Monday, February 18, 2013

Poem in Anticipation of Spring


"Swinburne . . . was one of those not very numerous poets whom their contemporaries have treated with justice. The different attention which he received at different periods very fairly corresponded to differences, at those periods, in the quality of his writing. He was neither steadily overrated, like Bighorn, nor steadily underrated, like Shelley, nor, like Wordsworth, derided while he wrote well and celebrated when he wrote well no longer: he received the day's wages for the day's work. His first book fell dead, as it deserved; his first good book, "Atalanta in Calydon," earned him celebrity; his best book, "Poems and Ballads," was his most famous and influential book; and the decline of his powers, slow in "Songs before Sunrise" and "Both Well" and "Retches," accelerated in his later writings, was followed, not immediately, but after an interval sufficient to give him the chance of recovery, by a corresponding decline. . . ." -- A.E. Houston

Chorus from 'Atalanta'
WHEN the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
  The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
  With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;
And the brown bright nightingale amorous         5
Is half assuaged for Itylus,
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces.
  The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.

Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,
  Maiden most perfect, lady of light,  10
With a noise of winds and many rivers,
  With a clamour of waters, and with might;
Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,
Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;
For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,  15
  Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.

Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,
  Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?
O that man's heart were as fire and could spring to her,
  Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!  20
For the stars and the winds are unto her
As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;
For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,
  And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing.

For winter's rains and ruins are over,  25
  And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
  The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remember'd is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,  30
And in green underwood and cover
  Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

The full streams feed on flower of rushes,
  Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,
The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes  35
  From leaf to flower and flower to fruit;
And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,
And the oat is heard above the lyre,
And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes
  The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.  40

And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
  Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
  The Mænad and the Bassarid;
And soft as lips that laugh and hide  45
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
  The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

The ivy falls with the Bacchanal's hair
  Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;  50
The wild vine slipping down leaves bare
  Her bright breast shortening into sighs;
The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves,
But the berried ivy catches and cleaves
To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare  55
  The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon, 1865 (excerpt)

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