Tag Archives: Olive Custance

A Love Lay

lovelay1lovelay2from The Pall Mall Magazine June, 1896.

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December 2, 2017 · 1:56 pm

The Storm

[1]

A crash of thunder overhead

Drowned the last bitter word you said …

I turned away from your angry eyes

To watch the lightning in the skies …

 

— And now the storm goes over the hill

And the fury in our hearts lies still

And look ! the rainbow across the land,

— A road to Heaven close at hand —

And look! the rainbow across the sea

— Mermaids singing for you and me!

 

A golden sun is in the dim west gleaming

Scattering all the shifting-streaming,

Silver fringes of glittering rain!

Come! let us kiss and be friends again!

Source: Discovered by Edwin King in a typed MS among the papers of Natalie Barney at the Sorbonne, and also appeared in  Country Life, Vol. 46, Iss. 1196,  (Dec 6, 1919): p 711. Certainly written some time after 1911, it is clearly addressed to her husband, Lord Alfred Douglas.

[1] The second poem of that name

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Lord Alfred Douglas: Sonnets to Olive (1907)

To Olive

i
When in dim dreams I trace the tangled maze
Of the old years that held and fashioned me,
And to the sad assize of Memory
From the wan roads and misty time-trod ways,
The timid ghosts of dead forgotten days
Gather to hold their piteous colloquy,
Chiefly my soul bemoans the lack of thee
And those lost seasons empty of thy praise.

Yet surely thou wast there when life was sweet,
(We walked knee-deep in flowers) and thou wast there,
When in dismay and sorrow and unrest,
With weak bruised hands and wounded bleeding feet,
I fought with beasts and wrestled with despair
And slept (how else ?) upon thine unseen breast.

ii

I have been profligate of happiness
And reckless of the world’s hostility,
The blessed part has not been given to me
Gladly to suffer fools, I do confess
I have enticed and merited distress,
By this, that I have never bowed the knee
Before the shrine of wise Hypocrisy,
Nor worn self-righteous anger like a dress.

Yet write you this, sweet one, when I am dead :
“ Love like a lamp swayed over all his days
And all his life was like a lamp- lit chamber,
Where is no nook, no chink unvisited
By the soft affluence of golden rays,
And all the room is bathed in liquid amber.”

iii

Long, long ago you lived in Italy,
You were a little princess in a state
Where all things sweet and strange did congregate,
And in your eyes was hope or memory
Or wistful prophecy of things to be ;
You gave a child’s blank “ no ” to proffered fate,
Then became grave, and died immaculate,
Leaving torn hearts and broken minstrelsy.

But Love that weaves the years on Time’s slow loom
Found you again, reborn, fashioned and grown
To your old likeness in these harsher lands;
And when life’s day was shadowed in deep gloom
You found me wandering, heart-sick and alone,
And ran to me and gave me both your hands.

iv

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.

v

When we were Pleasure’s minions, you and I,
When we mocked grief and held disaster cheap,
And shepherded all joys like willing sheep
That love their shepherd ; when a passing sigh
Was all the cloud that flecked our April sky,
I floated on an unimagined deep,
I loved you as a tired child loves sleep,
I lived and laughed and loved, and knew not why.

Now I have known the uttermost rose of love ;
The years are very long, but love is longer ;
I love you so, I have no time to hate
Even those wolves without. The great winds move
All their dark batteries to our fragile gate :
The world is very strong, but love is stronger.

vi

When I am dead you shall not doubt or fear,
Or wander nightly in the halls of gloom.
The moon will shine into my empty room,
And in the narrow garden flowers will peer,
While you look through your window. Scarce a tear
Will drench your child’s blue eyes, while on my tomb,
Where the red roses wake and break and bloom,
The stars gaze down eternal and austere.

And I, in the dark ante-room of Death,
Will wait for you with ever-outstretched hands
And ears strained for your little timid feet ;
And in the listening darkness, when your breath
Pants in distress, my arms will be like bands
And all my weakness like your winding-sheet.

1907.

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The Coming of the Prince

lordandladyalfreddouglasTHE Prince has come! shy princess, Oh, be wise,
Kiss his sweet mouth, look deep into his eyes,
And let your songs, like lutes tired hands left dumb,
Learn all Love’s language now the Prince has come.

The Prince is fair, proud princess, hold him fast
With slim white hands, each kiss may be the last.

Joy is a flower whose petals fall apart,
And fade too soon. Ah, hold him to your heart.

And this sweet Prince, who never will grow old,
This boy with great blue eyes and hair like gold,
Will lead you, little princess, by the hand
Through all the gardens of his fairy land.

What though a sleepless dragon day and night
The great world watches, jealous of delight,
Strong Love shall stand with shining wings unfurled
Between you and the hatred of the world.

from Rainbows

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Olive and Raymond

olive and raymond_smallIt has been suggested that Olive Custance was a bad mother. Natalie Barney could only think of what the pregnancy had done to her figure; and yet there is nothing explicitly unmaternal from Olive’s pen, even if her diaries reveal that she left most of the work to the nanny,  as was the custom. There is, however, a sad letter she wrote very soon after the birth in which she spoke of everything except the fact that she had just had a baby … reading this correspondence between her and Natalie Barney, just weeks after the birth, it was obvious to me that she was deep in the throes of post-natal depression.

And so it is a pleasure to have come across in my researches a photo that all the other scholars thought lost;  Olive with Raymond as a baby. Here it is, in a smaller version than I am intending to include in the Collected Works that I expect to have finished in mid 2018.

 

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A Song to Beauty

SWEET! I have seen the argent moon astray
In crimson meadows of the morning sky,
Watched by the jealous Night too sad to fly
Before the bright relentless sword of day.
So, your pale lovers see you pass them by.

Proud Beauty I like that wonderful gold flower
The twilight gathers when the sun takes flight,
And lays before the silver feet of Night,
Beauty that seen in dreams has such strange power
Shine, shine upon my darkness, lovely Light !

By what enchantment were you doomed to range
The forest of this world, where joys are few?
My heart is like a hound that follows you.
My heart, a princely hunter, hears your strange
Elusive laughter and must still pursue.

Oh, once my song-bird heart was free and wise,
But now its wings are tangled in Love’s snare,
For it has seen the sunshine of your hair,
The troubled beauty of your great blue eyes,
The wild-rose whiteness of your body fair.

In vain fate strives to keep us still apart,
Death could not do it even . . . though there be
Long leagues of land, broad wastes of shining sea
Between us, yet my heart is with your heart
When in the world of dreams you walk with me.

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The Berg Collection : letters and diaries

A key source for the study of Olive Custance is the collection of letters kept in the New York Library as part of the Berg Collection. The following is a librarian’s summary of what is contained in these documents.

LORD ALFRED and LADY ALFRED DOUGLAS[1]

Autograph letters and autograph diaries.

The papers in this part of the exhibition tell the story of the courtship and married life of two poets whose gift for poetry was choked by the other gifts, both good and bad, which fortune bestowed upon them. Lord Alfred Douglas was born to high social position, wealth, good looks, and a talent which produced at least a few sonnets which have been anthologized for more than half a century. Olive Custance Douglas was endowed with the same gifts on a more modest scale. The privileges which came so easily to them they threw away as thoughtlessly as they received them. Lady Douglas was not the woman to save her husband from the violence of his own emotions, which make him one of the most psychologically interesting and least appealing figures in the annals of English literature.

The papers date from the turn of the century, from shortly after the death of Oscar Wilde. They add little to the knowledge of that most famous victim of Douglas’ power to fascinate and to destroy. Yet they give a vivid glimpse of the fashionable and semi-bohemian world of the Edwardian period in which Olive Custance and Alfred Douglas met and decided to try matrimony together. The attempt was far from a success but not altogether a failure. Though their union seems to have exacted quite a price from her conventional parents, from their only child, Raymond, and even from themselves, the Douglases lived on terms of friendly separation toward the end of their lives.

The two hundred and more letters from Alfred Douglas to his wife begin in June 1901, when Olive Custance seems to have introduced herself as a “girl poet” by sending a “beautiful letter” and a “crown of wild speedwells.” They touch upon Douglas’ visit to the United States in the autumn of 1901 when he unsuccessfully attempted to barter his name for an American fortune. They cover his subsequent courtship of Olive, who seems to have been quite as worldly wise and perhaps even as experienced as the man she married on March 4 1902. There are letters from almost every year up to 1919, which embrace the troubled course of Douglas’ relations with the Custances, with Olive, and with Raymond, who was more or less of an invalid.

The two hundred and more letters from Alfred Douglas to his wife begin in June 1901, when Olive Custance seems to have introduced herself as a “girl poet” by sending a “beautiful letter” and a “crown of wild speedwells.” They touch upon Douglas’ visit to the United States in the autumn of 1901 when he unsuccessfully attempted to barter his name for an American fortune. They cover his subsequent courtship of Olive, who seems to have been quite as worldly wise and perhaps even as experienced as the man she married on March 4 1902. There are letters from almost every year up to 1919, which embrace the troubled course of Douglas’ relations with the Custances, with Olive, and with Raymond, who was more or less of an invalid.

A handful of poetic manuscripts mostly by Alfred Douglas came with the papers. Some of them are expressions of dependence on Olive and love for her. Others — not unexpectedly —are bitter attacks upon her character: “I know you now, Circe and Sycorax,” he concluded in summing up the first dozen years of their married life. There are also two manuscript poems signed Olive Custance and dedicated to John Gray: “The Songs of Love” and “The Silence of Love.” To the collection of Douglas papers was added Lord Alfred’s correspondence with Madame Francis d’Avilla, who translated some of his poems into French. The letters, which run to over one hundred, begin in 1930 and extend to within six weeks of his death on March 20 1945. Olive Douglas had died thirteen months earlier, on February 12 1944. The letters shown here cover a multitude of subjects, including Madame d’Avilla’s translation. A copy of her translation, Palmer, Paris 1937, is also displayed– the copy presented by the translator to her mother.

[1] Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox … v.68 1964, pp. 8-9.

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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!

From

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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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