Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
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T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
 
Hermaphroditus
By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
 
(From Poems and Ballads, 1866)

I.
LIFT up thy lips, turn round, look back for love,
  Blind love that comes by night and casts out rest;
  Of all things tired thy lips look weariest,
Save the long smile that they are wearied of.
Ah sweet, albeit no love be sweet enough,        5
  Choose of two loves and cleave unto the best;
  Two loves at either blossom of thy breast
Strive until one be under and one above.
Their breath is fire upon the amorous air,
Fire in thine eyes and where thy lips suspire:        10
And whosoever hath seen thee, being so fair,
  Two things turn all his life and blood to fire;
A strong desire begot on great despair,
  A great despair cast out by strong desire.
 
II.
Where between sleep and life some brief space is,
        15
  With love like gold bound round about the head,
  Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed,
Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his
To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss;
  Yet from them something like as fire is shed        20
  That shall not be assuaged till death be dead,
Though neither life nor sleep can find out this.
Love made himself of flesh that perisheth
  A pleasure-house for all the loves his kin;
But on the one side sat a man like death,        25
  And on the other a woman sat like sin.
So with veiled eyes and sobs between his breath
  Love turned himself and would not enter in.
 
III.
Love, is it love or sleep or shadow or light
  That lies between thine eyelids and thine eyes?        30
  Like a flower laid upon a flower it lies,
Or like the night’s dew laid upon the night.
Love stands upon thy left hand and thy right,
  Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise
  Shall make thee man and ease a woman’s sighs,        35
Or make thee woman for a man’s delight.
To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
  The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?
Hid love in all the folds of all thy hair,
  Fed thee on summers, watered thee with showers,        40
Given all the gold that all the seasons wear
  To thee that art a thing of barren hours?
 
IV.
Yea, love, I see; it is not love but fear.
  Nay, sweet, it is not fear but love, I know;
  Or wherefore should thy body’s blossom blow        45
So sweetly, or thine eyelids leave so clear
Thy gracious eyes that never made a tear—
  Though for their love our tears like blood should flow,
  Though love and life and death should come and go,
So dreadful, so desirable, so dear?        50
Yea, sweet, I know; I saw in what swift wise
  Beneath the woman’s and the water’s kiss
  Thy moist limbs melted into Salmacis,
And the large light turned tender in thine eyes,
And all thy boy’s breath softened into sighs;        55
  But Love being blind, how should he know of this?

  Au Musée du Louvre, Mars, 1863.
 
 
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