Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
The Death of Meleager
By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
          LET your hands meet
            Round the weight of my head;
          Lift ye my feet
            As the feet of the dead;
For the flesh of my body is molten, the limbs of it molten as lead.        5
          O thy luminous face,
            Thine imperious eyes!
          O the grief, O the grace,
            As of day when it dies!
Who is this bending over thee, lord, with tears and suppression of sighs?        10
          Is a bride so fair?
            Is a maid so meek?
          With unchapleted hair,
            With unfilleted cheek,
Atalanta, the pure among women, whose name is as blessing to speak.        15
          I would that with feet
            Unsandall’d, unshod,
          Overbold, overfleet,
            I had swum not nor trod
From Arcadia to Calydon northward, a blast of the envy of God.        20
          Unto each man his fate;
            Unto each as he saith
          In whose fingers the weight
            Of the world is as breath;
Yet I would that in clamour of battle mine hands had laid hold upon death.        25
          Not with cleaving of shields
            And their clash in thine ear,
          When the lord of fought fields
            Breaketh spearshaft from spear,
Thou art broken, our lord, thou art broken, with travail and labour and fear.        30
          Would God he had found me
            Beneath fresh boughs!
          Would God he had bound me
            Unawares in mine house,
With light in mine eyes, and songs in my lips, and a crown on my brows!        35
          Whence art thou sent from us?
            Whither thy goal?
          How art thou rent from us,
            Thou that wert whole,
As with severing of eyelids and eyes, as with sundering of body and soul!        40
          My heart is within me
            As an ash in the fire;
          Whosoever hath seen me,
            Without lute, without lyre,
Shall sing of me grievous things, even things that were ill to desire.        45
          Who shall raise thee
            From the house of the dead?
          Or what man praise thee
            That thy praise may be said?
Alas thy beauty! alas thy body! alas thine head!        50
          But thou, O mother,
            The dreamer of dreams,
          Wilt thou bring forth another
            To feel the sun’s beams
When I move among shadows a shadow, and wail by impassable streams?        55
          What thing wilt thou leave me
            Now this thing is done?
          A man wilt thou give me,
            A son for my son,
For the light of mine eyes, the desire of my life, the desirable one?        60
          Thou wert glad above others,
            Yea, fair beyond word;
          Thou wert glad among mothers;
            For each man that heard
Of thee, praise there was added unto thee, as wings to the feet of a bird.        65
          Who shall give back
            Thy face of old years
          With travail made black,
            Grown grey among fears,
Mother of sorrow, mother of cursing, mother of tears?        70
          Though thou art as fire
            Fed with fuel in vain,
          My delight, my desire,
            Is more chaste than the rain,
More pure than the dewfall, more holy than stars are that live without stain.        75
          I would that as water
            My life’s blood had thawn,
          Or as winter’s wan daughter
            Leaves lowland and lawn
Spring-stricken, or ever mine eyes had beheld thee made dark in thy dawn.        80
          When thou dravest the men
            Of the chosen of Thrace,
          None turn’d him again
            Nor endured he thy face
Clothed round with the blush of the battle, with light from a terrible place.        85
          Thou shouldst die as he dies
            For whom none sheddeth tears;
          Filling thine eyes
            And fulfilling thine ears
With the brilliance of battle, the bloom and the beauty, the splendour of spears.        90
          In the ears of the world
            It is sung, it is told,
          And the light thereof hurl’d
            And the noise thereof roll’d
From the Acroceraunian snow to the ford of the fleece of gold.        95
          Would God ye could carry me
            Forth of all these;
          Heap sand and bury me
            By the Chersonese,
Where the thundering Bosphorus answers the thunder of Pontic seas.        100
          Dost thou mock at our praise
            And the singing begun,
          And the men of strange days
            Praising my son
In the folds of the hills of home, high places of Calydon?        105
          For the dead man no home is;
            Ah, better to be
          What the flower of the foam is
            In fields of the sea,
That the sea-waves might be as my raiment, the gulf-stream a garment for me!        110
          Who shall seek thee and bring
            And restore thee thy day,
          When the dove dipt her wing
            And the oars won their way
Where the narrowing Symplegades whiten’d the straits of Propontis with spray?        115
          Will ye crown me my tomb
            Or exalt me my name,
          Now my spirits consume,
            Now my flesh is a flame?
Let the sea slake it once, and men speak of me sleeping to praise me or shame.        120
          Turn back now, turn thee,
            As who turns him to wake;
          Though the life in thee burn thee,
            Couldst thou bathe it and slake
Where the sea-ridge of Helle hangs heavier, and east upon west waters break?        125
          Would the winds blow me back,
            Or the waves hurl me home?
          Ah, to touch in the track
            Where the pine learnt to roam
Cold girdles and crowns of the sea-gods, cool blossoms of water and foam!        130
          The gods may release
            That they made fast:
          Thy soul shall have ease
            In thy limbs at the last;
But what shall they give thee for life, sweet life that is overpast?        135
          Not the life of men’s veins,
            Not of flesh that conceives;
          But the grace that remains,
            The fair beauty that cleaves
To the life of the rains in the grasses, the life of the dews on the leaves.        140
          Thou wert helmsman and chief;
            Wilt thou turn in an hour,
          Thy limbs to the leaf,
            Thy face to the flower,
Thy blood to the water, thy soul to the gods who divide and devour?        145
          The years are hungry,
            They wail all their days;
          The gods wax angry
            And weary of praise;
And who shall bridle their lips? and who shall straiten their ways?        150
          The gods guard over us
            With sword and with rod;
          Weaving shadow to cover us,
            Heaping the sod,
That law may fulfil herself wholly, to darken man’s face before God.        155

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