Francis Thompson: To Olivia

Bryce Cameron Liston - Sweetness and Light - from

Bryce Cameron Liston – Sweetness and Light – from

In the “Biographical Note” introducing the book Selected Poems of Francis Thompson, Wilfrid Meynell writes of Francis Thompson:

The children of the family in London, into which he was received, were the subjects of Poppy, The Making of Viola, To Monica Thought Dying, To my Godchild—all in the first book of Poems; while two of their number have a noble heritage in Sister Songs. Constant to the end, when he died some newly pencilled lines were found, addressed “To Olivia,” a yet younger sister, recalling the strains of fifteen years before.

Indeed, this poem dedicated to the fourth Meynell daughter was published by Wilfrid Meynell after Thompson’s death.

Here Thompson says that he fears loving Olivia precisely because she is a child and not a woman. Indeed, as she grows, she might change her feelings and stop loving the poet.

To Olivia

I fear to love thee, Sweet, because
Love’s the ambassador of loss;
White flake of childhood, clinging so
To my soiled raiment, thy shy snow
At tenderest touch will shrink and go.
Love me not, delightful child.
My heart, by many snares beguiled,
Has grown timorous and wild.
It would fear thee not at all,
Wert thou not so harmless-small.
Because thy arrows, not yet dire,
Are still unbarbed with destined fire,
I fear thee more than hadst thou stood
Full-panoplied in womanhood.

Source of the poem: The works of Francis Thompson, Poems: Volume 1, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913, available on Internet Archives. I used the transcription in PoemHunter and PoetryNook.


3 thoughts on “Francis Thompson: To Olivia

  1. [Irrelevant personal talk removed — Editor]

    Also sad to know that at that time even young girls are considered just children, I thought that at the times of the empires everything was better…


  2. Il est clair dans le commentaire introductif à ce poème, que cette jeune Olivia était encore impubère à l’époque où Francis Thompson lui “déclara sa flamme” (comme on dit entre gens bien éduqués !) par poésie interposée.


    • D’après Olivia Meynell est née en 1890, tandis que Thompson a publié son deuxième recueil de poésies en 1897 et est mort en 1907, donc elle avait entre 7 et 17 ans quand il a écrit ce poème. On ne peut dire plus, car à cette époque, une jeune fille de 15 ans se faisait encore traiter comme une enfant.


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