Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'The Garden of Proserpine'

My favourite poet in the English language probably is Swinburne and my favourite poem is the 'Garden of Proserpine'. Swinburne was able to capture the yearning for peace and rest that is quite natural for one who lives with severe chronic pain as well as any one who is hit too hard by death, tragedy or betrayal. I am eternally grateful to Swinburne for being able to express emotions for me at a time when I could not begin to dissipate a heavy weight that threatened to obliterate my spirit.

Here is the full text of 'The Garden of Proserpine' but I must warn the reader that this post will not end with the emotions embodied in this rather dark masterpiece.

'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.'

I still love Swinburne and the desire for peace and rest always must be part of our human yearning. My soul still resonates with these lines particularly:

'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.'

And yet...

I wonder if it is not a desire to find HOME rather than the peace and certitude promised by death that is at the foundation of these lines and the foundation in fact of everything. 'That even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea' came to mind again and again during dark nights filled with pain too intense for body or soul to fully bear without respite.

Even so, Love not Death is the true promise held out to human beings. Love actually has proven in many cases that it can outlast death and everything else. Love is the force that combats the gravitational pull of chaos and dissolution. The human race has survived because of love. Beauty and any spiritual realisations that endure are born of love, not the decay of our corpses in the earth.

And after all, Swinburne wrote other verses that spoke of the glory of love:

'Lose life, lose all; but at least I know,
O sweet life's love, having loved you so,
Had I reached you on earth, I should lose not again,
In death nor life, nor in dream or deed.

Yea, I know this well: were you once sealed mine,
Mine in the blood's beat, mine in the breath,
Mixed into me as honey in wine,
Not time, that sayeth and gainsayeth,
Nor all strong things had severed us then;
Not wrath of gods, nor wisdom of men,
Nor all things earthly, nor all divine,
Nor joy nor sorrow, nor life nor death.

I had grown pure as the dawn and the dew,
You had grown strong as the sun or the sea...'

Life always is risk and the threat of heartbreak, with its moments of torment to the body and the soul, but warmth and passion are not found in the tomb, nor is ecstacy found where the heart no longer beats. The individual who forgets how to risk all usually gains nothing.

Some individuals are blessed with an early recognition of 'Home' and they find their true place in life almost effortlessly. Others are condemned (or at any rate, given more than ample opportunity) to explore the world and seven seas before they ever glimpse, perhaps on a distant horizon, the outline of what they either instantly recognise or ultimately discover to be truly 'Home'.


Mick said...

Fantastic post... really enjoyed it. Thanks.

babybaby said...

I can't imagine "home" as being anything but the oblivion from which we arise. The essential hellishness of hell is its endlessness, and I think I'd find any form of eternal consciousness a hell. I agree that love is what life is for, but I agree with Swinburne that it can conquer everything except oblivion.

You don't have to be in pain or emotional distress to understand the truth of Susan Ertz's epigram: Millions long for everlasting life who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday. For everything, life itself included, there is a point where enough is already enough.