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Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Laus Veneris


Lors dit en plourant; Hélas trop malheureux homme et mauldict pescheur, oncques ne verrai-je clémence et miséricorde de Dieu. Ores m'en irai-je d'icy et me cacherai dedans le mont Horsel, en requérant de faveur et d'amoureuse merci ma doulce dame Vénus, car pour son amour serai-je bien à tout jamais damné en enfer. Voicy la fin de tous mes faicts d'armes et de toutes mes belles chansons. Hélas, trop belle estoyt la face de ma dame et ses yeulx, et en mauvais jour je vis ces chouses-là. Lors s'en alla tout en gémissant et se retourna chez elle, et là vescut tristement en grand amour près de sa dame. Puis après advint que le pape vit un jour esclater sur son baston force belles fleurs rouges et blanches et maints boutons de feuilles, et ainsi vit-il reverdir toute l'escorce. Ce dont il eut grande crainte et moult s'en esmut, et grande pitié lui prit de ce chevalier qui s'en estoyt départi sans espoir comme un homme misérable et damné. Doncques envoya force messaigers devers luy pour le ramener, disant qu'il aurait de Dieu grace et bonne absolution de son grand pesché d'amour. Mais oncques plus ne le virent; car toujours demeura ce pauvre chevalier auprès de Vénus la haulte et forte déesse ès flancs de la montagne amoureuse.

Livre des grandes merveilles d'amour, escript en latin et en françoys par Maistre Antoine Gaget. 1530.

              1Asleep or waking is it? for her neck,
              2Kissed over close, wears yet a purple speck
              3    Wherein the pained blood falters and goes out;
              4Soft, and stung softly -- fairer for a fleck.

              5But though my lips shut sucking on the place,
              6There is no vein at work upon her face;
              7    Her eyelids are so peaceable, no doubt
              8Deep sleep has warmed her blood through all its ways.

              9Lo, this is she that was the world's delight;
            10The old grey years were parcels of her might;
            11    The strewings of the ways wherein she trod
            12Were the twain seasons of the day and night.

            13Lo, she was thus when her clear limbs enticed
            14All lips that now grow sad with kissing Christ,
            15    Stained with blood fallen from the feet of God,
            16The feet and hands whereat our souls were priced.

            17Alas, Lord, surely thou art great and fair.
            18But lo her wonderfully woven hair!
            19    And thou didst heal us with thy piteous kiss;
            20But see now, Lord; her mouth is lovelier.

            21She is right fair; what hath she done to thee?
            22Nay, fair Lord Christ, lift up thine eyes and see;
            23    Had now thy mother such a lip -- like this?
            24Thou knowest how sweet a thing it is to me.

            25Inside the Horsel here the air is hot;
            26Right little peace one hath for it, God wot;
            27    The scented dusty daylight burns the air,
            28And my heart chokes me till I hear it not.

            29Behold, my Venus, my soul's body, lies
            30With my love laid upon her garment-wise,
            31    Feeling my love in all her limbs and hair
            32And shed between her eyelids through her eyes.

            33She holds my heart in her sweet open hands
            34Hanging asleep; hard by her head there stands,
            35    Crowned with gilt thorns and clothed with flesh like fire,
            36Love, wan as foam blown up the salt burnt sands --

            37Hot as the brackish waifs of yellow spume
            38That shift and steam -- loose clots of arid fume
            39    From the sea's panting mouth of dry desire;
            40There stands he, like one labouring at a loom.

            41The warp holds fast across; and every thread
            42That makes the woof up has dry specks of red;
            43    Always the shuttle cleaves clean through, and he
            44Weaves with the hair of many a ruined head.

            45Love is not glad nor sorry, as I deem;
            46Labouring he dreams, and labours in the dream,
            47    Till when the spool is finished, lo I see
            48His web, reeled off, curls and goes out like steam.

            49Night falls like fire; the heavy lights run low,
            50And as they drop, my blood and body so
            51    Shake as the flame shakes, full of days and hours
            52That sleep not neither weep they as they go.

            53Ah yet would God this flesh of mine might be
            54Where air might wash and long leaves cover me,
            55    Where tides of grass break into foam of flowers,
            56Or where the wind's feet shine along the sea.

            57Ah yet would God that stems and roots were bred
            58Out of my weary body and my head,
            59    That sleep were sealed upon me with a seal,
            60And I were as the least of all his dead.

            61Would God my blood were dew to feed the grass,
            62Mine ears made deaf and mine eyes blind as glass,
            63    My body broken as a turning wheel,
            64And my mouth stricken ere it saith Alas!

            65Ah God, that love were as a flower or flame,
            66That life were as the naming of a name,
            67    That death were not more pitiful than desire,
            68That these things were not one thing and the same!

            69Behold now, surely somewhere there is death:
            70For each man hath some space of years, he saith,
            71    A little space of time ere time expire,
            72A little day, a little way of breath.

            73And lo, between the sundawn and the sun,
            74His day's work and his night's work are undone;
            75    And lo, between the nightfall and the light,
            76He is not, and none knoweth of such an one.

            77Ah God, that I were as all souls that be,
            78As any herb or leaf of any tree,
            79    As men that toil through hours of labouring night,
            80As bones of men under the deep sharp sea.

            81Outside it must be winter among men;
            82For at the gold bars of the gates again
            83    I heard all night and all the hours of it
            84The wind's wet wings and fingers drip with rain.

            85Knights gather, riding sharp for cold; I know
            86The ways and woods are strangled with the snow;
            87    And with short song the maidens spin and sit
            88Until Christ's birthnight, lily-like, arow.

            89The scent and shadow shed about me make
            90The very soul in all my senses ache;
            91    The hot hard night is fed upon my breath,
            92And sleep beholds me from afar awake.

            93Alas, but surely where the hills grow deep,
            94Or where the wild ways of the sea are steep,
            95    Or in strange places somewhere there is death,
            96And on death's face the scattered hair of sleep.

            97There lover-like with lips and limbs that meet
            98They lie, they pluck sweet fruit of life and eat;
            99    But me the hot and hungry days devour,
          100And in my mouth no fruit of theirs is sweet.

          101No fruit of theirs, but fruit of my desire,
          102For her love's sake whose lips through mine respire;
          103    Her eyelids on her eyes like flower on flower,
          104Mine eyelids on mine eyes like fire on fire.

          105So lie we, not as sleep that lies by death,
          106With heavy kisses and with happy breath;
          107    Not as man lies by woman, when the bride
          108Laughs low for love's sake and the words he saith.

          109For she lies, laughing low with love; she lies
          110And turns his kisses on her lips to sighs,
          111    To sighing sound of lips unsatisfied,
          112And the sweet tears are tender with her eyes.

          113Ah, not as they, but as the souls that were
          114Slain in the old time, having found her fair;
          115    Who, sleeping with her lips upon their eyes,
          116Heard sudden serpents hiss across her hair.

          117Their blood runs round the roots of time like rain:
          118She casts them forth and gathers them again;
          119    With nerve and bone she weaves and multiplies
          120Exceeding pleasure out of extreme pain.

          121Her little chambers drip with flower-like red,
          122Her girdles, and the chaplets of her head,
          123    Her armlets and her anklets; with her feet
          124She tramples all that winepress of the dead.

          125Her gateways smoke with fume of flowers and fires,
          126With loves burnt out and unassuaged desires;
          127    Between her lips the steam of them is sweet,
          128The languor in her ears of many lyres.

          129Her beds are full of perfume and sad sound,
          130Her doors are made with music, and barred round
          131    With sighing and with laughter and with tears,
          132With tears whereby strong souls of men are bound.

          133There is the knight Adonis that was slain;
          134With flesh and blood she chains him for a chain;
          135    The body and the spirit in her ears
          136Cry, for her lips divide him vein by vein.

          137Yea, all she slayeth; yea, every man save me;
          138Me, love, thy lover that must cleave to thee
          139    Till the ending of the days and ways of earth,
          140The shaking of the sources of the sea.

          141Me, most forsaken of all souls that fell;
          142Me, satiated with things insatiable;
          143    Me, for whose sake the extreme hell makes mirth,
          144Yea, laughter kindles at the heart of hell.

          145Alas thy beauty! for thy mouth's sweet sake
          146My soul is bitter to me, my limbs quake
          147    As water, as the flesh of men that weep,
          148As their heart's vein whose heart goes nigh to break.

          149Ah God, that sleep with flower-sweet finger-tips
          150Would crush the fruit of death upon my lips;
          151    Ah God, that death would tread the grapes of sleep
          152And wring their juice upon me as it drips.

          153There is no change of cheer for many days,
          154But change of chimes high up in the air, that sways
          155    Rung by the running fingers of the wind;
          156And singing sorrows heard on hidden ways.

          157Day smiteth day in twain, night sundereth night,
          158And on mine eyes the dark sits as the light;
          159    Yea, Lord, thou knowest I know not, having sinned,
          160If heaven be clean or unclean in thy sight.

          161Yea, as if earth were sprinkled over me,
          162Such chafed harsh earth as chokes a sandy sea,
          163    Each pore doth yearn, and the dried blood thereof
          164Gasps by sick fits, my heart swims heavily,

          165There is a feverish famine in my veins;
          166Below her bosom, where a crushed grape stains
          167    The white and blue, there my lips caught and clove
          168An hour since, and what mark of me remains?

          169I dare not always touch her, lest the kiss
          170Leave my lips charred. Yea, Lord, a little bliss,
          171    Brief bitter bliss, one hath for a great sin;
          172Nathless thou knowest how sweet a thing it is.

          173Sin, is it sin whereby men's souls are thrust
          174Into the pit? yet had I a good trust
          175    To save my soul before it slipped therein,
          176Trod under by the fire-shod feet of lust.

          177For if mine eyes fail and my soul takes breath,
          178I look between the iron sides of death
          179    Into sad hell where all sweet love hath end,
          180All but the pain that never finisheth.

          181There are the naked faces of great kings,
          182The singing folk with all their lute-playings;
          183    There when one cometh he shall have to friend
          184The grave that covets and the worm that clings.

          185There sit the knights that were so great of hand,
          186The ladies that were queens of fair green land,
          187    Grown grey and black now, brought unto the dust,
          188Soiled, without raiment, clad about with sand.

          189There is one end for all of them; they sit
          190Naked and sad, they drink the dregs of it,
          191    Trodden as grapes in the wine-press of lust,
          192Trampled and trodden by the fiery feet.

          193I see the marvellous mouth whereby there fell
          194Cities and people whom the gods loved well,
          195    Yet for her sake on them the fire gat hold,
          196And for their sakes on her the fire of hell.

          197And softer than the Egyptian lote-leaf is,
          198The queen whose face was worth the world to kiss,
          199    Wearing at breast a suckling snake of gold;
          200And large pale lips of strong Semiramis,

          201Curled like a tiger's that curl back to feed;
          202Red only where the last kiss made them bleed;
          203    Her hair most thick with many a carven gem,
          204Deep in the mane, great-chested, like a steed.

          205Yea, with red sin the faces of them shine;
          206But in all these there was no sin like mine;
          207    No, not in all the strange great sins of them
          208That made the wine-press froth and foam with wine.

          209For I was of Christ's choosing, I God's knight,
          210No blinkard heathen stumbling for scant light;
          211    I can well see, for all the dusty days
          212Gone past, the clean great time of goodly fight.

          213I smell the breathing battle sharp with blows,
          214With shriek of shafts and snapping short of bows;
          215    The fair pure sword smites out in subtle ways,
          216Sounds and long lights are shed between the rows

          217Of beautiful mailed men; the edged light slips,
          218Most like a snake that takes short breath and dips
          219    Sharp from the beautifully bending head,
          220With all its gracious body lithe as lips

          221That curl in touching you; right in this wise
          222My sword doth, seeming fire in mine own eyes,
          223    Leaving all colours in them brown and red
          224And flecked with death; then the keen breaths like sighs,

          225The caught-up choked dry laughters following them,
          226When all the fighting face is grown a flame
          227    For pleasure, and the pulse that stuns the ears,
          228And the heart's gladness of the goodly game.

          229Let me think yet a little; I do know
          230These things were sweet, but sweet such years ago,
          231    Their savour is all turned now into tears;
          232Yea, ten years since, where the blue ripples blow,

          233The blue curled eddies of the blowing Rhine,
          234I felt the sharp wind shaking grass and vine
          235    Touch my blood too, and sting me with delight
          236Through all this waste and weary body of mine

          237That never feels clear air; right gladly then
          238I rode alone, a great way off my men,
          239    And heard the chiming bridle smite and smite,
          240And gave each rhyme thereof some rhyme again,

          241Till my song shifted to that iron one;
          242Seeing there rode up between me and the sun
          243    Some certain of my foe's men, for his three
          244White wolves across their painted coats did run.

          245The first red-bearded, with square cheeks -- alack,
          246I made my knave's blood turn his beard to black;
          247    The slaying of him was a joy to see:
          248Perchance too, when at night he came not back,

          249Some woman fell a-weeping, whom this thief
          250Would beat when he had drunken; yet small grief
          251    Hath any for the ridding of such knaves;
          252Yea, if one wept, I doubt her teen was brief.

          253This bitter love is sorrow in all lands,
          254Draining of eyelids, wringing of drenched hands,
          255    Sighing of hearts and filling up of graves;
          256A sign across the head of the world he stands,

          257An one that hath a plague-mark on his brows;
          258Dust and spilt blood do track him to his house
          259    Down under earth; sweet smells of lip and cheek,
          260Like a sweet snake's breath made more poisonous

          261With chewing of some perfumed deadly grass,
          262Are shed all round his passage if he pass,
          263    And their quenched savour leaves the whole soul weak,
          264Sick with keen guessing whence the perfume was.

          265As one who hidden in deep sedge and reeds
          266Smells the rare scent made where a panther feeds,
          267    And tracking ever slotwise the warm smell
          268Is snapped upon by the sweet mouth and bleeds,

          269His head far down the hot sweet throat of her --
          270So one tracks love, whose breath is deadlier,
          271    And lo, one springe and you are fast in hell,
          272Fast as the gin's grip of a wayfarer.

          273I think now, as the heavy hours decease
          274One after one, and bitter thoughts increase
          275    One upon one, of all sweet finished things;
          276The breaking of the battle; the long peace

          277Wherein we sat clothed softly, each man's hair
          278Crowned with green leaves beneath white hoods of vair;
          279    The sounds of sharp spears at great tourneyings,
          280And noise of singing in the late sweet air.

          281I sang of love too, knowing nought thereof;
          282"Sweeter," I said, "the little laugh of love
          283    Than tears out of the eyes of Magdalen,
          284Or any fallen feather of the Dove.

          285"The broken little laugh that spoils a kiss,
          286The ache of purple pulses, and the bliss
          287    Of blinded eyelids that expand again --
          288Love draws them open with those lips of his,

          289"Lips that cling hard till the kissed face has grown
          290Of one same fire and colour with their own;
          291    Then ere one sleep, appeased with sacrifice,
          292Where his lips wounded, there his lips atone."

          293I sang these things long since and knew them not;
          294"Lo, here is love, or there is love, God wot,
          295    This man and that finds favour in his eyes,"
          296I said, "but I, what guerdon have I got?

          297"The dust of praise that is blown everywhere
          298In all men's faces with the common air;
          299    The bay-leaf that wants chafing to be sweet
          300Before they wind it in a singer's hair."

          301So that one dawn I rode forth sorrowing;
          302I had no hope but of some evil thing,
          303    And so rode slowly past the windy wheat
          304And past the vineyard and the water-spring,

          305Up to the Horsel. A great elder-tree
          306Held back its heaps of flowers to let me see
          307    The ripe tall grass, and one that walked therein,
          308Naked, with hair shed over to the knee.

          309She walked between the blossom and the grass;
          310I knew the beauty of her, what she was,
          311    The beauty of her body and her sin,
          312And in my flesh the sin of hers, alas!

          313Alas! for sorrow is all the end of this.
          314O sad kissed mouth, how sorrowful it is!
          315    O breast whereat some suckling sorrow clings,
          316Red with the bitter blossom of a kiss!

          317Ah, with blind lips I felt for you, and found
          318About my neck your hands and hair enwound,
          319    The hands that stifle and the hair that stings,
          320I felt them fasten sharply without sound.

          321Yea, for my sin I had great store of bliss:
          322Rise up, make answer for me, let thy kiss
          323    Seal my lips hard from speaking of my sin,
          324Lest one go mad to hear how sweet it is.

          325Yet I waxed faint with fume of barren bowers,
          326And murmuring of the heavy-headed hours;
          327    And let the dove's beak fret and peck within
          328My lips in vain, and Love shed fruitless flowers.

          329So that God looked upon me when your hands
          330Were hot about me; yea, God brake my bands
          331    To save my soul alive, and I came forth
          332Like a man blind and naked in strange lands

          333That hears men laugh and weep, and knows not whence
          334Nor wherefore, but is broken in his sense;
          335    Howbeit I met folk riding from the north
          336Towards Rome, to purge them of their souls' offence,

          337And rode with them, and spake to none; the day
          338Stunned me like lights upon some wizard way,
          339    And ate like fire mine eyes and mine eyesight;
          340So rode I, hearing all these chant and pray,

          341And marvelled; till before us rose and fell
          342White cursed hills, like outer skirts of hell
          343    Seen where men's eyes look through the day to night,
          344Like a jagged shell's lips, harsh, untunable,

          345Blown in between by devils' wrangling breath;
          346Nathless we won well past that hell and death,
          347    Down to the sweet land where all airs are good,
          348Even unto Rome where God's grace tarrieth.

          349Then came each man and worshipped at his knees
          350Who in the Lord God's likeness bears the keys
          351    To bind or loose, and called on Christ's shed blood,
          352And so the sweet-souled father gave him ease.

          353But when I came I fell down at his feet,
          354Saying, "Father, though the Lord's blood be right sweet,
          355    The spot it takes not off the panther's skin,
          356Nor shall an Ethiop's stain be bleached with it.

          357"Lo, I have sinned and have spat out at God,
          358Wherefore his hand is heavier and his rod
          359    More sharp because of mine exceeding sin,
          360And all his raiment redder than bright blood

          361"Before mine eyes; yea, for my sake I wot
          362The heat of hell is waxen seven times hot
          363    Through my great sin." Then spake he some sweet word,
          364Giving me cheer; which thing availed me not;

          365Yea, scarce I wist if such indeed were said;
          366For when I ceased -- lo, as one newly dead
          367    Who hears a great cry out of hell, I heard
          368The crying of his voice across my head.

          369"Until this dry shred staff, that hath no whit
          370Of leaf nor bark, bear blossom and smell sweet,
          371    Seek thou not any mercy in God's sight,
          372For so long shalt thou be cast out from it."

          373Yea, what if dried-up stems wax red and green,
          374Shall that thing be which is not nor has been?
          375    Yea, what if sapless bark wax green and white,
          376Shall any good fruit grow upon my sin?

          377Nay, though sweet fruit were plucked of a dry tree,
          378And though men drew sweet waters of the sea,
          379    There should not grow sweet leaves on this dead stem,
          380This waste wan body and shaken soul of me.

          381Yea, though God search it warily enough,
          382There is not one sound thing in all thereof;
          383    Though he search all my veins through, searching them
          384He shall find nothing whole therein but love.

          385For I came home right heavy, with small cheer,
          386And lo my love, mine own soul's heart, more dear
          387    Than mine own soul, more beautiful than God,
          388Who hath my being between the hands of her --

          389Fair still, but fair for no man saving me,
          390As when she came out of the naked sea
          391    Making the foam as fire whereon she trod,
          392And as the inner flower of fire was she.

          393Yea, she laid hold upon me, and her mouth
          394Clove unto mine as soul to body doth,
          395    And, laughing, made her lips luxurious;
          396Her hair had smells of all the sunburnt south,

          397Strange spice and flower, strange savour of crushed fruit,
          398And perfume the swart kings tread underfoot
          399    For pleasure when their minds wax amorous,
          400Charred frankincense and grated sandal-root.

          401And I forgot fear and all weary things,
          402All ended prayers and perished thanksgivings,
          403    Feeling her face with all her eager hair
          404Cleave to me, clinging as a fire that clings

          405To the body and to the raiment, burning them;
          406As after death I know that such-like flame
          407    Shall cleave to me for ever; yea, what care,
          408Albeit I burn then, having felt the same?

          409Ah love, there is no better life than this;
          410To have known love, how bitter a thing it is,
          411    And afterward be cast out of God's sight;
          412Yea, these that know not, shall they have such bliss

          413High up in barren heaven before his face
          414As we twain in the heavy-hearted place,
          415    Remembering love and all the dead delight,
          416And all that time was sweet with for a space?

          417For till the thunder in the trumpet be,
          418Soul may divide from body, but not we
          419    One from another; I hold thee with my hand,
          420I let mine eyes have all their will of thee,

          421I seal myself upon thee with my might,
          422Abiding alway out of all men's sight
          423    Until God loosen over sea and land
          424The thunder of the trumpets of the night.

EXPLICIT LAUS VENERIS.

Notes

1] The title is Latin, `the praise of Venus or love'.

25] Horsel: the Hörselberg in Thuringia, where the legendary minnesinger in the German ballad saw Venus, with whom he spent seven years in a cave. Later, repenting his love, he left to seek forgiveness from the Pope, who refused his request with the remark that his staff would sooner break into flowers as the minnesinger's loves could be pardoned. Three days afterward, the staff flowered, but the minnesinger had by then returned to Venus. This was the subject of Wagner's Tannhäuser.

26] wot: knows.

197] lote-leaf: the lotus.

200] Semiramis: mythic queen of Assyria and wife and successor of Ninus, founder of Nineveh.

278] vair: blue-gray and white squirrel fur.

283] Magdalen: adultress whom Jesus defended against the stones of hypocrites and forgave.

296] guerdon: reward.

346] Nathless: nevertheless.


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, 10-26.
First publication date: 1866
Publication date note: Laus Veneris (London: Edward Moxon, 1866); then Poems and Ballads (London: J. C. Hotten, 1866): 11-30. end S956 P644 1866b Fisher Rare Book Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1999.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2


Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne