Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945)

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Lord Alfred Douglas was born in 1870 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was the editor of The Academy from 1907 to 1910 and was at one time the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde. One of the minor poets of "the eighteen-nineties," several of his poems rise above his own affectations and the end-of-the-century decadence. The City of the Soul (1899) and Sonnets (1900) contain his most graceful writing.

(From Modern British Poetry by Louis Untermeyer.)

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The Dead Poet

I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face
All radiant and unshadowed of distress,
And as of old, in music measureless,
I heard his golden voice and marked him trace
Under the common thing the hidden grace,
And conjure wonder out of emptiness,
Till mean things put on beauty like a dress
And all the world was an enchanted place.

And then methought outside a fast locked gate
I mourned the loss of unrecorded words,
Forgotten tales and mysteries half said,
Wonders that might have been articulate,
And voiceless thoughts like murdered singing birds.
And so I woke and knew that he was dead.

(Compare Keats's sonnet When I Have Fears.)

"Not all the singers of a thousand years"

Sonnet, dedicated to those French men of letters (Messrs. Zola, Copee, Sardou and others) who refused to compromise their spotless reputations or imperil their literary exclusiveness by signing a merciful petition in favour of Oscar Wilde.

Not all the singers of a thousand years
Can open English prisons. No. Though hell
Opened for Tracian Orpheus, now the spell
Of song and art is powerless as the tears
That love has shed. You that were full of fears,
And mean self-love, shall live to know full well
That you yourselves, not he, were pitiable
When you met mercy's voice with frowns or jeers.

And did you ask who signed the plea with you?
Fools! It was signed already with the sign
Of great dead men, of God-like Socrates,
Shakespeare and Plato and the Florentine
Who conquered form. And all your pretty crew
Once, and once only, might have stood with these.

Impression de Nuit


See what a mass of gems the city wears
Upon her broad live bosom! row on row
Rubies and emeralds and amethysts glow.
See! that huge circle like a necklace, stares
With thousands of bold eyes to heaven, and dares
The golden stars to dim the lamps below,
And in the mirror of the mire I know
The moon has left her image unawares.

That's the great town at night: I see her breasts,
Pricked out with lamps they stand like huge black towers.
I think they move! I hear her panting breath.
And that's her head where the tiara rests.
And in her brain, through lanes as dark as death,
Men creep like thoughts...The lamps are like pale flowers.

The City of the Soul: II

What shall we do, my soul, to please the King?
Seeing he hath no pleasure in the dance,
And hath condemned the honeyed utterance
Of silver flutes and mouths made round to sing.
Along the wall red roses climb and cling,
And oh! my prince, lift up thy countenance,
For there be thoughts like roses that entrance
More than the languors of soft lute-playing.

Think how the hidden things that poets see
In amber eves or mornings crystalline,
Hide in the soul their constant quenchless light,
Till, called by some celestial alchemy,
Out of forgotten depths, they rise and shine
Like buried treasure on Midsummer night.

Sonnet on the Sonnet

To see the moment holds a madrigal,
To find some cloistered place, some hermitage
For free devices, some deliberate cage
Wherein to keep wild thoughts like birds in thrall;
To eat sweet honey and to taste black gall,
To fight with form, to wrestle and to rage,
Till at the last upon the conquered page
The shadows of created Beauty fall.

This is the sonnet, this is all delight
Of every flower that blows in every Spring,
And all desire of every desert place;
This is the joy that fills a cloudy night
When bursting from her misty following,
A perfect moon wins to an empty space.

The Green River

I know a green grass path that leaves the field,
And like a running river, winds along
Into a leafy wood where is no throng
Of birds at noon-day, and no soft throats yield
Their music to the moon. The place is sealed,
An unclaimed sovereignty of voiceless song,
And all the unravished silences belong
To some sweet singer lost or unrevealed.
So is my soul become a silent place.
Oh, may I wake from this uneasy night
To find a voice of music manifold.
Let it be shape of sorrow with wan face,
Or Love that swoons on sleep, or else delight
That is as wide-eyed as a marigold.