Home  »  The Oxford Book of English Verse  »  810. Ave atque Vale (IN MEMORY OF CHARLES BAUDELAIRE)

Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.

Algernon Charles Swinburne. 1837–1909


SHALL I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel, 
    Brother, on this that was the veil of thee? 
    Or quiet sea-flower moulded by the sea, 
Or simplest growth of meadow-sweet or sorrel, 
    Such as the summer-sleepy Dryads weave,         5
    Waked up by snow-soft sudden rains at eve? 
Or wilt thou rather, as on earth before, 
    Half-faded fiery blossoms, pale with heat 
    And full of bitter summer, but more sweet 
To thee than gleanings of a northern shore  10
    Trod by no tropic feet? 
For always thee the fervid languid glories 
    Allured of heavier suns in mightier skies; 
    Thine ears knew all the wandering watery sighs 
Where the sea sobs round Lesbian promontories,  15
    The barren kiss of piteous wave to wave 
    That knows not where is that Leucadian grave 
Which hides too deep the supreme head of song. 
    Ah, salt and sterile as her kisses were, 
    The wild sea winds her and the green gulfs bear  20
Hither and thither, and vex and work her wrong, 
    Blind gods that cannot spare. 
Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother, 
    Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us: 
    Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,  25
Bare to thy subtler eye, but for none other 
    Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime; 
    The hidden harvest of luxurious time, 
Sin without shape, and pleasure without speech; 
    And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep  30
    Make the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep; 
And with each face thou sawest the shadow on each, 
    Seeing as men sow men reap. 
O sleepless heart and sombre soul unsleeping, 
    That were athirst for sleep and no more life  35
    And no more love, for peace and no more strife! 
Now the dim gods of death have in their keeping 
    Spirit and body and all the springs of song, 
    Is it well now where love can do no wrong, 
Where stingless pleasure has no foam or fang  40
    Behind the unopening closure of her lips? 
    Is it not well where soul from body slips 
And flesh from bone divides without a pang 
    As dew from flower-bell drips? 
It is enough; the end and the beginning  45
    Are one thing to thee, who art past the end. 
    O hand unclasp’d of unbeholden friend, 
For thee no fruits to pluck, no palms for winning, 
    No triumph and no labour and no lust, 
    Only dead yew-leaves and a little dust.  50
O quiet eyes wherein the light saith naught, 
    Whereto the day is dumb, nor any night 
    With obscure finger silences your sight, 
Nor in your speech the sudden soul speaks thought, 
    Sleep, and have sleep for light.  55
Now all strange hours and all strange loves are over, 
    Dreams and desires and sombre songs and sweet, 
    Hast thou found place at the great knees and feet 
Of some pale Titan-woman like a lover, 
    Such as thy vision here solicited,  60
    Under the shadow of her fair vast head, 
The deep division of prodigious breasts, 
    The solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep, 
    The weight of awful tresses that still keep 
The savour and shade of old-world pine-forests  65
    Where the wet hill-winds weep? 
Hast thou found any likeness for thy vision? 
    O gardener of strange flowers, what bud, what bloom, 
    Hast thou found sown, what gather’d in the gloom? 
What of despair, of rapture, of derision,  70
    What of life is there, what of ill or good? 
    Are the fruits gray like dust or bright like blood? 
Does the dim ground grow any seed of ours, 
    The faint fields quicken any terrene root, 
    In low lands where the sun and moon are mute  75
And all the stars keep silence? Are there flowers 
    At all, or any fruit? 
Alas, but though my flying song flies after, 
    O sweet strange elder singer, thy more fleet 
    Singing, and footprints of thy fleeter feet,  80
Some dim derision of mysterious laughter 
    From the blind tongueless warders of the dead, 
    Some gainless glimpse of Proserpine’s veil’d head, 
Some little sound of unregarded tears 
    Wept by effaced unprofitable eyes,  85
    And from pale mouths some cadence of dead sighs— 
These only, these the hearkening spirit hears, 
    Sees only such things rise. 
Thou art far too far for wings of words to follow, 
    Far too far off for thought or any prayer.  90
    What ails us with thee, who art wind and air? 
What ails us gazing where all seen is hollow? 
    Yet with some fancy, yet with some desire, 
    Dreams pursue death as winds a flying fire, 
Our dreams pursue our dead and do not find.  95
    Still, and more swift than they, the thin flame flies, 
    The low light fails us in elusive skies, 
Still the foil’d earnest ear is deaf, and blind 
    Are still the eluded eyes. 
Not thee, O never thee, in all time’s changes, 100
    Not thee, but this the sound of thy sad soul, 
    The shadow of thy swift spirit, this shut scroll 
I lay my hand on, and not death estranges 
    My spirit from communion of thy song— 
    These memories and these melodies that throng 105
Veil’d porches of a Muse funereal— 
    These I salute, these touch, these clasp and fold 
    As though a hand were in my hand to hold, 
Or through mine ears a mourning musical 
    Of many mourners roll’d. 110
I among these, I also, in such station 
    As when the pyre was charr’d, and piled the sods. 
    And offering to the dead made, and their gods, 
The old mourners had, standing to make libation, 
    I stand, and to the Gods and to the dead 115
    Do reverence without prayer or praise, and shed 
Offering to these unknown, the gods of gloom, 
    And what of honey and spice my seed-lands bear, 
    And what I may of fruits in this chill’d air, 
And lay, Orestes-like, across the tomb 120
    A curl of sever’d hair. 
But by no hand nor any treason stricken, 
    Not like the low-lying head of Him, the King, 
    The flame that made of Troy a ruinous thing, 
Thou liest and on this dust no tears could quicken. 125
    There fall no tears like theirs that all men hear 
    Fall tear by sweet imperishable tear 
Down the opening leaves of holy poets’ pages. 
    Thee not Orestes, not Electra mourns; 
    But bending us-ward with memorial urns 130
The most high Muses that fulfil all ages 
    Weep, and our God’s heart yearns. 
For, sparing of his sacred strength, not often 
    Among us darkling here the lord of light 
    Makes manifest his music and his might 135
In hearts that open and in lips that soften 
    With the soft flame and heat of songs that shine. 
    Thy lips indeed he touch’d with bitter wine, 
And nourish’d them indeed with bitter bread; 
    Yet surely from his hand thy soul’s food came, 140
    The fire that scarr’d thy spirit at his flame 
Was lighted, and thine hungering heart he fed 
    Who feeds our hearts with fame. 
Therefore he too now at thy soul’s sunsetting, 
    God of all suns and songs, he too bends down 145
    To mix his laurel with thy cypress crown, 
And save thy dust from blame and from forgetting. 
    Therefore he too, seeing all thou wert and art, 
    Compassionate, with sad and sacred heart, 
Mourns thee of many his children the last dead, 150
    And hollows with strange tears and alien sighs 
    Thine unmelodious mouth and sunless eyes, 
And over thine irrevocable head 
    Sheds light from the under skies. 
And one weeps with him in the ways Lethean, 155
    And stains with tears her changing bosom chill; 
    That obscure Venus of the hollow hill, 
That thing transform’d which was the Cytherean, 
    With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine 
    Long since, and face no more call’d Erycine— 160
A ghost, a bitter and luxurious god. 
    Thee also with fair flesh and singing spell 
    Did she, a sad and second prey, compel 
Into the footless places once more trod, 
    And shadows hot from hell. 165
And now no sacred staff shall break in blossom, 
    No choral salutation lure to light 
    A spirit sick with perfume and sweet night 
And love’s tired eyes and hands and barren bosom. 
    There is no help for these things; none to mend, 170
    And none to mar; not all our songs, O friend, 
Will make death clear or make life durable. 
    Howbeit with rose and ivy and wild vine 
    And with wild notes about this dust of thine 
At least I fill the place where white dreams dwell 175
    And wreathe an unseen shrine. 
Sleep; and if life was bitter to thee, pardon, 
    If sweet, give thanks; thou hast no more to live; 
    And to give thanks is good, and to forgive. 
Out of the mystic and the mournful garden 180
    Where all day through thine hands in barren braid 
    Wove the sick flowers of secrecy and shade, 
Green buds of sorrow and sin, and remnants gray, 
    Sweet-smelling, pale with poison, sanguine-hearted, 
    Passions that sprang from sleep and thoughts that started, 185
Shall death not bring us all as thee one day 
    Among the days departed? 
For thee, O now a silent soul, my brother, 
    Take at my hands this garland, and farewell. 
    Thin is the leaf, and chill the wintry smell, 190
And chill the solemn earth, a fatal mother, 
    With sadder than the Niobean womb, 
    And in the hollow of her breasts a tomb. 
Content thee, howsoe’er, whose days are done; 
    There lies not any troublous thing before, 195
    Nor sight nor sound to war against thee more, 
For whom all winds are quiet as the sun, 
    All waters as the shore.