three pairs of lovers with space

THE GREEK LOVE POEMS OF LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS

 

Lord Alfred Bruce ”Bosie” Douglas (1870-1930), British author and poet, was, despite dishonest and relentless attempts in popular media to portray him as androphilic and his love affair with Oscar Wilde as an antecedent of the modern gay relationship, nothing of the sort.  The sexual side of his relationship with Wilde was brief and a failure, precisely because he had no sexual interest in men [1].  As he told André Gide, “I only like boys.”[2] 

Detailed evidence of Douglas’s sexuality will be presented in another article, as, amongst other things, it is critical for understanding the poems here presented, which are most famous for the final line to ‘Two Loves’: “I am the love that dare not speak its name.”  Despite what Wilde felt he had to say in his trial about this love being that “an older and a younger man”, to divert criticism that he was corrupting boys into homosexuality, it was, from its first coining until today, the love of man and boy.  

Of Douglas's Greek love poems presented here, ‘Hyacinthus’ was first published in the April 1893 issue of The Artist and Journal of Home Culture (London), p. 99, ‘Sicilian Love Song’ in the May 1893 issue of The Spirit Lamp (Oxford), p. 46, ‘Two Loves’ and 'In Praise of Shame’ published in sole, December 1894 issue of The Chameleon (London).  The others were all published in his Poems/Poèmes (Paris, 1896).

 

            Hyacinthus

There is not in the fields a flower,
     Nor in the garden e’er a rose,
That hath so bountiful a dower
     Of loveliness as thou: the snows
At morning on the mountain
     When the red sun breaks,
Are not so pure; the fountain
     In the vale, that jets and makes,
All day, an amorous rippling,
     Hath not a voice so sweet:
The swaying fir-tree sapling
     No grace like thine: the wheat
Is not so golden as thine hair,
     There is no other half so fair,
And in the night thine eyes
     Flash, like a sapphire thrown
Into a silent pool that lies
     In a dark wood, whither alone
Comes the pale moon and slides her light
     Betwixt the parted trees above.
And sees her own face, icy bright,
     And kisses it and smiles for love:
Yea Love himself is not so fair
     As thou are, and thy godlike shape
Is, to a woman’s coarser curve,
     As to the trod live-blood of the grape
          Unto dull water.



      Sicilian Love Song

A Sicilian, by Wilhelm von Gloeden

Will the hot sun never die?
    He shines too bright, too long.
How slow the hours creep by!
    Will the thrush never finish her song?
She is singing too merrily.

Oh when will the moon come, pale,
    And strange? I am weary, I wait
For the sad sad nightingale
    Ever sobbing insatiate.
Will the day-light never fail?

Take wings relentless light,
    Die quickly unlovely sun!
For my love will come with the night
    When the dreary day is done.
Come soon! come soon! sweet night!

His lips are sweet and red,
    Where starlight and moonlight mingle
We will make our bridal bed,
    Down in the cool dark dingle,
When the long day is dead.

 

                             Two Loves

          Lord Alfred Douglas

I dreamed I stood upon a little hill,
   And at my feet there lay a ground, that seemed
Like a waste garden, flowering at its will
   With buds and blossoms. There were pools that dreamed
Black and unruffled; there were white lilies
   A few, and crocuses, and violets
Purple or pale, snake-like fritillaries
   Scarce seen for the rank grass, and through green nets
Blue eyes of shy peryenche winked in the sun.
   And there were curious flowers, before unknown,
Flowers that were stained with moonlight, or with shades
   Of Nature’s willful moods; and here a one
That had drunk in the transitory tone
   Of one brief moment in a sunset; blades
Of grass that in an hundred springs had been
   Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
And watered with the scented dew long cupped
   In lilies, that for rays of sun had seen
Only God’s glory, for never a sunrise mars
   The luminous air of Heaven. Beyond, abrupt,
A grey stone wall. o’ergrown with velvet moss
   Uprose; and gazing I stood long, all mazed
To see a place so strange, so sweet, so fair.
   And as I stood and marvelled, lo! across
The garden came a youth; one hand he raised
   To shield him from the sun, his wind-tossed hair
Was twined with flowers, and in his hand he bore
   A purple bunch of bursting grapes, his eyes
Were clear as crystal, naked all was he,
   White as the snow on pathless mountains frore,
Red were his lips as red wine-spilith that dyes
   A marble floor, his brow chalcedony.
And he came near me, with his lips uncurled
   And kind, and caught my hand and kissed my mouth,
And gave me grapes to eat, and said, ‘Sweet friend,
   Come I will show thee shadows of the world
And images of life. See from the South
   Comes the pale pageant that hath never an end.'
And lo! within the garden of my dream
   I saw two walking on a shining plain
Of golden light. The one did joyous seem
   And fair and blooming, and a sweet refrain
Came from his lips; he sang of pretty maids
   And joyous love of comely girl and boy,
His eyes were bright, and ‘mid the dancing blades
   Of golden grass his feet did trip for joy;
And in his hand he held an ivory lute
   With strings of gold that were as maidens’ hair,
And sang with voice as tuneful as a flute,
   And round his neck three chains of roses were.
But he that was his comrade walked aside;
   He was full sad and sweet, and his large eyes
Were strange with wondrous brightness, staring wide
   With gazing; and he sighed with many sighs
That moved me, and his cheeks were wan and white
   Like pallid lilies, and his lips were red
Like poppies, and his hands he clenched tight,
   And yet again unclenched, and his head
Was wreathed with moon-flowers pale as lips of death.
   A purple robe he wore, o’erwrought in gold
With the device of a great snake, whose breath
   Was fiery flame: which when I did behold
I fell a-weeping, and I cried, ‘Sweet youth,
   Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
   What is thy name?' He said, ‘My name is Love.'
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
   And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
   Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
   The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
   I am the love that dare not speak its name.'

 

                       In Praise of Shame

Watchers of the Strait Gate by Anna Lea Merritt, 1894

Last night unto my bed methought there came
   Our lady of strange dreams, and from an urn
   She poured live fire, so that mine eyes did burn
At sight of it. Anon the floating flame
Took many shapes, and one cried, 'I am Shame
   That walks with Love, I am most wise to turn
   Cold lips and limbs to fire; therefore discern
And see my loveliness, and praise my name.'

And afterward, in radiant garments dressed,
With sound of flutes and laughing of glad lips,
   A pomp of all the passions passed along,
All the night through; till the white phantom ships
   Of dawn sailed in. Whereat I said this song,
'Of all sweet passions Shame is loveliest.'

 

             Hymn to Physical Beauty

Sweet Spirit of the body, archetype
   Of lovely mortal shapes, where is thy shrine?
      Long have I wandered over dales and hills
   Seeking in vain, and now these eyes of mine,
      That were like stars are like to running rills,
So sad am I; come, for the fruits are ripe
   The yellow fruits that wait thee, a white dove
      For thee is caged, I have a thousand roses
      Both White and red; come, ere the hot day closes
   Its languid eyes, and lead me to thy grove.

Alas I hear no voice, I see no sign,
   Art thou then dead? Nay, but that cannot be,
      For yesterday, when the broad sun at noon
   Stood in the burning heavens, I chanced to see
      A lad that bathed; his face was like the moon,
His flesh was honey-pale, his locks were fine
   As silk new spun and stained with saffron stains.
      So fair he was I thought on young Narcisse
      Dead for desire of a shadow’s kiss,
   And to my shepherd’s lute I sang these strains.

                         I

        Sunbather by Arthur Lemon, late 19th century

I know a boy who every day
   Leaps in the lake in summer weather,
His lips are like fresh flowers in May,
   His feet are silver on the heather

                          II
His eyes are blue as sunny seas,
   His hair is like the golden money,
His shoulder cheats the honey bees,
   So like it is to golden honey.


Thou needs must live, seeing he is so fair,
   For all his beauty is but part of thee.
      Alas! I fear me, in this dreary land,
   Thou art disdained, there is no galaxy
      Of worshippers, no priest with pious hand
Twines chaplets for thine altars; greedy care
   For wealth, the barter of dull merchandise,
And sad-faced gods, have maimed or marred
         men’s souls,
      Their eyes for beauty are but sightless holes,
   Spurned in the dust uranian passion lies.
Dull fools decree the sweet unfruitful love,
   In Hellas counted more than half divine,
Less than half human now; the untrammelled shapes
   Of glorious nakedness, the curve and line
      Of sun-browned youth, must hide, for human apes
Have found God’s image shameful. Go, white dove,
   Wither, red rose, the world is sad and brown,
      For Pan is dead, and in Apollo’s courts
   The noisy rabble brawls, the shy resorts,
   Of nymphs and fauns are tainted with the town.

Oh! radiant thing (I will not say divine,
   Thou art more gracious and more beautiful
      Being human merely), they who worshipped thee,
   Thy gods, are dead; once were thy temples full
      Of gifts; thou hadst more images than He
   Who died for men, around thy glorious shrine
   Fair flowers were strewn: the wine-red lips of boys
      Kissed the flute’s lips for thee, to thee did rise
      The passionate incense of sweet lovers’ sighs,
   And songs that told of lovers’ passionate joys.


Those days are fled and now the sickly age
   Is dotard, and its bleared and glazing eyes
      Are well-nigh blind to beauty; yet, I know
   That in some hearts a Wakening spirit cries
      And strives for freedom, we are not so low
That there is none of us to scorn the rage
   Of Caliban, and dare to drink his full
      Of thy gold cup; and in this sad late day
      There be some faithful found who dare to say
   “We needs must love what is most beautiful.”

Come down and save us; let the world reborn
   Be glad again. Our hearts are barren fountains,
      Come down like rain. Ah! do I sleep or wake?
   Methinks I hear thy feet upon the mountains;
      And ere the red sun stoops and drinks the lake
Haply my aching eyes shall see thy dawn.



              In an Aegean Port

I saw the White sails of the silver ships
Bend to the bay’s blue waters; ivory
And bars of gold, a prince’s treasury,
The sailors brought; and odorous oil that drips
From the full cask, as the broad galleon dips
And rises to the swell; and I saw thee
In thy white tunic gowned from neck to knee,
And knew the honey of thy sugar lips,

Rarer than all the hoarded merchandise
Heaped on the wharves, more precious than fine pearls,
Than all the loot and pillage of the deep
More enviable, oh! food to my starved eyes,
(That gaze unmoved on wanton charms of girls),
Fair as the lad on Latmian hills asleep.



              The Garden of Death

To Ernest La Jeunesse

Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt, 1889

THERE is an isle in an unfurrowed sea
That I wot of, where-on the whole year round
The apple-blossoms and the rose-buds be
In early blooming; and a many sound
Of ten-stringed lute, and most mellifluous breath
Of silver flute, and mellow half-heard horn,
Making unmeasured music. Thither Death
Coming like Love, takes all things in the morn
Of tenderest life, and being a delicate god,
In his own garden takes each delicate thing
Unstained, unmellowed, immature, untrod,
Tremulous betwixt the summer and the spring:
The rose-bud ere it come to be a rose,
The blossom ere it win to be a fruit,
The virginal snowdrop, and the dove that knows
Only one dove for lover; all the loot
Of young soft things, and all the harvesting
Of unripe flowers. Never comes the moon
To matron fullness, here no child-bearing
Vexes desire, and the sun knows no noon.
But all the happy dwellers of that place
Are reckless children, gotten on Delight
By Beauty that is thrall to Death; no grace,
No natural sweet they lack, a crysolite
Of perfect beauty each. No wisdom comes
To mar their early folly, no false laws
Man-made for man, no mouthing prudence numbs
Their green unthought, or gives their license pause
Young animals, young flowers, they live and grow,
And die before their sweet emblossomed breath
Has learnt to sigh save like a lover’s. Oh!
How sweet is Youth, how delicate is Death!



      Prince Charming

Buttercup and marigold
   Seems my Prince’s hair to be,
Strand and lock and curl and fold,
   Oh! the boy is fair to see.

Yellow, yellow marigold,
   Golden buttercups and daisies,
He is sixteen summers old,
   Daisy-fair my Prince’s face is.

Jacinth blue and violet
   Is the radiant light that flashes
Through a tangled silken net,
   When he lifts his languid lashes.

Every earthly whiteness seems
   Matched with his obscure and dim;
He is king of all my dreams,
   I am king of love for him.

 

[1] As Douglas explained frankly to Frank Harris in a letter of 1925, given in full in his biography, Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions (New York, 1930), pp. xlii-xliv.

[2] André Gide, If it Die, translated by D. Bussy (New York, 1935), p. 297.