Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Sudden Light was written in 1853 or thereabouts, and first published in 1863 in Poems: An Offering to Lancashire. It appeared in various versions over the next three decades, finally ending with a different last verse (see below) to that originally published. Rossetti’s déjà vu of an intimate relationship is deliciously sent-up by Morris Bishop.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?
We Have Been Here Before
Morris Bishop (1893-1973), American historian, humorist and poet in The New Yorker, October 1938
I think I remember this moorland,
The tower on the tip of the tor;
I feel in the distance another existence;
I think I have been here before.
And I think you were sitting beside me
In a fold on the face of the fell;
For time in its work’ll go round in a circle,
And what is befalling befell.
“I have been here before” I asserted.
In a nook on a neck of the Nile.
I once in a crisis was punished by Isis,
And you smiled. I remember your smile.
I had the same sense of persistence
On the site of the seat of the Sioux;
I heard in the tepee the sound of a sleepy
Pleistocene grunt. It was you.
The past made a promise before it
Began to begin to be gone,
This limited gamut brings you again. Damn it,
How long does this have to go on?