Before the Mirror

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

(Verses Written under a Picture)

Inscribed to J.A. Whistler


White rose in red rose-garden
   Is not so white;
Snowdrops that plead for pardon
   And pine for fright
Because the hard East blows
Over their maiden rows
   Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright.

Behind the veil, forbidden,
   Shut up from sight,
Love, is there sorrow hidden,
   Is there delight?
Is joy thy dower or grief,
White rose of weary leaf,
   Late rose whose life is brief, whose loves are light?

Soft snows that hard winds harden
   Till each flake bite
Fill all the flowerless garden
   Whose flowers took flight
Long since when summer ceased,
And men rose up from feast,
   And warm west wind grew east, and warm day night.


"Come snow, come wind or thunder
   High up in air,
I watch my face, and wonder
   At my bright hair;
Nought else exalts or grieves
The rose at heart, that heaves
   With love of her own leaves and lips that pair.

"She knows not loves that kissed her
   She knows not where.
Art thou the ghost, my sister,
   White sister there,
Am I the ghost, who knows?
My hand, a fallen rose,
   Lies snow-white on white snows, and takes no care.

"I cannot see what pleasures
   Or what pains were;
What pale new loves and treasures
   New years will bear;
What beam will fall, what shower,
What grief or joy for dower;
   But one thing-knows the flower; the flower is fair."


Glad, but not flushed with gladness,
   Since joys go by;
Sad, but not bent with sadness,
   Since sorrows die;
Deep in the gleaming glass
She sees all past things pass,
   And all sweet life that was lie down and lie.

There glowing ghosts of flowers
   Draw down, draw nigh;
And wings of swift spent hours
   Take flight and fly;
She sees by formless gleams,
She hears across cold streams,
   Dead mouths of many dreams that sing and sigh.

Face fallen and white throat lifted,
   With sleepless eye
She sees old loves that drifted,
   She knew not why,
Old loves and faded fears
Float down a stream that hears
   The flowing of all men's tears beneath the sky.

Monadnock Valley Press > Swinburne