by: Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

      WEET life, if life were stronger,
      Earth clear of years that wrong her,
      Then two things might live longer,
      Two sweeter things than they;
      Delight, the rootless flower,
      And love, the bloomless bower;
      Delight that lives an hour,
      And love that lives a day.
      From evensong to daytime,
      When April melts in Maytime,
      Love lengthens out his playtime,
      Love lessens breath by breath,
      And kiss by kiss grows older
      On listless throat or shoulder
      Turned sideways now, turned colder
      Than life that dreams of death.
      This one thing once worth giving
      Life gave, and seemed worth living;
      Sin sweet beyond forgiving
      And brief beyond regret:
      To laugh and love together
      And weave with foam and feather
      And wind and words the tether
      Our memories play with yet.
      Ah, one thing worth beginning,
      One thread in life worth spinning,
      Ah sweet, one sin worth sinning,
      With all the whole soul's will;
      To lull you till one stilled you,
      To kiss you till one killed you,
      To feed you till one filled you,
      Sweet lips, if love could fill;
      To hunt sweet Love and lose him
      Between white arms and bosom,
      Between the bud and blossom,
      Between your throat and chin;
      To say of shame--what is it?
      Or virtue--we can miss it,
      Of sin--we can but kiss it,
      And it's no longer sin:
      To feel the strong soul, stricken
      Through fleshly pulses, quicken
      Beneath swift sighs that thicken,
      Soft hands and lips that smite;
      Lips that no love can tire,
      With hands that sting like fire,
      Weaving the web Desire
      To snare the bird Delight.
      But love so lightly plighted,
      Our love with torch unlighted,
      Paused near us unaffrighted,
      Who found and left him free;
      None, seeing us cloven in sunder,
      Will weep or laugh or wonder;
      Light love stands clear of thunder,
      And safe from winds at sea.
      As, when late larks give warning
      Of dying lights and dawning,
      Night murmurs to the morning,
      "Lie still, O love, lie still";
      And half her dark limbs cover
      The white limbs of her lover,
      With amorous plumes that hover
      And fervent lips that chill;
      As scornful day represses
      Night's void and vain caresses,
      And from her cloudier tresses
      Unwinds the gold of his,
      With limbs from limbs dividing
      And breath by breath subsiding;
      For love has no abiding,
      But dies before the kiss;
      So hath it been, so be it;
      For who shall live and flee it?
      But look that no man see it
      Or hear it unaware;
      Lest all who love and choose him
      See Love, and so refuse him
      For all who find him lose him,
      But all have found him fair.

"Before Dawn" is reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith. New York: Crown Publishers, 1921.




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