Selection copyright © 1997 by Rictor Norton. All
rights reserved. This edition may not be reproduced or
redistributed to third parties without permission of the
Clifton and a Lad's
[From In the Key of Blue, 1893; Symonds
called this "a wholly artless composition of my youth",
written in 1862, but it was probably worked over in 1885 when he
showed it to Horatio Forbes Brown. It celebrates his love for
Alfred Brooke, chorister at Bristol cathedral.]
He was all beautiful: as fair
As summer in the silent trees;
As bright as sunshine on the leas;
As gentle as the evening air.
His voice was swifter than the lark;
Softer than thistle-down his cheek;
His eyes were stars that shyly break
At sundown ere the skies are dark.
I found him in a lowly place:
He sang clear songs that made me weep:
Long nights he ruled my soul in sleep:
Long days I thought upon his face.
"Alone: and must it then be so?
Why do you walk alone?" she cried.
I answered with a smile, to hide
The undercurrent of my woe.
But had she known, dear friend, that thou
Art living still, she would have said:
"Oblivion should but shroud the dead;
Go, throw thy arms around him now!"
Then on my lips the smile had died:
"From deep to deeper depths I sink;
They bade me leave him on the brink,
And now hell's gulfs our paths divide".
This time it is no dream that stirs
The ancient fever of my brain:
The burning pulses throb again,
The thirst I may not quench recurs.
In vain I tell my beating heart
How poor and worthless were the prize:
The stifled wish within me dies,
But leave an unextinguished smart.
It is not for the love of God
That I have done my soul this wrong;
'Tis not to make my reason strong
Or curb the currents of my blood.
But sloth, and fear of men, and shame
Impose their limit on my bliss:
Else had I laid my lips to his,
And called him by love's dearest name.
The stately ships are passing free,
Where scant light strikes along the flood;
Gaunt winter scowls o'er field and wood:
O who will bring my love to me?
White gulls fly screaming to the sea;
The bitter east wind sweeps the sky;
Faint snow streaks on the hill-sides lie:
O who will bring my love to me?
The hawthorn bough is bare and dree;
The spiky holly keeps him warm;
Brown brake shrills shivering in the storm:
O who will bring my love to me?
The bright blue sky is cold to see;
The frosty ground lies hard and bare;
So cold is hope, so hard is care:
O who will bring my love to me?
I saw a vision of deep eyes
In morning sleep when dreams are true:
Wide humid eyes of hazy blue,
Like seas that kiss the horizon skies.
Then as I gazed, I felt a rain
Of soft warm curls around my cheek,
And heard a whisper low and meek:
"I love, and canst thou love again?"
A gentle youth beside me bent;
His cool moist lips to mine were pressed,
That throbbed and burned with love's unrest:
When, lo, the powers of sleep were spent;
And noiseless on the airy wings
That follow after night's dim way,
The beauteous boy was gone for aye,
A theme of vague imaginings.
Yet I can never rest again:
The flocks of morning dreams are true;
And till I find those eyes of blue
And golden curls, I walk in pain.
Spring comes again: the blushing earth
Will deck herself with bridal flowers:
The birds among the leafy bowers
Will wake dumb winter's woods with mirth.
But I shall never find him, never:
Though winter's snow dissolve in dew,
And hyacinth's star-spangled blue
'Neath vernal breezes bend and shiver.
The field shall throb with marriage hymn,
And summer's wealth shall deck the grove,
Wherethrough my feet must lonely rove,
Disconsolately seeking him.
Seek on, seek on, till autumn dies
Like sunset in drear winter's night;
Seek on, seek on, for thy delight,
A mirage dream, before thee flies.
Three summers gone: and now once more
Pale autumn comes to pluck the leaf;
On every hill they bind the sheaf;
The oak-woods redden as of yore.
The woods may bronze; the golden ears
May gladden all the land with grain;
But I shall never feel again
The gladness of those bygone years.
How coldly steals the journeying night,
How silent sleeps the garden spray:
Far down I hear the watch-dog bay;
I hear the sheep from yonder heights.
Swathed in thick mist the city lies:
Her lamps like myriad jewels peer
Through wreaths of vapour faintly clear;
Her chimes from muffled belfries rise.
Pale as the moon is memory's light,
Those April days as darkly lower,
As looms mid yonder mist the tower,
Which then with rays of morn were bright.
I hear his voice like yon thin chimes;
As those faint lamps his eyes are dim,
Deep midnight gloom encircles him,
Scarce can I dream of those dear times.
To thee far off, more far than death,
To thee I make my lonely rhyme,
Condemned to see thee not in time,
Though life and love still rule thy breath.
Our pulses beat, our hearts strike on;
They beat, but do not beat together;
Our years are young, but lusty weather
Wakes in our blood no unison.
We pace the self-same field and street,
We hear the same strong organ roll;
No music leaps from soul to soul,
Our paths are near, yet never meet.
Only in visions of the night
I seem with thee to watch the morn;
A tempest swells, and thou art borne
To lands I know not far from sight.
[From Tales of Ancient Greece, No. 1, Eudiades and
a Cretan Idyll, 1878. A brief excerpt from a long
poetic narrative written in 1868, shortly after Symonds met
Norman Moor. It formed part of a cycle of poems celebrating
Uranian love in all periods of civilisation, written over a
period of ten or twelve years, up to 1878, which several friends
tried to persuade him to burn.]
It was a still and lonely place, where stood
A statue, wrought of old in cedar wood,
Of the young Love-God and fair Anteros,
Set 'neath a marble canopy. The gloss
Of gold was on a palm branch, which the boy
Held in his right hand; and the glittering toy
Moved the quick wish of Anteros, who strove
To steal it from the powerful lord of love.
But Eros smiled upon him, and the pair,
Hand locked in hand and hair with golden hair
Twined in a labyrinth of brightness, held
Perpetual strife, which never might be quelled
Till from the shrine those lovely shapes were thrust
Or the wise carver's work had fallen to dust.
Here stayed Eudiades, obscure, alone;
For of his friends and comrades everyone
Joined in the race or quoiting-match, or tried
New wrestling-feats, or boxed, or leaped; the wide
Garden around them ringing. Then there came
Who made the stripling's forehead burn like flame:
Yea, to the tree he crept and clung and cowered
Into its shadow; for his lover towered
Before his dazzled eyes, Melanthias,
White and large-limbed, bruising the thin wan grass.
He by the statue stood with arms outstretched
And moving lips that murmured; then he fetched
From that deep chest a sigh, but not of grief,
And with a rose thorn on a broad palm leaf
Pricked the plain words: "Eudiades the fair!"
And underneath again: "Thrice fair, most
As though he could not tire of writing "fair".
Upon the pedestal of Love he placed
The votive branch; then lightly turning faced
Eudiades, unseen before, who shrank
Close to the tree, while on his bosom sank
The beauteous weight of blushing head, and heaved
The fluttering heart that scarcely still conceived
Its overmeasure of excessive bliss.
Melanthias stooped, and took one hand in his,
And stroking those soft tresses murmured low
Such little words as all true lovers know.
Nor need my tale to teach them: then he kissed
The rosy fingers, and to his bosom pressed
At last the boy, who now, more bold, dared lift
Quick furtive eyes, yet still away would shift,
To hide, if so might be, the strong delight
That swayed him. As he moved, the ribbands white
And scarlet fell: Melanthias laughed outright;
Nor could Eudiades refuse a smile:
What further need had he of craft or guile?
Thus by the Love-God's shrine, beneath the trees,
Fragrant with summer, musical with bees,
While in the boughs the loud cicada sang,
And through the field glad boyish laughter rang,
These lovers vowed unspoken vows and blent
Their throbbing souls in love's accomplishment.
All was so calm, so fair, they scarce could think
'Twas but this morn had brought them to the brink
Of that full stream from which they slaked at will
The strange sweet thirst that burned and pleased them
But so they feigned the years before had
Some tedious prologue to this blissful scene,
Through which their joy before them ever moved
And told them it was life to be beloved
The rest mere death and dark monotony
Tried by the light of their felicity.
Enough! Joy needs no words. I cannot tell
Though of Love's dear delights I wot full well
What strain of bliss between these lovers fell,
What bloom of kisses, what soul-nourishing sighs,
What long unutterable gazing of great eyes,
What silences like stars that in clear skies
Tremble with mute and eloquent ecstasies!
Ah me! words fail. I bow my head and seem
To be but singing in a golden dream.
I cannot bring again the days of Greece,
Or raise to life beloved Eudiades:
I cannot make superb Melanthias grow
In glory of orbed manhood here, or glow
Before your aching eyes; or teach you how
No shame or fear obscured his lucid brow,
No sin was in his soul, no dull distress
Marred the calm sunlight of his comeliness:
But in his breast saw aweful sense of good,
And his strong heart was armed with hardihood
To do and dare all things that might not shame
The boy he loved or taint his own proud name.
Do ye believe dull generations, dead
In the cold mire of ignorance and dread
Do ye believe the pure and lofty love
That stirred these children of the seed of Jove?
Oh! that in fact and deed I might rebuild
Those spacious shrines, now marred, I can but gild
Bruised statues, ruined walls, fast fading forms,
Blurred with dank mists and soaked with ceaseless
In vain. I faint. Yet listen, and endure:
The men of whom I speak were strong and pure.
No shame oppressed them: they could fight and fall;
And the whole earth mourned at their funeral.
What Might Have Been
[From Rhaetica, privately printed in
1878, a celebration of Symonds' love for Willie Dyer which
remained unfulfilled because of the intercession of Symonds'
- What might have been, what might have been!
- Is there a sadder word than this?
- Are any serpent's teeth more keen
- Than memories of what we miss?
- The wreaths we might have worn, if but
- Our feet had found the fields of May,
- Instead of jolting down the rut
- Of traffic on life's hard high-way!
- The love we might have known, if we
- Had turned this way instead of that;
- The lips we might have kissed, which he
- For whom they parted, pouted at!
- The joys we might, when blood was young,
- Have garnered in a goodly sheaf;
- The summer songs we might have sung,
- While still our life was but in leaf!
- What might have been, what might have been!
- Sad thought, when age before us lowers,
- And dark is the December scene,
- And fallen even autumn's flowers!
[From New and Old, 1880; reprinted in
Vagabunduli Libellus, 1884. The friend
is probably Willie Dyer.]
- Oh friend, I know not if such days and nights
- Of fervent comradeship as we have spent,
Or if twin minds with equal ardour bent
To search the world's unspeakable delights,
- Or if long hours passed on Parnassian heights
- Together in rapt interminglement
Of heart with heart on thought sublime intent,
Or if the spark of heaven-born fire that lights
- Love in both breasts from boyhood, thus have wrought
- Our spirits to communion; but I swear
That neither chance nor change nor time nor aught
- That makes the future of our lives less fair,
- Shall sunder us who once have breathed this air
Of soul-commingling friendship passion-fraught.
[Sonnet I first appeared in New and
Old, 1880, and Sonnet II appeared in
Animi Figura, 1882.]
- Of all the mysteries wherethrough we move,
- This is the most mysterious that a face,
Seen peradventure in some distant place,
Whither we can return no more to prove
- The world-old sanctities of human love,
- Shall haunt our waking thoughts, and gathering
Incorporate itself with every phase
Whereby the soul aspires to God above.
- Thus are we wedded through that face to her
- Or him who bears it; nay, one fleeting glance,
Fraught with a tale too deep for utterance,
- Even as a pebble cast into the sea,
- Will on the deep waves of our spirit stir
Ripples that run through all eternity.
- Soul cries to soul, as star to sundered star
- Calls through the void of intermediate night;
And as each tiniest spark of stellar light
Includes a world where moving myriads are,
- Thus every glance seen once and felt afar
- Symbols an universe: the spirit's might
Leaps through the gazing eyes, with infinite
Pulsations that no lapse of years can mar.
- He therefore dwells within me still; and I
- Within him dwell; though neither clasp of hand
Nor interchange of converse made us one:
- And it shall surely be that when we die,
- In God shall both see clear and understand
What soul to soul spake, sun to brother sun.
[From Animi Figura, 1882.
"Chimaera" is Symonds' code-word for the wolf within:
the homosexual instinct.]
- Childhood brings flowers to pluck, and butterflies;
- Boyhood hath bat and ball, shy dubious dreams,
Foreshadowed love, friendship, prophetic gleams;
Youth takes free pastime under laughing skies;
- Ripe manhood weds, made early strong and wise;
- Clasping the real, scorning what only seems,
He tracks love's fountain to its furthest streams,
Kneels by the cradle where his firstborn lies.
- Then for the soul athirst, life's circle run,
- Yet nought accomplished and the world unknown,
Rises Chimaera. Far beyond the sun
- Her bat's wings bear us. The empyreal zone
- Shrinks into void. We pant. Thought, sense rebel,
And swoon desiring things impossible.
- The Pursuit of
- Man's soul is drawn by beauty, even as the moth
- By flame, the cloud by mountains, or as the sea,
Roaming around earth's shore incessantly,
Ebbs with the moon and surges with her growth;
- And as the moth singes her wings in fire,
- As clouds upon the hillsides melt in rain,
As tides with change unceasing wax and wane,
Nor in the moon's white kisses quell desire;
- So the soul, drawn by beauty, nothing loth,
- Burns her bright wings with rapture that is pain,
Faints and dissolves or e're her goal she gain,
- Flies and pursues that unclasped deity,
- Fretful, forestalled, blown into foam and froth,
Following and foiled, even as I follow Thee!
- The Vanishing
- There are who, when the bat on wing transverse
- Skims the swart surface of some neighbouring mere,
Catch that thin cry too fine for common ear:
Thus the last joy-note of the universe
- Is borne to those few listeners who immerse
- Their intellectual hearing in no clear
Paean, but pierce it with the thin-edged spear
Of utmost beauty which contains a curse.
- Dead on their sense fall marches hymeneal,
- Triumphal odes, hymns, symphonies sonorous;
They crave one shrill vibration, tense, ideal,
- Transcending and surpassing the world's chorus;
- Keen, fine, ethereal, exquisitely real,
Intangible as star's light quivering o'er us.
- The Use of
- He that hath once in heart and soul and sense
- Harboured the secret heat of love that yearns
With incommunicable violence,
Still, though his love be dead and buried, burns:
- Yea, if he feed not that remorseless flame
- With fuel of strong thought for ever fresh,
- The slow fire shrouded in a veil of shame
- Corrodes his very substance, marrow and flesh:
- Therefore, in time take heed. Of misery
- Make wings for soaring o'er the source of pain.
- Compel thy spirit's strife to strengthen thee:
- And seek the stars upon that hurricane
- Of passionate anguish, which beyond control
Pent in thy breast, would rack and rend thy soul.
[From Vagabunduli Libellus, 1884. The
"star of the sea" is identified by Symonds in the
Memoirs as the Venetian gondolier
Angelo Fusato, but he laments that "many of these sonnets
were mutilated in order to adapt them to the female sex" and
thus make them suitable for publication. In the
Memoirs he lists precisely those
sonnets which chart the progress of his affair in the spring of
1881, and I have selected those in which the sex of his beloved
is obviously male.]
[To make this last sonnet suitable for publication, Symonds wrote
"man and maid" in line 2 and "her" and
"she" in lines 10 and 12.]
- I mused on these last miseries of mankind:
- On souls that, fainting, feed a nameless thirst;
On hearts that long, with self-loathed longing cursed;
On loves that know themselves shameful and blind
- Fierce cruel loves that crucify the mind;
- Dry hearts that throb and throb, yet cannot burst;
Souls that will hope, when hope is proved the worst
Of torments: and I cried, Dwells there behind
- This world of phantoms which allure and fade
- This bubble-world, wherein 't is hell to feel,
Since action bred by feeling breaks the seal
- Which seemed to claps truth in the dreams we made
- Dwells there, unseized, unseen, what, once displayed,
Would prove our Maya-world of wishes real?
- My spirit adream in Venice by the sea,
- Roofed with that crystal dome of luminous sky,
Where the towered islands of enchantment lie,
Dallied with dark seductive reverie;
- For soothing my life's smart with sympathy,
- In self-contented calm, with curious eye,
Into despair's abyss I dared to pry,
Nor feared that Maya might descend on me.
- Then o'er a level space of storm-swept sand,
- Unsought, unsummoned, crept the stealthy shade,
And beckoned me with thin compulsive hand,
- And showed me Thee! And, lo, thou wast arrayed
- In flame by my soul's conflagration fanned!
The charm was woven, and my will obeyed.
- Hushed is the music, all those crowds are gone.
- Flown are the passing strangers, whose dark eyes
Were bent my soul of souls to scrutinise,
Darting their wistful flame from foreheads wan.
- Moonlight with lamplight blending slants upon
- The tower that rears yon angel to the skies,
Where the grey miracle of Venice lies
Bare to the starts 'neath heaven's pavilion.
- I only wake. I at this hour, when morn
- Whitens the first faint pallor of the north,
Walk amid ghosts, and restless wander forth,
- Pacing the sombre verge of waves forlorn.
- These wait for day, disquieted. I wait,
And want thee, and repine, and weep my fate.
- Restless I wander through these windy ways
- And water-paths, where Auster swells the tide
Surging from Adria's sand-banks o'er the wide
Salt lakes low-lying and Venetian maze
- Of marble basements. Like a ghost at gaze
- Hurrying I thread the labyrinth hungry-eyed,
Seeking the one to whom my heart's voice cried
Through dim-remembered antenatal days.
- Week-long I watch and wander; find not thee:
- Nay, though one spoken word might bring thee near,
My lips are mute. Surely 'twas shown to me,
- How without speech, some while, like morning clear,
- Thy swift bright eyes unsummoned o'er the sea,
Should dawn, and mine make answer: I am here.
- Yea, 'twas for Thee we waited. Thou didst lean
- Forth from inanimate loveliness, a soul
Completing and interpreting the whole
Of that which Venice and her people mean.
- For me no longer like a painted scene
- Or undecipherable antique scroll,
Rise palace-fronts around and waters roll,
Idle imagination's void demesne.
- Spirit in thee meets spirit. That last bliss
- We long for, when we gaze with ardent eyes,
Striving the world's delight to humanise;
- Hands that will claps our hands, lips that might kiss,
- A heart that with our heart can sympathise;
I find in thee: but, ah, need more than this!
- Thou art so frank, so musical; thy smile
- And speech responsive to the negligent
Lilt of thy limbs; thy laughter rippling sent
Like waves in summer round a windless isle;
- That I dare half believe no purposed wile,
- Dark scheme or greed for gain or discontent,
Lurk in thy breast, but fair thoughts innocent,
Unbargained love and friendship void of guile.
- Dare I believe this? Dare I dream that thou,
- The dawn-star of this Maya-city spread
A foam-film on the waters, 'neath that brow
- Alive with latent lightnings, and the head
- Medusa-like where smouldering passions glow,
Hidest no mystery, no deep shame, no dread?
- What force compels my soul in Thee to find
- The out-flood of her pent-up harmonies?
Why wakest thou the notes she pined to seize,
Locked in the lonely caverns of her mind?
- What is there in thee that thou canst unbind
- The sealèd fount of sacred memories,
Stirring dim musical remembrances
Of life in God ere earth's life made me blind?
- Is it the rhythm of thy strength at rest,
- Or rhythm of thy limbs so lightly swung,
Or of the heart atremble in thy breast,
- Or of swift words that dance upon thy tongue?
- Nay, these were well: yet 't was upon thine eyes
Gazing, my soul remembered Paradise.
- Give me thyself! It were as well to cry:
- Give me the splendour of this night of June!
Give me yon star upon the swart lagoon
Trembling in unapproached serenity!
- Our gondola that four swift oarsmen ply,
- Shoots from the darkening Lido's sandy dune,
Splits with her steel the mirrors of the moon,
Shivers the star-beams that before us fly.
- Give me thyself! This prayer is even a knell,
- Warning me back to mine own impotence.
Self gives not self; and souls sequestered dwell
- In the dark fortalice of thought and sense,
- Where, though life's prisoners call from cell to cell,
Each pines alone and may not issue thence.
- Art thou love-worthy? Shall a wretch set free
- By those thy succourable fervid eyes,
Which with his long life-torment sympathise,
Crying: We comprehend thy pain and thee!
- Shall such a wretch weigh if thou worthy be,
- Nor welcome love, though even in reckless wise
Love wing his wavering way through stormy skies,
Shrouded in doubt and instability?
- Not I! No more I seek than what thou bringest;
- And all thou askest, thou shalt have from me.
Give me thyself! Nay, if to gold thou clingest,
- Gold in abundance I will shower on thee!
- Thine eyes my hope are. It were heaven to gain
Communion with thee, even in the clasp of pain!
- Spare me not thou! I would not have thee hide
- The furnace of that fierce imperious gaze,
Nor pray thee for love's sake to veil the rays
Streaming from thy white soul, thou deified
- Dream of lust intellectual, carnal pride!
- What though I swoon on the world's stony ways
Desiring thee, though 'wildered in thy maze
Of loveliness I roam unsatisfied:
- Though thou shouldst be for me incarnate hell,
- Damnation palpable, a living flame,
Grave of mine honour, murderer of my name;
- Nay, though thy love be thirst insatiable,
- Want unassuaged and passion without aim;
Thine am I, thine, thou irresistible!
- Take it, oh take it, take thy gold! The shame
- Shall rest with me, the bitter barren bliss
Of dreaming on a joy so brief as this.
Thou hast no suffering, and, I think, no blame.
- Abide for me the everlasting flame,
- The worm that dies not, and the snakes that hiss
Round souls that seek impossibilities,
Lost in their lake of longing without aim.
- Is there no spell then to assuage this smart?
- None; for we truly know not what we crave.
Knowing, we might appease the clamorous heart:
- But lust contents it not; and storms that rave
- O'er the soul's seas, are stilled by no fine art.
Ah God, will peace be found even in the grave?
- Prate not of peace! Peace hides in prison cells
- And beds of sickness. 'Tis not peace I want,
But life in floods, fretful, extravagant,
Boiling perennial from the world's hot wells:
- Such life as in thy nerve, thy sinew, dwells,
- Child of the waves and sun-god, arrogant
With blood and brine, like sea-winds petulant,
Rude as sea-billows when the tempest swells.
- Thou then hast sold thyself? And I have bought
- Bought what? The intolerable sense of sin.
This anguish is too sharp. Souls cannot win
- Life from the bargain base their greeds have wrought.
- Flesh fattens flesh; but flesh-fed souls go thin.
That golden glorious body gave me naught.
- Musing on Venice and the thought of thee,
- Thou resolute angel, sleep o'erspread my brain;
Brief solace blossomed from the root of pain,
For in my dream thou wert at one with me:
- No longer restless like that clear blue sea,
- No longer lost in schemes of sordid gain,
No longer unattainable by strain
Of futile arms and false love's mockery;
- But tranquil, with thy large eyes fixed on mine;
- Love's dove-wings moving on thy soul's abyss;
Thy lips half-opened, and thy breast divine
- Scarce heaving with an unacknowledged bliss;
- And all the golden glory that is thine,
Communicated in a long close kiss.
- Hush, I have fallen; my feet are on firm ground;
- Chimaera like the thunderstorm withdraws;
And I am left to sober natural laws,
A calm grey sky, a landscape cloud-embrowned.
- How looks the plain, the footing I have found?
- Stern, but not desolate; and through the flaws
Of tempest shines one star, whose lustre draws
My tortured soul into her peace profound.
- Praise, praise to God! Surely 'twas God who willed
- This whirlwind where my life was well-nigh lost.
I feel Him; with heaven's hope my heart is filled.
- Where God is, I am, and Thou art. The cost
- Shall not be counted, when at length in Him
Both blend, as blend we must, spirit and limb.
- Who reads may wonder that so crude a fact
- Mere love 'twixt man and man, lawless, unwed
Should by sheer force of scrupulous thought be led
To such fine issues. 'Twas a trivial act.
- From the bare natural feast of sense and tact
- Springs healthy flesh new-born, exhilarated:
Why should the heart then starve? Why prowl, unfed,
Lion-like, through waste wild, cave, cataract?
- Verily, there's the problem. Yet should he
- Have found, or dreamed to find in him the goal,
Whither he voyaged with a hungering soul;
- But finding it, have found therewith that he
- Loved not as he loved think you then his whole
Life-wisdom saved him from blank misery?
[From Vagabunduli Libellus, 1884; a
portrait of Angelo Fusato as the sea-god of Venice.]
- Wide lucid eyes in cavernous orbits set,
- Aflame like living opals or the sea,
Vibrant with floods of electricity,
The soul projected in each fiery jet:
- This thy fierce fascination haunts me yet;
- And I have dreamed all Venice into thee,
Her domes of pearl, her heaven's immensity,
And superhuman saints of Tintoret.
- Hoarse-voiced art thou as Tritons of her brine;
- Swift as man-snaring murderous ocean shark;
White as foam-wreaths brown over Lido's line;
- Stealthy as bats that skim those waves at dark;
- Storm-browed with curls of thunder; leonine
As the winged guardian war-beast of St Mark.
[A friend at Davos counselled Symonds that Christian Buol had
twice been fined for brawls upon the open street, and might prove
dangerous if he got into a quarrel. But "love and instinct
gained the day", and Buol accompanied Symonds, his wife and
three daughters, and his cousin Isabella Gamble and a maid, on
their journey to Italy in 1878, where the two men slept together
frequently (unpublished section of the Memoirs). The following
stanzas describe "one perfect moment enjoyed by me on that
May Italian journey with my friend Christian". Privately
printed sheets were pasted into the manuscript of his Memoirs,
and are here published for the first time. I have altered the
eighth line, which begins "By death or sign", which I
think is the printer's misreading of Symonds's hand-writing for
"By breath or sigh", and that Symonds did not notice
the error when he pasted the poem into the Memoirs.]
- Half-light of dawn in the hushed upper room,
- Where all night long two comrades, side by side,
- Have slumbered in the summer-scented gloom,
- Fanned by faint breezes from a window wide.
- He sleeps, and stirs not. He meanwhile awake,
- Steadfastly gazing and with mind intent
- To drink soul-deep of beauty, dares not break
- By breath or sigh his own heart's ravishment.
- Bare arms light folded on the broad bare chest;
- Dark curls crisp clustering round the athlete's head;
- Shoulder and throat heroic; all is rest,
- Marble with loveliest hues of life o'erspread.
- Life in the glowing cheeks, the hands sun-brown,
- The warm blood tingling to each finger-tip;
- Life in youth's earliest bloom of tender down,
- Tawny on chin and strong short upper lip:
- Life in the cool white, flushed with faintest rose,
- Of flank and heaving bosom, where each vein,
- Half seen, a thread of softest violet, flows,
- Like streaks that some full-throated lily stain.
- Deep rest, and draught of slumber. Not one dream
- Ruffles the mirror of that sentient sea,
- Whereon the world and all its pride will gleam,
- When the soul starts from sleep, so royally.
- Hush! 'Tis a bell of morning. Far and near,
- From sea-set tower and island chimes reply:
- Thrills the still air with sound divinely clear;
- And the stirred sleeper wakens with a sigh.
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