Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Addington Symonds: Leander

To Leander in Sunset by the Southern Sea

From what diviner air hast thou
Descended to these sombre skies?
What mighty god enwreathed thy brow
With flaky flame, and filled thine eyes,
Those wells deep-set with light too clear
Too ardent, for our mortal sphere?

Motionless, like a heaven-borne thing
Which earthly vaopurs overwhelm,
Still striving with the spirit's wing
To reach thy antenatal realm,
Then standest on this craggy cove
Live image of Uranian Love.

The limpid waters dream at ease
Around thy billow-beaten throne,
Pearly horizons of grey seas
Melt into skies of amber tone
With rose incarnadined to warm
The flawless pallor of thy form.

'Tis gold, 'tis honey, faintest flush
Of crimson plays round each limb,
Bathing thy body in a blush
So all pervasive, lustrous, dim,
That gazing we are fain to feel
Those hues from thee their radiance steal.

Why prate of god and heaven-born things?
Be thou thyself, victorious boy!
There need no wide aerial wings,
No immortalities of joy.
Thine is the true, the sole ideal:
Man knows nought lovelier than the real.

I don't know as much as I ought about the great man of gay letters, John Addington Symonds. I don't know, for example, whether this poem has ever been published except where I found it, although I suspect so. I have been spending some time in the British Library working on, among others, the lives of Charles Philip Castle Kains Jackson and his young cousin and lover, Cecil Castle. In doing so I came across a quite lovely article by Jackson on Addington Symonds: subtitled, 'a portrait' which is actually something like an extended obituary, for it was written and first published just after JAS's death.

The article was first published in Quarto in the UK but was reprinted as one of the Bruno Chap Books in the US (Vol 2, No. 5 November 1915), which is where I found it. I may have to write more in the future about Bruno Guido, the proprietor of the Chap Books in question and general New York boho figure.

Walter Pater called this poem 'one of the best things he ever did' - which might be overstating the case a bit. According to Jackson, however, it was the last poem JAS ever wrote in England. It was dated September 10th, 1892, the day before JAS left the country for the last time, never to return.

1 comment:

Thevina said...

What an absolutely gorgeous poem. Thank you so much for posting it! Hope you're doing well, and making good progress on your shortly-due fic. ;)

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