The Person of the House

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

1. The Monthly Nurse
2. The Caudle
3. The Sentences


The sickly airs had died of damp;
Through huddling leaves the holy chime
Flagged; I, expecting Mrs. Gamp,
Thought "Will the woman come in time?"
Upstairs I knew the matron bed
Held her whose name confirms all joy
To me; and tremblingly I said,
"Ah! will it be a girl or boy?"
And, soothed, my fluttering doubts began
To sift the pleasantness of things;
Developing the unshapen man,
An eagle baffled of his wings;
Considering, next, how fair the state
And large the license that sublimes
A nineteenth-century female fate
Sweet cause that thralls my liberal rhymes!
And Chastities and colder Shames,
Decorums mute and marvellous,
And fair Behaviour that reclaims
All fancies grown erroneous,
Moved round me musing, till my choice
Faltered. A female in a wig
Stood by me, and a drouthy voice
Announced her, Mrs. Betsy Prig.


Sweet Love that sways the reeling years,
The crown and chief of certitudes,
For whose calm eyes and modest ears
Time writes the rule and text of prudes
That, surpliced, stoops a nuptial head,
Nor chooses to live blindly free,
But, with all pulses quieted,
Plays tunes of domesticity
That Love I sing of and have sung
And mean to sing till Death yawn sheer,
He rules the music of my tongue,
Stills it or quickens, there or here.
I say but this: as we went up
I heard the Monthly give a sniff
And "if the big dog makes the pup"
She murmured, then repeated "if!"
The caudle on a slab was placed;
She snuffed it, snorting loud and long;
I fled, I would not stop to taste,
And dreamed all night of things gone wrong.


Abortive Love is half a sin;
But Love's abortions dearer far
Than wheels without an axle-pin
Or life without a married star.

My rules are hard to understand
For him whom sensual rules depress;
A bandbox in a midwife's hand
May hold a costlier bridal dress.

"I like her not; in fact I loathe;
Bugs hath she brought from London beds."
Friend! wouldst thou rather bear their growth
Or have a baby with two heads?

My spirit, in the doorway's pause,
Fluttered with fancies in my breast;
Obsequious to all decent laws,
I felt exceedingly distressed.
I knew it rude to enter there
With Mrs. V. in such a state;
And, 'neath a magisterial air,
Felt actually indelicate.
I knew the nurse began to grin;
I turned to greet my Love. Said she,
"Confound your modesty, come in!
What shall we call the darling, V.?"
(There are so many charming names!
Girls' Peg, Moll, Doll, Fan, Kate, Blanche, Bab:
Boys' Mahershahal-hashbaz, James,
Luke, Nick, Dick, Mark, Aminadab.)
Lo, as the acorn to the oak,
As well-heads to the river's height,
As to the chicken the moist yolk,
As to high noon the day's first white
Such is the baby to the man.
There, straddling one red arm and leg,
Lay my last work, in length a span,
Half hatched, and conscious of the egg.
A creditable child, I hoped;
And half a score of joys to be
Through sunny lengths of prospect sloped
Smooth to the bland futurity.
O, fate surpassing other dooms,
O, hope above all wrecks of time!
O, light that fills all vanquished glooms,
O, silent song o'ermastering rhyme!
I covered either little foot,
I drew the strings about its waist;
Pink as the unshell'd inner fruit,
But barely decent, hardly chaste,
Its nudity had startled me;
But when the petticoats were on,
"I know," I said; "its name shall be
Paul Cyril Athanasius John."
"Why," said my wife, "the child's a girl."
My brain swooned, sick with failing sense;
With all perception in a whirl,
How could I tell the difference?
"Nay," smiled the nurse, "the child's a boy."
And all my soul was soothed to hear
That so it was: then startled Joy
Mocked Sorrow with a doubtful tear.
And I was glad as one who sees
For sensual optics things unmeet:
As purity makes passion freeze,
So faith warns science off her beat.
Blessed are they that have not seen,
And yet, not seeing, have believed:
To walk by faith, as preached the Dean,
And not by sight, have I achieved.
Let love, that does not look, believe;
Let knowledge, that believes not, look:
Truth pins her trust on falsehood's sleeve,
While reason blunders by the book.
Then Mrs. Prig addressed me thus;
"Sir, if you'll be advised by me,
You'll leave the blessed babe to us;
It's my belief he wants his tea."

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Person of the House' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

comments powered by Disqus

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