Poems and Ballads



Algernon Charles Swinburne

THE SEA gives her shells to the shingle,
    The earth gives her streams to the sea;
They are many, but my gift is single,
    My verses, the firstfruits of me.
Let the wind take the green and the grey leaf,
    Cast forth without fruit upon air;
Take rose-leaf and vine-leaf and bay-leaf
    Blown loose from the hair.

The night shakes them round me in legions,
    Dawn drives them before her like dreams;
Time sheds them like snows on strange regions,
    Swept shoreward on infinite streams;
Leaves pallid and sombre and ruddy,
    Dead fruits of the fugitive years;
Some stained as with wine and made bloody,
    And some as with tears.

Some scattered in seven years’ traces,
    As they fell from the boy that was then;
Long left among idle green places,
    Or gathered but now among men;
On seas full of wonder and peril,
    Blown white round the capes of the north;
Or in islands where myrtles are sterile
    And loves bring not forth.

O daughters of dreams and of stories
    That life is not wearied of yet,
Faustine, Fragoletta, Dolores,
    Félise and Yolande and Juliette,
Shall I find you not still, shall I miss you,
    When sleep, that is true or that seems,
Comes back to me hopeless to kiss you,
    O daughters of dreams?

They are past as a slumber that passes,
    As the dew of a dawn of old time;
More frail than the shadows on glasses,
    More fleet than a wave or a rhyme.
As the waves after ebb drawing seaward,
    When their hollows are full of the night,
So the birds that flew singing to me-ward
    Recede out of sight.

The songs of dead seasons, that wander
    On wings of articulate words;
Lost leaves that the shore-wind may squander,
    Light flocks of untameable birds;
Some sang to me dreaming in class-time
    And truant in hand as in tongue;
For the youngest were born of boy’s pastime,
    The eldest are young.

Is there shelter while life in them lingers,
    Is there hearing for songs that recede,
Tunes touched from a harp with man’s fingers
    Or blown with boy’s mouth in a reed?
Is there place in the land of your labour,
    Is there room in your world of delight,
Where change has not sorrow for neighbour
    And day has not night?

In their wings though the sea-wind yet quivers,
    Will you spare not a space for them there
Made green with the running of rivers
    And gracious with temperate air;
In the fields and the turreted cities,
    That cover from sunshine and rain
Fair passions and bountiful pities
    And loves without stain?

In a land of clear colours and stories,
    In a region of shadowless hours,
Where earth has a garment of glories
    And a murmur of musical flowers;
In woods where the spring half uncovers
    The flush of her amorous face,
By the waters that listen for lovers,
    For these is there place?

For the song-birds of sorrow, that muffle
    Their music as clouds do their fire:
For the storm-birds of passion, that ruffle
    Wild wings in a wind of desire;
In the stream of the storm as it settles
    Blown seaward, borne far from the sun,
Shaken loose on the darkness like petals
    Dropt one after one?

Though the world of your hands be more gracious
    And lovelier in lordship of things
Clothed round by sweet art with the spacious
    Warm heaven of her imminent wings,
Let them enter, unfledged and nigh fainting,
    For the love of old loves and lost times;
And receive in your palace of painting
    This revel of rhymes.

Though the seasons of man full of losses
    Make empty the years full of youth,
If but one thing be constant in crosses,
    Change lays not her hand upon truth;
Hopes die, and their tombs are for token
    That the grief as the joy of them ends
Ere time that breaks all men has broken
    The faith between friends.

Though the many lights dwindle to one light,
    There is help if the heaven has one;
Though the skies be discrowned of the sunlight
    And the earth dispossessed of the sun,
They have moonlight and sleep for repayment,
    When, refreshed as a bride and set free,
With stars and sea-winds in her raiment,
    Night sinks on the sea.

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