Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Garden of Proserpine

Swinburne's vision of Proserpine across the Black River - created by me, Gray Woodland, from public domain works by William Bell Scott and Dante Gabriel Rosetti - free to reuse, attribution requested.
Swinburne looks to Proserpine across the Black River of Souls.
Source works:
Algernon Charles Swinburne, by William Bell Scott, between 1850 and 1870.
Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1873-77.


By Algernon Charles Swinburne, a dude not lacking in either spirit or... issues. Poisonously lovely.

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep,
Of what may came hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or vine
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine.
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness, morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end, it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no man lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light;
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight;
Nor wintry nor vernal,
Nor days, nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.

Like the thought that one can bail out on life at any time if one so chooses, in my more morbid moods I find this kind of thing a sort of rock bottom of comfort: a little poppy-juice that one may take to recover oneself for the works of life in the lovely light of the phoenix morning, and for the long glad stand against the uttermost Night.

A clever modern shilling shocker of the Steampunk kind - The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack - featuring Swinburne and Sir Richard Burton as its eccentric protagonists, has been rather well executed by Mark Hodder, who is now well into the sequels, and displaying samples of his alt-Victorian wares on his website.

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