Hymn to Proserpine
(After the Proclamation in Rome of the Christian Faith)
Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1924): I, 67-73.
3Thou art more than the day or the morrow, the seasons that laugh or that weep;
4For these give joy and sorrow; but thou, Proserpina, sleep.
5Sweet is the treading of wine, and sweet the feet of the dove;
6But a goodlier gift is thine than foam of the grapes or love.
8A bitter God to follow, a beautiful God to behold?
9I am sick of singing; the bays burn deep and chafe: I am fain
10To rest a little from praise and grievous pleasure and pain.
11For the Gods we know not of, who give us our daily breath,
12We know they are cruel as love or life, and lovely as death.
13O Gods dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day!
14From your wrath is the world released, redeemed from your chains, men say.
15New Gods are crowned in the city; their flowers have broken your rods;
16They are merciful, clothed with pity, the young compassionate Gods.
17But for me their new device is barren, the days are bare;
18Things long past over suffice, and men forgotten that were.
19Time and the Gods are at strife; ye dwell in the midst thereof,
20Draining a little life from the barren breasts of love.
21I say to you, cease, take rest; yea, I say to you all, be at peace,
22Till the bitter milk of her breast and the barren bosom shall cease.
23Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take,
24The laurel, the palms and the pæan, the breasts of the nymphs in the brake;
25Breasts more soft than a dove's, that tremble with tenderer breath;
26And all the wings of the Loves, and all the joy before death;
27All the feet of the hours that sound as a single lyre,
28Dropped and deep in the flowers, with strings that flicker like fire.
29More than these wilt thou give, things fairer than all these things?
30Nay, for a little we live, and life hath mutable wings.
31A little while and we die; shall life not thrive as it may?
32For no man under the sky lives twice, outliving his day.
33And grief is a grievous thing, and a man hath enough of his tears:
34Why should he labour, and bring fresh grief to blacken his years?
35Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
36We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
37Laurel is green for a season, and love is sweet for a day;
38But love grows bitter with treason, and laurel outlives not May.
39Sleep, shall we sleep after all? for the world is not sweet in the end;
40For the old faiths loosen and fall, the new years ruin and rend.
41Fate is a sea without shore, and the soul is a rock that abides;
42But her ears are vexed with the roar and her face with the foam of the tides.
43O lips that the live blood faints in, the leavings of racks and rods!
44O ghastly glories of saints, dead limbs of gibbeted Gods!
45Though all men abase them before you in spirit, and all knees bend,
46I kneel not neither adore you, but standing, look to the end.
47All delicate days and pleasant, all spirits and sorrows are cast
48Far out with the foam of the present that sweeps to the surf of the past:
49Where beyond the extreme sea-wall, and between the remote sea-gates,
50Waste water washes, and tall ships founder, and deep death waits:
51Where, mighty with deepening sides, clad about with the seas as with wings,
52And impelled of invisible tides, and fulfilled of unspeakable things,
53White-eyed and poisonous-finned, shark-toothed and serpentine-curled,
54Rolls, under the whitening wind of the future, the wave of the world.
55The depths stand naked in sunder behind it, the storms flee away;
56In the hollow before it the thunder is taken and snared as a prey;
57In its sides is the north-wind bound; and its salt is of all men's tears;
58With light of ruin, and sound of changes, and pulse of years:
59With travail of day after day, and with trouble of hour upon hour;
60And bitter as blood is the spray; and the crests are as fangs that devour:
61And its vapour and storm of its steam as the sighing of spirits to be;
62And its noise as the noise in a dream; and its depth as the roots of the sea:
63And the height of its heads as the height of the utmost stars of the air:
64And the ends of the earth at the might thereof tremble, and time is made bare.
65Will ye bridle the deep sea with reins, will ye chasten the high sea with rods?
66Will ye take her to chain her with chains, who is older than all ye Gods?
67All ye as a wind shall go by, as a fire shall ye pass and be past;
68Ye are Gods, and behold, ye shall die, and the waves be upon you at last.
69In the darkness of time, in the deeps of the years, in the changes of things,
70Ye shall sleep as a slain man sleeps, and the world shall forget you for kings.
71Though the feet of thine high priests tread where thy lords and our forefathers trod,
72Though these that were Gods are dead, and thou being dead art a God,
74Yet thy kingdom shall pass, Galilean, thy dead shall go down to thee dead.
75Of the maiden thy mother men sing as a goddess with grace clad around;
76Thou art throned where another was king; where another was queen she is crowned.
77Yea, once we had sight of another: but now she is queen, say these.
78Not as thine, not as thine was our mother, a blossom of flowering seas,
79Clothed round with the world's desire as with raiment, and fair as the foam,
80And fleeter than kindled fire, and a goddess, and mother of Rome.
81For thine came pale and a maiden, and sister to sorrow; but ours,
82Her deep hair heavily laden with odour and colour of flowers,
83White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendour, a flame,
84Bent down unto us that besought her, and earth grew sweet with her name.
85For thine came weeping, a slave among slaves, and rejected; but she
86Came flushed from the full-flushed wave, and imperial, her foot on the sea.
87And the wonderful waters knew her, the winds and the viewless ways,
88And the roses grew rosier, and bluer the sea-blue stream of the bays.
89Ye are fallen, our lords, by what token? we wise that ye should not fall.
90Ye were all so fair that are broken; and one more fair than ye all.
91But I turn to her still, having seen she shall surely abide in the end;
92Goddess and maiden and queen, be near me now and befriend.
93O daughter of earth, of my mother, her crown and blossom of birth,
94I am also, I also, thy brother; I go as I came unto earth.
95In the night where thine eyes are as moons are in heaven, the night where thou art,
96Where the silence is more than all tunes, where sleep overflows from the heart,
98And the wind falls faint as it blows with the fume of the flowers of the night,
99And the murmur of spirits that sleep in the shadow of Gods from afar
100Grows dim in thine ears and deep as the deep dim soul of a star,
101In the sweet low light of thy face, under heavens untrod by the sun,
102Let my soul with their souls find place, and forget what is done and undone.
103Thou art more than the Gods who number the days of our temporal breath;
104Let these give labour and slumber; but thou, Proserpina, death.
105Therefore now at thy feet I abide for a season in silence. I know
106I shall die as my fathers died, and sleep as they sleep; even so.
107For the glass of the years is brittle wherein we gaze for a span;
109So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not again, neither weep.
110For there is no God found stronger than death; and death is a sleep.
1] Proserpine was the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres, goddess of harvests. She married Pluto, King of Hell, and as his wife presided over the death of mankind. Constantine the Great made Christianity the official faith of the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. The Latin quotation was supposed to be the dying exclamation in 363 of Constantine's nephew Julian the Apostate. Back to Line
2] Maiden: because Pluto stole her from her mother. Back to Line
7] Apollo, addressed as the sun, was the inflicter of plagues. Back to Line
73] Cytherean: Venus. Back to Line
97] Poppies: sacred to Proserpine, flowers of sleep. Back to Line
108] In his note, Swinburne acknowledges that he is here using the phrase of the Greek philosopher Epictetus: "You are a little soul, carrying around a corpse." Back to Line
Publication Start Year:
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads (London: J. C. Hotten, 1866): 77-84. end S956 P644 1866b Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto)
RPO poem Editors:
P. F. Morgan