The Poet and the Woodlouse

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Said a poet to a woodlouse, "Thou art certainly my brother;
I discern in thee the markings of the fingers of the Whole;
And I recognize, in spite of all the terrene smut and smother,
In the colours shaded off thee, the suggestions of a soul.
"Yea," the poet said, "I smell thee by some passive divination,
I am satisfied with insight of the measure of thine house;
What had happened I conjecture, in a blank and rhythmic passion,
Had the æons thought of making thee a man, and me a louse.
"The broad lives of upper planets, their absorption and digestion,
Food and famine, health and sickness, I can scrutinize and test;
Through a shiver of the senses comes a resonance of question,
And by proof of balanced answer I decide that I am best."
"Man, the fleshly marvel, alway feels a certain kind of awe stick
To the skirts of contemplation, cramped with nympholeptic weight:
Feels his faint sense charred and branded by the touch of solar caustic,
On the forehead of his spirit feels the footprint of a Fate."
"Notwithstanding which, O poet," spake the woodlouse, very blandly,
"I am likewise the created, I the equipoise of thee;
I the particle, the atom, I behold on either hand lie
The inane of measured ages that were embryos of me.
"I am fed with intimations, I am clothed with consequences,
And the air I breathe is coloured with apocalyptic blush:
Ripest-budded odours blossom out of dim chaotic stenches,
And the Soul plants spirit-lilies in sick leagues of human slush.
"I am thrilled half cosmically through by cryptophantic surgings,
Till the rhythmic hills roar silent through a spongious kind of blee:
And earth's soul yawns disembowelled of her pancreatic organs,
Like a madrepore if mesmerized, in rapt catalepsy.
"And I sacrifice, a Levite, and I palpitate, a poet;
Can I close dead ears against the rush and resonance of things?
Symbols in me breathe and flicker up the heights of the heroic;
Earth's worst spawn, you said, and cursed me? look! approve me! I have wings.
"Ah, men's poets! men's conventions crust you round and swathe you mist-like,
And the world's wheels grind your spirits down the dust ye overtrod:
We stand sinlessly stark-naked in effulgence of the Christlight,
And our polecat chokes not cherubs; and our skunk smells sweet to God.
"For He grasps the pale Created by some thousand vital handles,
Till a Godshine, bluely winnowed through the sieve of thunderstorms,
Shimmers up the non-existent round the churning feet of angels;
And the atoms of that glory may be seraphs, being worms.
"Friends, your nature underlies us and your pulses overplay us;
Ye, with social sores unbandaged, can ye sing right and steer wrong?
For the transient cosmic, rooted in imperishable chaos,
Must be kneaded into drastics as material for a song.
"Eyes once purged from homebred vapours through humanitarian passion
See that monochrome a despot through a democratic prism;
Hands that rip the soul up, reeking from divine evisceration,
Not with priestlike oil anoint him, but a stronger-smelling chrism.
"Pass, O poet, retransfigured! God, the psychometric rhapsode,
Fills with fiery rhythms the silence, stings the dark with stars that blink;
All eternities hang round him like an old man's clothes collapsèd,
While he makes his mundane music, and he will not stop, I think."

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Poet and the Woodlouse' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy