Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909



LOVE’S priestess, mad with pain and joy of song,

Song’s priestess, mad with joy and pain of love,

Name above all names that are lights above,

We have lov’d, prais’d, pitied, crown’d, and done thee wrong,

O thou past praise and pity; thou the sole

Utterly deathless, perfect only and whole

Immortal, body and soul.

For over all whom time hath overpast

The shadow of sleep inexorable is cast,

The implacable sweet shadow of perfect sleep

That gives not back what life gives death to keep;

Yea, all that liv’d and lov’d and sang and sinn’d

Are all borne down death’s cold, sweet, soundless wind

That blows all night and knows not whom its breath,

Darkling, may touch to death:

But one that wind hath touch’d and changed not,—one

Whose body and soul are parcel of the sun;

One that earth’s fire could burn not, nor the sea

Quench; nor might human doom take hold on thee;

All praise, all pity, all dreams have done thee wrong,

All love, with eyes love-blinded from above;

Song’s priestess, mad with joy and pain of love,

Love’s priestess, mad with pain and joy of song.

Hast thou none other answer then for me

Than the air may have of thee,

Or the earth’s warm woodlands girdling with green girth

Thy secret, sleepless, burning life on earth,

Or even the sea that once, being woman crown’d

And girt with fire and glory of anguish round,

Thou wert so fain to seek to, fain to crave

If she would hear thee and save

And give thee comfort of thy great green grave?

Because I have known thee always who thou art,

Thou knowest, have known thee to thy heart’s own heart,

Nor ever have given light ear to storied song

That did thy sweet name sweet unwitting wrong,

Nor ever have call’d thee nor would call for shame,

Thou knowest, but inly by thine only name,

Sappho—because I have known thee and lov’d, hast thou

None other answer now?

As brother and sister were we, child and bird,

Since thy first Lesbian word

Flam’d on me, and I knew not whence I knew,

This was the song that struck my whole soul through,

Pierced my keen spirit of sense with edge more keen,

Even when I knew not,—even ere sooth was seen,—

When thou wast but the tawny sweet wing’d thing

Whose cry was but of spring.