A BALLAD OF DEATH
by: Algernon Charles Swinburne
- NEEL down,
fair Love, and fill thyself with tears,
- Girdle thyself with sighing for a girth
- Upon the sides of mirth,
- Cover thy lips and eyelids, let thine ears
- Be filled with rumour of people sorrowing;
- Make thee soft raiment out of woven sighs
- Upon the flesh to cleave,
- Set pains therein and many a grievous thing,
- And many sorrows after each his wise
- For amlet and for gorget and for sleeve.
- O Love's lute heard about the lands of death,
- Left hanged upon the trees that were therein;
- O Love and Time and Sin,
- Three singing mouths that mourn now under breath,
- Three lovers, each one evil spoken of;
- O smitten lips where through this voice of mine
- Came softer with her praise;
- Abide a little for our lady's love.
- The kisses of her mouth were more than wine,
- And more than peace the passage of her days.
- O Love, thou knowest if she were good to see.
- O Time, thou shalt not find in any land
- Till, cast out of thine hand,
- The sunlight and the moonlight fail from thee,
- Another woman fashioned like as this.
- O Sin, thou knowest that all thy shame in her
- Was made a goodly thing;
- Yea, she caught Shame and shamed him with her kiss,
- With her fair kiss, and lips much lovelier
- Than lips of amorous roses in late spring.
- By night there stood over against my bed
- Queen Venus with a hood striped gold and black,
- Both sides drawn fully back
- From brows wherein the sad blood failed of red,
- And temples drained of purple and full of death.
- Her curled hair had the wave of sea-water
- And the sea's gold in it.
- Her eyes were as a dove's that sickeneth.
- Strewn dust of gold she had shed over her,
- And pearl and purple and amber on her feet.
- Upon her raiment of dyed sendaline
- Were painted all the secret ways of love
- And covered things thereof,
- That hold delight as grape-flowers held their wine;
- Red mouths of maidens and red feet of doves,
- And brides that kept within the bride-chamber
- And weeping faces of the wearied loves
- Their garment of soft shame,
- That swoon in sleep and awake wearier,
- With heat of lips and hair shed out like flame.
- The tears that through her eyelids fell on me
- Made mine own bitter where they ran between
- As blood had fallen therein,
- She saying; Arise, lift up thine eyes and see
- If any glad thing be or any good
- Now the best thing is taken forth of us;
- Even she to whom all praise
- Was as one flower in a great multitude,
- One glorious flower of many and glorious,
- One day found gracious among many days:
- Even she whose handmaiden was Love--to whom
- At kissing times across her stateliest bed
- Kings bowed themselves and shed
- Pale wine, and honey with the honeycomb,
- And spikenard bruised for a burnt-offering;
- Even she between whose lips the kiss became
- As fire and frankincense;
- Whose hair was as gold raiment on a king,
- Whose eyes were as the morning purged with flame,
- Whose eyelids as sweet savour issuing thence.
- Then I behold, and lo on the other side
- My lady's likeness crowned and robed and dead.
- Sweet still, but now not red,
- Was the shut mouth whereby men lived and died.
- And sweet, but emptied of the blood's blue shade,
- The great curled eyelids that withheld her eyes.
- And sweet, but like spoilt gold,
- The weight of colour in her tresses weighed.
- And sweet, but as a vesture with new dyes,
- The body that was clothed with love of old.
- Ah! that my tears filled all her woven hair
- And all the hollow bosom of her gown--
- Ah! that my tears ran down
- Even to the place where many kisses were,
- Even where her parted breast-flowers have place,
- Even where they are cloven apart--who knows not this?
- Ah! the flowers cleave apart
- And their sweet fills the tender interspace;
- Ah! the leaves grown thereof were things to kiss
- Ere their fine gold was tarnished at the heart.
- Ah! in the days when God did good to me,
- Each part about her was a righteous thing;
- Her mouth was an almsgiving,
- The glory of her garments charity,
- The beauty of her bosom a good deed,
- In the good days when God kept sight of us;
- Love lay upon her eyes,
- And on that hair whereof the world takes heed;
- And all her body was more virtuous
- Than souls of women fashioned otherwise.
- Now, ballad, gather poppies in thine hands
- And sheaves of brier and many rusted sheaves
- Rain-rotten in rank lands,
- Waste marigold and late unhappy leaves
- And grass that fades ere any of it be mown;
- And when thy bosom is filled full thereof
- Seek out Death's face ere the light altereth,
- And say "My master that was thrall to Love
- Is become thrall to Death."
- Bow down before him, ballad, sigh and groan,
- But make no sojourn in thy outgoing;
- For haply it may be
- That when thy feet return at evening
- Death shall come in with thee.
MORE POEMS BY ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE
"A Ballad of Death" is
reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith. New York:
Crown Publishers, 1921.