Javanese Dancers

TWITCHED strings, the clang of metal, beaten drums,
Dull, shrill, continuous, disquieting:
And now the stealthy dancer comes
Undulantly with cat-like steps that cling;

Smiling between her painted lids a smile,
Motionless, unintelligible, she twines
Her fingers into mazy lines,
The scarves across her fingers twine the while.

One, two, three, four glide forth, and, to and fro,
Delicately and imperceptibly,
Now swaying gently in a row,
Now interthreading slow and rhythmically,

Still, with fixed eyes, monotonously still,
Mysteriously, with smiles inanimate,
With lingering feet that undulate,
With sinuous fingers, spectral hands that thrill

In measure while the gnats of music whirr,
The little amber-coloured dancers move,
Like painted idols seen to stir
By the idolators in a magic grove.

Arthur Symons (1865 - 1945)

"Art begins when a man wishes to immortalize the most vivid moment he has ever lived," remarked Arthur Symons who was a leading essayist and critic during the latter part of the 19th century, as well as an important leader of the 'decadent' school of poetry.

In Javanese Dancers many elements of decadence are present and most striking here are the presence of exotic vocabulary, complex syntax, rhythms that are rich in evocative and sensuous effects, abulia and the substitution of coherence in mood for coherence and synthesis in thought. You may be able to find more. This piece was written in 1889 the same year Symons published Days and Nights, his first volume of verse. That year he also met Robert Browning. Three years later he published The Decadent Movement in Literature From 1908 until 1913 he struggled with mental illness and was in and out of asylums in Europe and from 1913 to 1934 he wrote several published works including Confessions: A Study in Pathology a book containing Symons's description of his breakdown and treatment. In the thirties, the sight of Symons inspired the poem On Seeing an Old Poet in the Café Royal by John Betjeman. Arthur Symons died of pneumonia in 1945.

Javanese Dancers was published in 1889, copyright has expired and to the best of my knowledge the work is in public domain.


Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:


CST Approved

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