Verse > Oscar Wilde > Poems

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

10. The Garden of Eros

IT is full summer now, the heart of June, 
  Not yet the sun-burnt reapers are a-stir 
Upon the upland meadow where too soon 
  Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer, 
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,         5
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze. 
Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil, 
  That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on 
To vex the rose with jealousy, and still 
  The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,  10
And like a strayed and wandering reveller 
Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger 
The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade, 
  One pale narcissus loiters fearfully 
Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid  15
  Of their own loveliness some violets lie 
That will not look the gold sun in the face 
For fear of too much splendour,—ah! methinks it is a place 
Which should be trodden by Persephone 
  When wearied of the flowerless fields of Dis!  20
Or danced on by the lads of Arcady! 
  The hidden secret of eternal bliss 
Known to the Grecian here a man might find, 
Ah! you and I may find it now if Love and Sleep be kind. 
There are the flowers which mourning Herakles  25
  Strewed on the tomb of Hylas, columbine, 
Its white doves all a-flutter where the breeze 
  Kissed them too harshly, the small celandine, 
That yellow-kirtled chorister of eve, 
And lilac lady’s-smock,—but let them bloom alone, and leave  30
Yon spired holly-hock red-crocketed 
  To sway its silent chimes, else must the bee, 
Its little bellringer, go seek instead 
  Some other pleasaunce; the anemone 
That weeps at daybreak, like a silly girl  35
Before her love, and hardly lets the butterflies unfurl 
Their painted wings beside it,—bid it pine 
  In pale virginity; the winter snow 
Will suit it better than those lips of thine 
  Whose fires would but scorch it, rather go  40
And pluck that amorous flower which blooms alone, 
Fed by the pander wind with dust of kisses not its own. 
The trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus 
  So dear to maidens, creamy meadow-sweet 
Whiter than Juno’s throat and odorous  45
  As all Arabia, hyacinths the feet 
Of Huntress Dian would be loth to mar 
For any dappled fawn,—pluck these, and those fond flowers which are 
Fairer than what Queen Venus trod upon 
  Beneath the pines of Ida, eucharis,  50
That morning star which does not dread the sun, 
  And budding marjoram which but to kiss 
Would sweeten Cytheræa’s lips and make 
Adonis jealous,—these for thy head,—and for thy girdle take 
Yon curving spray of purple clematis  55
  Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King, 
And fox-gloves with their nodding chalices, 
  But that one narciss which the startled Spring 
Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard 
In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of summer’s bird,  60
Ah! leave it for a subtle memory 
  Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun, 
When April laughed between her tears to see 
  The early primrose with shy footsteps run 
From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,  65
Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with shimmering gold. 
Nay, pluck it too, it is not half so sweet 
  As thou thyself, my soul’s idolatry! 
And when thou art a-wearied at thy feet 
  Shall oxlips weave their brightest tapestry,  70
For thee the woodbine shall forget its pride 
And vail its tangled whorls, and thou shalt walk on daisies pied. 
And I will cut a reed by yonder spring 
  And make the wood-gods jealous, and old Pan 
Wonder what young intruder dares to sing  75
  In these still haunts, where never foot of man 
Should tread at evening, lest he chance to spy 
The marble limbs of Artemis and all her company. 
And I will tell thee why the jacinth wears 
  Such dread embroidery of dolorous moan,  80
And why the hapless nightingale forbears 
  To sing her song at noon, but weeps alone 
When the fleet swallow sleeps, and rich men feast, 
And why the laurel trembles when she sees the lightening east. 
And I will sing how sad Proserpina  85
  Unto a grave and gloomy Lord was wed, 
And lure the silver-breasted Helena 
  Back from the lotus meadows of the dead, 
So shalt thou see that awful loveliness 
For which two mighty Hosts met fearfuly in war’s abyss!  90
And then I ’ll pipe to thee that Grecian tale 
  How Cynthia loves the lad Endymion, 
And hidden in a grey and misty veil 
  Hies to the cliffs of Latmos once the Sun 
Leaps from his ocean bed in fruitless chase  95
Of those pale flying feet which fade away in his embrace. 
And if my flute can breathe sweet melody, 
  We may behold Her face who long ago 
Dwelt among men by the Ægean sea, 
  And whose sad house with pillaged portico 100
And friezeless wall and columns toppled down 
Looms o’er the ruins of that fair and violet-cinctured town. 
Spirit of Beauty! tarry still a-while, 
  They are not dead, thine ancient votaries, 
Some few there are to whom thy radiant smile 105
  Is better than a thousand victories, 
Though all the nobly slain of Waterloo 
Rise up in wrath against them! tarry still, there are a few. 
Who for thy sake would give their manlihood 
  And consecrate their being, I at least 110
Have done so, made thy lips my daily food, 
  And in thy temples found a goodlier feast 
Than this starved age can give me, spite of all 
Its new-found creeds so sceptical and so dogmatical. 
Here not Cephissos, not Ilissos flows, 115
  The woods of white Colonos are not here, 
On our bleak hills the olive never blows, 
  No simple priest conducts his lowing steer 
Up the steep marble way, nor through the town 
Do laughing maidens bear to thee the crocus-flowered gown. 120
Yet tarry! for the boy who loved thee best, 
  Whose very name should be a memory 
To make thee linger, sleeps in silent rest 
  Beneath the Roman walls, and melody 
Still mourns her sweetest lyre, none can play 125
The lute of Adonais, with his lips Song passed away. 
Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left 
  One silver voice to sing his threnody, 
But ah! too soon of it we were bereft 
  When on that riven night and stormy sea 130
Panthea claimed her singer as her own, 
And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk alone, 
Save for that fiery heart, that morning star 
  Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye 
Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war 135
  The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy 
Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring 
The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing, 
And he hath been with thee at Thessaly, 
And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot 140
In passionless and fierce virginity 
  Hunting the tuskéd boar, his honied lute 
Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill, 
And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still. 
And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine, 145
  And sung the Galilæan’s requiem, 
That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine 
  He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him 
Have found their last, most ardent worshipper, 
And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror. 150
Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still, 
  It is not quenched the torch of poesy, 
The star that shook above the Eastern hill 
  Holds unassailed its argent armoury 
From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight— 155
O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night, 
Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child, 
  Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed, 
With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled 
  The weary soul of man in troublous need, 160
And from the far and flowerless fields of ice 
Has brought fair flowers meet to make an earthly paradise. 
We know them all, Gudrun the strong men’s bride, 
  Aslaug and Olafson we know them all, 
How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died, 165
  And what enchantment held the king in thrall 
When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers 
That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours, 
Long listless summer hours when the noon 
  Being enamoured of a damask rose 170
Forgets to journey westward, till the moon 
  The pale usurper of its tribute grows 
From a thin sickle to a silver shield 
And chides its loitering car—how oft, in some cool grassy field 
Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight, 175
  At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come 
Almost before the blackbird finds a mate 
  And overstay the swallow, and the hum 
Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves, 
Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves, 180
And through their unreal woes and mimic pain 
  Wept for myself, and so was purified, 
And in their simple mirth grew glad again; 
  For as I sailed upon that pictured tide 
The strength and splendour of the storm was mine 185
Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine, 
The little laugh of water falling down 
  Is not so musical, the clammy gold 
Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town 
  Has less of sweetness in it, and the old 190
Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady 
Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony. 
Spirit of Beauty tarry yet a-while! 
  Although the cheating merchants of the mart 
With iron roads profane our lovely isle, 195
  And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art, 
Ay! though the crowded factories beget 
The blind-worm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet! 
For One at least there is,—He bears his name 
  From Dante and the seraph Gabriel,— 200
Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame 
  To light thine altar; He too loves thee well, 
Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare, 
And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair, 
Loves thee so well, that all the World for him 205
  A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear, 
And Sorrow take a purple diadem, 
  Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair 
Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be 
Even in anguish beautiful;—such is the empery 210
Which Painters hold, and such the heritage 
  This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess, 
Being a better mirror of his age 
  In all his pity, love, and weariness, 
Than those who can but copy common things, 215
And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings. 
But they are few, and all romance has flown, 
  And men can prophesy about the sun, 
And lecture on his arrows—how, alone, 
  Through a waste void the soulless atoms run, 220
How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled, 
And that no more ’mid English reeds a Naïad shows her head. 
Methinks these new Actæons boast too soon 
  That they have spied on beauty; what if we 
Have analyzed the rainbow, robbed the moon 225
  Of her most ancient, chastest mystery, 
Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope 
Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope! 
What profit if this scientific age 
  Burst through our gates with all its retinue 230
Of modern miracles! Can it assuage 
  One lover’s breaking heart? what can it do 
To make one life more beautiful, one day 
More god-like in its period? but now the Age of Clay 
Returns in horrid cycle, and the earth 235
  Hath borne again a noisy progeny 
Of ignorant Titans, whose ungodly birth 
  Hurls them against the august hierarchy 
Which sat upon Olympus, to the Dust 
They have appealed, and to that barren arbiter they must 240
Repair for judgment, let them, if they can, 
  From Natural Warfare and insensate Chance, 
Create the new Ideal rule for man! 
  Methinks that was not my inheritance; 
For I was nurtured otherwise, my soul 245
Passes from higher heights of life to a more supreme goal. 
Lo! while we spake the earth did turn away 
  Her visage from the God, and Hecate’s boat 
Rose silver-laden, till the jealous day 
  Blew all its torches out: I did not note 250
The waning hours, to young Endymions 
Time’s palsied fingers count in vain his rosary of suns!— 
Mark how the yellow iris wearily 
  Leans back its throat, as though it would be kissed 
By its false chamberer, the dragon-fly, 255
  Who, like a blue vein on a girl’s white wrist, 
Sleeps on that snowy primrose of the night, 
Which ’gins to flush with crimson shame, and die beneath the light. 
Come let us go, against the pallid shield 
  Of the wan sky the almond blossoms gleam, 260
The corn-crake nested in the unmown field 
  Answers its mate, across the misty stream 
On fitful wing the startled curlews fly, 
And in his sedgy bed the lark, for joy that Day is nigh, 
Scatters the pearléd dew from off the grass, 265
  In tremulous ecstasy to greet the sun, 
Who soon in gilded panoply will pass 
  Forth from yon orange-curtained pavilion 
Hung in the burning east, see, the red rim 
O’ertops the expectant hills! it is the God! for love of him 270
Already the shrill lark is out of sight, 
  Flooding with waves of song this silent dell,— 
Ah! there is something more in that bird’s flight 
  Than could be tested in a crucible!— 
But the air freshens, let us go,—why soon 275
The woodmen will be here; how we have lived this night of June! 



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