Poems from “A Crown of Violets”

The Drowned Women

Now is the hour when the drowned arise,
Like water lilies whose white bloom has fled.
Their gowns are full and wide as unfurled sails
That will not see their harbor’s home again.

Strange flowers of the sea, in strange array,
Their limbs are long and snaking, and they flow
With the slow, lazy rhythm of the tides;
The eddies set their dark, dead eyes aglow.

Like seaweed made of amber or of gold,
Their hair spreads into lacework fluidly;
Their souls are like the conches that enclose
The sea’s uncertain, moving harmony.

They love the nights of agony and storm
Whose breath devours ships: they are the final sight
Of dying men, the moment of the wreck,
Before the moon’s last gleam has taken flight.

They spread their feverish and loving hands,
They spread their hands in token of a plea;
Their marriage bed, within the happy depths,
Uncloses, fragrant with the salty sea.

They love the nights in which there still persists
The daylight’s languor and its ecstasy,
The burning summer nights of stars and flame,
When dreams flee toward stark sensuality,

When Psappha of Lesbos, their pale sovereign,
Sings Aphrodite who corrupts the kiss
And mingles with desire all the shock of hate,
Aphrodite rising from the unslaked abyss,

Powerful Aphrodite, with her rage divine,
Whose solemn accents she has learned to sing,
The ardent, boundless love of feminine lips,
Of naked breasts and virgins trembling …

                        Evocations, 1903, revised 1905


The twilit lamplight casts an amber glow
Which blurs the gilding of the picture frames.
The hour for my going has sounded in the chamber …
The night is dark, I can’t see past the panes.

I no longer know the faces of the things
That witnessed good and bad not long ago …
See, the roses’ familiar scent is dying …
The night is dark, I know not where I go. 

Should I regret that other time? … Perhaps …
Yet I need no regrets nor feel their lack …
I walk before myself, the future is my master,
And, whatever be my fate, I shall not come back. 

                        A l’Heure des Mains jointes, 1906


We’re dead now, both of us, it’s all come true …
The long, tall cypress trees of Purgatory
Loom above the path to heaven’s glory,
And even now, my heart remembers you.

Their crowns are lost within the gloomy sky,
Lost in the eternal settting sun,
And we, two weary Spirits, have begun
Along the path we’ll always travel by.

The cypress trees loom upright on the endless hill.
We seek in vain the trembling of a breeze,
A song, a soaring bird … The cypress trees
Loom over us … Come close, come closer still!

                        Haillons, 1910

Sunset at Hellas

Virginal and lover-like, your steps
Wandered by the tarn that Artemis had made.
The sunset, glorious as a cymbal’s cry,
Bled above the lilies in the waves.

An unknown ecstasy shone in my dreams,
My obstinate desire circled you …
You smiled, lovely, naked, standing there,
More fair than Leda, and more golden too.

The sunlight, flashing in the priestesses’ hair,
Intensified their bodies’ ardent need …
Far away, the Centauresses whinnied,
Rutting in the summer meadow-weeds.

                        “Paule Riversdale,” Echos et Reflets, 1903

Enter My Realm

Enter my realm, make my kingdom your thrall.
There are columns of porphyry in the great hall …
There we shall celebrate luminous feasts,
And we shall rejoice with the lordly deceased
            And their ladies, dead and entrancing.

Princesses, queens, and women-lovers, dancing,
Parading and laughing, as in their glory days,
Shall clothe themselves, for us, in their glorious arrays.
Look, see them there, magnificent, serene,
            The women who were Queens.

The procession of prophets and kings begins to flow,
Wearing their purple robes of long ago.
Do you not know them, those moonlit spirits there,
The dark Anne Boleyn, Rosamund the fair,
            And Bess with auburn hair?

See, before your sweet and haughty stare,
Singing, weeping, laughing, those who reigned above,
All who were lovely, all who were loved.
The fountains, in among their jets, flame bright,
            Your people to delight.

A priest shall crown you with a golden band.
Before that great assemblage, hear me: I command
That all here, from now on, submit to you,
That your vows be my vows, my friends your allies too,
            O royal will!

Enter this cathedral, cross the threshold’s sill,
This edifice raised from my dreams at night.
The nave has been adorned to welcome you aright.
Enter, beneath the dome-like vaulting, you who reign, 
            Queen of my domain.

                        Sillages, 1908

image: Portrait de Renée Vivien par Otto Wegener, conservé dans les archives de la Smithsonian Institution (numéro SIA2015-006918) Otto Wegener Public domain

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