Poems and Ballads


Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

Algernon Charles Swinburne

WHAT shall be said between us here
    Among the downs, between the trees,
In fields that knew our feet last year,
    In sight of quiet sands and seas,
    This year, Félise?

Who knows what word were best to say?
    For last year’s leaves lie dead and red
On this sweet day, in this green May,
    And barren corn makes bitter bread.
    What shall be said?

Here as last year the fields begin,
    A fire of flowers and glowing grass;
The old fields we laughed and lingered in,
    Seeing each our souls in last year’s glass,
    Félise, alas!

Shall we not laugh, shall we not weep,
    Not we, though this be as it is?
For love awake or love asleep
    Ends in a laugh, a dream, a kiss,
    A song like this.

I that have slept awake, and you
    Sleep, who last year were well awake.
Though love do all that love can do,
    My heart will never ache or break
    For your heart’s sake.

The great sea, faultless as a flower,
    Throbs, trembling under beam and breeze,
And laughs with love of the amorous hour.
    I found you fairer once, Félise,
    Than flowers or seas.

We played at bondsman and at queen;
    But as the days change men change too;
I find the grey sea’s notes of green,
    The green sea’s fervent flakes of blue,
    More fair than you.

Your beauty is not over fair
    Now in mine eyes, who am grown up wise.
The smell of flowers in all your hair
    Allures not now; no sigh replies
    If your heart sighs.

But you sigh seldom, you sleep sound,
    You find love’s new name good enough.
Less sweet I find it than I found
    The sweetest name that ever love
    Grew weary of.

My snake with bright bland eyes, my snake
    Grown tame and glad to be caressed,
With lips athirst for mine to slake
    Their tender fever! who had guessed
    You loved me best?

I had died for this last year, to know
    You loved me. Who shall turn on fate?
I care not if love come or go
    Now, though your love seek mine for mate.
    It is too late.

The dust of many strange desires
    Lies deep between us; in our eyes
Dead smoke of perishable fires
    Flickers, a fume in air and skies,
    A steam of sighs.

You loved me and you loved me not;
    A little, much, and overmuch.
Will you forget as I forget?
    Let all dead things lie dead; none such
    Are soft to touch.

I love you and I do not love,
    Too much, a little, not at all:
Too much, and never yet enough.
    Birds quick to fledge and fly at call
    Are quick to fall.

And these love longer now than men,
    And larger loves than ours are these.
No diver brings up love again
    Dropped once, my beautiful Félise,
    In such cold seas.

Gone deeper than all plummets sound,
    Where in the dim green dayless day
The life of such dead things lies bound
    As the sea feeds on, wreck and stray
    And castaway.

Can I forget? yea, that can I,
    And that can all men; so will you,
Alive, or later, when you die.
    Ah, but the love you plead was true?
    Was mine not too?

I loved you for that name of yours
    Long ere we met, and long enough.
Now that one thing of all endures—
    The sweetest name that ever love
    Waxed weary of.

Like colours in the sea, like flowers,
    Like a cat’s splendid circled eyes
That wax and wane with love for hours,
    Green as green flame, blue-grey like skies,
    And soft like sighs—

And all these only like your name,
    And your name full of all of these.
I say it, and it sounds the same—
    Save that I say it now at ease,
    Your name, Félise.

I said “she must be swift and white,
    And subtly warm, and half perverse,
And sweet like sharp soft fruit to bite,
    And like a snake’s love lithe and fierce.”
    Men have guessed worse.

What was the song I made of you
    Here where the grass forgets our feet
As afternoon forgets the dew?
    Ah that such sweet things should be fleet,
    Such fleet things sweet!

As afternoon forgets the dew,
    As time in time forgets all men,
As our old place forgets us two,
    Who might have turned to one thing then,
    But not again.

O lips that mine have grown into
    Like April’s kissing May,
O fervent eyelids letting through
    Those eyes the greenest of things blue,
    The bluest of things grey,

If you were I and I were you,
    How could I love you, say?
How could the roseleaf love the rue,
    The day love nightfall and her dew,
    Though night may love the day?

You loved it may be more than I;
    We know not; love is hard to seize,
And all things are not good to try;
    And lifelong loves the worst of these
    For us, Félise.

Ah, take the season and have done,
    Love well the hour and let it go:
Two souls may sleep and wake up one,
    Or dream they wake and find it so,
    And then—you know.

Kiss me once hard as though a flame
    Lay on my lips and made them fire;
The same lips now, and not the same;
    What breath shall fill and re-inspire
    A dead desire?

The old song sounds hollower in mine ear
    Than thin keen sounds of dead men’s speech—
A noise one hears and would not hear;
    Too strong to die, too weak to reach
    From wave to beach.

We stand on either side the sea,
    Stretch hands, blow kisses, laugh and lean
I toward you, you toward me;
    But what hears either save the keen
    Grey sea between?

A year divides us, love from love,
    Though you love now, though I loved then.
The gulf is strait, but deep enough;
    Who shall recross, who among men
    Shall cross again?

Love was a jest last year, you said,
    And what lives surely, surely dies.
Even so; but now that love is dead,
    Shall love rekindle from wet eyes,
    From subtle sighs?

For many loves are good to see;
    Mutable loves, and loves perverse;
But there is nothing, nor shall be,
    So sweet, so wicked, but my verse
    Can dream of worse.

For we that sing and you that love
    Know that which man may, only we.
The rest live under us; above,
    Live the great gods in heaven, and see
    What things shall be.

So this thing is and must be so;
    For man dies, and love also dies.
Though yet love’s ghost moves to and fro
    The sea-green mirrors of your eyes,
    And laughs, and lies.

Eyes coloured like a water-flower,
    And deeper than the green sea’s glass;
Eyes that remember one sweet hour—
    In vain we swore it should not pass;
    In vain, alas!

Ah my Félise, if love or sin,
    If shame or fear could hold it fast,
Should we not hold it? Love wears thin,
    And they laugh well who laugh the last.
    Is it not past?

The gods, the gods are stronger; time
    Falls down before them, all men’s knees
Bow, all men’s prayers and sorrows climb
    Like incense towards them; yea, for these
    Are gods, Félise.

Immortal are they, clothed with powers,
    Not to be comforted at all;
Lords over all the fruitless hours;
    Too great to appease, too high to appal,
    Too far to call.

For none shall move the most high gods,
    Who are most sad, being cruel; none
Shall break or take away the rods
    Wherewith they scourge us, not as one
    That smites a son.

By many a name of many a creed
    We have called upon them, since the sands
Fell through time’s hour-glass first, a seed
    Of life; and out of many lands
    Have we stretched hands.

When have they heard us? who hath known
    Their faces, climbed unto their feet,
Felt them and found them? Laugh or groan,
    Doth heaven remurmur and repeat
    Sad sounds or sweet?

Do the stars answer? in the night
    Have ye found comfort? or by day
Have ye seen gods? What hope, what light,
    Falls from the farthest starriest way
    On you that pray?

Are the skies wet because we weep,
    Or fair because of any mirth?
Cry out; they are gods; perchance they sleep;
    Cry; thou shalt know what prayers are worth,
    Thou dust and earth.

O earth, thou art fair; O dust, thou art great;
    O laughing lips and lips that mourn,
Pray, till ye feel the exceeding weight
    Of God’s intolerable scorn,
    Not to be borne.

Behold, there is no grief like this;
    The barren blossom of thy prayer,
Thou shalt find out how sweet it is.
    O fools and blind, what seek ye there,
    High up in the air?

Ye must have gods, the friends of men,
    Merciful gods, compassionate,
And these shall answer you again.
    Will ye beat always at the gate,
    Ye fools of fate?

Ye fools and blind; for this is sure,
    That all ye shall not live, but die.
Lo, what thing have ye found endure?
    Or what thing have ye found on high
    Past the blind sky?

The ghosts of words and dusty dreams,
    Old memories, faiths infirm and dead.
Ye fools; for which among you deems
    His prayer can alter green to red
    Or stones to bread?

Why should ye bear with hopes and fears
    Till all these things be drawn in one,
The sound of iron-footed years,
    And all the oppression that is done
    Under the sun?

Ye might end surely, surely pass
    Out of the multitude of things,
Under the dust, beneath the grass,
    Deep in dim death, where no thought stings,
    No record clings.

No memory more of love or hate,
    No trouble, nothing that aspires,
No sleepless labour thwarting fate,
    And thwarted; where no travail tires,
    Where no faith fires.

All passes, nought that has been is,
    Things good and evil have one end.
Can anything be otherwise
    Though all men swear all things would mend
    With God to friend?

Can ye beat off one wave with prayer,
    Can ye move mountains? bid the flower
Take flight and turn to a bird in the air?
    Can ye hold fast for shine or shower
    One wingless hour?

Ah sweet, and we too, can we bring
    One sigh back, bid one smile revive?
Can God restore one ruined thing,
    Or he who slays our souls alive
    Make dead things thrive?

Two gifts perforce he has given us yet,
    Though sad things stay and glad things fly;
Two gifts he has given us, to forget
    All glad and sad things that go by,
    And then to die.

We know not whether death be good,
    But life at least it will not be:
Men will stand saddening as we stood,
    Watch the same fields and skies as we
    And the same sea.

Let this be said between us here,
    One love grows green when one turns grey;
This year knows nothing of last year;
    To-morrow has no more to say
    To yesterday.

Live and let live, as I will do,
    Love and let love, and so will I.
But, sweet, for me no more with you:
    Not while I live, not though I die.
    Goodnight, goodbye.

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