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Poems of the Week: Lionel Johnson

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By:Thomas Fleming | March 27, 2012

 

This week I am going to put up several poems by Lionel Johnson.  Johnson was a fine, not to say exquisite craftsman, a friend of Yeats and  the "Decadents."  He is mainly known today as a religious poet, but he has a gift for evoking a scene.

Johnson's best known poem is:

By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross

 

Sombre and rich, the skies ;

Great glooms, and starry plains.

Gently the night wind sighs ;

Else a vast silence reigns.

 

The splendid silence clings

Around me : and around

The saddest of all kings

Crowned, and again discrowned.

 

Comely and calm, he rides

Hard by his own Whitehall.

Only the night wind glides:

No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.

 

Gone, too, his Court : and yet,

The stars his courtiers are :

Stars in their stations set;

And every wandering star.

 

Alone he rides, alone,

The fair and fatal king :

Dark night is all his own,

That strange and solemn thing.

 

Which are more full of fate :

The stars ; or those sad eyes ?

Which are more still and great :

Those brows, or the dark skies ?

 

Although his whole heart yearn

In passionate tragedy,

Never was face so stern

With sweet austerity.

 

Vanquished in life, his death

By beauty made amends :

The passing of his breath

Won his defeated ends.

 

 

Brief life, and hapless ? Nay :

Through death, life grew sublime.

Speak after sentence ? Yea :

And to the end of time.

 

Armoured he rides, his head

Bare to the stars of doom ;

He triumphs now, the dead,

Beholding London's gloom.

 

Our wearier spirit faints,

Vexed in the world's employ :

His soul was of the saints;

And art to him was joy.

 

King, tried in fires of woe !

Men hunger for thy grace :

And through the night I go,

Loving thy mournful face.

 

Yet, when the city sleeps,

When all the cries are still,

The stars and heavenly deeps

Work out a perfect will.

 

 

 

 

Here is a short piece called,

Precept of Silence

I know you: solitary griefs,
Desolate passions, aching hours!
I know you: tremulous beliefs,
Agonized hopes, and ashen flowers!

The winds are sometimes sad to me;
The starry spaces, full of fear:
Mine is the sorrow of the sea,
And mine the sigh of places drear.

Some players upon plaintive strings
Publish their wistfulness abroad:
I have not spoken of these things,
Save to one man, and unto God.

ANOTHER

Cadgwith

My windows open to the autumn night, 

In vain I watched for sleep to visit me; 

How should sleep dull mine ears, and dim my sight, 

Who saw the stars, and listened to the sea ? 

Ah, how the City of our God is fair! 

If, without sea, and starless though it be, 

For joy of the majestic beauty there, 

Men shall not miss the stars, nor mourn the sea.
 

 

I could not find  online texts of Dryden's Juvenal to crib from.  When I do, I'll continue the discussion of satire.

 

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