Tag Archives: Olive Custance

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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St. Anthony : THE ENGRAVING BY DÜRER

Durer's St Anthony.

Dürer’s St Anthony.

St. Anthony

THE ENGRAVING BY DÜRER

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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