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Swinburne, Algernon Charles

· ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE: THE GARDEN OF PROSERPINE · Photos & poetry: Ton van Kempen, Autumn 5 · Algernon Charles Swinburne: Five Poems · Algernon Charles Swinburne: Sunrise · Algernon Charles Swinburne: A New-Year Ode to Victor Hugo



Algernon Charles Swinburne

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep,
Of what may came hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or vine
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine.
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness, morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end, it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no man lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light;
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight;
Nor wintry nor vernal,
Nor days, nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.

Algernon Charles Swinburne poetry magazine

More in: Archive S-T, Swinburne, Algernon Charles

Photos & poetry: Ton van Kempen, Autumn 5

Algernon Charles Swinburne



Autumn And Winter

Three months bade wane and wax the wintering moon
Between two dates of death, while men were fain
Yet of the living light that all too soon
Three months bade wane.

Cold autumn, wan with wrath of wind and rain,
Saw pass a soul sweet as the sovereign tune
That death smote silent when he smote again.

First went my friend, in life’s mid light of noon,
Who loved the lord of music: then the strain
Whence earth was kindled like as heaven in June
Three months bade wane.

A herald soul before its master’s flying
Touched by some few moons first the darkling goal
Where shades rose up to greet the shade, espying
A herald soul;

Shades of dead lords of music, who control
Men living by the might of men undying,
With strength of strains that make delight of dole.

The deep dense dust on death’s dim threshold lying
Trembled with sense of kindling sound that stole
Through darkness, and the night gave ear, descrying
A herald soul.

One went before, one after, but so fast
They seem gone hence together, from the shore
Whence we now gaze: yet ere the mightier passed
One went before;

One whose whole heart of love, being set of yore
On that high joy which music lends us, cast
Light round him forth of music’s radiant store.

Then went, while earth on winter glared aghast,
The mortal god he worshipped, through the door
Wherethrough so late, his lover to the last,
One went before.

A star had set an hour before the sun
Sank from the skies wherethrough his heart’s pulse yet
Thrills audibly: but few took heed, or none,
A star had set.

All heaven rings back, sonorous with regret,
The deep dirge of the sunset: how should one
Soft star be missed in all the concourse met?

But, O sweet single heart whose work is done,
Whose songs are silent, how should I forget
That ere the sunset’s fiery goal was won
A star had set?


Ton van Kempen photos: Autumn 5

A.C. Swinburne poetry

kempis poetry magazine

More in: Swinburne, Algernon Charles, Ton van Kempen Photos

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Five Poems

Algernon Charles Swinburne


In the water

The sea is awake, and the sound of the song

of the joy of her waking is rolled

From afar to the star that recedes, from anear

to the wastes of the wild wide shore.

Her call is a trumpet compelling us homeward:

if dawn in her east be acold,

From the sea shall we crave not her grace to rekindle

the life that it kindled before,

Her breath to requicken, her bosom to rock us,

her kisses to bless as of yore?

For the wind, with his wings half open, at pause

in the sky, neither fettered nor free,

Leans waveward and flutters the ripple to laughter

and fain would the twain of us be

Where lightly the wave yearns forward from under

the curve of the deep dawn’s dome,

And, full of the morning and fired with the pride

of the glory thereof and the glee,

Strike out from the shore as the heart in us bids

and beseeches, athirst for the foam.

Life holds not an hour that is better to live in:

the past is a tale that is told,

The future a sun-flecked shadow, alive and asleep,

with a blessing in store.

As we give us again to the waters, the rapture

of limbs that the waters enfold

Is less than the rapture of spirit whereby,

though the burden it quits were sore,

Our souls and the bodies they wield at their will

are absorbed in the life they adore–

In the life that endures no burden, and bows not

the forehead, and bends not the knee–

In the life everlasting of earth and of heaven,

in the laws that atone and agree,

In the measureless music of things, in the fervour

of forces that rest or that roam,

That cross and return and reissue, as I

after you and as you after me

Strike out from the shore as the heart in us bids

and beseeches, athirst for the foam.

For, albeit he were less than the least of them, haply

the heart of a man may be bold

To rejoice in the word of the sea as a mother’s

that saith to the son she bore,

Child, was not the life in thee mine, and my spirit

the breath in thy lips from of old?

Have I let not thy weakness exult in my strength,

and thy foolishness learn of my lore?

Have I helped not or healed not thine anguish, or made not

the might of thy gladness more?

And surely his heart should answer, The light

of the love of my life is in thee.

She is fairer than earth, and the sun is not fairer,

the wind is not blither than she:

From my youth hath she shown me the joy of her bays

that I crossed, of her cliffs that I clomb,

Till now that the twain of us here, in desire

of the dawn and in trust of the sea,

Strike out from the shore as the heart in us bids

and beseeches, athirst for the foam.

Friend, earth is a harbour of refuge for winter,

a covert whereunder to flee

When day is the vassal of night, and the strength

of the hosts of her mightier than he;

But here is the presence adored of me, here

my desire is at rest and at home.

There are cliffs to be climbed upon land, there are ways

to be trodden and ridden, but we

Strike out from the shore as the heart in us bids

and beseeches, athirst for the foam.


After a reading

For the seven times seventh time love would renew

the delight without end or alloy

That it takes in the praise as it takes in the presence

of eyes that fulfil it with joy;

But how shall it praise them and rest unrebuked

by the presence and pride of the boy?

Praise meet for a child is unmeet for an elder

whose winters and springs are nine

What song may have strength in its wings to expand them,

or light in its eyes to shine,

That shall seem not as weakness and darkness if matched

with the theme I would fain make mine?

The round little flower of a face that exults

in the sunshine of shadowless days

Defies the delight it enkindles to sing of it

aught not unfit for the praise

Of the sweetest of all things that eyes may rejoice in

and tremble with love as they gaze.

Such tricks and such meanings abound on the lips

and the brows that are brighter than light,

The demure little chin, the sedate little nose,

and the forehead of sun-stained white,

That love overflows into laughter and laughter

subsides into love at the sight.

Each limb and each feature has action in tune

with the meaning that smiles as it speaks

From the fervour of eyes and the fluttering of hands

in a foretaste of fancies and freaks,

When the thought of them deepens the dimples that laugh

in the corners and curves of his cheeks.

As a bird when the music within her is yet

too intense to be spoken in song,

That pauses a little for pleasure to feel

how the notes from withinwards throng,

So pauses the laugh at his lips for a little,

and waxes within more strong.

As the music elate and triumphal that bids

all things of the dawn bear part

With the tune that prevails when her passion has risen

into rapture of passionate art,

So lightens the laughter made perfect that leaps

from its nest in the heaven of his heart.

Deep, grave and sedate is the gaze of expectant

intensity bent for awhile

And absorbed on its aim as the tale that enthralls him

uncovers the weft of its wile,

Till the goal of attention is touched, and expectancy

kisses delight in a smile.

And it seems to us here that in Paradise hardly

the spirit of Lamb or of Blake

May hear or behold aught sweeter than lightens

and rings when his bright thoughts break

In laughter that well might lure them to look,

and to smile as of old for his sake.

O singers that best loved children, and best

for their sakes are beloved of us here,

In the world of your life everlasting, where love

has no thorn and desire has no fear,

All else may be sweeter than aught is on earth,

nought dearer than these are dear.


Love and scorn


Love, loyallest and lordliest born of things,

Immortal that shouldst be, though all else end,

In plighted hearts of fearless friend with friend,

Whose hand may curb or clip thy plume-plucked wings?

Not grief’s nor time’s: though these be lords and kings

Crowned, and their yoke bid vassal passions bend,

They may not pierce the spirit of sense, or blend

Quick poison with the soul’s live watersprings.

The true clear heart whose core is manful trust

Fears not that very death may turn to dust

Love lit therein as toward a brother born,

If one touch make not all its fine gold rust,

If one breath blight not all its glad ripe corn,

And all its fire be turned to fire of scorn.


Scorn only, scorn begot of bitter proof

By keen experience of a trustless heart,

Bears burning in her new-born hand the dart

Wherewith love dies heart-stricken, and the roof

Falls of his palace, and the storied woof

Long woven of many a year with life’s whole art

Is rent like any rotten weed apart,

And hardly with reluctant eyes aloof

Cold memory guards one relic scarce exempt

Yet from the fierce corrosion of contempt,

And hardly saved by pity. Woe are we

That once we loved, and love not; but we know

The ghost of love, surviving yet in show,

Where scorn has passed, is vain as grief must be.


O sacred, just, inevitable scorn,

Strong child of righteous judgment, whom with grief

The rent heart bears, and wins not yet relief,

Seeing of its pain so dire a portent born,

Must thou not spare one sheaf of all the corn,

One doit of all the treasure? not one sheaf,

Not one poor doit of all? not one dead leaf

Of all that fell and left behind a thorn?

Is man so strong that one should scorn another?

Is any as God, not made of mortal mother,

That love should turn in him to gall and flame?

Nay: but the true is not the false heart’s brother:

Love cannot love disloyalty: the name

That else it wears is love no more, but shame.

A solitude

Sea beyond sea, sand after sweep of sand,

Here ivory smooth, here cloven and ridged with flow

Of channelled waters soft as rain or snow,

Stretch their lone length at ease beneath the bland

Grey gleam of skies whose smile on wave and strand

Shines weary like a man’s who smiles to know

That now no dream can mock his faith with show,

Nor cloud for him seem living sea or land.

Is there an end at all of all this waste,

These crumbling cliffs defeatured and defaced,

These ruinous heights of sea-sapped walls that slide

Seaward with all their banks of bleak blown flowers

Glad yet of life, ere yet their hope subside

Beneath the coil of dull dense waves and hours?

First and last

Upon the borderlands of being,

Where life draws hardly breath

Between the lights and shadows fleeing

Fast as a word one saith,

Two flowers rejoice our eyesight, seeing

The dawns of birth and death.

Behind the babe his dawn is lying

Half risen with notes of mirth

From all the winds about it flying

Through new-born heaven and earth:

Before bright age his day for dying

Dawns equal-eyed with birth.

Equal the dews of even and dawn,

Equal the sun’s eye seen

A hand’s breadth risen and half withdrawn:

But no bright hour between

Brings aught so bright by stream or lawn

To noonday growths of green.

Which flower of life may smell the sweeter

To love’s insensual sense,

Which fragrance move with offering meeter

His soothed omnipotence,

Being chosen as fairer or as fleeter,

Borne hither or borne hence,

Love’s foiled omniscience knows not: this

Were more than all he knows

With all his lore of bale and bliss,

The choice of rose and rose,

One red as lips that touch with his,

One white as moonlit snows.

No hope is half so sweet and good,

No dream of saint or sage

So fair as these are: no dark mood

But these might best assuage;

The sweet red rose of babyhood,

The white sweet rose of age.


Algernon Charles Swinburne: Five Poems

kempis poetry magazine

More in: PRE-RAPHAELITES, Swinburne, Algernon Charles

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Sunrise

Algernon Charles Swinburne


S u n r i s e

If the wind and the sunlight of April and August had mingled the

past and hereafter

In a single adorable season whose life were a rapture of love and

of laughter,

And the blithest of singers were back with a song; if again from

his tomb as from prison,

If again from the night or the twilight of ages Aristophanes had


With the gold-feathered wings of a bird that were also a god upon

earth at his shoulders,

And the gold-flowing laugh of the manhood of old at his lips, for a

joy to beholders,

He alone unrebuked of presumption were able to set to some adequate


The delight of our eyes in the dawn that restores them the sun of

their sense and the pleasure.

For the days of the darkness of spirit are over for all of us here,

and the season

When desire was a longing, and absence a thorn, and rejoicing a

word without reason.

For the roof overhead of the pines is astir with delight as of

jubilant voices,

And the floor underfoot of the bracken and heather alive as a heart

that rejoices.

For the house that was childless awhile, and the light of it

darkened, the pulse of it dwindled,

Rings radiant again with a child’s bright feet, with the light of

his face is rekindled.

And the ways of the meadows that knew him, the sweep of the down

that the sky’s belt closes,

Grow gladder at heart than the soft wind made them whose feet were

but fragrant with roses,

Though the fall of the year be upon us, who trusted in June and by

June were defrauded,

And the summer that brought us not back the desire of our eyes be

gone hence unapplauded.

For July came joyless among us, and August went out from us arid

and sterile,

And the hope of our hearts, as it seemed, was no more than a flower

that the seasons imperil,

And the joy of our hearts, as it seemed, than a thought which

regret had not heart to remember,

Till four dark months overpast were atoned for, and summer began in


Hark, April again as a bird in the house with a child’s voice

hither and thither:

See, May in the garden again with a child’s face cheering the woods

ere they wither.

June laughs in the light of his eyes, and July on the sunbright

cheeks of him slumbers,

And August glows in a smile more sweet than the cadence of

gold-mouthed numbers.

In the morning the sight of him brightens the sun, and the noon

with delight in him flushes,

And the silence of nightfall is music about him as soft as the

sleep that it hushes.

We awake with a sense of a sunrise that is not a gift of the

sundawn’s giving,

And a voice that salutes us is sweeter than all sounds else in the

world of the living,

And a presence that warms us is brighter than all in the world of

our visions beholden,

Though the dreams of our sleep were as those that the light of a

world without grief makes golden.

For the best that the best of us ever devised as a likeness of

heaven and its glory,

What was it of old, or what is it and will be for ever, in song or

in story,

Or in shape or in colour of carven or painted resemblance, adored

of all ages,

But a vision recorded of children alive in the pictures of old or

the pages?

Where children are not, heaven is not, and heaven if they come not

again shall be never:

But the face and the voice of a child are assurance of heaven and

its promise for ever.


kemp=mag poetry magazine

More in: Archive S-T, Swinburne, Algernon Charles

Algernon Charles Swinburne: A New-Year Ode to Victor Hugo

Algernon Charles Swinburne






To Victor Hugo


Twice twelve times have the springs of years refilled

Their fountains from the river-head of time

Since by the green sea’s marge, ere autumn chilled

Waters and woods with sense of changing clime,

A great light rose upon my soul, and thrilled

My spirit of sense with sense of spheres in chime,

Sound as of song wherewith a God would build

Towers that no force of conquering war might climb.

Wind shook the glimmering sea

Even as my soul in me

Was stirred with breath of mastery more sublime,

Uplift and borne along

More thunderous tides of song,

Where wave rang back to wave more rapturous rhyme

And world on world flashed lordlier light

Than ever lit the wandering ways of ships by night.



The spirit of God, whose breath of life is song,

Moved, though his word was human, on the face

Of those deep waters of the soul, too long

Dumb, dark, and cold, that waited for the grace

Wherewith day kindles heaven: and as some throng

Of quiring wings fills full some lone chill place

With sudden rush of life and joy, more strong

Than death or sorrow or all night’s darkling race,

So was my heart, that heard

All heaven in each deep word,

Filled full with light of thought, and waxed apace

Itself more wide and deep,

To take that gift and keep

And cherish while my days fulfilled their space;

A record wide as earth and sea,

The Legend writ of Ages past and yet to be.



As high the chant of Paradise and Hell

Rose, when the soul of Milton gave it wings;

As wide the sweep of Shakespeare’s empire fell,

When life had bared for him her secret springs;

But not his various soul might range and dwell

Amid the mysteries of the founts of things;

Nor Milton’s range of rule so far might swell

Across the kingdoms of forgotten kings.

Men, centuries, nations, time,

Life, death, love, trust, and crime,

Rang record through the change of smitten strings

That felt an exile’s hand

Sound hope for every land

More loud than storm’s cloud-sundering trumpet rings,

And bid strong death for judgment rise,

And life bow down for judgment of his awless eyes.



And death, soul-stricken in his strength, resigned

The keeping of the sepulchres to song;

And life was humbled, and his height of mind

Brought lower than lies a grave-stone fallen along;

And like a ghost and like a God mankind

Rose clad with light and darkness; weak and strong,

Clean and unclean, with eyes afire and blind,

Wounded and whole, fast bound with cord and thong,

Free; fair and foul, sin-stained,

And sinless; crowned and chained;

Fleet-limbed, and halting all his lifetime long;

Glad of deep shame, and sad

For shame’s sake; wise, and mad;

Girt round with love and hate of right and wrong;

Armed and disarmed for sleep and strife;

Proud, and sore fear made havoc of his pride of life.



Shadows and shapes of fable and storied sooth

Rose glorious as with gleam of gold unpriced;

Eve, clothed with heavenly nakedness and youth

That matched the morning’s; Cain, self-sacrificed

On crime’s first altar: legends wise as truth,

And truth in legends deep embalmed and spiced;

The stars that saw the starlike eyes of Ruth,

The grave that heard the clarion call of Christ.

And higher than sorrow and mirth

The heavenly song of earth

Sprang, in such notes as might have well sufficed

To still the storms of time

And sin’s contentious clime

With peace renewed of life reparadised:

Earth, scarred not yet with temporal scars;

Goddess of gods, our mother, chosen among the stars.



Earth fair as heaven, ere change and time set odds

Between them, light and darkness know not when,

And fear, grown strong through panic periods,

Crouched, a crowned worm, in faith’s Lernean fen,

And love lay bound, and hope was scourged with rods,

And death cried out from desert and from den,

Seeing all the heaven above him dark with gods

And all the world about him marred of men.

Cities that nought might purge

Save the sea’s whelming surge

From all the pent pollutions in their pen

Deep death drank down, and wrought,

With wreck of all things, nought,

That none might live of all their names again,

Nor aught of all whose life is breath

Serve any God whose likeness was not like to death.



Till by the lips and eyes of one live nation

The blind mute world found grace to see and speak,

And light watched rise a more divine creation

At that more godlike utterance of the Greek,

Let there be freedom. Kings whose orient station

Made pale the morn, and all her presage bleak,

Girt each with strengths of all his generation,

Dim tribes of shamefaced soul and sun-swart cheek,

Twice, urged with one desire,

Son following hard on sire,

With all the wrath of all a world to wreak,

And all the rage of night

Afire against the light

Whose weakness makes her strong-winged empire weak,

Stood up to unsay that saying, and fell

Too far for song, though song were thousand-tongued, to tell.



From those deep echoes of the loud Ægean

That rolled response whereat false fear was chid

By songs of joy sublime and Sophoclean,

Fresh notes reverberate westward rose to bid

All wearier times take comfort from the pæan

That tells the night what deeds the sunrise did,

Even till the lawns and torrents Pyrenean

Ring answer from the records of the Cid.

But never force of fountains

From sunniest hearts of mountains

Wherein the soul of hidden June was hid

Poured forth so pure and strong

Springs of reiterate song,

Loud as the streams his fame was reared amid,

More sweet than flowers they feed, and fair

With grace of lordlier sunshine and more lambent air.



A star more prosperous than the storm-clothed east’s

Clothed all the warm south-west with light like spring’s,

When hands of strong men spread the wolves their feasts

And from snake-spirited princes plucked the stings;

Ere earth, grown all one den of hurtling beasts,

Had for her sunshine and her watersprings

The fire of hell that warmed the hearts of priests,

The wells of blood that slaked the lips of kings.

The shadow of night made stone

Stood populous and alone,

Dense with its dead and loathed of living things

That draw not life from death,

And as with hell’s own breath

And clangour of immitigable wings

Vexed the fair face of Paris, made

Foul in its murderous imminence of sound and shade.



And all these things were parcels of the vision

That moved a cloud before his eyes, or stood

A tower half shattered by the strong collision

Of spirit and spirit, of evil gods with good;

A ruinous wall rent through with grim division,

Where time had marked his every monstrous mood

Of scorn and strength and pride and self-derision:

The Tower of Things, that felt upon it brood

Night, and about it cast

The storm of all the past

Now mute and forceless as a fire subdued:

Yet through the rifted years

And centuries veiled with tears

And ages as with very death imbrued

Freedom, whence hope and faith grow strong,

Smiles, and firm love sustains the indissoluble song.



Above the cloudy coil of days deceased,

Its might of flight, with mists and storms beset,

Burns heavenward, as with heart and hope increased,

For all the change of tempests, all the fret

Of frost or fire, keen fraud or force released,

Wherewith the world once wasted knows not yet

If evil or good lit all the darkling east

From the ardent moon of sovereign Mahomet.

Sublime in work and will

The song sublimer still

Salutes him, ere the splendour shrink and set;

Then with imperious eye

And wing that sounds the sky

Soars and sees risen as ghosts in concourse met

The old world’s seven elder wonders, firm

As dust and fixed as shadows, weaker than the worm.



High witness borne of knights high-souled and hoary

Before death’s face and empire’s rings and glows

Even from the dust their life poured forth left gory,

As the eagle’s cry rings after from the snows

Supreme rebuke of shame clothed round with glory

And hosts whose track the false crowned eagle shows;

More loud than sounds through stormiest song and story

The laugh of slayers whose names the sea-wind knows;

More loud than peals on land

In many a red wet hand

The clash of gold and cymbals as they close;

Loud as the blast that meets

The might of marshalled fleets

And sheds it into shipwreck, like a rose

Blown from a child’s light grasp in sign

That earth’s high lords are lords not over breeze and brine.




Above the dust and mire of man’s dejection

The wide-winged spirit of song resurgent sees

His wingless and long-labouring resurrection

Up the arduous heaven, by sore and strange degrees

Mount, and with splendour of the soul’s reflection

Strike heaven’s dark sovereign down upon his knees,

Pale in the light of orient insurrection,

And dumb before the almightier lord’s decrees

Who bade him be of yore,

Who bids him be no more:

And all earth’s heart is quickened as the sea’s,

Even as when sunrise burns

The very sea’s heart yearns

That heard not on the midnight-walking breeze

The wail that woke with evensong

From hearts of poor folk watching all the darkness long.



Dawn and the beams of sunbright song illume

Love, with strange children at her piteous breast,

By grace of weakness from the grave-mouthed gloom

Plucked, and by mercy lulled to living rest,

Soft as the nursling’s nigh the grandsire’s tomb

That fell on sleep, a bird of rifled nest;

Soft as the lips whose smile unsaid the doom

That gave their sire to violent death’s arrest.

Even for such love’s sake strong,

Wrath fires the inveterate song

That bids hell gape for one whose bland mouth blest

All slayers and liars that sighed

Prayer as they slew and lied

Till blood had clothed his priesthood as a vest,

And hears, though darkness yet be dumb,

The silence of the trumpet of the wrath to come.



Nor lacked these lights of constellated age

A star among them fed with life more dire,

Lit with his bloodied fame, whose withering rage

Made earth for heaven’s sake one funereal pyre

And life in faith’s name one appointed stage

For death to purge the souls of men with fire.

Heaven, earth, and hell on one thrice tragic page

Mixed all their light and darkness: one man’s lyre

Gave all their echoes voice;

Bade rose-cheeked love rejoice,

And cold-lipped craft with ravenous fear conspire,

And fire-eyed faith smite hope

Dead, seeing enthroned as Pope

And crowned of heaven on earth at hell’s desire

Sin, called by death’s incestuous name

Borgia: the world that heard it flushed and quailed with shame.



Another year, and hope triumphant heard

The consummating sound of song that spake

Conclusion to the multitudinous word

Whose expectation held her spirit awake

Till full delight for twice twelve years deferred

Bade all souls entering eat and drink, and take

A third time comfort given them, that the third

Might heap the measure up of twain, and make

The sinking year sublime

Among all sons of time

And fan in all men’s memories for his sake.

Each thought of ours became

Fire, kindling from his flame,

And music widening in his wide song’s wake.

Yea, and the world bore witness here

How great a light was risen upon this darkening year.



It was the dawn of winter: sword in sheath,

Change, veiled and mild, came down the gradual air

With cold slow smiles that hid the doom beneath.

Five days to die in yet were autumn’s, ere

The last leaf withered from his flowerless wreath.

South, east, and north, our skies were all blown bare,

But westward over glimmering holt and heath

Cloud, wind, and light had made a heaven more fair

Than ever dream or truth

Showed earth in time’s keen youth

When men with angels communed unaware.

Above the sun’s head, now

Veiled even to the ardent brow,

Rose two sheer wings of sundering cloud, that were

As a bird’s poised for vehement flight,

Full-fledged with plumes of tawny fire and hoar grey light.



As midnight black, as twilight brown, they spread,

But feathered thick with flame that streaked and lined

Their living darkness, ominous else of dread,

From south to northmost verge of heaven inclined

Most like some giant angel’s, whose bent head

Bowed earthward, as with message for mankind

Of doom or benediction to be shed

From passage of his presence. Far behind,

Even while they seemed to close,

Stoop, and take flight, arose

Above them, higher than heavenliest thought may find

In light or night supreme

Of vision or of dream,

Immeasurable of men’s eyes or mounting mind,

Heaven, manifest in manifold

Light of pure pallid amber, cheered with fire of gold.



And where the fine gold faded all the sky

Shone green as the outer sea when April glows,

Inlaid with flakes and feathers fledged to fly

Of cloud suspense in rapture and repose,

With large live petals, broad as love bids lie

Full open when the sun salutes the rose,

And small rent sprays wherewith the heavens most high

Were strewn as autumn strews the garden-close

With ruinous roseleaves whirled

About their wan chill world,

Through wind-worn bowers that now no music knows,

Spoil of the dim dusk year

Whose utter night is near,

And near the flower of dawn beyond it blows;

Till east and west were fire and light,

As though the dawn to come had flushed the coming night.



The highways paced of men that toil or play,

The byways known of none but lonely feet,

Were paven of purple woven of night and day

With hands that met as hands of friends might meet–

As though night’s were not lifted up to slay

And day’s had waxed not weaker. Peace more sweet

Than music, light more soft than shadow, lay

On downs and moorlands wan with day’s defeat,

That watched afar above

Life’s very rose of love

Let all its lustrous leaves fall, fade, and fleet,

And fill all heaven and earth

Full as with fires of birth

Whence time should feed his years with light and heat:

Nay, not life’s, but a flower more strong

Than life or time or death, love’s very rose of song.



Song visible, whence all men’s eyes were lit

With love and loving wonder: song that glowed

Through cloud and change on souls that knew not it

And hearts that wist not whence their comfort flowed,

Whence fear was lightened of her fever-fit,

Whence anguish of her life-compelling load.

Yea, no man’s head whereon the fire alit,

Of all that passed along that sunset road

Westward, no brow so drear,

No eye so dull of cheer,

No face so mean whereon that light abode,

But as with alien pride

Strange godhead glorified

Each feature flushed from heaven with fire that showed

The likeness of its own life wrought

By strong transfiguration as of living thought.



Nor only clouds of the everlasting sky,

Nor only men that paced that sunward way

To the utter bourne of evening, passed not by

Unblest or unillumined: none might say,

Of all things visible in the wide world’s eye,

That all too low for all that grace it lay:

The lowliest lakelets of the moorland nigh,

The narrowest pools where shallowest wavelets play,

Were filled from heaven above

With light like fire of love,

With flames and colours like a dawn in May,

As hearts that lowlier live

With light of thoughts that give

Light from the depth of souls more deep than they

Through song’s or story’s kindling scroll,

The splendour of the shadow that reveals the soul.



For, when such light is in the world, we share,

All of us, all the rays thereof that shine:

Its presence is alive in the unseen air,

Its fire within our veins as quickening wine;

A spirit is shed on all men everywhere,

Known or not known of all men for divine.

Yea, as the sun makes heaven, that light makes fair

All souls of ours, all lesser souls than thine,

Priest, prophet, seer and sage,

Lord of a subject age

That bears thy seal upon it for a sign;

Whose name shall be thy name,

Whose light thy light of fame,

The light of love that makes thy soul a shrine;

Whose record through all years to be

Shall bear this witness written–that its womb bare thee.



O mystery, whence to one man’s hand was given

Power upon all things of the spirit, and might

Whereby the veil of all the years was riven

And naked stood the secret soul of night!

O marvel, hailed of eyes whence cloud is driven,

That shows at last wrong reconciled with right

By death divine of evil and sin forgiven!

O light of song, whose fire is perfect light!

No speech, no voice, no thought,

No love, avails us aught

For service of thanksgiving in his sight

Who hath given us all for ever

Such gifts that man gave never

So many and great since first Time’s wings took flight.

Man may not praise a spirit above

Man’s: life and death shall praise him: we can only love.



Life, everlasting while the worlds endure,

Death, self-abased before a power more high,

Shall bear one witness, and their word stand sure,

That not till time be dead shall this man die

Love, like a bird, comes loyal to his lure;

Fame flies before him, wingless else to fly.

A child’s heart toward his kind is not more pure,

An eagle’s toward the sun no lordlier eye.

Awe sweet as love and proud

As fame, though hushed and bowed,

Yearns toward him silent as his face goes by:

All crowns before his crown

Triumphantly bow down,

For pride that one more great than all draws nigh:

All souls applaud, all hearts acclaim,

One heart benign, one soul supreme, one conquering name.


Algernon Charles Swinburne: A New-Year Ode to Victor Hugo magazine – magazine for art & literature

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