Poem of the day

by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)


Lift up thy lips, turn round, look back for love,
⁠      Blind love that comes by night and casts out rest;
⁠      Of all things tired thy lips look weariest,
Save the long smile that they are wearied of.
Ah sweet, albeit no love be sweet enough,
⁠      Choose of two loves and cleave unto the best;
⁠      Two loves at either blossom of thy breast
Strive until one be under and one above.
Their breath is fire upon the amorous air,
⁠      Fire in thine eyes and where thy lips suspire:
And whosoever hath seen thee, being so fair,
⁠      Two things turn all his life and blood to fire;
A strong desire begot on great despair,
⁠      A great despair cast out by strong desire.


Where between sleep and life some brief space is,
⁠      With love like gold bound round about the head,
⁠      Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed,
Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his
To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss;
⁠      Yet from them something like as fire is shed
⁠      That shall not be assuaged till death be dead,
Though neither life nor sleep can find out this.
Love made himself of flesh that perisheth
⁠      A pleasure-house for all the loves his kin;
But on the one side sat a man like death,
⁠      And on the other a woman sat like sin.
So with veiled eyes and sobs between his breath
⁠      Love turned himself and would not enter in.


Love, is it love or sleep or shadow or light
⁠      That lies between thine eyelids and thine eyes?
⁠      Like a flower laid upon a flower it lies,
Or like the night’s dew laid upon the night.
Love stands upon thy left hand and thy right,
⁠      Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise
⁠      Shall make thee man and ease a woman’s sighs,
Or make thee woman for a man’s delight.
To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
⁠      The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?
Hid love in all the folds of all thy hair,
⁠      Fed thee on summers, watered thee with showers,
Given all the gold that all the seasons wear
⁠      To thee that art a thing of barren hours?


Yea, love, I see; it is not love but fear.
⁠      Nay, sweet, it is not fear but love, I know;
⁠      Or wherefore should thy body’s blossom blow
So sweetly, or thine eyelids leave so clear
Thy gracious eyes that never made a tear—
⁠      Though for their love our tears like blood should flow,
⁠      Though love and life and death should come and go,
So dreadful, so desirable, so dear?
Yea, sweet, I know; I saw in what swift wise
⁠      Beneath the woman’s and the water’s kiss
Thy moist limbs melted into Salmacis,
⁠      And the large light turned tender in thine eyes,
And all thy boy’s breath softened into sighs;
⁠      But Love being blind, how should he know of this?

Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863

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