Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
King David
By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
(From The Masque of Queen Bersabe; from Poems and Ballads, 1866)

LORD GOD, alas, what shall I sain?
Lo, thou art as an hundred men
Both to break and build again:
The wild ways thou makest plain,
Thine hands hold the hail and rain,        5
And thy fingers both grape and grain;
Of their largess we be all well fain,
  And of their great pity:
The sun thou madest of good gold,
Of clean silver the moon cold,        10
All the great stars thou hast told
As thy cattle in thy fold
Every one by his name of old;
Wind and water thou hast in hold,
  Both the land and the long sea;        15
Both the green sea and the land,
Lord God, thou hast in hand,
Both white water and grey sand;
Upon thy right or thy left hand
There is no man that may stand;        20
  Lord, thou rue on me.
O wise Lord, if thou be keen
To note things amiss that been,
I am not worth a shell of bean
More than an old mare meagre and lean;        25
For all my wrong-doing with my queen,
It grew not of our heartès clean,
  But it began of her body.
For it fell in the hot May
I stood within a paven way        30
Built of fair bright stone, perfay,
That is as fire of night and day
  And lighteth all my house.
Therein be neither stones nor sticks,
Neither red nor white bricks,        35
But for cubits five or six
There is most goodly sardonyx
  And amber laid in rows.
It goes round about my roofs,
(If ye list ye shall have proofs)        40
There is good space for horse and hoofs,
  Plain and nothing perilous.
For the fair green weather’s heat,
And for the smell of leavès sweet,
It is no marvel, will ye weet,        45
  A man to waxen amorous.
This I say now by my case
That spied forth of that royal place;
There I saw in no great space
Mine own sweet, both body and face,        50
Under the fresh boughs.
In a water that was there
She wesshe her goodly body bare
And dried it with her own hair:
Both her arms and her knees fair,        55
  Both bosom and brows;
Both shoulders and eke thighs
Tho she wesshe upon this wise;
Ever she sighed with little sighs,
  And ever she gave God thank.        60
Yea, God wot I can well see yet
Both her breast and her sides all wet
And her long hair withouten let
Spread sideways like a drawing net;
Full dear bought and full far fet        65
Was that sweet thing there y-set;
It were a hard thing to forget
How both lips and eyen met,
  Breast and breath sank.
So goodly a sight as there she was,        70
Lying looking on her glass
By wan water in green grass,
  Yet saw never man.
So soft and great she was and bright
With all her body waxen white,        75
I woxe nigh blind to see the light
Shed out of it to left and right;
This bitter sin from that sweet sight
  Between us twain began.

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