Context: Of this poem, Swinburne himself wrote, "'Faustine' is the reverie of a man gazing on the bitter and vicious loveliness of a face . . . and dreaming of past lives in which this fair face may have held a nobler or fitter station." He says that the idea of the poem is "the transmigration of a single soul, doomed as though by accident from the first to all evil and no good." As the epigraph of the poem suggests, the Faustine of the title is either the notorious wife of Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor, or her even more notorious daughter of the same name, the wife of Marcus Aurelius. Whenever she lives, suggests the poet, this soul serves but one god, the Lampsacene Priapus, a fertility god. If a man should truly love her, she would give him poison, or some other evil, being herself incapable of love. Faustine is the kind of woman who enjoys games in which men die, as though she is revived by "the slain man's blood and breath."
But though she craves love, her own love is but maimed and mean. It is no more than mere lust, perhaps close to hate; the poet says, addressing her:You seem a thing that hinges hold,A love-machineWith clockwork joints of supple gold–No more, Faustine.Not godless, for you serve one God,The Lampsacene,Who metes the gardens with his rod;Your lord, Faustine.