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
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,
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,
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!
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,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
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
From lear 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.
And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
The Maenad and the Bassarid;
And soft as lips that laugh and hide
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;
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
The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.
--Algernon Charles Swinburne
I never read this opening chorus from Swinburne's play Atalanta in Calydon without thinking of this:
Wintry storms have vanisheddem Wonnemond,before Maytime;im mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz;in a gentle light springtime shines out.auf linden Lüften leicht und lieblich,On balmy breezes light and lovelyWunder weben er sich wiegt;
it weaves miracles as it wafts.durch Wald und Auen weht sein Atem,
Through woods and meadows its breath blows,weit geöffnet lacht sein Aug'.wide open its eyes are smiling.Aus sel'ger Vöglein Sange süss er tönt,Lovely birdsong sweetly proclaims it,holde Düfte haucht er aus:
blissful scents exhale its presence.seinem warmen Blut entbluhen wonniger Blumen,Marvelous flowers sprout from its hot blood,Keim und Spross entspringt seinter Kraft.
buds and shoots grow from its strength.Mit zarter Waffen Zier bewingt er die Welt;With an armory of delicate charm it conquers the world.Winter und Sturm wichen der starken Wehr:
Winter and storms vanish before their stout defense.wohl musste den tapfern Streichen
At these bold blows, of course,die strenge Türe auch weichen,
the stout doors yielded too,die trotzig und starr uns trennte von ihm.for stubborn and hard they kept us from the spring.Zu seiner Schwester schwang er sich her;To its sister here it flew.die Liebe lockte den Lenz:
Love decoyed the spring.in unsrem Busen barg er sich tief;
In our hearts it was hidden deep;nun lacht sie selig dem Licht.now it smiles joyfully at the light.Die bräutliche Schwester befreite der Brüder;The sister as bride is freed by her brother.zertrummert liegt, was je sie getrennt;In ruins lies all that kept them apart.jauchzend grüsst sich das junge Paar:Joyfully the young couple greet one another.vereint sind Liebe und Lenz!Love and Spring are united!--Richard Wagner, Die Walküre, Act I, scene III(translator unknown)
Well, okay, advantage Wagner. After all, he had his music to plump up his verse. But I think a case can be made for Swinburne as an underrated poet. The rest of Atalanta in Calydon, like most English closet dramas, is fairly dull stuff. But this opening chorus, despite some heavy-footedness in its alliteration and imagery ("lisp of leaves and ripple of rain"), has some lovely moments. And its evocation of the arrival of spring anticipates Wagner's by five years.
Swinburne's tragedy was to be born British in the age of Victoria. He wanted to be a poète maudit like Baudelaire or Rimbaud, but they do things differently in France, and at his baddest he resembles nothing more than a naughty schoolboy. His alcoholism and masochism led to a nervous breakdown, and when he recovered he became a respectable citizen and even got nominated for the Nobel Prize. Given that the Nobel people managed to overlook Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Borges, et al., we can be grateful that they didn't bite this time.