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The Virgin’s Crown

They shall weave a crown of lilies for her head,
For her feet they shall bring the rose;
And the maiden that treads in the virgin’s tread
Shall follow wherever she goes.

And the crown of the virgin shall be of gold,
And the lilies shall be of snow,
And the rose that blooms at her feet shall unfold
Like the lily that buds below.

For the crown of the virgin is pure and white,
And the roses are sweet and fair,
And the lilies that bloom in the pale moonlight
Are the sign of the maidens’ prayer.

And the maiden that treads in the virgin’s tread
Shall follow wherever she goes,
For the crown of the virgin shall be her head,
And the rose shall bloom at her toes.

Published in Lord Alfred Douglas’s Sonnets (1908), Richards Press, along with three other poems by Olive.

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Easter Song


Oh the world’s all clad in green today,
With buttercups and daisies gay,
And the little clouds have wings of white,
And the sky is blue and the sun is bright.

The little birds that sang so well
In the winter’s worst are too glad to tell
Of the days that come, and the days that go,
And the winter gone and the world aglow.

All the earth is singing so,
For the Easter-tide and the roses blow,
And the hearts of men keep holiday,
For the world is sweet on Easter day.

The music of the bells doth rise,
From every belfry to the skies,
And all the little hills and dales
Are pealing out their Easter tales.

The flowers they bloom, the birds they sing,
For the glory of their risen King,
And the hearts of men keep holiday,
For the world is sweet on Easter day.

Published in “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse” in 1914.
From Olive Custance Collection,
University of Victoria, Special Collections.

This attribution is secondhand , so I am not 100% sure about it. I am currently checking.

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The Secret Garden

Within a walled enclosure, green with box,
I found a garden of all beauty made.
A world of flowers grew there; every shade
Of colour fell upon the curious rocks
That gave the garden an enchanted look.
Here blue and purple muscari unrolled
Their slender spires of blue and purple gold;
Here sweet alyssum the winds of morning shook;
Here tulips spread their gaudy chalices;
Here bright anemones, with coloured flames,
Flared up among the other blossoms’ names,
A glory and a wonder to the bees;
And here was every flower that ever grew,
And every colour that the rainbow knew.

But this was not enough. I found a gate,
And, entering, I was in another world.
Here the imagination might unfurl
Its wings, and fly beyond the common state
Of human life, and find a new estate
In the dominion of the sun, and be
A radiant and resplendent entity.
Here was the fairyland of fable; great
Green trees, like giants standing in the sun,
With trunks of silver and with leaves of gold,
Whose branches all mysterious stories told
Of fairies and their doings, every one.
Here were the pools where water-nymphs arise,
And mirrors for the stars to see their eyes.

This was the garden of the hidden things,
The secret garden of the hidden springs.

“The Secret Garden” was first published in The Sketch in 1926.

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In Memory of Rupert Brooke

Not where the grasses shiver on the plain,
Nor where the rustling banners toss their glint,
Nor in the shimmer of a silk-lined tent,
But where a thousand rifles lash the rain,
And lead leaps singing through the leaden sleet,
Your heart was stilled for evermore, O sweet.

Not where the evening hangs her purple fringes,
Nor where the dawn breaks like a rose in flame,
Nor where the lovers carve their tale of names
On some unfooted shore of singing syringes,
But where the wave shall never lift your feet,
You lie at peace for evermore, O sweet.

Not where the nightingale makes music meet,
Nor where the hyacinthine woods are gay,
Nor where the dim laurels shed their spray,
But where the drums are muffled in the street,
Your heart was stilled for evermore, O sweet.

O world of over-burdened loveliness,
That asked not of him half he had to give!
And thou, whose dulcet singing lips are mute,
But hast, as one whom beauty doth not bless,
Given all, gone on before us to the grave—
There is no pain like beauty, and no rest.

published in The New Witness in 1918

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Autumn woods, my heart is tired with wandering about 

And all my courage fails, 

O lovely woods draw close your coloured veils,

And shut the cold world out!

The little tangled branches catch my curls, the bracken makes

Strong nets to hold me fast,

But safe in Heaven my truant spirit makes 

Her bright wings free at last!

From Country Life, Vol. 46, Iss. 1194,  (Nov 22, 1919), p 649.

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Beautiful new recordings of Olive Custance poetry



Inn of Dreams

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Bosie’s poison pen: new poems and research


The relationship of Lord and Lady Alfred Douglas was stormy, but not private. An unpublished poem of Douglas’s described it as “Forever in the Press”, and their correspdonence and poetry continues to cast light on their unlikely, enduring union. This article includes significant, unpublished original work of Lord Alfred Douglas and Olive Custance, with the permission of the estate.

 The poison pen of the Fairy Prince. Available at:



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“Peculiar flavor” and “preoccupation with the esoteric” … a 1950s view of Custance and friends

THE EIGHTEEN-NINETIES. A Period Anthology in Prose and Verse,
Chosen by Martin Secker. London: The Richards Press. p. xvi, 616.

(Review from the Dalhousie Review, Volume 32, Number 2, 1952)

This new edition of the Anthology first published in 1948, is another indication of the considerable revival of interest in the fin de siecle which has been evident during the past few years. This phenomenon in literary taste is probably due to reaction against much hasty and slovenly writing in an age of rage, pain and uncertainty.

The inner resources are once more being summoned-by the few, at least-as providing the only solace, the only verities. It is this unconscious quest for the felicity that comes with “. . . the cultivation of the self, the consolations of art”, as John Betjeman puts it in his Introduction, that identifies the modern reader with the writers of the period . “If we do not recognize the note of rebellion,- we will hear, those of us who can hear rhythm and rhyme, the accom- paniment of sound craftsmanship.” This is what is too often neglected by the critics of the Nineties. The revolt, the determination to shock, and the Victorian social climate which brought forth such lush and often over-exuberant manifestations being now vivid only to specialists, the often exquisite manner and matter of the writers of the day – all gone now, sadly, except Max Beerbohm – seem too often to have been overlooked. They are slowly earning acceptance once more. Certainly the spell is an entrancing one, and once it claims a happy victim, holds him fast. In the Introduction, Mr. ·Betjeman has slipped into the very polished periods of the decadence to tell of the publisher-compiler Martin Secker, worthy successor John Lane, and of the reading and sifting that finally resulted in this book.

Appropriately (and inevitably, to any lover of the period) the Dedication is to Sir Max Beerbohm. In Eighteen-Eighty and Diminuendo. selected from his writings, “The Incomparable Max” gives the flavor of an age as savoured by his bitter-sweet palate. As Hotbrook Jackson points out, the New Urbanity was finely exemplified in Max’s strangely modern personality, and one sees the decadence smiling at itself in his pages. ·

It appears that the arrangement of the selections is alphabetical by author and, therefore, it is only accidentally felicitous that Aubrey Beardsley should be first on the list. One has always been curious about Under the Hill, of course, and it is re-prin ted here. :Like a good many other things in this book, it is quite unobtainable and long out of print, and one has never seen it. Beardsley died early and this unfinished fragment is his only prose work. His amazing versatility is made apparent in this collection whose frontispiece is his illustration to The Three Musicians, which poem is also reproduced.

Beardsley may not have been essential to the period but he would have been out of place elsewhere and in his brief career he epitomized the courageous and often bizarre creative personality of the day. It was, as Max Beerbohm called it, ” … the Beardsley Period.” 

At times, the peculiar flavour of much Nineties writing becomes only too apparent. It reads almost as if Dawson, Olive Custance, Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde and Beardsley were all one. The passion for close description of lush detail, of beauty grafted to elegance ; the preoccupation with the esoteric in all manner of luxurious trappings, outlandish sights and sounds and ‘scarlet’ sins, becomes mere posing at its worst. and most ingenious invention at its best.

But there is so much more here: George Moore, HenryHarland (editor of The Yellow Book), Arthur Symons (editor of The Savoy), Richard La Gallienne, perhaps most capable of evoking the true Nineties aura, as in A Ballad of London with its much-quoted ” … iron lilies of the Strand”. Here one will find also his exquisite, wonder-inspired Ode to Spring which is far from the Strand and patchouli and Bohemia. To browse through these pages is to come across many an example of the very special concern of the Nineties men with acute observation of externals and of the things of the mind. The long complete Lovers of Orelay of George Moore is quite typical prose in this sense, while Vincent O’Sullivan’s The Lady and Arthur Symons’ In Bohemia are poems which could, one might almost say, have been written at no other time.

This eloquent and elegant selection may well inspire the desire to write well, and if it does it will justify itself even beyond its inimitable period attraction. In the broader view, the attempt being made at the end of the last century to find a way for art in a bourgeois industrial society is still going on, and the contemplation of the earlier attempts makes the Nineties of real interest and importance to-day.



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Bosie’s 1937 Valentine card to Olive


IMG_20180224_144708Found in the New York Public Library by Ferdi McDermott (Edwin King). Permission to use here kindly given by the Douglas Estate.

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The Fairy Prince, 1900

Taken from Pall Mall Magazine, 1900, pp 498-499.

It is significant that this, the first of the poems in the ‘Fairy Prince’ series collected in 1902 in Rainbows, cannot have been written for Lord Alfred Douglas. It is dated 1899. The prince of this poem was probably the future Canon John Gray whom she had met in 1890, nine years before, when she was only sixteen. She corresponded with him and he advised her on her poems. But a few months before she wrote this poem, he suddenly left his work in the Foreign Office (in November 1898) and went to Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained in December 1901.

Olive began to write to Lord Alfred Douglas only in the spring of 1901. They were married in March 1902.

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