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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)


              1From the depth of the dreamy decline of the dawn through a notable nimbus of nebulous noonshine,
              2      Pallid and pink as the palm of the flag-flower that flickers with fear of the flies as they float,
              3Are they looks of our lovers that lustrously lean from a marvel of mystic miraculous moonshine,
              4      These that we feel in the blood of our blushes that thicken and threaten with throbs through the throat?
              5Thicken and thrill as a theatre thronged at appeal of an actor's appalled agitation,
              6      Fainter with fear of the fires of the future than pale with the promise of pride in the past;
              7Flushed with the famishing fullness of fever that reddens with radiance of rathe recreation,
              8      Gaunt as the ghastliest of glimpses that gleam through the gloom of the gloaming when ghosts go aghast?
              9Nay, for the nick of the tick of the time is a tremulous touch on the temples of terror,
            10      Strained as the sinews yet strenuous with strife of the dead who is dumb as the dust-heaps of death:
            11Surely no soul is it, sweet as the spasm of erotic emotional exquisite error,
            12      Bathed in the balms of beatified bliss, beatific itself by beatitude's breath.
            13Surely no spirit or sense of a soul that was soft to the spirit and soul of our senses
            14      Sweetens the stress of suspiring suspicion that sobs in the semblance and sound of a sigh;
            15Only this oracle opens Olympian, in mystical moods and triangular tenses--
            16      "Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark till the dawn of the day when we die."
            17Mild is the mirk and monotonous music of memory, melodiously mute as it may be,
            18      While the hope in the heart of a hero is bruised by the breach of men's rapiers, resigned to the rod;
            19Made meek as a mother whose bosom-beats bound with the bliss-bringing bulk of a balm-breathing baby,
            20      As they grope through the grave-yard of creeds, under skies growing green at a groan for the grimness of God.
            21Blank is the book of his bounty beholden of old, and its binding is blacker than bluer:
            22      Out of blue into black is the scheme of the skies, and their dews are the wine of the bloodshed of things;
            23Till the darkling desire of delight shall be free as a fawn that is freed from the fangs that pursue her,
            24      Till the heart-beats of hell shall be hushed by a hymn from the hunt that has harried the kennel of kings.


1] The poem is a self-parody. The title means "Cloudlets."

2] flag-flower: iris.

7] rathe: fervent, rapid.

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, 836-37.
First publication date: 1880
Publication date note: Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Heptalogia; or, The Seven against Sense: A Cap with Seven Bells ... (London: Chatto and Windus, 1880): 97 ff. end S956 H46 1880 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.399.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Rhyme: ababcdcd ...

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne