Verse > Oscar Wilde > Poems
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Oscar Wilde (1854–1900).  Poems.  1881.

28. Athanasia


TO that gaunt House of Art which lacks for naught 
  Of all the great things men have saved from Time, 
The withered body of a girl was brought 
  Dead ere the world’s glad youth had touched its prime, 
And seen by lonely Arabs lying hid         5
In the dim womb of some black pyramid. 
  
But when they had unloosed the linen band 
  Which swathed the Egyptian’s body,—lo! was found 
Closed in the wasted hollow of her hand 
  A little seed, which sown in English ground  10
Did wondrous snow of starry blossoms bear, 
And spread rich odours through our springtide air. 
  
With such strange arts this flower did allure 
  That all forgotten was the asphodel, 
And the brown bee, the lily’s paramour,  15
  Forsook the cup where he was wont to dwell, 
For not a thing of earth it seemed to be, 
But stolen from some heavenly Arcady. 
  
In vain the sad narcissus, wan and white 
  At its own beauty, hung across the stream,  20
The purple dragon-fly had no delight 
  With its gold dust to make his wings a-gleam, 
Ah! no delight the jasmine-bloom to kiss, 
Or brush the rain-pearls from the eucharis. 
  
For love of it the passionate nightingale  25
  Forgot the hills of Thrace, the cruel king, 
And the pale dove no longer cared to sail 
  Through the wet woods at time of blossoming, 
But round this flower of Egypt sought to float, 
With silvered wing and amethystine throat.  30
  
While the hot sun blazed in his tower of blue 
  A cooling wind crept from the land of snows, 
And the warm south with tender tears of dew 
  Drenched its white leaves when Hesperos uprose 
Amid those sea-green meadows of the sky  35
On which the scarlet bars of sunset lie. 
  
But when o’er wastes of lily-haunted field 
  The tired birds had stayed their amorous tune, 
And broad and glittering like an argent shield 
  High in the sapphire heavens hung the moon,  40
Did no strange dream or evil memory make 
Each tremulous petal of its blossoms shake? 
  
Ah no! to this bright flower a thousand years 
  Seemed but the lingering of a summer’s day, 
It never knew the tide of cankering fears  45
  Which turn a boy’s gold hair to withered grey, 
The dread desire of death it never knew, 
Or how all folk that they were born must rue. 
  
For we to death with pipe and dancing go, 
  Nor would we pass the ivory gate again,  50
As some sad river wearied of its flow 
  Through the dull plains, the haunts of common men, 
Leaps lover-like into the terrible sea! 
And counts it gain to die so gloriously. 
  
We mar our lordly strength in barren strife  55
  With the world’s legions led by clamorous care, 
It never feels decay but gathers life 
  From the pure sunlight and the supreme air, 
We live beneath Time’s wasting sovereignty, 
It is the child of all eternity.  60


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