Hymn to Heresy

Hymn to Proserpine

After the Proclamation in Rome
of the Christian Faith

by ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE


Vicisti, Galilæe.

I have lived long enough, having seen one thing, that love hath an end;
Goddess and maiden and queen, be near me now and befriend.
Thou art more than the day or the morrow, the seasons that laugh or that weep;
For these give joy and sorrow; but thou, Proserpina, sleep.
Sweet is the treading of wine, and sweet the feet of the dove;
But a goodlier gift is thine than foam of the grapes or love.
Yea, is not even Apollo, with hair and harpstring of gold,
A bitter God to follow, a beautiful God to behold?
I am sick of singing; the bays burn deep and chafe: I am fain
To rest a little from praise and grievous pleasure and pain.
For the Gods we know not of, who give us our daily breath,
We know they are cruel as love or life, and lovely as death.
O Gods dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day!
From your wrath is the world released, redeemed from your chains, men say.
New Gods are crowned in the city; their flowers have broken your rods;
They are merciful, clothed with pity, the young compassionate Gods.
But for me their new device is barren, the days are bare;
Things long past over suffice, and men forgotten that were.
Time and the Gods are at strife; ye dwell in the midst thereof,
Draining a little life from the barren breasts of love.
I say to you, cease, take rest; yea, I say to you all, be at peace,
Till the bitter milk of her breast and the barren bosom shall cease.
Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take,
The laurel, the palms and the pæan, the breasts of the nymphs in the brake;
Breasts more soft than a dove’s, that tremble with tenderer breath;
And all the wings of the Loves, and all the joy before death;
All the feet of the hours that sound as a single lyre,
Dropped and deep in the flowers, with strings that flicker like fire.
More than these wilt thou give, things fairer than all these things?
Nay, for a little we live, and life hath mutable wings.
A little while and we die; shall life not thrive as it may?
For no man under the sky lives twice, outliving his day.
And grief is a grievous thing, and a man hath enough of his tears:
Why should he labour, and bring fresh grief to blacken his years?
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season, and love is sweet for a day;
But love grows bitter with treason, and laurel outlives not May.
Sleep, shall we sleep after all? for the world is not sweet in the end;
For the old faiths loosen and fall, the new years ruin and rend.
Fate is a sea without shore, and the soul is a rock that abides;
But her ears are vexed with the roar and her face with the foam of the tides.
O lips that the live blood faints in, the leavings of racks and rods!
O ghastly glories of saints, dead limbs of gibbeted Gods!
Though all men abase them before you in spirit, and all knees bend,
I kneel not neither adore you, but standing, look to the end.
All delicate days and pleasant, all spirits and sorrows are cast
Far out with the foam of the present that sweeps to the surf of the past:
Where beyond the extreme sea-wall, and between the remote sea-gates,
Waste water washes, and tall ships founder, and deep death waits:
Where, mighty with deepening sides, clad about with the seas as with wings,
And impelled of invisible tides, and fulfilled of unspeakable things,
White-eyed and poisonous-finned, shark-toothed and serpentine-curled,
Rolls, under the whitening wind of the future, the wave of the world.
The depths stand naked in sunder behind it, the storms flee away;
In the hollow before it the thunder is taken and snared as a prey;
In its sides is the north-wind bound; and its salt is of all men’s tears;
With light of ruin, and sound of changes, and pulse of years:
With travail of day after day, and with trouble of hour upon hour;
And bitter as blood is the spray; and the crests are as fangs that devour:
And its vapour and storm of its steam as the sighing of spirits to be;
And its noise as the noise in a dream; and its depth as the roots of the sea:
And the height of its heads as the height of the utmost stars of the air:
And the ends of the earth at the might thereof tremble, and time is made bare.
Will ye bridle the deep sea with reins, will ye chasten the high sea with rods?
Will ye take her to chain her with chains, who is older than all ye Gods?
All ye as a wind shall go by, as a fire shall ye pass and be past;
Ye are Gods, and behold, ye shall die, and the waves be upon you at last.
In the darkness of time, in the deeps of the years, in the changes of things,
Ye shall sleep as a slain man sleeps, and the world shall forget you for kings.
Though the feet of thine high priests tread where thy lords and our forefathers trod,
Though these that were Gods are dead, and thou being dead art a God,
Though before thee the throned Cytherean be fallen, and hidden her head,
Yet thy kingdom shall pass, Galilean, thy dead shall go down to thee dead.
Of the maiden thy mother men sing as a goddess with grace clad around;
Thou art throned where another was king; where another was queen she is crowned.
Yea, once we had sight of another: but now she is queen, say these.
Not as thine, not as thine was our mother, a blossom of flowering seas,
Clothed round with the world’s desire as with raiment, and fair as the foam,
And fleeter than kindled fire, and a goddess, and mother of Rome.
For thine came pale and a maiden, and sister to sorrow; but ours,
Her deep hair heavily laden with odour and colour of flowers,
White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendour, a flame,
Bent down unto us that besought her, and earth grew sweet with her name.
For thine came weeping, a slave among slaves, and rejected; but she
Came flushed from the full-flushed wave, and imperial, her foot on the sea.
And the wonderful waters knew her, the winds and the viewless ways,
And the roses grew rosier, and bluer the sea-blue stream of the bays.
Ye are fallen, our lords, by what token? we wise that ye should not fall.
Ye were all so fair that are broken; and one more fair than ye all.
But I turn to her still, having seen she shall surely abide in the end;
Goddess and maiden and queen, be near me now and befriend.
O daughter of earth, of my mother, her crown and blossom of birth,
I am also, I also, thy brother; I go as I came unto earth.
In the night where thine eyes are as moons are in heaven, the night where thou art,
Where the silence is more than all tunes, where sleep overflows from the heart,
Where the poppies are sweet as the rose in our world, and the red rose is white,
And the wind falls faint as it blows with the fume of the flowers of the night,
And the murmur of spirits that sleep in the shadow of Gods from afar
Grows dim in thine ears and deep as the deep dim soul of a star,
In the sweet low light of thy face, under heavens untrod by the sun,
Let my soul with their souls find place, and forget what is done and undone.
Thou art more than the Gods who number the days of our temporal breath;
Let these give labour and slumber; but thou, Proserpina, death.
Therefore now at thy feet I abide for a season in silence. I know
I shall die as my fathers died, and sleep as they sleep; even so.
For the glass of the years is brittle wherein we gaze for a span;
A little soul for a little bears up this corpse which is man.
So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not again, neither weep.
For there is no God found stronger than death; and death is a sleep.
So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not again, neither weep.
For there is no God found stronger than death; and death is a sleep.


Elsewhere Other-Accessible…

• “Hymn to Proserpine” (1866) at Wikipedia

A Poof in a Porker

The great literary scholar and expert psychoanalyst Dr Miriam B. Stimbers has detected castration, clitoridolatry and communal cannibalism in the novels of Jane Austen. I’m not so ambitious. I merely want to detect a poof in a porker’s poetry. Or rather, I want to detect a poof in the poetry of a peer closely associated with a porker.

The porker is Bill Bunter, the fat, lazy and greedy public schoolboy whose misadventures at Greyfriars School were chronicled, under the pseudonym Frank Richards, by the highly prolific Charles Hamilton (1876-1961). One of Bunter’s schoolfellows was the languid and apparently effete peer Lord Mauleverer, who contributed this poem to The Greyfriars Holiday Annual for 1928:

“The Song of the Slacker”, by Lord Mauleverer

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life was meant for toil and hustle;
It was meant for soothing slumbers,
Which relax both mind and muscle.

Life is lovely! Life is topping!
When you lie beneath the shade,
With the ginger-beer corks popping,
And a glorious spread arrayed.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to put off till to-morrow
Work that should be done today!

In the world’s broad field of battle
All wise soldiers take their ease;
And they lie asleep, like cattle,
Underneath the shady trees.

Trust no Future, trust no Present,
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
The only prospect nice and pleasant
Is that of “forty winks” in bed!

“Life is short!” the bards are bawling,
Let’s enjoy it while we may;
On our study sofas sprawling,
Sleeping sixteen hours a day!

Lives of slackers all remind us
We should also rest our limbs;
And, departing, leave behind us,
“Helpful Hints for Tired Tims!”

Helpful hints, at which another
Will, perhaps, just take a peep;
Some exhausted, born-tired brother––
They will send him off to sleep!

While the hustlers are pursuing
Outdoor sports, on land and lake;
Let us, then, be up and doing––
There are several beds to make. – The Greyfriars Holiday Annual for 1928 (1927), Howard Baker abridged edition 1971


I liked the poem when I first read it, but I didn’t spot the parody as soon as I should. It was unexpected, you see, but then it dawned on me that “The Song of the Slacker” must be a parody of a famous poem by the poof-poet A.E. Housman (1859-1936):

REVEILLE

Wake: the silver dusk returning
Up the beach of darkness brims,
And the ship of sunrise burning
Strands upon the eastern rims.

Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
Trampled to the floor it spanned,
And the tent of night in tatters
Straws the sky-pavilioned land.

Up, lad, up, ’tis late for lying;
Hear the drums of morning play;
Hark, the empty highways crying
“Who’ll beyond the hills away?”

Towns and countries woo together,
Forelands beacon, belfries call;
Never lad that trod on leather
Lived to feast his heart with all.

Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns abed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.

Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;
Breath’s a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey’s over
There’ll be time enough to sleep. – A Shropshire Lad (1896), Poem IV


The meter of the two poems is the same, the period is right, and the sentiments of Housman’s call to energy and effort are turned neatly on their heads in Lord Mauleverer’s call to sleep and slackness. And it’s a clever parody, although it’s a little too long. I’m glad to have come across “The Song of the Slacker”, which the second-best parody of Housman I’ve read. Here’s the best:

What, still alive at twenty-two,
A clean, upstanding chap like you?
Sure, if your throat ’tis hard to slit,
Slit your girl’s, and swing for it.

Like enough, you won’t be glad,
When they come to hang you, lad:
But bacon’s not the only thing
That’s cured by hanging from a string.

So, when the spilt ink of the night
Spreads o’er the blotting-pad of light,
Lads whose job is still to do
Shall whet their knives, and think of you.

Hugh Kingsmill’s famous parody of A.E. Housman

ზამვარდები

ვარდები

მე, ზამთრისაგან ჯაჭვაწყვეტილი,
ნაცნობ ბაღისკენ მივემართები,
სად ფერად უცხო, ყნოსვად კეთილი,
ზამთარ და ზაფხულ ჰყვავის ვარდები.


Roses

Unchained from winter,
I walk to a long-known garden,
Where, sweet-scented and bright,
Roses grow winter and summer through.

ვარდები, გალაკტიონ ტაბიძე
“Roses”, Galaktion Tabidze — a translation into English

Wails from the Crypt

From the depths of the crypt at St Giles
Came a scream that resounded for miles…
Said the vicar: “Good gracious!
Has Father Ignatius
Forgotten the Bishop has piles?”

(Anonymous)


Elsewhere other-accessible…

Doc Proc — a review of Dr Miriam B. Stimbers’ Botty: An Unnatural History of the Backside (2014)

HMortuis

“The Garden of Prosperpine”

By Algernon Charles Swinburne


Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.

Bash the Trash

From George Orwell’s “As I Please” for 11th February 1944, Tribune:

THE FOLLOWING lines are quoted in Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography:

When Payne-Knight’s Taste was issued on the town
A few Greek verses in the text set down
Were torn to pieces, mangled into hash,
Hurled to the flames as execrable trash;
In short, were butchered rather than dissected
And several false quantities detected;
Till, when the smoke had risen from the cinders
It was discovered that — the lines were Pindar’s!

Trollope does not make clear who is the author of these lines, and I should be very glad if any reader could let me know. But I also quote them for their own sake — that is, for the terrible warning to literary critics that they contain — and for the sake of drawing attention to Trollope’s Autobiography, which is a most fascinating book, although or because it is largely concerned with money.


Elsewhere Other-Accessible…

Pindar (c. 518-438 BC) at Wikipedia
An Analytical Inquiry Into the Principles of Taste (1806) by Richard Payne-Knight at Archive.org
An Autobiography and Other Writings (1869) by Anthony Trollope at Gutenberg

For Flake’s Sake

It caught my eye, it caught my eye,
That fluttering flake of fallen sky.

It rode the wind as cars bored by
And did not die:

And shall not die,
That fluttering flake of fallen sky.


Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

A poem written months ago about a briefly glimpsed blue butterfly flying along — and over — a busy road. I don’t know the species, but Polyommatus icarus seems a reasonable guess.

Pteric Ptosis

Uncle, whose inventive brains
Kept evolving aeroplanes,
Fell from an enormous height
Upon my garden lawn last night.
Flying is a fatal sport:
Uncle wrecked the tennis court. — Harry Graham (1874-1936)


Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

Pteric means “of or like a wing”; ptosis meant “fall, falling” in ancient Greek and is now used in medicine to mean “drooping of the eyelid; sagging or lowering of an organ”, etc.