Mors Veneris


[Image: ‘Head of Orpheus’ detail, Gustave Moreau, 1865]



During the Victorian era, there was a renewed pining for the simplicity of pagan times (albeit, very idealized and revised by the Victorians themselves). This was particularly true of Algernon Charles Swinburne and others within his circle. It was imagined that in the Classical world, one could satisfy one’s desires guilt-free, and pleasure was a flower that grew in great profusion; plucked by one and all at their merest whim. The complexities and labyrinthine moral protocols of the 19’th century were burdensome to many, but were the only officially sanctioned modes of social behavior. The siren’s song of simpler pagan times grew slowly louder, only to crest in the 1960’s and 1970s.


If one were to attempt to personify the pagan era, several entities come to mind; Pan, Dionysius, Bacchus, etc., but to express the beauty, purity, fertility and seductiveness of Nature herself, one must invoke the name of Venus / Aphrodite / Cypris. She alone remains elemental; Mother of all; Desire and satisfaction; in short, she is the much sought-after ‘Home’.


With the fall of pagan Rome, so too was Venus banished from her temple and cast beneath the soil, only to fecundate it secretly and patiently, awaiting a new, and much longed-for, ‘Golden Age’…


Mors Veneris



La fleur des yeux est morte au jardin de ton corps,

Et les grands lys des bras et les glaïeuls des lèvres

Et les pourpres raisins de ton grand corps sont morts

Au beau jardin, les raisins clairs sont morts au vent du Nord.


Les cormorans des soirs d’octobre ont laissé choir

Leur deuil de plume à plume au jardin de la joie ;

Immensément, ont laissé choir leur deuil de soir

Sur les chemins du beau jardin d’espoir.


Tant d’échos morts ! Et mortes tant de voix !

Et deuil ! – au loin sur l’horizon de cendre rouge

Des arbres crient au ciel leurs branchages en croix :

Miserere par les grands soirs et les grands bois !


Sois doucement l’ensevelie au jardin clair

-- Vénus – des pâles lys des bras et des glaïeuls des lèvres

Et des vignes rouges du soir – mais que dans l’air

Persiste à s’élargir l’odeur immense de ta chair.


Tes épaules pures et la guerrière ardeur

De ta tête, debout sur elles

Intimidaient le temps mortel et tes prunelles

Définissaient l’éternité de la splendeur.


Tes mains douces comme du miel vermeil,

Cueillaient divinement aux espaliers de l’heure

Les fruits riches du jour à son éveil,

Ta chevelure était un buisson de soleil,


Ton torse avec ses feux de clarté ronde

Tendait un firmament d’ardeur vers le désir

Et par dessous tes bras noués sur leur plaisir

Le rythme de tes seins rythmait l’ordre du monde.


Sois doucement l’ensevelie et la perdue

Au jardin mort, parmi les bois et les parfums,

Avec, sur ton sommeil, la douceur suspendue

D’une rose d’automne et d’ouragan tordue.



Émile Verhaeren, publiée dans La Plume, 1 Janvier 1891.





Mors Veneris

(The Death of Venus)


The flower of eyes is dead within the garden of your body,

And the great lilies of arms and the gladioli of lips

And the purple grapes of your grand body are dead

Amid the beautiful garden, the bright grapes are dead from the North wind.


The cormorants of October evenings have let fall

Their grief feather by feather in the garden of Joy;

Immensely, have let fall their sorrow at nightfall

On the pathways of the lovely garden of Hope.


So many dead echoes! And how dead the voice!

And mournful! On the distant horizon of red ash

Trees cry out to heaven with their crossed branches:

Miserere played by great dusks and vast woods!


Let her be gently buried in the garden bright

-- Venus – of pale lily arms and gladioli lips

And red vines of evening – But in the air

The immensity of your skin’s scent persists and expands.


Your pure shoulders and the healing ardour

Of your head, stand before them

Intimidating mortal Time and the pupils of your eyes

Define the eternity of splendour.


Your sweet hands as of vermillion honey,

Gather divinely from the trellises of the hour

The rich fruits of day’s dawning,

Your tresses were a mantle of the sun,


Your torso with its rounded, fiery light

Extended a firmament of ardour toward Desire

And beneath your supporting arms, to their delight,

The swaying of your breasts gave rhythmic order to the world.


Gently they gathered her and lost her

In a dead garden, among the woods and perfumes,

With, above your slumber, the floating sweetness

Of a rose autumnal and a twisted hurricane.



Émile Verhaeren, published in La Plume, 1 January 1891.

[Traduction Anglaise : Sardonique Schadenfreude Rictus / D. Bathybius, 2008]