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Poetry Magnum Opus

Swinburne's Quatrains


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Swinburne's Quatrains is a projacked form using the frame of Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem Faustine.  Swinburne has created a few other poetic frames which have become verse forms through others emulating his poems, the Swinburne Sestina, and The Swinburne.  Apparently Lawrence Eberhart first projacked the frame of Faustine and documented it at Poet's Collective. I discovered this in a forms challenge from Dave Schnieder at Writing.com.  The elements of Swinburne's Quatrains are:

  1. stanzaic, written in any number of quatrains.  Eberhart specifies a minimum of 4 quatrains, Faustine has 41 quatrains. I imagine at least 3 quatrains should be used to emphasize the repetition and linking rhyme. 
  2. metric, alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic dimeter lines.
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme abab cbcb dbdb etc.  L1 and L3 rhyme in each stanza. L2 and L4 rhyme with L2 and L4 in every stanza. 
  4. repetition, the last word of S1 is repeated as the last word of every stanza. Eberhart specifies a 2 syllable word but I imagine it could be 1,2, or 3 syllable word.  You have 4 syllables to work with.

    Ave Faustina Imperatrix, morituri te salutant.

    Lean back, and get some minutes' peace;
          Let your head lean 
    Back to the shoulder with its fleece
          Of locks, Faustine.

    The shapely silver shoulder stoops,
          Weighed over clean 
    With state of splendid hair that droops
          Each side, Faustine.

    Let me go over your good gifts
          That crown you queen;
    A queen whose kingdom ebbs and shifts
          Each week, Faustine.

    Bright heavy brows well gathered up:
          White gloss and sheen;
    Carved lips that make my lips a cup
          To drink, Faustine,

    Wine and rank poison, milk and blood,
          Being mixed therein
    Since first the devil threw dice with God
          For you, Faustine.

    Your naked new-born soul, their stake,
          Stood blind between; 
    God said "let him that wins her take
          And keep Faustine."

    But this time Satan throve, no doubt;
          Long since, I ween, 
    God's part in you was battered out;
          Long since, Faustine.

    The die rang sideways as it fell,
          Rang cracked and thin,
    Like a man's laughter heard in hell
          Far down, Faustine,

    A shadow of laughter like a sigh,
          Dead sorrow's kin;
    So rang, thrown down, the devil's die
          That won Faustine.

    A suckling of his breed you were,
          One hard to wean;
    But God, who lost you, left you fair,
          We see, Faustine.

    You have the face that suits a woman
          For her soul's screen —
    The sort of beauty that's called human
          In hell, Faustine. 

    You could do all things but be good
          Or chaste of mien;
    And that you would not if you could,
          We know, Faustine.

    Even he who cast seven devils out
          Of Magdalene 
    Could hardly do as much, I doubt,
          For you, Faustine.

    Did Satan make you to spite God?
          Or did God mean 
    To scourge with scorpions for a rod
          Our sins, Faustine?

    I know what queen at first you were,
          As though I had seen
    Red gold and black imperious hair
          Twice crown Faustine.

    As if your fed sarcophagus
          Spared flesh and skin,
    You come back face to face with us,
          The same Faustine. 

    She loved the games men played with death,
          Where death must win;
    As though the slain man's blood and breath
          Revived Faustine.

    Nets caught the pike, pikes tore the net;
          Lithe limbs and lean 
    From drained-out pores dripped thick red sweat
          To soothe Faustine. 

    She drank the steaming drift and dust
          Blown off the scene; 
    Blood could not ease the bitter lust
          That galled Faustine. 

    All round the foul fat furrows reeked,
          Where blood sank in;
    The circus splashed and seethed and shrieked
          All round Faustine. 

    But these are gone now: years entomb
          The dust and din;
    Yea, even the bath's fierce reek and fume
          That slew Faustine.

    Was life worth living then? and now
          Is life worth sin? 
    Where are the imperial years? and how
          Are you Faustine?

    Your soul forgot her joys, forgot
          Her times of teen;
    Yea, this life likewise will you not
          Forget, Faustine?

    For in the time we know not of
          Did fate begin
    Weaving the web of days that wove
          Your doom, Faustine.

    The threads were wet with wine, and all
          Were smooth to spin;
    They wove you like a Bacchanal,
          The first Faustine.

    And Bacchus cast your mates and you
          Wild grapes to glean;
    Your flower-like lips were dashed with dew
          From his, Faustine. 

    Your drenched loose hands were stretched to hold
          The vine's wet green, 
    Long ere they coined in Roman gold
          Your face, Faustine. 

    Then after change of soaring feather
          And winnowing fin,
    You woke in weeks of feverish weather,
          A new Faustine.

    A star upon your birthday burned,
          Whose fierce serene 
    Red pulseless planet never yearned
          In heaven, Faustine.

    Stray breaths of Sapphic song that blew
          Through Mitylene 
    Shook the fierce quivering blood in you
          By night, Faustine.

    The shameless nameless love that makes
          Hell's iron gin
    Shut on you like a trap that breaks
          The soul, Faustine.

    And when your veins were void and dead,
          What ghosts unclean 
    Swarmed round the straitened barren bed
          That hid Faustine? 

    What sterile growths of sexless root
          Or epicene? 
    What flower of kisses without fruit
          Of love, Faustine?

    What adders came to shed their coats?
          What coiled obscene
    Small serpents with soft stretching throats
          Caressed Faustine?

    But the time came of famished hours,
          Maimed loves and mean,
    This ghastly thin-faced time of ours,
          To spoil Faustine.

    You seem a thing that hinges hold,
          A love-machine 
    With clockwork joints of supple gold —
          No more, Faustine.

    Not godless, for you serve one God,
          The Lampsacene,
    Who metes the gardens with his rod;
          Your lord, Faustine.

    If one should love you with real love
          (Such things have been,
    Things your fair face knows nothing of,
          It seems, Faustine);

    That clear hair heavily bound back,
          The lights wherein
    Shift from dead blue to burnt-up black;
          Your throat, Faustine,

    Strong, heavy, throwing out the face
          And hard bright chin 
    And shameful scornful lips that grace
          Their shame, Faustine,

    Curled lips, long since half kissed away,
          Still sweet and keen;
    You'd give him — poison shall we say?
          Or what, Faustine?
                   ~~Algernon Charles Swinburne 

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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