Algernon Charles Swinburne

Algernon Charles Swinburne: "Rococo"
from Poems and Ballads (1866)

When I discovered the musicality of Swinburne's verses during my graduate studies in chemistry at Cornell, I shared them with my sister. She liked "Chorus from Atalanta in Calydon" and we both memorized the opening stanza: "Before the beginning of years, / There came to the making of man / Time, with a gift of tears; / Grief, with a glass that ran;" Later, I found Swinburne's "Rococo" to my liking and memorized the entire 80-lines poem. I would recite the lines to the stars during my walks home across the Cornell campus from Baker Lab of Chemistry to my apartment in Ithaca. I gave my paperback copy of Swinburne to my sister and bought the complete 6-volume set of Swinburne's Poems (London, 1904) in a used Manhattan bookshop on Fourth Avenue. When I attended my first poetry workshop at Foothill College Summer Writing Conference (1987), a poetry instructor asked the class to name their favorite poet, I said "Algernon Swinburne". Nobody in the class knew who he was. The instructor told me, "He's out of fashion. People rarely read him these days." When I brought my rhyming verses to class, everyone told me that my style was archaic, that I had better learn to write free verse. I left Swinburne behind, and began reading modern poets, and typed over a few hundred poems in learning the craft of free verse.
(Peter Y. Chou)

Rococo (1866)

Take hands and part with laughter;
    Touch lips and part with tears;
Once more and no more after,
    Whatever comes with years.
We twain shall not remeasure
    The ways that left us twain;
Nor crush the lees of pleasure
    From sanguine grapes of pain.

We twain once well in sunder,
    What will the mad gods do
For hate with me, I wonder,
    Or what for love with you?
Forget them till November,
    And dream there's April yet;
Forget that I remember,
    And dream that I forget.

Time found our tired love sleeping,
    And kissed away his breath;
But what should we do weeping,
    Though light love sleep to death?
We have drained his lips at leisure,
    Till there's not left to drain
A single sob of pleasure,
    A single pulse of pain.

Dream that the lips once breathless
    Might quicken if they would;
Say that the soul is deathless;
    Dream that the gods are good;
Say March may wed September,
    And time divorce regret;
But not that you remember,
    And not that I forget.

We have heard from hidden places
    What love scarce lives and hears:
We have seen on fervent faces
    The pallor of strange tears:
We have trod the wine-vat's treasure,
    Whence, ripe to steam and stain,
Foams round the feet of pleasure
    The blood-red must of pain.

Remembrance may recover
    And time bring back to time
The name of your first lover,
    The ring of my first rhyme;
But rose-leaves of December
    The frosts of June shall fret,
The day that you remember,
    The day that I forget.

The snake that hides and hisses
    In heaven we twain have known;
The grief of cruel kisses,
    The joy whose mouth makes moan;
The pulse's pause and measure,
    Where in one furtive vein
Throbs through the heart of pleasure
    The purpler blood of pain.

We have done with tears and treasons
    And love for treason's sake;
Room for the swift new seasons,
    The years that burn and break,
Dismantle and dismember
    Men's days and dreams, Juliette;
For love may not remember,
    But time will not forget.

Life treads down love in flying,
    Time withers him at root;
Bring all dead things and dying,
    Reaped sheaf and ruined fruit,
Where, crushed by three days' pressure,
    Our three days' love lies slain;
And earlier leaf of pleasure,
    And latter flower of pain.

Breathe close upon the ashes,
    It may be flame will leap;
Unclose the soft close lashes,
    Lift up the lids, and weep.
Light love's extinguished ember,
    Let one tear leave it wet
For one that you remember
    And ten that you forget.

— Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Rococo"
     Poems and Ballads,
     Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, 1970, pp. 117-119

The Victorian Web: Algernon Charles Swinburne
    (Biography, Works, Literary Relations, Visual Arts, Genre & Mode)
Swinburne: Poems and Ballads
    (Online: London Edition 1866 published by Edward Moxon & Co.)
Algernon Charles Swinburne
    (The Swinburne Project, Digital Collection, University of Indiana)

| Top of Page | Poetry Anthology | Poems 2007 | Pinsky Workshop | RobertPinsky |
| Haikus | Poetry on Peace | Poetry News | CPITS | Enlightenment | A-Z Portals | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-3-2007)