Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
Hesperia
 
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
 
 
OUT of the golden remote wild west where the sea without shore is,
  Full of the sunset, and sad, if at all, with the fulness of joy,
As a wind sets in with the autumn that blows from the region of stories,
  Blows with a perfume of songs and of memories belov’d from a boy,
Blows from the capes of the past oversea to the bays of the present,        5
  Fill’d as with shadow of sound with the pulse of invisible feet,
Far out to the shallows and straits of the future, by rough ways or pleasant,
  Is it thither the wind’s wings beat? is it hither to me, O my sweet?
For thee, in the stream of the deep tidewind blowing in with the water,
  Thee I behold as a bird borne in with the wind from the west,        10
Straight from the sunset, across white waves whence rose as a daughter
  Venus thy mother, in years when the world was a water at rest.
Out of the distance of dreams, as a dream that abides after slumber,
  Stray’d from the fugitive flock of the night, when the moon overhead
Wanes in the wan waste heights of the heaven, and stars without number        15
  Die without sound, and are spent like lamps that are burnt by the dead,
Comes back to me, stays by me, lulls me with touch of forgotten caresses,
  One warm dream clad about with a fire as of life that endures;
The delight of thy face, and the sound of thy feet, and the wind of thy tresses,
  And all of a man that regrets, and all of a maid that allures.        20
But thy bosom is warm for my face and profound as a manifold flower,
  Thy silence as music, thy voice as an odor that fades in a flame;
Not a dream, not a dream is the kiss of thy mouth, and the bountiful hour
  That makes me forget what was sin, and would make me forget were it shame.
Thine eyes that are quiet, thy hands that are tender, thy lips that are loving,        25
  Comfort and cool me as dew in the dawn of a moon like a dream;
And my heart yearns baffled and blind, mov’d vainly toward thee, and moving
  As the refluent seaweed moves in the languid exuberant stream,
Fair as a rose is on earth, as a rose under water in prison,
  That stretches and swings to the slow passionate pulse of the sea,        30
Clos’d up from the air and the sun, but alive, as a ghost re-arisen,
  Pale as the love that revives as a ghost re-arisen in me.
From the bountiful infinite west, from the happy memorial places
  Full of the stately repose and the lordly delight of the dead,
Where the fortunate islands are lit with the light of ineffable faces,        35
  And the sound of a sea without wind is about them, and sunset is red,
Come back to redeem and release me from love that recalls and represses,
  That cleaves to my flesh as a flame, till the serpent has eaten his fill;
From the bitter delights of the dark, and the feverish, the furtive caresses
  That murder the youth in a man or ever his heart have its will.        40
Thy lips cannot laugh and thine eyes cannot weep; thou art pale as a rose is,
  Paler and sweeter than leaves that cover the blush of the bud;
And the heart of the flower is compassion, and pity the core it incloses,
  Pity, not love, that is born of the breath and decays with the blood.
As the cross that a wild nun clasps till the edge of it bruises her bosom,        45
  So love wounds as we grasp it, and blackens and burns as a flame;
I have lov’d overmuch in my life: when the live bud bursts with the blossom,
  Bitter as ashes or tears is the fruit, and the wine thereof shame.
As a heart that its anguish divides is the green bud cloven asunder;
  As the blood of a man self-slain is the flush of the leaves that allure;        50
And the perfume as poison and wine to the brain, a delight and a wonder;
  And the thorns are too sharp for a boy, too slight for a man, to endure.
Too soon did I love it, and lost love’s rose; and I car’d not for glory’s:
  Only the blossoms of sleep and of pleasure were mix’d in my hair.
Was it myrtle or poppy thy garland was woven with, O my Dolores?        55
  Was it pallor or slumber, or blush as of blood, that I found in thee fair?
For desire is a respite from love, and the flesh, not the heart, is her fuel;
  She was sweet to me once, who am fled and escap’d from the rage of her reign;
Who behold as of old time at hand as I turn, with her mouth growing cruel,
  And flush’d as with wine with the blood of her lovers, Our Lady of Pain.        60
Low down where the thicket is thicker with thorns than with leaves in the summer,
  In the brake is a gleaming of eyes and a hissing of tongues that I knew;
And the lithe long throats of her snakes reach round her, their mouths overcome her,
  And her lips grow cool with their foam, made moist as a desert with dew.
With the thirst and the hunger of lust though her beautiful lips be so bitter,        65
  With the cold foul foam of the snakes they soften and redden and smile;
And her fierce mouth sweetens, her eyes wax wide and her eyelashes glitter,
  And she laughs with a savor of blood in her face, and a savor of guile.
She laughs, and her hands reach hither, her hair blows hither and hisses
  As a low-lit flame in a wind, back-blown till it shudder and leap;        70
Let her lips not again lay hold on my soul, nor her poisonous kisses,
  To consume it alive and divide from thy bosom, Our Lady of Sleep.
Ah, daughter of sunset and slumber, if now it return into prison,
  Who shall redeem it anew? but we, if thou wilt, let us fly;
Let us take to us, now that the white skies thrill with a moon unarisen,        75
  Swift horses of fear or of love, take flight and depart and not die.
They are swifter than dreams, they are stronger than death; there is none that hath ridden,
  None that shall ride in the dim strange ways of his life as we ride:
By the meadows of memory, the highlands of hope, and the shore that is hidden,
  Where life breaks loud and unseen, a sonorous invisible tide;        80
By the sands where sorrow has trodden, the salt pools bitter and sterile,
  By the thundering reef and the low sea wall and the channel of years,
Our wild steeds press on the night, strain hard through pleasure and peril,
  Labor and listen and pant not or pause for the peril that nears;
And the sound of them trampling the way cleaves night as an arrow asunder,        85
  And slow by the sand-hill and swift by the down with its glimpses of grass,
Sudden and steady the music, as eight hoofs trample and thunder,
  Rings in the ear of the low blind wind of the night as we pass;
Shrill shrieks in our faces the blind bland air that was mute as a maiden,
  Stung into storm by the speed of our passage, and deaf where we past;        90
And our spirits too burn as we bound, thine holy but mine heavy-laden,
  As we burn with the fire of our flight; ah, love, shall we win at the last?
 

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