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Decadent Poetry written by Lisa Rodensky

 

Decadent Poetry written by Lisa Rodensky

Overview:

A definitive collection of poems that express the languid eroticism and aesthetic rebellion of the late Victorian age

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, formerly straight-laced English verse began loosening its stays. The English decadents submerged themselves in the pleasures of artifice and turned a fascinated eye on the intertwining of decay and desire. Among the poets in this intoxicating collection are Oscar Wilde on tainted love and the torments of the human spirit, Arthur Symons on the stupor of absinthe, Rosamond Marriott Watson on disenchantment and memory, W. B. Yeats on waning passion and faded beauty, and Lord Alfred Douglas on shame and secret love. Decadent Poetry opens a window onto an exhilarating moment in English literature.

Synopsis:

A definitive collection of poems that express the languid eroticism and aesthetic rebellion of the late Victorian age

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, formerly straight-laced English verse began loosening its stays. The English decadents submerged themselves in the pleasures of artifice and turned a fascinated eye on the intertwining of decay and desire. Among the poets in this intoxicating collection are Oscar Wilde on tainted love and the torments of the human spirit, Arthur Symons on the stupor of absinthe, Rosamond Marriott Watson on disenchantment and memory, W. B. Yeats on waning passion and faded beauty, and Lord Alfred Douglas on shame and secret love. Decadent Poetry opens a window onto an exhilarating moment in English literature.

Excerpt:

The Harlot's House

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play The 'Treues Liebes Herz' of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantasies arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

They took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette Came out, and smoked its cigarette Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
'The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'

But she —she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

The Art of Love
Book 1

Should anyone here in Rome lack finesse at love-making,
let him Try me—read my book; and results are guaranteed!
Technique is the secret. Charioteer, sailor, oarsman,
All need it. Technique can control Love himself. As Automedon was charioteer to Achilles,
And Tiphys Jason's steersman, so I,
By Venus' appointment, am made Love's artificer, shall be Known as The Tiphys, the very Automedon of Love.
He's a wild handful, will often rebel against me,
But still just a child—
Malleable, easily disciplined. Chiron made young Achilles A fine musician, hammered that fierce heart On the anvil of peaceful artistry. So this future terror To friend and foe alike went in awe, it's said,
Of his elderly teacher, at whose bidding the hand that in after-
Time bore down Hector was held out for the tawse.
As Chiron taught Achilles, so I am Love's preceptor:
Wild boys both, both goddess-born—and yet Even bulls can be broken to plough, or spirited horses Subdued with bridle and bit.
So love shall likewise own my mastery, though his bowshots Skewer my breast, though his torch Flicker and sear me. The worse the wounds, the deeper the branding,
That much keener I to avenge Such outrage. Nor shall I falsely ascribe my arts to Apollo:
No airy bird comes twittering advice Into my eat, I never had a vision of the Muses Herding sheep in Ascra's valleys. This work is based On experience: what I write, believe me, I have practiced.
My poem will deal in truth.

Aid my enterprise, Venus! Respectable ladies, the kind who Wear hairbands and ankle-length skirts,
Are hereby warned off. Safe love, legitimate liaisons Will be my theme. This poem breaks no taboos.
First, then, you fledging troopers in passion's service,
Comes the task of finding an object for your love.
Next, you must labour to woo and win your lady;
Thirdly, ensure that the affair will last.
Such are my limitations, such the ground I will cover,
The race I propose to run.

While you are fancy-free still, and can drive at leisure,
Pick a girl, tell her, "you're the one I love.
And only you.' But this search means using your eyes: a mistress Won't drop out of the sky at your fee.
A hunter's skilled where to spread his nets for the stag, senses In which glen the wild boar lurks.
A fowler's familiar with copses, an expert angler Knows the richest shoaling-grounds for fish.
You too, so keen to establish some long term relationship,
Must learn, first, where girl is to be found.
Your search need not take you—belueve me—on an overseas voyage:
A short enough trek will bring you to your goal.
True, Perseus fetched home Andromeda from the coloured Indies,
While Phrygian Paris abducted Helen in Greece,
But Rome can boast of so many and such dazzling beauties You'd swear the whole world's talent was gathered here.
The girls of your city outnumber Gargara's wheatsheaves,
Methymna's grape-clusters,
Birds on the bough, stars in the sky, fish in the ocean:
Venus indeed still haunts Her son Aeneas' foundation. If you like budding adolescents Any number of (guaranteed) maidens are here to delight Your roving eye. Your prefer young women? They'll charm you By the thousand, you won't know which to choose.
And if you happen to fancy a more mature, experienced Age-group, believe me, they show up in droves.

Here's what to do. When the sun's on the back of Hercules'
Lion, stroll down some shady colonnade,
Pompey's, say, or Octavia's (for her dead son Marcellus:
Extravagant marble facings, R.I.P.),
Or Livia's, with its gallery of genuine Old Masters,
Or the Danaids' Portico (note The artwork: Danaus' daughters plotting mischief for their cousins,
Father attitudinizing with drawn sword).
Don't miss the shrine of Adonis, mourned by Venus,
Or the synagogue—Syrian Jews Worship there each Sabbath—or the linen-clad heifer-goddess's Memphian temple: Io makes many a maid what she
Was to Jove. The very courts are hunting-grounds for passion;
Amid lawyers' rebuttals love will often be found.
Here, where under Venus' marble temple the Appian Fountain pulses its jets high in the air,
Your jurisconsult's entrapped by love's beguilements—
Counsel to others, he cannot advise himself.
Here, all too often, words fail the most eloquent pleader,
And a new sort of case comes on—his own. He must Defend himself for a change, while Venus in her nearby Temple snickers at this reversal of roles.

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