense in the spirit reposes,
          212    Thou shalt quicken the soul through the blood.
          213Thine, thine the one grace we implore is,
          214    Who would live and not languish or feign,
          215O sleepless and deadly Dolores,
          216    Our Lady of Pain.

          217Dost thou dream, in a respite of slumber,
          218    In a lull of the fires of thy life,
          219Of the days without name, without number,
          220    When thy will stung the world into strife;
          221When, a goddess, the pulse of thy passion
          222    Smote kings as they revelled in Rome;
          223And they hailed thee re-risen, O Thalassian,
          224    Foam-white, from the foam?

          225When thy lips had such lovers to flatter;
          226    When the city lay red from thy rods,
          227And thine hands were as arrows to scatter
          228    The children of change and their gods;
          229When the blood of thy foemen made fervent
          230    A sand never moist from the main,
          231As one smote them, their lord and thy servant,
          232    Our Lady of Pain.

          233On sands by the storm never shaken,
          234    Nor wet from the washing of tides;
          235Nor by foam of the waves overtaken,
          236    Nor winds that the thunder bestrides;
          237But red from the print of thy paces,
          238    Made smooth for the world and its lords,
          239Ringed round with a flame of fair faces,
          240    And splendid with swords.

          241There the gladiator, pale for thy pleasure,
          242    Drew bitter and perilous breath;
          243There torments laid hold on the treasure
          244    Of limbs too delicious for death;
          245When thy gardens were lit with live torches;
          246    When the world was a steed for thy rein;
          247When the nations lay prone in thy porches,
          248    Our Lady of Pain.

          249When, with flame all around him aspirant,
          250    Stood flushed, as a harp-player stands,
          251The implacable beautiful tyrant,
          252    Rose-crowned, having death in his hands;
          253And a sound as the sound of loud water
          254    Smote far through the flight of the fires,
          255And mixed with the lightning of slaughter
          256    A thunder of lyres.

          257Dost thou dream of what was and no more is,
          258    The old kingdoms of earth and the kings?
          259Dost thou hunger for these things, Dolores,
          260    For these, in a world of new things?
          261But thy bosom no fasts could emaciate,
          262    No hunger compel to complain
          263Those lips that no bloodshed could satiate,
          264    Our Lady of Pain.

          265As of old when the world's heart was lighter,
          266    Through thy garments the grace of thee glows,
          267The white wealth of thy body made whiter
          268    By the blushes of amorous blows,
          269And seamed with sharp lips and fierce fingers,
          270    And branded by kisses that bruise;
          271When all shall be gone that now lingers,
          272    Ah, what shall we lose?

          273Thou wert fair in the fearless old fashion,
          274    And thy limbs are as melodies yet,
          275And move to the music of passion
          276    With lithe and lascivious regret.
          277What ailed us, O gods, to desert you
          278    For creeds that refuse and restrain?
          279Come down and redeem us from virtue,
          280    Our Lady of Pain.

          281All shrines that were Vestal are flameless,
          282    But the flame has not fallen from this;
          283Though obscure be the god, and though nameless
          284    The eyes and the hair that we kiss;
          285Low fires that love sits by and forges
          286    Fresh heads for his arrows and thine;
          287Hair loosened and soiled in mid orgies
          288    With kisses and wine.

          289Thy skin changes country and colour,
          290    And shrivels or swells to a snake's.
          291Let it brighten and bloat and grow duller,
          292    We know it, the flames and the flakes,
          293Red brands on it smitten and bitten,
          294    Round skies where a star is a stain,
          295And the leaves with thy litanies written,
          296    Our Lady of Pain.

          297On thy bosom though many a kiss be,
          298    There are none such as knew it of old.
          299Was it Alciphron once or Arisbe,
          300    Male ringlets or feminine gold,
          301That thy lips met with under the statue,
          302    Whence a look shot out sharp after thieves
          303From the eyes of the garden-god at you
          304    Across the fig-leaves?

          305Then still, through dry seasons and moister,
          306    One god had a wreath to his shrine;
          307Then love was the pearl of his oyster,
          308    And Venus rose red out of wine.
          309We have all done amiss, choosing rather
          310    Such loves as the wise gods disdain;
          311Intercede for us thou with thy father,
          312    Our Lady of Pain.

          313In spring he had crowns of his garden,
          314    Red corn in the heat of the year,
          315Then hoary green olives that harden
          316    When the grape-blossom freezes with fear;
          317And milk-budded myrtles with Venus
          318    And vine-leaves with Bacchus he trod;
          319And ye said, "We have seen, he hath seen us,
          320    A visible God."

          321What broke off the garlands that girt you?
          322    What sundered you spirit and clay?
          323Weak sins yet alive are as virtue
          324    To the strength of the sins of that day.
          325For dried is the blood of thy lover,
          326    Ipsithilla, contracted the vein;
          327Cry aloud, "Will he rise and recover,
          328    Our Lady of Pain?"

          329Cry aloud; for the old world is broken:
          330    Cry out; for the Phrygian is priest,
          331And rears not the bountiful token
          332    And spreads not the fatherly feast.
          333From the midmost of Ida, from shady
          334    Recesses that murmur at morn,
          335They have brought and baptized her, Our Lady,
          336    A goddess new-born.

          337And the chaplets of old are above us,
          338    And the oyster-bed teems out of reach;
          339Old poets outsing and outlove us,
          340    And Catullus makes mouths at our speech.
          341Who shall kiss, in thy father's own city,
          342    With such lips as he sang with, again?
          343Intercede for us all of thy pity,
          344    Our Lady of Pain.

          345Out of Dindymus heavily laden
          346    Her lions draw bound and unfed
          347A mother, a mortal, a maiden,
          348    A queen over death and the dead.
          349She is cold, and her habit is lowly,
          350    Her temple of branches and sods;
          351Most fruitful and virginal, holy,
          352    A mother of gods.

          353She hath wasted with fire thine high places,
          354    She hath hidden and marred and made sad
          355The fair limbs of the Loves, the fair faces
          356    Of gods that were goodly and glad.
          357She slays, and her hands are not bloody;
          358    She moves as a moon in the wane,
          359White-robed, and thy raiment is ruddy,
          360    Our Lady of Pain.

          361They shall pass and their places be taken,
          362    The gods and the priests that are pure.
          363They shall pass, and shalt thou not be shaken?
          364    They shall perish, and shalt thou endure?
          365Death laughs, breathing close and relentless
          366    In the nostrils and eyelids of lust,
          367With a pinch in his fingers of scentless
          368    And delicate dust.

          369But the worm shall revive thee with kisses;
          370    Thou shalt change and transmute as a god,
          371As the rod to a serpent that hisses,
          372    As the serpent again to a rod.
          373Thy life shall not cease though thou doff it;
          374    Thou shalt live until evil be slain,
          375And good shall die first, said thy prophet,
          376    Our Lady of Pain.

          377Did he lie? did he laugh? does he know it,
          378    Now he lies out of reach, out of breath,
          379Thy prophet, thy preacher, thy poet,
          380    Sin's child by incestuous Death?
          381Did he find out in fire at his waking,
          382    Or discern as his eyelids lost light,
          383When the bands of the body were breaking
          384    And all came in sight?

          385Who has known all the evil before us,
          386    Or the tyrannous secrets of time?
          387Though we match not the dead men that bore us
          388    At a song, at a kiss, at a crime --
          389Though the heathen outface and outlive us,
          390    And our lives and our longings are twain --
          391Ah, forgive us our virtues, forgive us,
          392    Our Lady of Pain.

          393Who are we that embalm and embrace thee
          394    With spices and savours of song?
          395What is time, that his children should face thee?
          396    What am I, that my lips do thee wrong?
          397I could hurt thee -- but pain would delight thee;
          398    Or caress thee -- but love would repel;
          399And the lovers whose lips would excite thee
          400    Are serpents in hell.

          401Who now shall content thee as they did,
          402    Thy lovers, when temples were built
          403And the hair of the sacrifice braided
          404    And the blood of the sacrifice spilt,
          405In Lampsacus fervent with faces,
          406    In Aphaca red from thy reign,
          407Who embraced thee with awful embraces,
          408    Our Lady of Pain?

          409Where are they, Cotytto or Venus,
          410    Astarte or Ashtaroth, where?
          411Do their hands as we touch come between us?
          412    Is the breath of them hot in thy hair?
          413From their lips have thy lips taken fever,
          414    With the blood of their bodies grown red?
          415Hast thou left upon earth a believer
          416    If these men are dead?

          417They were purple of raiment and golden,
          418    Filled full of thee, fiery with wine,
          419Thy lovers, in haunts unbeholden,
          420    In marvellous chambers of thine.
          421They are fled, and their footprints escape us,
          422    Who appraise thee, adore, and abstain,
          423O daughter of Death and Priapus,
          424    Our Lady of Pain.

          425What ails us to fear overmeasure,
          426    To praise thee with timorous breath,
          427O mistress and mother of pleasure,
          428    The one thing as certain as death?
          429We shall change as the things that we cherish,
          430    Shall fade as they faded before,
          431As foam upon water shall perish,
          432    As sand upon shore.

          433We shall know what the darkness discovers,
          434    If the grave-pit be shallow or deep;
          435And our fathers of old, and our lovers,
          436    We shall know if they sleep not or sleep.
          437We shall see whether hell be not heaven,
          438    Find out whether tares be not grain,
          439And the joys of thee seventy times seven,
          440    Our Lady of Pain.

Notes

1] John Morley, anonymously reviewing Poems and Ballads in the Saturday Review (August 4, 1866): 145-47, singles out "Dolores" for its "nameless shameless abominations," "fleshly things," and "unspeakable foulnesses" (quoted from Swinburne: The Critical Heritage, ed. Clyde K. Hyder [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970]: 23-24). An unsigned review in London Review (August 4, 1866): 130-31, describes Dolores as "a mere deification of incontinence .... depraved and and morbid in the last degree" (37).

Swinburne responded to these and other reviews in Notes on Poems and Reviews (London: John Camden Hotten, 1866), asedited in Complete Works by Sir Edmond Gosse and Thomas James Wise, Prose Works, Vol. VI (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1926): 353-73.

Next on the list of accusation stands the poem of Dolores. The gist and bearing of this I should have thought evident enough, viewed by the light of other which precede and follow it. I have striven here to express that transcient state of spirit through which a man may be supposed to pass, foiled in love and weary of loving, but not yet in sight of rest; seeking refuge in those `violent delights' which `have violent ends,' in fierce and frank sensualities which at least profess to be no more than they are. This poem, like Faustine, is so distinctly symbolic and fanciful that it cannot justly be amenable to judgment as a study in the school of realism. The spirit, bowed and discoloured by suffering and by passion (which are indeed the same thing and the same word), plays for awhile with its pleasures and its pains, mixes and distorts them with a sense half-humorous and half-mournful, exults in bitter and doubtful emotions:

        Moods of fantastic sadness, nothing worth.

It sports with sorrow, and jests aginst itself; cries out for freedom and confesses the chain; decorates with the name of goddess, crowns anew as the mystical Cotytto, some woman, real or ideal, in whom the pride of life with its companion lusts is incarnate. In her lover's half-shut eyes, her fierce unchaste beauty is transfigured, her cruel sensual eyes have a meaning and a message; there are memories and secrets in the kisses of her lips. She is the darker Venus, fed with burnt-offering and blood-sacrifice; the veiled image of that pleasure which men impelled by satiety and perverted by power have sought through ways as strange as Nero's before and since his time; the daughter of lust and death, and holding of both her parents; Our Lady of Pain, antagonist alike of trivial sins and virtues: no Virgin, and unblessed of men; no mother of the Gods or God; no Cybele, served by sexless priests or monks, adored of Origen or Atys; no likeness of her in Dindymus or Loreto.

The next act in this lyrical melodrama of passion represents a new stage and scene. The worship of desire has ceased; the mad commotion of sense has stormed itself out; the spirit, clear of the old regret that drove it upon such violent ways for a respite, healed of the fever that wasted it in the search for relief among fierce fancies and tempestuous pleasures, dreams now of truth discovered and repose attained. Not the martyr's ardour of selfless love, an unprofitable flame that burnt out and did no service -- not the rapid rage of pleasure that seemed for a little to make the flesh divine, to clothe the naked senses with the fiery raiment of faith; but a stingless love, an innocuous desire. `Hesperia,' the tenderest type of woman or of dream, born in the westward `islands of the blest,' where the shadows of all happy and holy things live beyond the sunset a sacred and a sleepless life, dawns upon his eyes a western dawn, risen as the fiery day of passion goes down, and risen where it sank. Here, between moonrise and sunset, lives the love that is gentle and faithful, neither giving too much nor asking -- a bride rather than a mistress, a sister rather than a bride. But not at once, or not for ever, can the past be killed and buried; hither also the huntress follows her flying prey, wounded and weakened, still fresh from the fangs of passion; the cruel hands, the amorous eyes, still glitter and allure. Qui a bu boira: the feet are drawn back towards the ancient ways. Only by lifelong flight, side by side with the goddess that redeems, shall her slave of old escape from the goddess that consumes: if even thus one may be saved, even thus distance the bloodhounds.

This is the myth or fable of my poem; and it is not without design that I have slipped in, between the first and the second part, the verses called The Garden of Proserpine, expressive, as I meant they should be, of that brief total pause of passion and of thought, when the spirit, without fear or hope of good things or evil, hungers and thirsts only after the perfect sleep .... (360-62)

In a letter of September 28, 1866, Swinburne adds, of this essay, "I have proved Dolores to be little less than a second sermon on the Mount" (I, 186).

7] Dolores: Latin "dolor, is" (`of pain'). Jean Overton Fuller speculates that she bears some relation to Swinburne's cousin, Mary Gordon (Swinburne: A Critical Biography [London: Chatto and Windus, 1968]: 114).

51] Libitina: the goddess of corpses, whose temple provided a market for buying or renting burial goods and contained a register of the dead.
Priapus: god of procreation, associated with gardens and vineyards.

223] O Thalassian: of the sea, an allusion to Venus, who was born of the foam of the sea.

281] Vestal: belonging to Vesta, wife of Coelus and daughter of Saturn.

299] Alciphron: unidentified.
Arisbe: Arisba, a town on the isle of Lesbos?

307] Swinburne's note:

Nam te ptævipuè in suis urbibus colitora
Hellespontia, cæteris ostreosior oris.
      CATULL. Carm. xviii.

345] Dundymus: a mountain in Mysia, sacred to Vesta or Cybele.

405] Lampsacus: city of Mysia on the Hellespont (Lamsaki in modern times).

409] Cotytto: the goddess of lechery.

410] Astarte or Ashtaroth: Syrian-Phoenician goddess.


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, 154-68.
First publication date: 1866
Publication date note: Poems and Ballads (London: J. C. Hotten, 1866): 178-95. end S956 P644 Fisher Rare Book Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2*1:2003/9/1

Rhyme: ababcdcd


Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne