Monthly Archives: April 2015

Sonnet to Olive

My thoughts like bees explore all sweetest things
To fill for you the honeycomb of praise,
Linger in roses and white jasmine sprays,
And marigolds that stand in yellow rings.
In the blue air they moan on muted strings,
And the blue sky of my soul’s summer days
Shines with your light, and through pale violet ways.
Birds bear your name in beatings of their wings.

I see you all bedecked in bows of rain,
New showers of rain against new-risen suns,
New tears against new light of shining joy.
My youth, equipped to go, turns back again,
Throws down its heavy pack of years and runs
Back to the golden house a golden boy.

—  ’To Olive’ (IV) by Lord Alfred Douglas, 1907

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The Waking of Spring

SPIRIT of Spring, thy coverlet of snow
Hath fallen from thee, with its fringe of frost,
And where the river late did overflow

Sway fragile white anemones, wind-tost,
And in the woods stand snowdrops, half asleep,
With drooping heads—sweet dreamers so long lost.

Spirit, arise! for crimson flushes creep
Into the cold gray east, where clouds assemble
To meet the sun: and earth hath ceased to weep.

Her tears tip every blade of grass, and tremble,
Caught in the cup of every flower. O Spring!
I see thee spread thy pinions,—they resemble

Large delicate leaves, all silver-veined, that fling
Frail floating shadows on the forest sward;
And all the birds about thee build and sing!

Blithe stranger from the gardens of our God,
We welcome thee, for one is at thy side
Whose voice is thrilling music, Love, thy Lord,
Whose tender glances stir thy soul, whose wide
Wings wave above thee, thou awakened bride!


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The Parting Hour

Not yet, dear love, not yet: the sun is high;
You said last night, ‘At sunset I will go.’
Come to the garden, where when blossoms die
No word is spoken; it is better so:
Ah! bitter word ‘Farewell.’

Hark! how the birds sing sunny songs of spring!
Soon they will build, and work will silence them;
So we grow less light-hearted as years bring
Life’s grave responsibilities – and then
The bitter word ‘Farewell.’

The violets fret to fragrance ‘neath your feet,
Heaven’s gold sunlight dreams aslant your hair:
No flower for me! your mouth is far more sweet.
O, let my lips forget, while lingering there,
Love’s bitter word ‘Farewell.’

Sunset already! have we sat so long?
The parting hour, and so much left unsaid!
The garden has grown silent – void of song,
Our sorrow shakes us with a sudden dread!
Ah! bitter word ‘Farewell.’

First published in the Pall Mall Magazine, May, 1895.

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Durer's St Anthony.

Dürer’s St Anthony.

St. Anthony


Dürer has drawn him resting by the way . . .
Has he returned from some far pilgrimage?
Or just come out into the light of day
From a dark hermit’s cell? We cannot know . . .
With stooping shoulders, and with head bent low
Over his book–and pointed hood drawn down.
His eager eyes devour the printed page . . .
Regardless of the little lovely town
Rising behind him, with its clustered towers . . .
O Saint, look up! and see how gay and fair
The earth is in its summer-time of flowers,
Look up, and see the world, for God is there . . .
Old dreaming Saint, how many are like you,
Intent upon the dusty book of fate:
Slow to discern the false things from the true!
Yet weary of world clamour and world hate,
And hungering for eternal certainties . . .
Not knowing how close about them heaven lies!

From Inn of Dreams, 1911.

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I am weary, let me sleep

I am weary, let me sleep
In some great embroidered bed,
With soft pillows for my head.
I am weary, let me sleep . . .
Petals of sweet roses shed
All around a perfumed heap
White as pearls, and ruby red;
Curtains closely drawn to keep
Wings of darkness o’er me spread . . .
I am weary, let me sleep
In some great embroidered bed.
Let me dream that I am dead,
Nevermore to wake and weep
In the future that I dread . . .
For the ways of life are steep . . .
I am weary, let me sleep . . .

From Inn of Dreams (1911)

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A WEB of gold is the western sky !
Golden strands of the sun’s bright hair
Caught in the grey clouds everywhere !
Or the tangled skeins of day’s broidery ?

… And now it is that the twilight sings;
Twilight … whose voice is full of tears
Trailing athwart our hopes and fears
The drooping bows of her dusky wings !

In the fading light we dream of death
And closer cling in a long embrace.
O ! pure pale girl with the passionate face
Life strips us naked … but leaves us breath.

But when our bodies lie strange and still
They will bury us swiftly out of sight,
Shut us away from the warm sunlight  . . .
How dark the darkness will be and chill !

But ah ! I forgot, we shall not feel
Folded safe in our last deep sleep
Never again to kiss and weep —
While our lips’ rose colour the roses steal.

Dear, never again to know regret.
With its iron hand laid on the leaping heart
Its fingers thrust where the wide wounds smart,
The wounds of memory bleeding yet. . . .

Ah ! but the kisses, the tears — the fleet
Delights — slow sorrows, are life — in vain
To praise white peace when the wine of pain,
Fate’s purple wine, is so fiery sweet !

Think you we should be glad to die
Now . . . when the stars are coming soon
And the daylight pales, and the primrose moon
Is a stemless flower in a silver sky. …

From Opals, 1897.

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I HAVE loved statues . . . spangled dawns have seen
Me bowed before their beauty . . . when the green
And silver world of Spring wears radiantly
The morning rainbows of an opal sky . .
And I have chanted curious madrigals
To charm their coldness, twined for coronals
Blossoming branches, thinking thus to change
Their still contempt for mortal love, their bright
Proud scorn to something delicate and strange,
More sweet, more marvellous, than mere delight !

I have loved statues—passionately prone
My body worshipped the white form of stone!!
And like a flower that lifts its chalice up
Towards the light—my soul became a cup
That over-brimming with enchanted wine
Of ecstasy—was raised to the divine
Indifferent lips of some young silent God
Standing aloof from all our tears and strife,
Tranced in the paradise of dreams, he trod
In the untroubled summer of his life

I have loved statues . . . and at night the cold
Mysterious moon behind a mask of gold—
Or veiled in silver veils—has seen my pride
Utterly broken—seen the dream denied
For which I pleaded—heedless that for me
The miracle of joy could never be . . .
As in old legends beautiful and strange,
When bright gods loved fair mortals born to die,
And the frail daughters of despair and change
Became the brides of immortality ?

From The Blue Bird (1905)

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Katherine Lyon Mix on Custance

Another young poetess in Volume VII [of the Yellow Book], who was beautiful, talented, and unhappy, was Olive Custance, eldest daughter of Colonel Frederick Hambledon Custance of Weston Park, Norwich, a wealthy man with rigid views on form and etiquette but proud of his daughter’s poetic achievement. When the Yellow Book was in preparation Olive was beginning to find a market for her verse, but lacked sufficient importance to merit mention in the preliminary announcement. Her first poem was used in Volume III, and from then on she appeared frequently, becoming one of Lane’s regulars, and an attendant at his teas, where Richard Le Gallienne stared enthralled at her “flower-like, girlish loveliness.” The Harlands made her welcome at their evenings and she charmed Aubrey Beardsley into designing a bookplate for her. Bookplates were recherché in the nineties, and one bearing a famous signature was a mark of importance. After Beardsley left the Yellow Book and went to France she corresponded with him faithfully. “Eleven pages from Olive this morning, plus 2 pages of verse. Ye Gods! If I were only Symons!” wailed the ungrateful artist. And again, “A huge letter this morning from Olive Custance. She must buy me in large paper if she expects me to read her letters.”

But though Olive fluttered enchantingly before many young men, the one whom she loved seemed curiously obtuse to her charm. His name was Alfred Douglas. She and Lord Alfred had met as children and as youthful poets admired each other’s work, writing tenderly romantic poems to each other, which on her side reflected a personal passion, on his a poetic fancy. He was her “Prince,” and she his “Page.” Her first book of poems, Opals (she was fond of those stones and laughed at the superstition that they brought unhappiness ), was published in 1897, and Bosie thought she wrote better poetry than any of her women contemporaries, not excepting Mrs. Meynell. Olive’s father disapproved of her infatuation, seeing nothing but disaster in it and was frankly relieved when Lord Alfred went to America and she became engaged to his onetime friend George Montague. But in March, 1902, Lord Alfred returned unhappily from the States, where people still remembered the Wilde affair though Oscar had been dead over a year, and finding his Olive about to marry another, was startled into a declaration of love and a proposal to elope. With the blessing of his mother and a loan of two hundred pounds, he and Olive slipped away to Paris.

At first they lived on the Continent in a glow of happiness, but after a reconciliation with her father, they returned to Weston Park for the birth of their son. Wilfrid Blunt gave a party for Douglas, saying it was time people ceased to cut him, but life in England did not go smoothly for the young couple; too much stood in the way of a successful marriage. She was pitied by her friends and threatened by blackmailers; Lord Alfred’s romantic fervor failed to withstand the passing years. He had loved a slim and beautiful girl, his Page; his ardor cooled before a matronly figure and the difficulties of a poetic temperament. In 1913, at the time of the Ransome libel suit, Olive left her Prince, writing his mother, “I have often been very unhappy with him, but I love him above everything, and would never have left him if he had not taken away Raymond [her son]. The Ransome case has done him so much harm; you don’t know what people say. . . . Perhaps it would be better for Bosie to divorce me for desertion? I only wish I had courage enough to kill myself!” But she didn’t and eventually they achieved a sort of reconciliation, he living in a flat by himself but visiting her every day in a nearby town and preserving the semblance of what he called “a life-long devotion.”

Her last book of poems, The Inn of Dreams, came out in 1911, though she lived until 1944, dying a year before her husband. Her poetic gift was slight and not always used with discretion, but much of her verse was tender and tuneful and effective in its simplicity:

I am weary, let me sleep
In some great embroidered bed.
Let me dream that I am dead
Nevermore to wake and weep
In the future that I dread
For the ways of life are steep . . .
I am weary, let me sleep . . . .

This quotation is taken from the following excellent study:
A Study in Yellow:The Yellow Book and Its Contributors. Contributors: Katherine Lyon Mix – Author. Publisher: University of Kansas Press. Place of publication: Lawrence, KS. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 188

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The Blue Bird (1905)

The collection The Blue Bird was published in 1905 but its distribution was so badly managed that the poetess had to buy back many unsold copies and give them away. Most of the print-run may have ended up being discarded.

This is the main reason that she published another collection, The Inn of Dreams, in 1911, including little new material, but reproducing all but five of the poems originally published in The Blue Bird.

Before the dedication there is a quotation from an essay by Oscar Wilde. It is taken from “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions. The complete text can be found here.

It is arranged as a poem:

And over our heads will float the Blue Bird singing
of beautiful and impossible things, of things that
are lovely and that never happen, of things
that are not and that should be.

Here is the dedication of the collection:


I sing the joy and sorrow of the world,
The strange and secret histories of the heart ;
I am a dreamer, and each day my dreams
Go out to kiss the eyes of lovely grief,
The laughing mouth of Love. I have bowed down
Before the light of beauty all my life,
And now, Oh poet passionate and brave,
Oh lover with the beautiful sad face,
Like a shy child I bring you all my songs.

And here, available for this first time on the internet, as far as I know, is Olive’s own poem ‘The Blue Bird’. It is not one of her best, but charming and girlish.:

PRINCESS prisoned in a house of pearl,
Strange little princess that I call my soul …
Silent you stand and listen all day long
With smiling parted lips, for you have heard
The far faint fluting of that fairy bird
That weaves enchantments with its magic song,
That Bird with azure wings and shining crest
That will not come to any cage or hand . .
But flies away into the golden west . . .
O wild blue bird, take back to fairy-land
This princess prisoned in a house of pearl,
This little princess that I call my soul . . .

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