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Poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne
LEAN BACK, and get some minutes’ peace; Let your head lean Back to the shoulder with its fleece Of locks, Faustine. The shapely silver shoulder stoops, Weighed over clean With state of splendid hair that droops Each side, Faustine. Let me go over your good gifts That crown you queen; A queen whose kingdom ebbs and shifts Each week, Faustine. Bright heavy brows well gathered up: White gloss and sheen; Carved lips that make my lips a cup To drink, Faustine, Wine and rank poison, milk and blood, Being mixed therein Since first the devil threw dice with God For you, Faustine. Your naked new-born soul, their stake, Stood blind between; God said “let him that wins her take And keep Faustine.” But this time Satan throve, no doubt: Long since, I ween, God’s part in you was battered out; Long since, Faustine. The die rang sideways as it fell, Rang cracked and thin, Like a man’s laughter heard in hell Far down, Faustine, A shadow of laughter like a sigh, Dead sorrow’s kin; So rang, thrown down, the devil’s die That won Faustine. A suckling of his breed you were, One hard to wean; But God, who lost you, left you fair, We see, Faustine. You have the face that suits a woman For her soul’s screen— The sort of beauty that’s called human In hell, Faustine. You could do all things but be good Or chaste of mien; And that you would not if you could, We know, Faustine. Even he who cast seven devils out Of Magdalene Could hardly do as much, I doubt, For you, Faustine. Did Satan make you to spite God? Or did God mean To scourge with scorpions for a rod Our sins, Faustine? I know what queen at first you were, As though I had seen Red gold and black imperious hair Twice crown Faustine. As if your fed sarcophagus Spared flesh and skin, You come back face to face with us, The same Faustine. She loved the games men played with death, Where death must win; As though the slain man’s blood and breath Revived Faustine. Nets caught the pike, pikes tore the net; Lithe limbs and lean From drained-out pores dripped thick red sweat To soothe Faustine. She drank the steaming drift and dust Blown off the scene; Blood could not ease the bitter lust That galled Faustine. All round the foul fat furrows reeked, Where blood sank in; The circus splashed and seethed and shrieked All round Faustine. But these are gone now: years entomb The dust and din; Yea, even the bath’s fierce reek and fume That slew Faustine. Was life worth living then? and now Is life worth sin? Where are the imperial years? and how Are you Faustine? Your soul forgot her joys, forgot Her times of teen; Yea, this life likewise will you not Forget, Faustine? For in the time we know not of Did fate begin Weaving the web of days that wove Your doom, Faustine. The threads were wet with wine, and all Were smooth to spin; They wove you like a Bacchanal, The first Faustine. And Bacchus cast your mates and you Wild grapes to glean; Your flower-like lips were dashed with dew From his, Faustine. Your drenched loose hands were stretched to hold The vine’s wet green, Long ere they coined in Roman gold Your face, Faustine. Then after change of soaring feather And winnowing fin, You woke in weeks of feverish weather, A new Faustine. A star upon your birthday burned, Whose fierce serene Red pulseless planet never yearned In heaven, Faustine. Stray breaths of Sapphic song that blew Through Mitylene Shook the fierce quivering blood in you By night, Faustine. The shameless nameless love that makes Hell’s iron gin Shut on you like a trap that breaks The soul, Faustine. And when your veins were void and dead, What ghosts unclean Swarmed round the straitened barren bed That hid Faustine? What sterile growths of sexless root Or epicene? What flower of kisses without fruit Of love, Faustine? What adders came to shed their coats? What coiled obscene Small serpents with soft stretching throats Caressed Faustine? But the time came of famished hours, Maimed loves and mean, This ghastly thin-faced time of ours, To spoil Faustine. You seem a thing that hinges hold, A love-machine With clockwork joints of supple gold— No more, Faustine. Not godless, for you serve one God, The Lampsacene, Who metes the gardens with his rod; Your lord, Faustine. If one should love you with real love (Such things have been, Things your fair face knows nothing of, It seems, Faustine); That clear hair heavily bound back, The lights wherein Shift from dead blue to burnt-up black; Your throat, Faustine, Strong, heavy, throwing out the face And hard bright chin And shameful scornful lips that grace Their shame, Faustine, Curled lips, long since half kissed away, Still sweet and keen; You’d give him—poison shall we say? Or what, Faustine?
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne's other poems:
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