The Garden of Proserpine

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"The Garden of Proserpine" is a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, written in 1866.

Proserpine is the Latin spelling of Persephone, married to Hades, god of the underworld. According to some accounts, she had a garden of ever blooming flowers (poppies) in the underworld. The Greek and Roman festivals honoring her and her mother, Ceres, emphasized Proserpine's return to the upper world in spring.

According to the myths which talk of Persophone's Pearls, bringing visitors for lonely Persephone, these poppies induce waking sleep if picked and travellers forget their purpose. Trapped wandering the underworld until they no longer are touching these flowers.

In Swinburne's poems, however, the emphasis is on her role as goddess of death and eternal sleep. It is mentioned in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (where the first line of the poem, "Here, where the world is quiet", was slightly modified to become the motto of the secret organization V.F.D.) and The Lightning Thief. A portion of the poem is quoted, and plays a pivotal role, in Jack London's novel Martin Eden. A portion of the poem was also used in the Bat Masterson TV episode Wanted: Alive Please of 26 May 1960.

Poem[edit]

HERE, where the world is quiet,
 Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
 In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
 For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
  A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
 And men that laugh and weep
Of what may come hereafter
 For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
 Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
    And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
 And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
 Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
 They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
    And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
 No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
 Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
  Where no leaf blooms or blushes,
Save this whereout she crushes
    For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
 In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
 All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
 In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
  Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
 He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
 Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
 His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
    In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
 Crowned with calm leaves she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
 With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
 Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
    From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
 She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
 The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
 Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
    And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
  The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
  And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
  Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
    Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
  And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
  Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
  With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
    Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
  From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
  Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
  That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
 Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
  Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
  Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
 Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
  In an eternal night.

See also[edit]

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