Sept-Ember

“The Palace of Pan”

by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)


September, all glorious with gold, as a king
In the radiance of triumph attired,
Outlightening the summer, outsweetening the spring,
Broods wide on the woodlands with limitless wing,
A presence of all men desired.

Far eastward and westward the sun-coloured lands
Smile warm as the light on them smiles;
And statelier than temples upbuilded with hands,
Tall column by column, the sanctuary stands
Of the pine-forest’s infinite aisles.

Mute worship, too fervent for praise or for prayer,
Possesses the spirit with peace,
Fulfilled with the breath of the luminous air,
The fragrance, the silence, the shadows as fair
As the rays that recede or increase.

Ridged pillars that redden aloft and aloof,
With never a branch for a nest,
Sustain the sublime indivisible roof,
To the storm and the sun in his majesty proof,
And awful as waters at rest.

Man’s hand hath not measured the height of them; thought
May measure not, awe may not know;
In its shadow the woofs of the woodland are wrought;
As a bird is the sun in the toils of them caught,
And the flakes of it scattered as snow.

As the shreds of a plumage of gold on the ground
The sun-flakes by multitudes lie,
Shed loose as the petals of roses discrowned
On the floors of the forest engilt and embrowned
And reddened afar and anigh.

Dim centuries with darkling inscrutable hands
Have reared and secluded the shrine
For gods that we know not, and kindled as brands
On the altar the years that are dust, and their sands
Time’s glass has forgotten for sign.

A temple whose transepts are measured by miles,
Whose chancel has morning for priest,
Whose floor-work the foot of no spoiler defiles,
Whose musical silence no music beguiles,
No festivals limit its feast.

The noon’s ministration, the night’s and the dawn’s,
Conceals not, reveals not for man,
On the slopes of the herbless and blossomless lawns,
Some track of a nymph’s or some trail of a faun’s
To the place of the slumber of Pan.

Thought, kindled and quickened by worship and wonder
To rapture too sacred for fear
On the ways that unite or divide them in sunder,
Alone may discern if about them or under
Be token or trace of him here.

With passionate awe that is deeper than panic
The spirit subdued and unshaken
Takes heed of the godhead terrene and Titanic
Whose footfall is felt on the breach of volcanic
Sharp steeps that their fire has forsaken.

By a spell more serene than the dim necromantic
Dead charms of the past and the night,
Or the terror that lurked in the noon to make frantic
Where Etna takes shape from the limbs of gigantic
Dead gods disanointed of might,

The spirit made one with the spirit whose breath
Makes noon in the woodland sublime
Abides as entranced in a presence that saith
Things loftier than life and serener than death,
Triumphant and silent as time.

(Inscribed to my Mother) Pine Ridge: September 1893

Feel the ’Burne

The Poets at Tea […]

3.—(Swinburne, who let it get cold)

As the sin that was sweet in the sinning
Is foul in the ending thereof,
As the heat of the summer’s beginning
Is past in the winter of love:
O purity, painful and pleading!
O coldness, ineffably gray!
Oh, hear us, our handmaid unheeding,
And take it away!

Barry Pain (1864-1928)


A Melton-Mowbray Pork Pie

Strange pie that is almost a passion,
     O passion immoral for pie!
Unknown are the ways that they fashion,
     Unknown and unseen of the eye.

The pie that is marbled and mottled,
     The pie that digests with a sigh:
For all is not Bass that is bottled,
     And all is not pork that is pie.

Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947)

Eight Speech

OCTOPUS

By Algernon Charles Sin-burn

STRANGE beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
    Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
With thy bosom bespangled and banded
    With the hues of the seas and the skies;
Is thy home European or Asian,
    O mystical monster marine?
Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
    Betwixt and between.

Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets,
    Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
Of the sponges — thy muffins and crumpets;
    Of the seaweed — thy mustard and cress?
Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
    Remote from reproof or restraint?
Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
    Sinburnian or Saint?

Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
    That creeps in a desolate place,
To enroll and envelop the sleeper
    In a silent and stealthy embrace,
Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
    Our juices to drain and to drink,
Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
    Indelible ink!

O breast, that ’twere rapture to writhe on!
    O arms, ’twere delicious to feel
Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
    When she maketh her murderous meal!
In thy eightfold embraces enfolden,
    Let our empty existence escape;
Give us death that is glorious and golden,
    Crushed all out of shape!

Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
    With death in their amorous kiss,
Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
    With bitings of agonized bliss;
We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
    Dispense us the potion of pain;
Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
    And bite us again!

Arthur Clement Hilton (1851–77), written at the Crystal Palace Aquarium.

O Apollo

One of Swinburne’s most powerful, but least-known, poems is “The Last Oracle”, from Poems and Ballads, Second Series (1878). A song in honour of the god Apollo, it begins in lamentation:

Years have risen and fallen in darkness or in twilight,
   Ages waxed and waned that knew not thee nor thine,
While the world sought light by night and sought not thy light,
   Since the sad last pilgrim left thy dark mid shrine.
Dark the shrine and dumb the fount of song thence welling,
   Save for words more sad than tears of blood, that said:
Tell the king, on earth has fallen the glorious dwelling,
   And the watersprings that spake are quenched and dead.
Not a cell is left the God, no roof, no cover
   In his hand the prophet laurel flowers no more.

And ends in exultation:

         For thy kingdom is past not away,
            Nor thy power from the place thereof hurled;
         Out of heaven they shall cast not the day,
            They shall cast not out song from the world.
         By the song and the light they give
         We know thy works that they live;
         With the gift thou hast given us of speech
         We praise, we adore, we beseech,
         We arise at thy bidding and follow,
            We cry to thee, answer, appear,
   O father of all of us, Paian, Apollo,
            Destroyer and healer, hear! (“The Last Oracle”)

The power, grandeur and beauty of this poem remind me of the music of Beethoven. Swinburne is also, on a smaller scale and in a different medium, one of the geniuses of European art. He and Beethoven were both touched by Apollo, but Apollo was more than the god of music and poetry: he also presided mathematics. But then mathematics is much more visible, or audible, in music and poetry than it is in other arts. Rhythm, harmony, scansion, melody and rhyme are mathematical concepts. Music is built of notes, poetry of stresses and rhymes, and the rules governing them are easier to formalize than those governing, say, sculpture or prose.  Nor do poetry and music have to make sense or convey explicit meaning like other arts. That’s why I think a shape like this is closer to poetry or music than it is to painting:

Apollonian gasket (Wikipedia)

(Image from Wikipedia.)

This shape has formal structure and beauty, but it has no explicit meaning. Its name has a divine echo: the Apollonian gasket or net, named after the Greek mathematician Apollonius of Perga (c.262 BC–c.190 BC), who was named after Apollo, god of music, poetry and mathematics. The Apollonian gasket is a fractal, but the version above is not as fractal as it could be. I wondered what it would look like if, like fleas preying on fleas, circles appeared inside circles, gaskets within gaskets. I haven’t managed to program the shape properly yet, but here is my first effort at an Intra-Apollonian gasket:

Apollonian gasket

(If the image does not animate or looks distorted, please try opening it in a new window)

When the circles are solid, they remind me of ice-floes inside ice-floes:

Apollonian gasket (solid)

Simpler gaskets can be interesting too:

five-circle gasket


five+four-circle gasket


nine-circle gasket