Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

Thanks to Nelson Miller and Poets' Corner for some of the texts below. Others are from Sonnets of This Century.

"Professor Dowden, widely known as an able critic and Shakespearian student, has not perhaps a very wide audience for his poetry. It is at any rate select. . . " (Sonnets of This Century)

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The Singer

"That was the thrush's last good-night," I thought,
And heard the soft descent of summer rain
In the drooped garden leaves; but hush! again
The perfect iterence,--freer than unsought
Odours of violets dim in woodland ways,
Deeper than coiled waters laid a-dream
Below mossed ledges of a shadowy stream,
And faultless as blown roses in June days.
Full-throated singer! art thou thus anew
Voiceful to hear how round thyself alone
The enriched silence drops for thy delight
More soft than snow, more sweet than honey-dew?
Now cease: the last faint western streak is gone,
Stir not the blissful quiet of the night.


I have wept tears, and learnt, I fear, sad ways
Of searching for a smile, and I can guess
The secret of a wan mouth's droopingness,
And know which eyes are they that waste their gaze
On the hid grave of hop--yet ne'er the less
My heart leaps up to utter thanks, and bless
Our earth which bears sweet flowers, and the glad face
Of these unwearied waters--thanks to them
For brief, intense, bright moments when we see
Our life stand clear in joy, we kiss the hem
Of God's robe in a rapture, and are whole--
On wind-swept hill-tops, by the mystery
Of ocean on still morns, or when the soul
Springs to the lark in a fine ecstasy.

Brother Death

When thou would'st have me go with thee, O Death,
Over the utmost verge, to the dim place,
Practise upon me with no amorous grace
Of fawning lips, and words of delicate breath,
And curious music thy lute uttereth;
Nor think for me there must be sought-out ways
Of cloud and terror; have we many days
Sojourned together, and is this thy faith?
Nay, be there plainness 'twixt us; come to me
Even as thou art, O brother of my soul;
Hold thy hand out and I will place mine there;
I trust thy mouth's inscrutable irony,
And dare to lay my forehead where the whole
Shadow lies deep of thy purpureal hair.

A Peach

If any sense in mortal dust remains
When mine has been refined from flower to flower,
Won from the sun all colours, drunk the shower
And delicate winy dews, and gained the gains
Which elves who sleep in airy bells, a-swing
Through half a summer day, for love bestow,
Then in some warm old garden let me grow
To such a perfect, lush, ambrosian thing
As this. Upon a southward-facing wall
I bask, and feel my juices dimly fed
And mellowing, while my bloom comes golden grey:
Keep the wasps from me! but before I fall
Pluck me, white fingers, and o'er two ripe-red
Girl lips O let me richly swoon away!

In the Cathedral

The altar-lights burn low, the incense-fume
Sickens: O listen, how the priestly prayer
Runs as a fenland stream; a dim despair
Hails through their chaunt of praise, who here inhume
A clay-cold Faith within its carven tomb.
But come thou forth into the vital air
Keen, dark, and pure! grave Night is no betrayer,
And if perchance some faint cold star illume
Her brow of mystery, shall we walk forlorn?
An altar of the natural rock may rise
Somewhere for men who seek; there may be borne
On the night-wind authentic prophecies:
If not, let this--to breathe sane breath--suffice,
Till in yon East, mayhap, the dark be worn.

Durer's "Melencholia"

The bow of promise, this last flaring star,
Terror and hope are in mid-heaven; but She,
The mighty-wing'd crown'd Lady Melancholy,
Heeds not. O to what vision'd goal afar
Does her thought bear those steadfast eyes which are
A torch in darkness? There nor shore nor sea,
Nor ebbing Time vexes Eternity,
Where that lone thought outsoars the mortal bar.
Tools of the brain--the globe, the cube--no more
She deals with; in her hand the compass stays;
Nor those, industrious genius, of her lore
Student and scribe, thou gravest of the fays,
Expect this secret to enlarge thy store;
She moves through incommunicable ways.

Leonardo's "Monna Lisa"

Make thyself known, Sibyl, or let despair
Of knowing thee be absolute; I wait
Hour-long and waste a soul. What word of fate
Hides 'twixt the lips which smile and still forbear?
Secret perfection! Mystery too fair!
Tangle the sense no more lest I should hate
Thy delicate tyranny, the inviolate
Poise of thy folded hands, thy fallen hair.
Nay, nay,--I wrong thee with rough words; still be
Serene, victorious, inaccessible;
Still smile but speak not; lightest irony
Lurk ever 'neath thine eyelids' shadow; still
O'ertop our knowledge; Sphinx of Italy
Allure us and reject us at thy will!

Darwinism in Morals

High instincts, dim perversions, sacred fears,
--Whence issuing? Are they but the brain's amassed
Tradition, shapings of a barbarous past,
Remoulded ever by the younger years,
Mixed with fresh clay, and kneaded with new tears?
No more? The dead chief's ghost a shadow cast
Across the roving clan, and thence at last
Comes God, who in the soul His law uprears?
Is this the whole? Has not the Future powers
To match the Past,--attractions, pulsings, tides,
And voices for purged ears? Is all our light
The glow of ancient sunsets and lost hours?
Advance no banners up heaven's eastern sides?
Trembles the margin with no portent bright?

An Interior

The grass around my limbs is deep and sweet;
Yonder the house has lost its shadow wholly,
The blinds are dropped, and softly now and slowly
The day flows in and floats; a calm retreat
Of tempered light where fair things fair things meet;
White busts and marble Dian make it holy,
Within a niche hangs Durer's Melancholy
Brooding; and, should you enter, there will greet
Your sense with vague allurement effluence faint
Of one magnolia bloom; fair fingers draw
From the piano Chopin's heart-complaint;
Alone, white-robed she sits; a fierce macaw
On the verandah, proud of plume and paint,
Screams, insolent despot, showing beak and claw.

Evening, Near the Sea

Light ebbs from off the Earth; the fields are strange,
Dark, trackless, tenantless; now the mute sky
Resigns itself to Night and Memory,
And no wind will yon sunken clouds derange,
No glory enrapture them; from cot or grange
The rare voice ceases; one long-breathed sigh,
And steeped in summer sleep the world must lie;
All things are acquiescing in the change.
Hush! while the vaulted hollow of the night
Deepens, what voice is this the sea sends forth,
Disconsolate iterance, a passionless moan?
Ah! now the Day is gone, and tyrannous Light
And the calm presence of fruit-bearing Earth:
Cry, Sea! it is thy hour; thou art alone.


With brain o'erworn, with heart a summer clod,
With eye so practised in each form around,--
And all forms mean,--to glance above the ground
Irks it, each day of many days we plod,
Tongue-tied and deaf, along life's common road;
But suddenly, we know not how, a sound
Of living streams, an odour, a flower crowned
With dew, a lark upspringing from the sod,
And we awake. O joy of deep amaze!
Beneath the everlasting hills we stand,
We hear the voices of the morning seas,
And earnest prophesyings in the land,
While from the open heaven leans forth at gaze
The encompassing great cloud of witnesses.

Two Infinities

A lonely way, and as I went my eyes
Could not unfasten from the Spring's sweet things,
Lush-sprouted grass, and all that climbs and clings
In loose, deep hedges, where the primrose lies
In her own fairness, buried blooms surprise
The plunderer bee and stop his murmurings,
And the glad flutter of a finch's wings
Outstartle small blue-speckled butterflies.
Blissfully did one speedwell plot beguile
My whole heart long; I loved each separate flower,
Kneeling. I looked up suddenly--Dear God!
There stretched the shining plain for many a mile,
The mountains rose with what invincible power!
And how the sky was fathomless and broad!