My childhood was only a menacing shower,
cut now and then by hours of brilliant heat.
All the top soil was killed by rain and sleet,
my garden hardly bore a standing flower.
From now on, my mind’s autumn! I must take
the field and dress my bed with spade and rake
and restore order to my flooded grounds.
There the rain raised mountains like burial mounds.
(Translation of “L’Ennemi” by Robert Lowell)
You have the face that suits a woman
For her soul’s screen —
The sort of beauty that’s called human
The meaning of the name Faustine is “made of the stuff of Faust,” just as Eve was made from the rib of Adam and Pandora at the hands of Hephaestus. By Swinburne’s own admission, Faustine’s unearthly beauty signals a missed opportunity for exaltation, a gift she squanders “to waste the loves and ruin the lives of men.”
The poem is concerned with one central idea, he says:
“…the transmigration of a single soul, doomed as though by accident from the first to all evil and no good, through many ages and forms, but clad always in the same type of fleshly beauty.”
And she has taken many forms through the ages, both in mythology and in literature. The gorgeous Faustine who is caressed by dishonest serpents and receives “flower of kisses without fruit of love”–she could be Daisy Buchanan, or Rosamond Vincy, or even Lily Bart. The awareness that beautiful, hollow monsters are made, not born, varies in each of these works, but there is virtually none in Swinburne’s (otherwise quite moving) poem.
You seem a thing that hinges hold,
With clockwork joints of supple gold —
No more, Faustine.