Three sonnets by Edward Dowden

"In July," "In the Cathedral" and "Leonardo’s 'Mona Lisa'”

In July

  • Why do I make no poems? Good my friend 
  • Now is there silence through the summer woods, 
  • In whose green depths and lawny solitudes 
  • The light is dreaming; voicings clear ascend 
  • Now from no hollow where glad rivulets wend, 
  • But murmurings low of inarticulate moods, 
  • Softer than stir of unfledged cushat broods,  
  • Breathe, till o’er drowsed the heavy flower-heads bend. 
  • Now sleep the crystal and heart-charmed waves 
  • Round white, sunstricken rocks the noontide long, 
  • Or ‘mid the coolness of dim lighted caves 
  • Sway in a trance of vague deliciousness; 
  • And I,--I am too deep in joy’s excess 
  • For the imperfect impulse of a song. 

In the Cathedral

  • The altar-lights burn low, the incense-fume 
  • Sickens: O listen, how the priestly prayer 
  • Runs as a fenland stream; a dim despair 
  • Hails through their chaunt of praise, who here inhume 
  • A clay-cold Faith within its carven tomb. 
  • But come thou forth into the vital air 
  • Keen, dark, and pure! grave Night is no betrayer, 
  • And if perchance some faint cold star illume 
  • Her brow of mystery, shall we walk forlorn? 
  • An altar of the natural rock may rise 
  • Somewhere for men who seek; there may be borne 
  • On the night-wind authentic prophecies: 
  • If not, let this--to breathe sane breath--suffice, 
  • Till in yon East, mayhap, the dark be worn. 

Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”

  • MAKE thyself known, Sibyl, or let despair 
  • Of knowing thee be absolute; I wait 
  • Hour-long and waste a soul. What word of fate 
  • Hides ‘twixt the lips which smile and still forbear? 
  • Secret perfection! Mystery too fair! 
  • Tangle the sense no more lest I should hate 
  • Thy delicate tyranny, the inviolate 
  • Poise of thy folded hands, thy fallen hair. 
  • Nay, nay,--I wrong thee with rough words; still be 
  • Serene, victorious, inaccessible; 
  • Still smile but speak not; lightest irony 
  • Lurk ever ‘neath thine eyelids’ shadow; still 
  • O’ertop our knowledge; Sphinx of Italy 
  • Allure us and reject us at thy will! 

Edward Dowden

Edward Dowden

Edward Dowden (1843-1913) was an Irish poet who also made a name for himself as a literary critic, with a special interest in Shakespeare, including his sonnets. In these studies, he often sought to connect Shakespeare’s works to the scant biographical information available about the Bard. His critical work is referenced by James Joyce in his novel Ulysses. A professor of English at Dublin University, Ireland, Dowden won numerous prizes for his critical work and for his verse.

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