Algernon Charles Swinburne Poems
Born in London in 1837, Algernon Swinburne became one of the most well-known poets of the Victorian age, producing verse that often shocked and shook the morals of the conservative elite of the city. The oldest of 6 children in a wealthy family, he was sent to Eton to begin his studies where he discovered his love of poetry and began to write.
Algernon Charles Swinburne Bio
At Oxford he was temporarily expelled and, although he returned to complete his studies, he never actually received his university degree. In his heart, Algernon Swinburne believed he belonged to his family home of Northumberland and would write long lyric poems in praise of the countryside. He was prone to over indulging in drink, and spent some time in France recovering from his alcoholic excesses in 1861.
When he was well enough, he traveled to Italy where he made the acquaintance of writers such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His first work was published in 1860 but received little or no reaction from the general public or critics. His success came in 1865 when he wrote Atalanta in Claydon, created to mirror the form of a Greek epic tragedy.
More notable was the publication of Poems and Ballads in the year following, a collection that earned him a fair deal of infamy with its themes that were perceived to be indecent at the time. His poem Anactoria contained mentions of sadomasochism and cannibalism and was typical of some of the areas he explored.
Between the green bud and the red
Youth sat and sang by Time, and shed
From eyes and tresses flowers and tears,
From heart and spirit hopes and fears,
Upon the hollow stream whose bed
Is channelled by the foamless years;
And with the white the gold-haired head
Mixed running locks, and in Time’s ears
Youth’s dreams hung singing, and Time’s truth
Was half not harsh in the ears of Youth.
Between the bud and the blown flower
Youth talked with joy and grief an hour,
With footless joy and wingless grief
And twin-born faith and disbelief
Who share the seasons to devour;
And long ere these made up their sheaf
Felt the winds round him shake and shower
The rose-red and the blood-red leaf,
Delight whose germ grew never grain,
And passion dyed in its own pain.
Then he stood up, and trod to dust
Fear and desire, mistrust and trust,
And dreams of bitter sleep and sweet,
And bound for sandals on his feet
Knowledge and patience of what must
And what things may be, in the heat
And cold of years that rot and rust
And alter; and his spirit’s meat
Was freedom, and his staff was wrought
Of strength, and his cloak woven of thought.
For what has he whose will sees clear
To do with doubt and faith and fear,
Swift hopes and slow despondencies?
His heart is equal with the sea’s
And with the sea-wind’s, and his ear
Is level to the speech of these,
And his soul communes and takes cheer
With the actual earth’s equalities,
Air, light, and night, hills, winds, and streams,
And seeks not strength from strengthless dreams.
His soul is even with the sun
Whose spirit and whose eye are one,
Who seeks not stars by day, nor light
And heavy heat of day by night.
Him can no God cast down, whom none
Can lift in hope beyond the height
Of fate and nature and things done
By the calm rule of might and right
That bids men be and bear and do,
And die beneath blind skies or blue.
To him the lights of even and morn
Speak no vain things of love or scorn,
Fancies and passions miscreate
By man in things dispassionate.
Nor holds he fellowship forlorn
With souls that pray and hope and hate,
And doubt they had better not been born,
And fain would lure or scare off fate
And charm their doomsman from their doom
And make fear dig its own false tomb.
He builds not half of doubts and half
Of dreams his own soul’s cenotaph,
Whence hopes and fears with helpless eyes,
Wrapt loose in cast-off cerecloths, rise
And dance and wring their hands and laugh,
And weep thin tears and sigh light sighs,
And without living lips would quaff
The living spring in man that lies,
And drain his soul of faith and strength
It might have lived on a life’s length.
He hath given himself and hath not sold
To God for heaven or man for gold,
Or grief for comfort that it gives,
Or joy for grief’s restoratives.
He hath given himself to time, whose fold
Shuts in the mortal flock that lives
On its plain pasture’s heat and cold
And the equal year’s alternatives.
Earth, heaven, and time, death, life, and he,
Endure while they shall be to be.
“Yet between death and life are hours
To flush with love and hide in flowers;
What profit save in these?” men cry:
“Ah, see, between soft earth and sky,
What only good things here are ours!”
They say, “what better wouldst thou try,
What sweeter sing of? or what powers
Serve, that will give thee ere thou die
More joy to sing and be less sad,
More heart to play and grow more glad?”
Play then and sing; we too have played,
We likewise, in that subtle shade.
We too have twisted through our hair
Such tendrils as the wild Loves wear,
And heard what mirth the Maenads made,
Till the wind blew our garlands bare
And left their roses disarrayed,
And smote the summer with strange air,
And disengirdled and discrowned
The limbs and locks that vine-wreaths bound.
We too have tracked by star-proof trees
The tempest of the Thyiades
Scare the loud night on hills that hid
The blood-feasts of the Bassarid,
Heard their song’s iron cadences
Fright the wolf hungering from the kid,
Outroar the lion-throated seas,
Outchide the north-wind if it chid,
And hush the torrent-tongued ravines
With thunders of their tambourines.
But the fierce flute whose notes acclaim
Dim goddesses of fiery fame,
Cymbal and clamorous kettledrum,
Timbrels and tabrets, all are dumb
That turned the high chill air to flame;
The singing tongues of fire are numb
That called on Cotys by her name
Edonian, till they felt her come
And maddened, and her mystic face
Lightened along the streams of Thrace.
For Pleasure slumberless and pale,
And Passion with rejected veil,
Pass, and the tempest-footed throng
Of hours that follow them with song
Till their feet flag and voices fail,
And lips that were so loud so long
Learn silence, or a wearier wail;
So keen is change, and time so strong,
To weave the robes of life and rend
And weave again till life have end.
But weak is change, but strengthless time,
To take the light from heaven, or climb
The hills of heaven with wasting feet.
Songs they can stop that earth found meet,
But the stars keep their ageless rhyme;
Flowers they can slay that spring thought sweet,
But the stars keep their spring sublime;
Passions and pleasures can defeat,
Actions and agonies control,
And life and death, but not the soul.
Because man’s soul is man’s God still,
What wind soever waft his will
Across the waves of day and night
To port or shipwreck, left or right,
By shores and shoals of good and ill;
And still its flame at mainmast height
Through the rent air that foam-flakes fill
Sustains the indomitable light
Whence only man hath strength to steer
Or helm to handle without fear.
Save his own soul’s light overhead,
None leads him, and none ever led,
Across birth’s hidden harbour-bar,
Past youth where shoreward shallows are,
Through age that drives on toward the red
Vast void of sunset hailed from far,
To the equal waters of the dead;
Save his own soul he hath no star,
And sinks, except his own soul guide,
Helmless in middle turn of tide.
No blast of air or fire of sun
Puts out the light whereby we run
With girded loins our lamplit race,
And each from each takes heart of grace
And spirit till his turn be done,
And light of face from each man’s face
In whom the light of trust is one;
Since only souls that keep their place
By their own light, and watch things roll,
And stand, have light for any soul.
A little time we gain from time
To set our seasons in some chime,
For harsh or sweet or loud or low,
With seasons played out long ago
And souls that in their time and prime
Took part with summer or with snow,
Lived abject lives out or sublime,
And had their chance of seed to sow
For service or disservice done
To those days daed and this their son.
A little time that we may fill
Or with such good works or such ill
As loose the bonds or make them strong
Wherein all manhood suffers wrong.
By rose-hung river and light-foot rill
There are who rest not; who think long
Till they discern as from a hill
At the sun’s hour of morning song,
Known of souls only, and those souls free,
The sacred spaces of the sea.
Quia Multum Amavit
I, God, the spirit of man?
Wherefore now these eighteen years hast thou forgotten me,
From whom thy life began?
Thy life-blood and thy life-breath and thy beauty,
Thy might of hands and feet,
Thy soul made strong for divinity of duty
And service which was sweet.
Through the red sea brimmed with blood didst thou not follow me,
As one that walks in trance?
Was the storm strong to break or the sea to swallow thee,
When thou wast free and France?
I am Freedom, God and man, O France, that plead with thee;
How long now shall I plead?
Was I not with thee in travail, and in need with thee,
Thy sore travail and need?
Thou wast fairest and first of my virgin-vested daughters,
Fairest and foremost thou;
And thy breast was white, though thy hands were red with slaughters,
Thy breast, a harlot’s now.
O foolish virgin and fair among the fallen,
A ruin where satyrs dance,
A garden wasted for beasts to crawl and brawl in,
What hast thou done with France?
Where is she who bared her bosom but to thunder,
Her brow to storm and flame,
And before her face was the red sea cloven in sunder
And all its waves made tame?
And the surf wherein the broad-based rocks were shaking
She saw far off divide,
At the blast of the breath of the battle blown and breaking,
And weight of wind and tide;
And the ravin and the ruin of throned nations
And every royal race,
And the kingdoms and kings from the state of their high stations
That fell before her face.
Yea, great was the fall of them, all that rose against her,
From the earth’s old-historied heights;
For my hands were fire, and my wings as walls that fenced her,
Mine eyes as pilot-lights.
Not as guerdons given of kings the gifts I brought her,
Not strengths that pass away;
But my heart, my breath of life, O France, O daughter,
I gave thee in that day.
Yea, the heart’s blood of a very God I gave thee,
Breathed in thy mouth his breath;
Was my word as a man’s, having no more strength to save thee
From this worse thing than death?
Didst thou dream of it only, the day that I stood nigh thee,
Was all its light a dream?
When that iron surf roared backwards and went by thee
Unscathed of storm or stream:
When thy sons rose up and thy young men stood together,
One equal face of fight,
And my flag swam high as the swimming sea-foam’s feather,
Laughing, a lamp of light?
Ah the lordly laughter and light of it, that lightened
Heaven-high, the heaven’s whole length!
Ah the hearts of heroes pierced, the bright lips whitened
Of strong men in their strength!
Ah the banner-poles, the stretch of straightening streamers
Straining their full reach out!
Ah the men’s hands making true the dreams of dreamers,
The hopes brought forth in doubt!
Ah the noise of horse, the charge and thunder of drumming,
And swaying and sweep of swords!
Ah the light that led them through of the world’s life coming,
Clear of its lies and lords!
By the lightning of the lips of guns whose flashes
Made plain the strayed world’s way;
By the flame that left her dead old sins in ashes,
Swept out of sight of day;
By thy children whose bare feet were shod with thunder,
Their bare hands mailed with fire;
By the faith that went with them, waking fear and wonder,
Heart’s love and high desire;
By the tumult of the waves of nations waking
Blind in the loud wide night;
By the wind that went on the world’s waste waters, making
Their marble darkness white,
As the flash of the flakes of the foam flared lamplike, leaping
From wave to gladdening wave,
Making wide the fast-shut eyes of thraldom sleeping
The sleep of the unclean grave;
By the fire of equality, terrible, devouring,
Divine, that brought forth good;
By the lands it purged and wasted and left flowering
With bloom of brotherhood;
By the lips of fraternity that for love’s sake uttered
Fierce words and fires of death,
But the eyes were deep as love’s, and the fierce lips fluttered
With love’s own living breath;
By thy weaponed hands, brows helmed, and bare feet spurning
The bared head of a king;
By the storm of sunrise round thee risen and burning,
Why hast thou done this thing?
Thou hast mixed thy limbs with the son of a harlot, a stranger,
Mouth to mouth, limb to limb,
Thou, bride of a God, because of the bridesman Danger,
To bring forth seed to him.
For thou thoughtest inly, the terrible bridegroom wakes me,
When I would sleep, to go;
The fire of his mouth consumes, and the red kiss shakes me,
More bitter than a blow.
Rise up, my beloved, go forth to meet the stranger,
Put forth thine arm, he saith;
Fear thou not at all though the bridesman should be Danger,
The bridesmaid should be Death.
I the bridegroom, am I not with thee, O bridal nation,
O wedded France, to strive?
To destroy the sins of the earth with divine devastation,
Till none be left alive?
Lo her growths of sons, foliage of men and frondage,
Broad boughs of the old-world tree,
With iron of shame and with pruning-hooks of bondage
They are shorn from sea to sea.
Lo, I set wings to thy feet that have been wingless,
Till the utter race be run;
Till the priestless temples cry to the thrones made kingless,
Are we not also undone?
Till the immeasurable Republic arise and lighten
Above these quick and dead,
And her awful robes be changed, and her red robes whiten,
Her warring-robes of red.
But thou wouldst not, saying, I am weary and faint to follow,
Let me lie down and rest;
And hast sought out shame to sleep with, mire to wallow,
Yea, a much fouler breast:
And thine own hast made prostitute, sold and shamed and bared it,
Thy bosom which was mine,
And the bread of the word I gave thee hast soiled, and shared it
Among these snakes and swine.
As a harlot thou wast handled and polluted,
Thy faith held light as foam,
That thou sentest men thy sons, thy sons imbruted,
To slay thine elder Rome.
Therefore O harlot, I gave thee to the accurst one,
By night to be defiled,
To thy second shame, and a fouler than the first one,
That got thee first with child.
Yet I know thee turning back now to behold me,
To bow thee and make thee bare,
Not for sin’s sake but penitence, by my feet to hold me,
And wipe them with thine hair.
And sweet ointment of thy grief thou hast brought thy master,
And set before thy lord,
From a box of flawed and broken alabaster,
Thy broken spirit, poured.
And love-offerings, tears and perfumes, hast thou given me,
To reach my feet and touch;
Therefore thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee,
Because thou hast loved much.
Sleep, when a soul that her own clouds cover
Wails that sorrow should always keep
Watch, nor see in the gloom above her
Down, through darkness naked and steep,
Sinks, and the gifts of his grace recover
Soon the soul, though her wound be deep.
God beloved of us, all men’s lover,
All most weary that smile or weep
Feel thee afar or anear them hover,
At the turn of the fluctuant hours,
When the waters of time are at height,
In a vision arose on my sight
The kingdoms of earth and the powers.In a dream without lightening of eyes
I saw them, children of earth,
Nations and races arise,
Each one after his wise,
Signed with the sign of his birth.Sound was none of their feet,
Light was none of their faces;
In their lips breath was not, or heat,
But a subtle murmur and sweet
As of water in wan waste places.Pale as from passionate years,
Years unassuaged of desire,
Sang they soft in mine ears,
Crowned with jewels of tears,
Girt with girdles of fire.
A slow song beaten and broken,
As it were from the dust and the dead,
As of spirits athirst unsloken,
As of things unspeakable spoken,
As of tears unendurable shed.
In the manifold sound remote,
In the molten murmur of song,
There was but a sharp sole note
Alive on the night and afloat,
The cry of the world’s heart’s wrong.
As the sea in the strait sea-caves,
The sound came straitened and strange;
A noise of the rending of graves,
A tidal thunder of waves,
The music of death and of change.
“We have waited so long,” they say,
“For a sound of the God, for a breath,
For a ripple of the refluence of day,
For the fresh bright wind of the fray,
For the light of the sunrise of death.
“We have prayed not, we, to be strong,
To fulfil the desire of our eyes;
– Howbeit they have watched for it long,
Watched, and the night did them wrong,
Yet they say not of day, shall it rise?
“They are fearful and feeble with years,
Yet they doubt not of day if it be;
Yea, blinded and beaten with tears,
Yea, sick with foresight of fears,
Yet a little, and hardly, they see.
“We pray not, we, for the palm,
For the fruit ingraffed of the fight,
For the blossom of peace and the balm,
And the tender triumph and calm
Of crownless and weaponless right.
“We pray not, we, to behold
The latter august new birth,
The young day’s purple and gold,
And divine, and rerisen as of old,
The sun-god Freedom on earth.
“Peace, and world’s honour, and fame,
We have sought after none of these things;
The light of a life like flame
Passing, the storm of a name
Shaking the strongholds of kings:
“Nor, fashioned of fire and of air,
The splendour that burns on his head
Who was chiefest in ages that were,
Whose breath blew palaces bare,
Whose eye shone tyrannies dead:
“All these things in your day
Ye shall see, O our sons, and shall hold
Surely; but we, in the grey
Twilight, for one thing we pray,
In that day though our memories be cold:
“To feel on our brows as we wait
An air of the morning, a breath
From the springs of the east, from the gate
Whence freedom issues, and fate,
Sorrow, and triumph, and death
“From a land whereon time hath not trod,
Where the spirit is bondless and bare,
And the world’s rein breaks, and the rod,
And the soul of a man, which is God,
He adores without altar or prayer:
For alone of herself and her right
She takes, and alone gives grace:
And the colours of things lose light,
And the forms, in the limitless white
Splendour of space without space:
“And the blossom of man from his tomb
Yearns open, the flower that survives;
And the shadows of changes consume
In the colourless passionate bloom
Of the live light made of our lives:
“Seeing each life given is a leaf
Of the manifold multiform flower,
And the least among these, and the chief,
As an ear in the red-ripe sheaf
Stored for the harvesting hour.
“O spirit of man, most holy,
The measure of things and the root,
In our summers and winters a lowly
Seed, putting forth of them slowly
Thy supreme blossom and fruit;
“In thy sacred and perfect year,
The souls that were parcel of thee
In the labour and life of us here
Shall be rays of thy sovereign sphere,
Springs of thy motion shall be.
“There is the fire that was man,
The light that was love, and the breath
That was hope ere deliverance began,
And the wind that was life for a span,
And the birth of new things, which is death
There, whosoever had light,
And, having, for men’s sake gave;
All that warred against night;
All that were found in the fight
Swift to be slain and to save;
“Undisbranched of the storms that disroot us,
Of the lures that enthrall unenticed;
The names that exalt and transmute us;
The blood-bright splendour of Brutus,
The snow-bright splendour of Christ.
“There all chains are undone;
Day there seems but as night;
Spirit and sense are as one
In the light not of star nor of sun;
Liberty there is the light.
She, sole mother and maker,
Stronger than sorrow, than strife;
Deathless, though death overtake her;
Faithful, though faith should forsake her;
Spirit, and saviour, and life.”
The Eve Of Revolution
From the ends of the earth blow battle; the night heaves,
With breasts palpitating and wings refurled,
With passion of couched limbs, as one who grieves
Sleeping, and in her sleep she sees uncurled
Dreams serpent-shapen, such as sickness weaves,
Down the wild wind of vision caught and whirled,
Dead leaves of sleep, thicker than autumn leaves,
Shadows of storm-shaped things,
Flights of dim tribes of kings,
The reaping men that reap men for their sheaves,
And, without grain to yield,
Their scythe-swept harvest-field
Thronged thick with men pursuing and fugitives,
Dead foliage of the tree of sleep,
Leaves blood-coloured and golden, blown from deep to deep.I hear the midnight on the mountains cry
With many tongues of thunders, and I hear
Sound and resound the hollow shield of sky
With trumpet-throated winds that charge and cheer,
And through the roar of the hours that fighting fly,
Through flight and fight and all the fluctuant fear,
A sound sublimer than the heavens are high,
A voice more instant than the winds are clear,
Say to my spirit, “Take
Thy trumpet too, and make
A rallying music in the void night’s ear,
Till the storm lose its track,
And all the night go back;
Till, as through sleep false life knows true life near,
Thou know the morning through the night,
And through the thunder silence, and through darkness light.”I set the trumpet to my lips and blow.
The height of night is shaken, the skies break,
The winds and stars and waters come and go
By fits of breath and light and sound, that wake
As out of sleep, and perish as the show
Built up of sleep, when all her strengths forsake
The sense-compelling spirit; the depths glow,
The heights flash, and the roots and summits shake
Of earth in all her mountains,
And the inner foamless fountains
And wellsprings of her fast-bound forces quake;
Yea, the whole air of life
Is set on fire of strife,
Till change unmake things made and love remake;
Reason and love, whose names are one,
Seeing reason is the sunlight shed from love the sun.The night is broken eastward; is it day,
Or but the watchfires trembling here and there,
Like hopes on memory’s devastated way,
In moonless wastes of planet-stricken air?
O many-childed mother great and grey,
O multitudinous bosom, and breasts that bare
Our fathers’ generations, whereat lay
The weanling peoples and the tribes that were,
Whose new-born mouths long dead
Those ninefold nipples fed,
Dim face with deathless eyes and withered hair,
Fostress of obscure lands,
Whose multiplying hands
Wove the world’s web with divers races fair
And cast it waif-wise on the stream,
The waters of the centuries, where thou sat’st to dream;
O many-minded mother and visionary,
Asia, that sawest their westering waters sweep
With all the ships and spoils of time to carry
And all the fears and hopes of life to keep,
Thy vesture wrought of ages legendary
Hides usward thine impenetrable sleep,
And thy veiled head, night’s oldest tributary,
We know not if it speak or smile or weep.
But where for us began
The first live light of man
And first-born fire of deeds to burn and leap,
The first war fair as peace
To shine and lighten Greece,
And the first freedom moved upon the deep,
God’s breath upon the face of time
Moving, a present spirit, seen of men sublime;
There where our east looks always to thy west,
Our mornings to thine evenings, Greece to thee,
These lights that catch the mountains crest by crest,
Are they of stars or beacons that we see?
Taygetus takes here the winds abreast,
And there the sun resumes Thermopylae;
The light is Athens where those remnants rest,
And Salamis the sea-wall of that sea.
The grass men tread upon
Is very Marathon,
The leaves are of that time-unstricken tree
That storm nor sun can fret
Nor wind, since she that set
Made it her sign to men whose shield was she;
Here, as dead time his deathless things,
Eurotas and Cephisus keep their sleepless springs.
O hills of Crete, are these things dead? O waves,
O many-mouthed streams, are these springs dry?
Earth, dost thou feed and hide now none but slaves?
Heaven, hast thou heard of men that would not die?
Is the land thick with only such men’s graves
As were ashamed to look upon the sky?
Ye dead, whose name outfaces and outbraves
Death, is the seed of such as you gone by?
Sea, have thy ports not heard
Some Marathonian word
Rise up to landward and to Godward fly?
No thunder, that the skies
Sent not upon us, rise
With fire and earthquake and a cleaving cry?
Nay, light is here, and shall be light,
Though all the face of the hour be overborne with night.
I set the trumpet to my lips and blow.
The night is broken northward; the pale plains
And footless fields of sun-forgotten snow
Feel through their creviced lips and iron veins
Such quick breath labour and such clean blood flow
As summer-stricken spring feels in her pains
When dying May bears June, too young to know
The fruit that waxes from the flower that wanes;
Strange tyrannies and vast,
Tribes frost-bound to their past,
Lands that are loud all through their length with chains,
Wastes where the wind’s wings break,
Displumed by daylong ache
And anguish of blind snows and rack-blown rains,
And ice that seals the White Sea’s lips,
Whose monstrous weights crush flat the sides of shrieking ships;
Horrible sights and sounds of the unreached pole,
And shrill fierce climes of inconsolable air,
Shining below the beamless aureole
That hangs about the north-wind’s hurtling hair,
A comet-lighted lamp, sublime and sole
Dawn of the dayless heaven where suns despair;
Earth, skies, and waters, smitten into soul,
Feel the hard veil that iron centuries wear
Rent as with hands in sunder,
Such hands as make the thunder
And clothe with form all substance and strip bare;
Shapes, shadows, sounds and lights
Of their dead days and nights
Take soul of life too keen for death to bear;
Life, conscience, forethought, will, desire,
Flood men’s inanimate eyes and dry-drawn hearts with fire.
Light, light, and light! to break and melt in sunder
All clouds and chains that in one bondage bind
Eyes, hands, and spirits, forged by fear and wonder
And sleek fierce fraud with hidden knife behind;
There goes no fire from heaven before their thunder,
Nor are the links not malleable that wind
Round the snared limbs and souls that ache thereunder;
The hands are mighty, were the head not blind.
Priest is the staff of king,
And chains and clouds one thing,
And fettered flesh with devastated mind.
Open thy soul to see,
Slave, and thy feet are free;
Thy bonds and thy beliefs are one in kind,
And of thy fears thine irons wrought
Hang weights upon thee fashioned out of thine own thought.
O soul, O God, O glory of liberty,
To night and day their lightning and their light!
With heat of heart thou kindlest the quick sea,
And the dead earth takes spirit from thy sight;
The natural body of things is warm with thee,
And the world’s weakness parcel of thy might;
Thou seest us feeble and forceless, fit to be
Slaves of the years that drive us left and right,
Drowned under hours like waves
Wherethrough we row like slaves;
But if thy finger touch us, these take flight.
If but one sovereign word
Of thy live lips be heard,
What man shall stop us, and what God shall smite?
Do thou but look in our dead eyes,
They are stars that light each other till thy sundawn rise.
Thou art the eye of this blind body of man,
The tongue of this dumb people; shalt thou not
See, shalt thou speak not for them?
Time is wan And hope is weak with waiting, and swift thought
Hath lost the wings at heel wherewith he ran,
And on the red pit’s edge sits down distraught
To talk with death of days republican
And dreams and fights long since dreamt out and fought;
Of the last hope that drew
To that red edge anew
The firewhite faith of Poland without spot;
Of the blind Russian might,
And fire that is not light;
Of the green Rhineland where thy spirit wrought;
But though time, hope, and memory tire,
Canst thou wax dark as they do, thou whose light is fire?
I set the trumpet to my lips and blow.
The night is broken westward; the wide sea
That makes immortal motion to and fro
From world’s end unto world’s end, and shall be
When nought now grafted of men’s hands shall grow
And as the weed in last year’s waves are we
Or spray the sea-wind shook a year ago
From its sharp tresses down the storm to lee,
The moving god that hides
Time in its timeless tides
Wherein time dead seems live eternity,
That breaks and makes again
Much mightier things than men,
Doth it not hear change coming, or not see?
Are the deeps deaf and dead and blind,
To catch no light or sound from landward of mankind?
O thou, clothed round with raiment of white waves,
Thy brave brows lightening through the grey wet air,
Thou, lulled with sea-sounds of a thousand caves,
And lit with sea-shine to thine inland lair,
Whose freedom clothed the naked souls of slaves
And stripped the muffled souls of tyrants bare,
O, by the centuries of thy glorious graves,
By the live light of the earth that was thy care,
Live, thou must not be dead,
Live; let thine armed head
Lift itself up to sunward and the fair
Daylight of time and man,
Thine head republican,
With the same splendour on thine helmless hair
That in his eyes kept up a light
Who on thy glory gazed away their sacred sight;
Who loved and looked their sense to death on thee;
Who taught thy lips imperishable things,
And in thine ears outsang thy singing sea;
Who made thy foot firm on the necks of kings
And thy soul somewhile steadfast–woe are we
It was but for a while, and all the strings
Were broken of thy spirit; yet had he
Set to such tunes and clothed it with such wings
It seemed for his sole sake
Impossible to break,
And woundless of the worm that waits and stings,
The golden-headed worm
Made headless for a term,
The king-snake whose life kindles with the spring’s,
To breathe his soul upon her bloom,
And while she marks not turn her temple to her tomb.
By those eyes blinded and that heavenly head
And the secluded soul adorable,
O Milton’s land, what ails thee to be dead?
Thine ears are yet sonorous with his shell
That all the songs of all thy sea-line fed
With motive sound of spring-tides at mid swell,
And through thine heart his thought as blood is shed,
Requickening thee with wisdom to do well;
Such sons were of thy womb,
England, for love of whom
Thy name is not yet writ with theirs that fell,
But, till thou quite forget
What were thy children, yet
On the pale lips of hope is as a spell;
And Shelley’s heart and Landor’s mind
Lit thee with latter watch-fires; why wilt thou be blind?
Though all were else indifferent, all that live
Spiritless shapes of nations; though time wait
In vain on hope till these have help to give,
And faith and love crawl famished from the gate;
Canst thou sit shamed and self-contemplative
With soulless eyes on thy secluded fate?
Though time forgive them, thee shall he forgive,
Whose choice was in thine hand to be so great?
Who cast out of thy mind
The passion of man’s kind,
And made thee and thine old name separate?
Now when time looks to see
New names and old and thee
Build up our one Republic state by state,
England with France, and France with Spain,
And Spain with sovereign Italy strike hands and reign.
O known and unknown fountain-heads that fill
Our dear life-springs of England! O bright race
Of streams and waters that bear witness still
To the earth her sons were made of! O fair face
Of England, watched of eyes death cannot kill,
How should the soul that lit you for a space
Fall through sick weakness of a broken will
To the dead cold damnation of disgrace?
Such wind of memory stirs
On all green hills of hers,
Such breath of record from so high a place,
From years whose tongues of flame
Prophesied in her name
Her feet should keep truth’s bright and burning trace,
We needs must have her heart with us,
Whose hearts are one with man’s; she must be dead or thus.
Who is against us? who is on our side?
Whose heart of all men’s hearts is one with man’s?
Where art thou that wast prophetess and bride,
When truth and thou trod under time and chance?
What latter light of what new hope shall guide
Out of the snares of hell thy feet, O France?
What heel shall bruise these heads that hiss and glide,
What wind blow out these fen-born fires that dance
Before thee to thy death?
No light, no life, no breath,
From thy dead eyes and lips shall take the trance,
Till on that deadliest crime
Reddening the feet of time
Who treads through blood and passes, time shall glance
Pardon, and Italy forgive,
And Rome arise up whom thou slewest, and bid thee live.
I set the trumpet to my lips and blow.
The night is broken southward; the springs run,
The daysprings and the watersprings that flow
Forth with one will from where their source was one,
Out of the might of morning: high and low,
The hungering hills feed full upon the sun,
The thirsting valleys drink of him and glow
As a heart burns with some divine thing done,
Or as blood burns again
In the bruised heart of Spain,
A rose renewed with red new life begun,
Dragged down with thorns and briers,
That puts forth buds like fires
Till the whole tree take flower in unison,
And prince that clogs and priest that clings
Be cast as weeds upon the dunghill of dead things.
Ah heaven, bow down, be nearer! This is she,
Italia, the world’s wonder, the world’s care,
Free in her heart ere quite her hands be free,
And lovelier than her loveliest robe of air.
The earth hath voice, and speech is in the sea,
Sounds of great joy, too beautiful to bear;
All things are glad because of her, but we
Most glad, who loved her when the worst days were.
O sweetest, fairest, first,
O flower, when times were worst,
Thou hadst no stripe wherein we had no share.
Have not our hearts held close,
Kept fast the whole world’s rose?
Have we not worn thee at heart whom none would wear?
First love and last love, light of lands,
Shall we not touch thee full-blown with our lips and hands?
O too much loved, what shall we say of thee?
What shall we make of our heart’s burning fire,
The passion in our lives that fain would be
Made each a brand to pile into the pyre
That shall burn up thy foemen, and set free
The flame whence thy sun-shadowing wings aspire?
Love of our life, what more than men are we,
That this our breath for thy sake should expire,
For whom to joyous death
Glad gods might yield their breath,
Great gods drop down from heaven to serve for hire?
We are but men, are we,
And thou art Italy;
What shall we do for thee with our desire?
What gift shall we deserve to give?
How shall we die to do thee service, or how live?
The very thought in us how much we love thee
Makes the throat sob with love and blinds the eyes.
How should love bear thee, to behold above thee
His own light burning from reverberate skies?
They give thee light, but the light given them of thee
Makes faint the wheeling fires that fall and rise.
What love, what life, what death of man’s should move thee,
What face that lingers or what foot that flies?
It is not heaven that lights
Thee with such days and nights,
But thou that heaven is lit from in such wise.
O thou her dearest birth,
Turn thee to lighten earth,
Earth too that bore thee and yearns to thee and cries;
Stand up, shine, lighten, become flame,
Till as the sun’s name through all nations be thy name.
I take the trumpet from my lips and sing.
O life immeasurable and imminent love,
And fear like winter leading hope like spring,
Whose flower-bright brows the day-star sits above,
Whose hand unweariable and untiring wing
Strike music from a world that wailed and strove,
Each bright soul born and every glorious thing,
From very freedom to man’s joy thereof,
O time, O change and death,
Whose now not hateful breath
But gives the music swifter feet to move
Through sharp remeasuring tones
Of refluent antiphones
More tender-tuned than heart or throat of dove,
Soul into soul, song into song,
Life changing into life, by laws that work not wrong;
O natural force in spirit and sense, that art
One thing in all things, fruit of thine own fruit,
O thought illimitable and infinite heart
Whose blood is life in limbs indissolute
That still keeps hurtless thine invisible part
And inextirpable thy viewless root
Whence all sweet shafts of green and each thy dart
Of sharpening leaf and bud resundering shoot;
Hills that the day-star hails,
Heights that the first beam scales,
And heights that souls outshining suns salute,
Valleys for each mouth born
Free now of plenteous corn,
Waters and woodlands’ musical or mute;
Free winds that brighten brows as free,
And thunder and laughter and lightning of the sovereign sea;
Rivers and springs, and storms that seek your prey;
With strong wings ravening through the skies by night;
Spirits and stars that hold one choral way;
O light of heaven, and thou the heavenlier light
Aflame above the souls of men that sway
All generations of all years with might;
O sunrise of the repossessing day,
And sunrise of all-renovating right;
And thou, whose trackless foot
Mocks hope’s or fear’s pursuit,
Swift Revolution, changing depth with height;
And thou, whose mouth makes one
All songs that seek the sun,
Serene Republic of a world made white;
Thou, Freedom, whence the soul’s springs ran;
Praise earth for man’s sake living, and for earth’s sake man.
Make yourselves wings, O tarrying feet of fate,
And hidden hour that hast our hope to bear,
A child-god, through the morning-coloured gate
That lets love in upon the golden air,
Dead on whose threshold lies heart-broken hate,
Dead discord, dead injustice, dead despair;
O love long looked for, wherefore wilt thou wait,
And shew not yet the dawn on thy bright hair.
Not yet thine hand released
Refreshing the faint east,
Thine hand reconquering heaven, to seat man there?
Come forth, be born and live,
Thou that hast help to give
And light to make man’s day of manhood fair:
With flight outflying the sphered sun,
Hasten thine hour and halt not, till thy work be done.
The Halt Before Rome–September 1867
Is it so, that the sword is broken,
Our sword, that was halfway drawn?
Is it so, that the light was a spark,
That the bird we hailed as the lark
Sang in her sleep in the dark,
And the song we took for a token
Bore false witness of dawn?
Spread in the sight of the lion,
Surely, we said, is the net
Spread but in vain, and the snare
Vain; for the light is aware,
And the common, the chainless air,
Of his coming whom all we cry on;
Surely in vain is it set.
Surely the day is on our side,
And heaven, and the sacred sun;
Surely the stars, and the bright
Immemorial inscrutable night:
Yea, the darkness, because of our light,
Is no darkness, but blooms as a bower-side
When the winter is over and done;
Blooms underfoot with young grasses
Green, and with leaves overhead,
Windflowers white, and the low
New-dropped blossoms of snow;
And or ever the May winds blow,
And or ever the March wind passes,
Flames with anemones red.
We are here in the world’s bower-garden,
We that have watched out the snow.
Surely the fruitfuller showers,
The splendider sunbeams are ours;
Shall winter return on the flowers,
And the frost after April harden,
And the fountains in May not flow?
We have in our hands the shining
And the fire in our hearts of a star.
Who are we that our tongues should palter,
Hearts bow down, hands falter,
Who are clothed as with flame from the altar,
That the kings of the earth, repining,
Far off, watch from afar?
Woe is ours if we doubt or dissemble,
Woe, if our hearts not abide.
Are our chiefs not among us, we said,
Great chiefs, living and dead,
To lead us glad to be led?
For whose sake, if a man of us tremble,
He shall not be on our side.
What matter if these lands tarry,
That tarried (we said) not of old?
France, made drunken by fate,
England, that bore up the weight
Once of men’s freedom, a freight
Holy, but heavy to carry
For hands overflowing with gold.
Though this be lame, and the other
Fleet, but blind from the sun,
And the race be no more to these,
Alas! nor the palm to seize,
Who are weary and hungry of ease,
Yet, O Freedom, we said, O our mother,
Is there not left to thee one?
Is there not left of thy daughters,
Is there not one to thine hand?
Fairer than these, and of fame
Higher from of old by her name;
Washed in her tears, and in flame
Bathed as in baptism of waters,
Unto all men a chosen land.
Her hope in her heart was broken,
Fire was upon her, and clomb,
Hiding her, high as her head;
And the world went past her, and said
(We heard it say) she was dead;
And now, behold, she bath spoken,
She that was dead, saying, “Rome.”
O mother of all men’s nations,
Thou knowest if the deaf world heard!
Heard not now to her lowest
Depths, where the strong blood slowest
Beats at her bosom, thou knowest,
In her toils, in her dim tribulations,
Rejoiced not, hearing the word.
The sorrowful, bound unto sorrow,
The woe-worn people, and all
That of old were discomforted,
And men that famish for bread,
And men that mourn for their dead,
She bade them be glad on the morrow,
Who endured in the day of her thrall.
The blind, and the people in prison,
Souls without hope, without home,
How glad were they all that heard!
When the winged white flame of the word
Passed over men’s dust, and stirred
Death; for Italia was risen,
And risen her light upon Rome.
The light of her sword in the gateway
Shone, an unquenchable flame,
Bloodless, a sword to release,
A light from the eyes of peace,
To bid grief utterly cease,
And the wrong of the old world straightway
Pass from the face of her fame:
Hers, whom we turn to and cry on,
Italy, mother of men:
From the light of the face of her glory,
At the sound of the storm of her story,
That the sanguine shadows and hoary
Should flee from the foot of the lion,
Lion-like, forth of his den.
As the answering of thunder to thunder
Is the storm-beaten sound of her past;
As the calling of sea unto sea
Is the noise of her years yet to be;
For this ye knew not is she,
Whose bonds are broken in sunder;
This is she at the last.
So spake we aloud, high-minded,
Full of our will; and behold,
The speech that was halfway spoken
Breaks, as a pledge that is broken,
As a king’s pledge, leaving in token
Grief only for high hopes blinded,
New grief grafted on old.
We halt by the walls of the city,
Within sound of the clash of her chain.
Hearing, we know that in there
The lioness chafes in her lair,
Shakes the storm of her hair,
Struggles in hands without pity,
Roars to the lion in vain.
Whose hand is stretched forth upon her?
Whose curb is white with her foam?
Clothed with the cloud of his deeds,
Swathed in the shroud of his creeds,
Who is this that has trapped her and leads,
Who turns to despair and dishonour
Her name, her name that was Rome?
Over fields without harvest or culture,
Over hordes without honour or love,
Over nations that groan with their kings,
As an imminent pestilence flings
Swift death from her shadowing wings,
So he, who hath claws as a vulture,
Plumage and beak as a dove.
He saith, “I am pilot and haven,
Light and redemption I am
Unto souls overlaboured,” he saith;
And to all men the blast of his breath
Is a savour of death unto death;
And the Dove of his worship a raven,
And a wolf-cub the life-giving Lamb.
He calls his sheep as a shepherd,
Calls from the wilderness home,
“Come unto me and be fed,”
To feed them with ashes for bread
And grass from the graves of the dead,
Leaps on the fold as a leopard,
Slays, and says, “I am Rome,”
Rome, having rent her in sunder,
With the clasp of an adder he clasps;
Swift to shed blood are his feet,
And his lips, that have man for their meat,
Smoother than oil, and more sweet
Than honey, but hidden thereunder
Festers the poison of asps.
As swords are his tender mercies,
His kisses as mortal stings;
Under his hallowing hands
Life dies down in all lands;
Kings pray to him, prone where he stands,
And his blessings, as other men’s curses,
Disanoint where they consecrate kings.
With an oil of unclean consecration,
With effusion of blood and of tears,
With uplifting of cross and of keys,
Priest, though thou hallow us these,
Yet even as they cling to thy knees
Nation awakens by nation,
King by king disappears.
How shall the spirit be loyal
To the shell of a spiritless thing?
Erred once, in only a word,
The sweet great song that we heard
Poured upon Tuscany, erred,
Calling a crowned man royal
That was no more than a king.
Sea-eagle of English feather,
A song-bird beautiful-souled,
She knew not them that she sang;
The golden trumpet that rang
From Florence, in vain for them, sprang
As a note in the nightingales’ weather
Far over Fiesole rolled.
She saw not–happy, not seeing –
Saw not as we with her eyes
Aspromonte; she felt
Never the heart in her melt
As in us when the news was dealt
Melted all hope out of being,
Dropped all dawn from the skies.
In that weary funereal season,
In that heart-stricken grief-ridden time,
The weight of a king and the worth,
With anger and sorrowful mirth,
We weighed in the balance of earth,
And light was his word as a treason,
And heavy his crown as a crime.
Banners of kings shall ye follow
None, and have thrones on your side
None; ye shall gather and grow
Silently, row upon row,
Chosen of Freedom to go
Gladly where darkness may swallow,
Gladly where death may divide.
Have we not men with us royal,
Men the masters of things?
In the days when our life is made new,
All souls perfect and true
Shall adore whom their forefathers slew;
And these indeed shall be loyal,
And those indeed shall be kings.
Yet for a space they abide with us,
Yet for a little they stand,
Bearing the heat of the day.
When their presence is taken away,
We shall wonder and worship, and say,
“Was not a star on our side with us?
Was not a God at our hand?”
These, O men, shall ye honour,
Liberty only, and these.
For thy sake and for all men’s and mine,
Brother, the crowns of them shine
Lighting the way to her shrine,
That our eyes may be fastened upon her,
That our hands may encompass her knees.
In this day is the sign of her shown to you;
Choose ye, to live or to die,
Now is her harvest in hand;
Now is her light in the land;
Choose ye, to sink or to stand,
For the might of her strength is made known to you
Now, and her arm is on high.
Serve not for any man’s wages,
Pleasure nor glory nor gold;
Not by her side are they won
Who saith unto each of you, “Son,
Silver and gold have I none;
I give but the love of all ages,
And the life of my people of old.”
Fear not for any man’s terrors;
Wait not for any man’s word;
Patiently, each in his place,
Gird up your loins to the race;
Following the print of her pace,
Purged of desires and of errors,
March to the tune ye have heard.
March to the tune of the voice of her,
Breathing the balm of her breath,
Loving the light of her skies.
Blessed is he on whose eyes
Dawns but her light as he dies;
Blessed are ye that make choice of her,
Equal to life and to death.
Ye that when faith is nigh frozen,
Ye that when hope is nigh gone,
Still, over wastes, over waves,
Still, among wrecks, among graves,
Follow the splendour that saves,
Happy, her children, her chosen,
Loyally led of her on.
The sheep of the priests, and the cattle
That feed in the penfolds of kings,
Sleek is their flock and well-fed;
Hardly she giveth you bread,
Hardly a rest for the head,
Till the day of the blast of the battle
And the storm of the wind of her wings.
Ye that have joy in your living,
Ye that are careful to live,
You her thunders go by:
Live, let men be, let them lie,
Serve your season, and die;
Gifts have your masters for giving,
Gifts hath not Freedom to give;
She, without shelter or station,
She, beyond limit or bar,
Urges to slumberless speed
Armies that famish, that bleed,
Sowing their lives for her seed,
That their dust may rebuild her a nation,
That their souls may relight her a star.
Happy are all they that follow her;
Them shall no trouble cast down;
Though she slay them, yet shall they trust in her,
For unsure there is nought nor unjust in her,
Blemish is none, neither rust in her;
Though it threaten, the night shall not swallow her,
Tempest and storm shall not drown.
Hither, O strangers, that cry for her,
Holding your lives in your hands,
Hither, for here is your light,
Where Italy is, and her might;
Strength shall be given you to fight,
Grace shall be given you to die for her,
For the flower, for the lady of lands;
Turn ye, whose anguish oppressing you
Crushes, asleep and awake,
For the wrong which is wrought as of yore;
That Italia may give of her store,
Having these things to give and no more;
Only her hands on you, blessing you;
Only a pang for her sake;
Only her bosom to die on;
Only her heart for a home,
And a name with her children to be
From Calabrian to Adrian sea
Famous in cities made free
That ring to the roar of the lion
Proclaiming republican Rome.
Who is your lady of love, O ye that pass
Singing? and is it for sorrow of that which was
That ye sing sadly, or dream of what shall be?
For gladly at once and sadly it seems ye sing.
–Our lady of love by you is unbeholden;
For hands she hath none, nor eyes, nor lips, nor golden
Treasure of hair, nor face nor form; but we
That love, we know her more fair than anything.
–Is she a queen, having great gifts to give?
–Yea, these; that whoso hath seen her shall not live
Except he serve her sorrowing, with strange pain,
Travail and bloodshedding and bitterer tears;
And when she bids die he shall surely die.
And he shall leave all things under the sky
And go forth naked under sun and rain
And work and wait and watch out all his years.
–Hath she on earth no place of habitation?
–Age to age calling, nation answering nation,
Cries out, Where is she? and there is none to say;
For if she be not in the spirit of men,
For if in the inward soul she hath no place,
In vain they cry unto her, seeking her face,
In vain their mouths make much of her; for they
Cry with vain tongues, till the heart lives again.
–O ye that follow, and have ye no repentance?
For on your brows is written a mortal sentence,
An hieroglyph of sorrow, a fiery sign,
That in your lives ye shall not pause or rest,
Nor have the sure sweet common love, nor keep
Friends and safe days, nor joy of life nor sleep.
–These have we not, who have one thing, the divine
Face and clear eyes of faith and fruitful breast.
–And ye shall die before your thrones be won.
–Yea, and the changed world and the liberal sun
Shall move and shine without us, and we lie
Dead; but if she too move on earth and live,
But if the old world with all the old irons rent
Laugh and give thanks, shall we be not content?
Nay, we shall rather live, we shall not die,
Life being so little and death so good to give.
–And these men shall forget you.–Yea, but we
Shall be a part of the earth and the ancient sea,
And heaven-high air august, and awful fire,
And all things good; and no man’s heart shall beat
But somewhat in it of our blood once shed
Shall quiver and quicken, as now in us the dead
Blood of men slain and the old same life’s desire
Plants in their fiery footprints our fresh feet.
–But ye that might be clothed with all things pleasant,
Ye are foolish that put off the fair soft present,
That clothe yourselves with the cold future air;
When mother and father and tender sister and brother
And the old live love that was shall be as ye,
Dust, and no fruit of loving life shall be.
–She shall be yet who is more than all these were,
Than sister or wife or father unto us or mother.
–Is this worth life, is this, to win for wages?
Lo, the dead mouths of the awful grey-grown ages,
The venerable, in the past that is their prison,
In the outer darkness, in the unopening grave,
Laugh, knowing how many as ye now say have said,
How many, and all are fallen, are fallen and dead:
Shall ye dead rise, and these dead have not risen?
–Not we but she, who is tender and swift to save.
–Are ye not weary and faint not by the way,
Seeing night by night devoured of day by day,
Seeing hour by hour consumed in sleepless fire?
Sleepless: and ye too, when shall ye too sleep?
–We are weary in heart and head, in hands and feet,
And surely more than all things sleep were sweet,
Than all things save the inexorable desire
Which whoso knoweth shall neither faint nor weep.
–Is this so sweet that one were fain to follow?
Is this so sure where all men’s hopes are hollow.
Even this your dream, that by much tribulation
Ye shall make whole flawed hearts, and bowed necks straight?
–Nay, though our life were blind, our death were fruitless,
Not therefore were the whole world’s high hope rootless;
But man to man, nation would turn to nation,
And the old life live, and the old great world be great.
–Pass on then and pass by us and let us be,
For what light think ye after life to see?
And if the world fare better will ye know?
And if man triumph who shall seek you and say?
–Enough of light is this for one life’s span,
That all men born are mortal, but not man:
And we men bring death lives by night to sow,
That man may reap and eat and live by day.