Writer, Communications Professional


The poem that started it all

The ancient Greek/Roman myth of the queen of the underworld is a tragic one. Persephone (or Proserpine) was kidnapped by Hades, Lord of the underworld, and forced to become his bride and serve the dead. The following poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne explores this myth and other ideas surrounding life and death, and it's probably my favourite poem I've ever read.

 I didn't realize until quite recently how deeply this piece had inspired my writing. I owe this poem and its author a lot, including the title of my novella, All Things Mortal, which is taken from a line in this piece. I also chose to focus my story around a death goddess figure inspired by this myth. 

I won't say much else in the way of introduction except that this is the only poem that has ever made me cry by the end of it. Please enjoy! 

 The Garden of Proserpine

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

 Here, where the world is quiet; 
         Here, where all trouble seems 
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot 
         In doubtful dreams of dreams; 
I watch the green field growing 
For reaping folk and sowing, 
For harvest-time and mowing, 
         A sleepy world of streams. 

I am tired of tears and laughter, 
         And men that laugh and weep; 
Of what may come hereafter 
         For men that sow to reap: 
I am weary of days and hours, 
Blown buds of barren flowers, 
Desires and dreams and powers 
         And everything but sleep. 

Here life has death for neighbour, 
         And far from eye or ear 
Wan waves and wet winds labour, 
         Weak ships and spirits steer; 
They drive adrift, and whither 
They wot not who make thither; 
But no such winds blow hither, 
         And no such things grow here. 

No growth of moor or coppice, 
         No heather-flower or vine, 
But bloomless buds of poppies, 
         Green grapes of Proserpine, 
Pale beds of blowing rushes 
Where no leaf blooms or blushes 
Save this whereout she crushes 
         For dead men deadly wine. 

Pale, without name or number, 
         In fruitless fields of corn, 
They bow themselves and slumber 
         All night till light is born; 
And like a soul belated, 
In hell and heaven unmated, 
By cloud and mist abated 
         Comes out of darkness morn. 

Though one were strong as seven, 
         He too with death shall dwell, 
Nor wake with wings in heaven, 
         Nor weep for pains in hell; 
Though one were fair as roses, 
His beauty clouds and closes; 
And well though love reposes, 
         In the end it is not well. 

Pale, beyond porch and portal, 
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands 
Who gathers all things mortal 
         With cold immortal hands; 
Her languid lips are sweeter 
Than love's who fears to greet her 
To men that mix and meet her 
         From many times and lands. 

She waits for each and other, 
         She waits for all men born; 
Forgets the earth her mother, 
            The life of fruits and corn; 
And spring and seed and swallow 
Take wing for her and follow 
Where summer song rings hollow 
         And flowers are put to scorn. 

There go the loves that wither, 
         The old loves with wearier wings; 
And all dead years draw thither, 
         And all disastrous things; 
Dead dreams of days forsaken, 
Blind buds that snows have shaken, 
Wild leaves that winds have taken, 
         Red strays of ruined springs. 

We are not sure of sorrow, 
         And joy was never sure; 
To-day will die to-morrow; 
         Time stoops to no man's lure; 
And love, grown faint and fretful, 
With lips but half regretful 
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful 
         Weeps that no loves endure. 

From too much love of living, 
         From hope and fear set free, 
We thank with brief thanksgiving 
         Whatever gods may be 
That no life lives for ever; 
That dead men rise up never; 
That even the weariest river 
         Winds somewhere safe to sea. 

Then star nor sun shall waken, 
         Nor any change of light: 
Nor sound of waters shaken, 
         Nor any sound or sight: 
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal, 
Nor days nor things diurnal; 
Only the sleep eternal 
         In an eternal night.


Fun Fact #1: The science fiction novel, Flowers for Algernon, takes its name from the author of this poem, Algernon Charles Swinburne. We've come full-circle to the science fiction world!

Fun Fact #2: There is a BEAUTIFUL piece of music of the same title that is available on Spotify here.

 Text courtesy of: https://www.poetryfoundation.org