Arthur Symons: Some poems and notes

Venetian Night

Her eyes in the darkness shone, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bent like the darkness over her head.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
A white glove shone as her black fan lifted and leant
Where the silk of her dress, the blue of a bittern’s wing,
Rustled against my knee, and, murmuring
The sweet slow hesitant English of a child,
Her voice was articulate laughter, her soul smiled.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
From the sleeping houses a shadow of slumber leant
Over our heads like a wing, and the dim lagoon,
Rustling with silence, slumbered under the moon.
Softly the gondola rocked, and a pale light came
Over the waters, mild as a silver flame;
She lay back, thrilling with smiles, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bend like the darkness over her head;
I saw her eyes shine subtly, then close awhile:
I remember her silence, and, in the night, her smile.



Water and marble and that silentness
Which is not broken by a wheel or hoof;
A city like a water-lily, less
Seen than reflected, palace wall and roof,
In the unfruitful waters motionless,
Without one living grass’s green reproof;
A city without joy or weariness,
Itself beholding, from itself aloof.


White Heliotrope                  Arthur Symons

The feverish room and that white bed,
The tumbled skirts upon a chair,
The novel flung half-open where
Hat, hair-pins, puffs, and paints, are spread;

The mirror that has sucked your face
Into its secret deep of deeps,
And there mysteriously keeps
Forgotten memories of grace;

And you, half-dressed and half awake,
Your slant eyes strangely watching me,
And I, who watch you drowsily,
With eyes that, having slept not, ache;

This (need one dread? nay, dare one hope?)
Will rise, a ghost of memory, if
Ever again my handkerchief
Is scented with White Heliotrope.


To A Gitana Dancing                                 gitana-a-symons

Because you are fair as souls of the lost are fair,
And your eyelids laugh with desire, and your laughing feet
Are winged with desire, and your hands are wanton, and sweet
Is the promise of love in your lips, and the rose in your hair
Sweet, unfaded, a promise sweet to be sought,
And the maze you tread is as old as the world is old,
Therefore you hold me, body and soul, in your hold,
And time, as you dance, is not, and the world is as nought.
You dance, and I know the desire of all flesh, and the pain
Of all longing of body for body; you beckon, repel,
Entreat, and entice, and bewilder, and build up the spell,
Link by link, with deliberate steps, of a flower-soft chain.
You laugh, and I know the despair, and you smile, and I know
The delight of your love, and the flower in your hair is a star.
It brightens, I follow; it fades, and I see it afar;
You pause: I awake; have I dreamt? was it longer ago
Than a dream that I saw you smile? for you turn, you turn,
As a startled beast in the toils: it is you that entreat,
Desperate, hating the coils that have fastened your feet,
The desire you desired that has come; and your lips now yearn,
And your hands now ache, and your feet faint for love.
Longing has taken hold even on you,
You, the witch of desire; and you pause, and anew
Your stillness moves, and you pause, and your hands move.
Time, as you dance, is as nought, and the moments seem
Swift as eternity; time is at end, for you close
Eyes and lips and hands in sudden repose;
You smile: was it all no longer ago than a dream?


The Absinthe Drinker

Gently I wave the visible world away.

Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near,

Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,

And is the voice my own?  The words I say

Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day;

And the dim sunshine is a dream.  How clear,

New as the world to lover’s eyes, appear

The men and women passing on their way!


The world is very fair.  The hours are all

Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.

I am at peace with God and man.  O glide,

Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall

Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress.

Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.


Arthur Symons    28 feb 1865 – 1945  Jan 22

Poet, critic, translator and editor. Very involved in the literary (poetics) in his earlier years, seems to be especially appreciative of Villon and Swinburne though often enthusiastic about many others,  see ‘Figures of Several Centuries‘ by Arthur Symons (Gutenberg Project).  He covers a fair selection of literary subjects/people which are very readable and offer an opinion of the day that may add colour to the influences of today’s studies.    Not that I am a serious student, more a monkey that puts his hand in a jar until another takes its fancy.  He spent much time in Italy and especially France as well as  England so will have lived amongst many of the avant-garde of the day.  Paris was in its heyday, it’s ‘Belle Epoque’ of the arts so would have contributed much influence on Arthur Symons.

Symon’s short essay on Villon is a positive explanation of the man and his ability as a poet of intellect and passion though Villon’s view of life was tarnished (to put it mildly…….)   But then what makes people who they are?

Arthur Symons also wrote a lot of poetry.  I have only spent a short time looking but he does like to write of women and thoughts of love in most of the work I have seen.  Maybe it is the period he lived in.. (plus the sentiment of love poetry is and always has been core in all its forms).  He does seem a writer who says what he means, heart on sleeve and monkey-hand in jar.  From nigh-on a hundred years ago, times and fashion have changed, just as they have since Villon’s day.  Poets, like all artists tend to prize open their minds but the ‘reasons why’ are harder to realise than their work.    And anyway is what you get what you see?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s