L'Amour De L'Impossible

John Addington Symonds



THREE times the Muse, with black bat wings outspread,
  Darkening the night, with lightning in her eyes
  And wrath upon her forehead, bade me rise
  Where I lay slumbering in oblivion's bed.
The first time I was young ; and though I shed
  Hot tears for fear of that great enterprise,
  I followed her, forth to the starless skies,
  And sang her songs, wild songs of pain and dread.
The second time I listened and obeyed :
  Presumptuous ! for that same thick cloud of song
  Dwelt on my manhood with a dreadful shade.
Once more she comes and calls me all night long.
  Nay, Muse of Death and Hades ! We have played
  O'ermuch with madness ! Ah, thou art too strong !


The Furies.

CHIMAERA, the winged wish that carries men
  Forth to the bourne of things impossible ;
  Maya, the sorceress, who meets them when
  Their hearts with vague untameable longing swell ;
These wait on wrinkled Madness, in her den
  Crouching with writhen smile and mumbled spell.
  Dread Sisters ! Though thou hadst the strength of ten,
  Down shalt thou go into the depth of hell,
Should one of those once make thy spirit her prize.
  Who love what may not be, are sick of soul ;
  And sick of soul who seek with thirsting eyes
Wells where the desert's mirage mist-wreaths roll.
  Who wed discretion, they alone are wise ;
  And who place limits on their lusts, are whole.



έρᾶν ἀδυνάτων νόσϛ τῆϛ ψυχῆϛ

CHILDHOOD brings flowers to pluck, and butterflies ;
  Boyhood hath bat and ball, shy dubious dreams,
  Foreshadowed love, friendship, prophetic gleams ;
  Youth takes free pastime under laughing skies ;
Ripe manhood weds, made early strong and wise ;
  Clasping the real, scorning what only seems,
  He tracks love's fountain to its furthest streams,
  Kneels by the cradle where his firstborn lies.
Then for the soul athirst, life's circle run,
  Yet nought accomplished and the world unknown,
  Rises Chimaera. Far beyond the sun
Her bat's wings bear us. The empyreal zone
  Shrinks into void. We pant. Thought, sense rebel,
  And swoon desiring things impossible.


The Pursuit of Beauty.

MAN'S soul is drawn by beauty, even as the moth
  By flame, the cloud by mountains, or as the sea,
  Roaming around earth's shore incessantly,
  Ebbs with the moon and surges with her growth ;
And as the moth singes her wings in fire,
  As clouds upon the hillsides melt in rain,
  As tides with change unceasing wax and wane,
  Nor in the moon's white kisses quell desire ;
So the soul, drawn by beauty, nothing loth,
  Burns her bright wings with rapture that is pain,
  Faints and dissolves or e'er her goal she gain,
Flies and pursues that unclasped deity,
  Fretful, forestalled, blown into foam and froth,
  Following and foiled, even as I follow Thee !


The Vanishing Point.

THERE are who, when the bat on wing transverse
  Skims the swart surface of some neighbouring mere,
  Catch that thin cry too fine for common ear :
  Thus the last joy-note of the universe
Is borne to those few listeners who immerse
  Their intellectual hearing in no clear
  Paean, but pierce it with the thin-edged spear
  Of utmost beauty which contains a curse.
Dead on their sense fall marches hymeneal,
  Triumphal odes, hymns, symphonies sonorous ;
  They crave one shrill vibration, tense, ideal,
Transcending and surpassing the world's chorus ;
  Keen, fine, ethereal, exquisitely real,
  Intangible as star's light quivering o'er us.


The Tyranny of Chimaera.

SERAPH, Medusa, Mystery, Sphinx ! Oh Thou
  That art the unattainable ! Thou dream
  Incarnate ! Thou frail iridescent gleam !
  Fugitive bloom atremble on life's bough !
Fade, prithee, fade ; and veil thy luminous brow,
  Chimaera ! Let me ruin adown the stream
  Of the world's desolation ! All things seem,
  Mock, change, illude, from time's first pulse till now.
Nothing is real but thirst, the incurable,
  Thirst slaked by nought save God withdrawn from sight ;
  And God is life's negation ; with Him dwell
Souls swallowed in the ocean of blank night,
  Where vast Nirvana drowneth heaven and hell,
  And self-annihilation is delight.



LEARN to renounce ! Oh, heart of mine, this long
  Life-struggle with thyself hath been for thee
  Nought but renunciation ! Souls are free,
  We cry in youth, and wish can work no wrong.
Thus planted I the fiend of fancy strong
  Within the palace of my mind, to be
  Master and lord, for perpetuity
  Of anguish, o'er a fierce rebellious throng :
Those tyrannous appetites, those unquelled desires,
  Day-dreams arrayed like angels, longing crude,
  Forth-stretchings of the heart toward wandering fires,
Forceful imaginations, love imbued
  With hell and heaven commingling, which have thrust
  Hope, health, strength, reason, manhood in the dust.


The Use of Pain.

HE that hath once in heart and soul and sense
  Harboured the secret heat of love that yearns
  With incommunicable violence,
  Still, though his love be dead and buried, burns :
Yea, if he feed not that remorseless flame
  With fuel of strong thought for ever fresh,
The slow fire shrouded in a veil of shame
  Corrodes his very substance, marrow and flesh.
Therefore, in time take heed. Of misery
  Make wings for soaring o'er the source of pain.
Compel thy spirit's strife to strengthen thee :
  And seek the stars upon that hurricane
Of passionate anguish, which beyond control
Pent in thy breast, would rack and rend thy soul.



IN dreams I walked by Lethe on this side ;
  There where souls taste not yet the sleepy flood ;
  Nor in oblivion drink beatitude ;
  But roam and dote on memory, as they died.
Each man, alone unto himself, wide-eyed,
  Inwardly gazing in abstracted mood,
  Went by the waves ; and all that multitude
  Seemed in my dreaming thought unsatisfied.
Some too there were whose longing, like a crown
  Of leaden anguish, weighed on weary brows ;
  Who murmured in delirium : 'Down, down, down !
We lived not, for we loved not ! Dreams are we !
  Death shuns us, who shunned life ! What hell shall rouse
  Blank souls from blurred insensibility?'



AH, God, that it could be that by some spell
  Poignant or imperceptible, of pain
  Or sleep, I might grow young in body and brain,
  Forgetful and forgiven, as poets tell
Men were re-made who drank of Merlin's well !
  Ah, might joy waken, like buds 'neath April rain,
  At view of yon snow-flushed far Alpine chain,
  Soaring in storm-swept air immeasurable !
Could I shake off these pangs, these cares that bind
  Down to base use the incorruptible mind !
  Ah, friend, and walk with thee, who art so strong,
Freed from old tyrannous yearnings, calm as thou,
  Bearing abreast with thine a comrade's brow,
  Unshamed, unenvious, unperplexed by wrong !


Convent Bells.

THE gaunt grey belfry spake. Those crazy bells
  Sent to my soul three divers messages.
  The Bass said : Eat, drink, slumber ; take thine ease ;
  Nothing abides ; void are heaven's promised wells !
The Tenor sang : Life flies ; my music tells
  Of human bliss ; delay not, seek and seize !
  Then, bat-like, shrill, borne on the twilight breeze
  The Treble cried : Buy, buy, what fancy sells !
Yet each voice taught me nothing. How shall I
  Glut me on thy gross baquet, booming Bass ?
  And, Tenor, youth was kind, but I was shy !
And thou, keen Treble, is the nightly chase
  Of dreams that sting but do not satisfy,
  Food for the soul that craves some living grace ?


Dove sono i bei Momenti?

MORNING of life ! O ne'er recaptured hour,
  Which some have dulled with fumes of meat and wine ;
  And some have starved upon the bitter brine
  Of lean ambition grasping place and power ;
And some have drowned in Danaë's vulgar shower
  Caught by keen harlot souls where ingots shine ;
  And some have drowsed with ivy wreaths that twine
  Around Parnassus and the Muse's bower ;
And some exchanged for learning, pelf of thought ;
  And some consumed in kilns of passions hot
  With lime and fire to sear the sentient life ;
And some have bartered for high-blooded strife
  Of battle ;—where art thou ? These all have bought
  With thee their heart's wise. Youth ! I sold thee not.


Natura Consolatrix.

GOD and the saints forgive us—we who blight
  With mists of passion and with murk of lust
  This wonderful fair world, and turn to dust
  The diamonds of life's innocent delight !
Who bear within our hearts black envious night,
  Blunting the blade of joy with sensual rust,
  Breaking vain wings against the stern Thou Must
  Blazed in star-fire on Nature's brows of light !—
Nature, thou gentle mistress, back to thee
  Thy wandering children bring their cureless thirst !
  Take them, and nurse them, mother, on thy knee !
Teach them, with vain insatiate longing cursed,
  To cool life's ardent anguish at thy breast ;
  And in thy law that limits give them rest !


To the Genius of Eternal Slumber.

SLEEP, that art named eternal ! Is there then
  No chance of waking in thy noiseless realm ?
  Come there no fretful dreams to overwhelm
  The feverish spirits of o'erlaboured men ?
Shall conscience sleep where thou art ; and shall pain
  Lie folded with tired arms around her head ;
  And memory be stretched upon a bed
  Of ease, whence she shall never rise again ?
O sleep, that art eternal ! Say, shall love
  Breathe like an infant slumbering at thy breast ?
  Shall hope there cease to throb ; and shall the smart
Of things impossible at length find rest ?
  Thou answerest not. The poppy-heads above
  Thy calm brows sleep. How cold, how still thou art !

Title of volume of first printing
Animi Figura
Smith, Elder, & Co.
Page numbers in original volume