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Scents and SensibilityPerfume in Victorian Literary Culture$

Catherine Maxwell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198701750

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198701750.001.0001

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(p.317) Appendix

(p.317) Appendix

Scents and Sensibility

Catherine Maxwell

Oxford University Press

Tuberose and Meadowsweet

  • Of tuberose I sing, and meadowsweet:
  • One flower much whiter than the fervent dove,
  • Whose scent in living pulses seems to beat:
  • Magnetic ardour, drowsy scent of love,
  • O memory, O presence odorous,
  • Thy life’s perfume, my perfect tuberose!

  • O meadowsweet, my passion’s purity,
  • O distant echo, faintness rapt and fresh,
  • That means my soul to thee, and thine to me,
  • O symbols flowersoft of soul and flesh,
  • My hands on my love’s knees, at my love’s feet,
  • Of tuberose I sing and meadowsweet.

  • I sing for one we love, my rhymes and I,
  • Who loves my song for me, me for my song,
  •    One whom we love we know well why,
  •          My song and I.
  • O love do you love us for short, for long,
  •          Me and my song?
  • Of meadowsweet I sing, of meadowsweet!

  •       O mine, my meadowsweet,
  •          O slender grace to me,
  •       O fairness made to meet
  •          With slimness loftily,
  •       And white but rose-delighted,
  •       And pink but pale-affrighted,
  •       With gazing unreserved
  •          On love’s most steep abysses!
  •       Spreading smiles many curved!
  •          Soft dreamful skin and kisses,
  •       O mouth not meant to speak
  •       The riddle of thy cheek!
  •       What can be whispered lower,
  •          Hardly with words to-day,
  •       (But flower-leaf touching flower)
  •             O do not stir to say.
  •       Silence, for silence knows best.
  •       Be mute: the amorous best!

  • Of meadowsweet I sing, of meadowsweet.
  • Slender and sweet, like honey, like thy hair,
  • (p.318) O like my words to thee, like meadowsweet,
  •       Stainless and tender, tall and fair,
  •             Fair like thy hair,
  • Tender and sweet like grasses to thy feet,
  •             Like meadowsweet,
  • Of meadowsweet I sing, of meadowsweet!

  • O flower, O love, most mystical and fresh,
  • Whose breath can thrill us with a breath most sweet,
  • As with the touch of warm seraphic flesh,
  • Of meadowsweet I sing, of meadowsweet!

  • Of tuberose, O love, of tuberose,
  • I sing of tuberose, of tuberose!
  • It may be summer in the woods to-day,
  • Or winter with the trees, or spring, who knows?
  • It may be pleasant on the new-mown hay
  • Or near the sea-rock where the wet wind goes,
  • And happy lovers find their kisses salt.
  • It may be summer in the woods to-day
  • Or spring unfolding such a perfect rose
  • That it would not be fairer for a fault;
  • If you have me, and I have you, then say
  • What should we do, who love with empty shows?
  • It may be summer in the woods to-day,
  • Or winter with the trees, or spring, who knows?
  • Of tuberose I sing, of tuberose!

  • Behind the soft green curtains half undone,
  • The fluttering paleness, is it morn or eve,
  • To-day that ends, to-morrow that’s begun?
  • While through the cream white muslin like a sieve,
  • Some precious light is shed like powdered amber
  • Between the soft green curtains half undone,
  • Enough of light to see you nor to grieve—
  • Glimpses and whispers outside of our chamber,
  • Inadequate beneath a useless sun,
  • What sight or sound can one of us receive?
  • Behind the soft green curtains half undone
  • The fluttering paleness, is it morn or eve?

  • Here in the vague and close confined room
  • All senses are as one acutely blent,
  • When speechless, touching not, in silent gloom
  • We yearn and languish with a single scent,
  • Relentlessly and subtly odorous.
  • Here in the vague and close confined room
  • And of Lethean pleasures redolent,
  • The strong inevitable tuberose
  • Surrounds irradiating to a tomb,
  • Where half-unconsciousness is well content.
  • (p.319) Here in the vague and close confined room
  • All senses are as one acutely blent.

  • If this be death, then we are dead indeed!
  • O do not stir lest we find life again:
  • What should we have of life? There is no need
  • For us to fill the hollow hours in vain
  • Or lengthen out the sobbing of our breath.
  • If this be death, then we are dead indeed,
  • Or waiting for the whole of life to wane,
  • After the last sigh, love, the first kiss, death!
  • I think that on some battlefield we bleed,
  • And I would live once more to be so slain.
  • If this be death, then we are dead indeed.
  • O do not stir lest we find life again!

  • Of tuberose I sing, of tuberose!
  • O love, O flower, whose name I may not tell
  • Save unto one alone who is not here,
  • But who perhaps like me remembers well
  • One flower, one scent, one hour and one called dear.
  • For this perfume since then a grave profound,
  • Wherein is laid of life the perfect whole,
  • Has undivided from desire been wound
  • About the inmost longings of my soul.
  • And when I sicken of my living now
  • This wizard flower brings back again thy breath,
  • Touches my mouth and hands: how far art thou?
  • For I do feel thee like delight or death,
  • Thy shoulders and thy arms, thy shadowed hair,
  • Thy speechless lips and thy unaltered stare.
  • Of tuberose, desirous tuberose,
  • Of tuberose I sing, of tuberose,
  • Of tuberose I sing and meadowsweet.

  • Too much has my desire been heard to moan
  • Within the narrow cavity of rhyme,
  • And made poor music in a place of stone,
  • For loved henceforth or unbeloved, time
  • No longer may deny for all his wrong,
  • One worth my rapture, rapture worth my song.
  • And if my kisses have been strangely red
  • You must ask meadowsweet and tuberose,
  • Or pale like them and mutely sung instead;
  • If each flower cannot tell, at least each knows,
  • And either scent remembers, white and strong,
  • One worth my kisses, kisses worth my song.

  • Give me thy voice, thy breath, thy lids, thy presence,
  • Thy arm, thy neck, and much too sweet, thy breast;
  • And bruise my life until thou find its essence,
  • (p.320) Love’s deepest poppy for my soul’s dear guest.
  • Let them be crushed beneath thy darling feet,
  • Darling, my tuberose and meadowsweet!1


  •    The Tuberose you left me yesterday
  • Leans yellowing in the glass we set it in;
  •    It could not live when you were gone away,
  • Poor spike of withering sweetness changed and thin.

  • And all the fragrance of the dying flower
  •    Is grown too faint and poisoned at the source,
  • Like passion that survives a guilty hour,
  •    To find its sweetness heavy with remorse.

  • What shall we do, my dear, with dying roses?
  •    Shut them in weighty tomes where none will look
  • —To wonder when the unfrequent page uncloses
  •    Who shut the wither’d blossoms in the book?—

  • What shall we do, my dear, with things that perish,
  •    Memory, roses, love we feel and cherish?
  • II.
  • Alive and white, we praised the Tuberose,
  •    So sweet it fill’d the garden with its breath
  • A spike of waxy bloom that grows and grows
  •    Until at length it blooms itself to death.

  • Everything dies that lives—everything dies;
  •    How shall we keep the flower we lov’d so long?
  • O press to death the transient thing we prize,
  •    Crush it, and shut the elixir in a song.

  • A song is neither live nor sweet nor white.
  •    It hath no heavenly blossom tall and pure,
  • No fragrance can it breathe for our delight,
  •    It grows not, neither lives; it may endure.

  • Sweet Tuberose, adieu! you fade too fast!
  •    Only a dream, only a thought, can last.
  • III.
  • Who’d stay to muse if Death could never wither?
  •    Who dream a dream if Passion did not pass?
  • But, once deceived, poor mortals, hasten hither
  •    To watch the world in Fancy’s magic glass.

  • (p.321) Truly your city, O men, hath no abiding!
  •    Built on the sand it crumbles, as it must;
  • And as you build, above your praise and chiding,
  •    The columns fall to crush you to the dust.

  • But fashion’d in the mirage of a dream,
  •    Having nor life nor sense, a bubble of nought,
  • The enchanted City of the Things that seem
  •    Keeps till the end of time the eternal Thought.

  • Forswear to-day, forswearing joy and sorrow,
  • Forswear to-day, O man, and take to-morrow.2 (p.322)


(1) Mark André Raffalovich, from Tuberose and Meadowsweet (London: David Bogue, 1885), pp. 37–43.

(2) A. Mary F. Robinson, from Songs, Ballads and a Garden Play (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1888), pp. 22–4.