Songs Before Sunrise

Christmas Antiphones

Algernon Charles Swinburne


THOU whose birth on earth
    Angels sang to men,
While thy stars made mirth,
Saviour, at thy birth,
    This day born again;

As this night was bright
    With thy cradle-ray,
Very light of light,
Turn the wild world’s night
    To thy perfect day.

God whose feet made sweet
    Those wild ways they trod,
From thy fragrant feet
Staining field and street
    With the blood of God;

God whose breast is rest
    In the time of strife,
In thy secret breast
Sheltering souls opprest
    From the heat of life;

God whose eyes are skies
    Love-lit as with spheres
By the lights that rise
To thy watching eyes,
    Orbed lights of tears;

God whose heart hath part
    In all grief that is,
Was not man’s the dart
That went through thine heart,
    And the wound not his?

Where the pale souls wail,
    Held in bonds of death,
Where all spirits quail,
Came thy Godhead pale
    Still from human breath—

Pale from life and strife,
    Wan with manhood, came
Forth of mortal life,
Pierced as with a knife,
    Scarred as with a flame.

Thou the Word and Lord
    In all time and space
Heard, beheld, adored,
With all ages poured
    Forth before thy face,

Lord, what worth in earth
    Drew thee down to die?
What therein was worth,
Lord, thy death and birth?
    What beneath thy sky?

Light above all love
    By thy love was lit,
And brought down the Dove
Feathered from above
    With the wings of it.

From the height of night,
    Was not thine the star
That led forth with might
By no worldly light
    Wise men from afar?

Yet the wise men’s eyes
    Saw thee not more clear
Than they saw thee rise
Who in shepherd’s guise
    Drew as poor men near.

Yet thy poor endure,
    And are with us yet;
Be thy name a sure
Refuge for thy poor
    Whom men’s eyes forget.

Thou whose ways we praised,
    Clear alike and dark,
Keep our works and ways
This and all thy days
    Safe inside thine ark.

Who shall keep thy sheep,
    Lord, and lose not one?
Who save one shall keep,
Lest the shepherds sleep?
    Who beside the Son?

From the grave-deep wave,
    From the sword and flame,
Thou, even thou, shalt save
Souls of king and slave
    Only by thy Name.

Light not born with morn
    Or her fires above,
Jesus virgin-born,
Held of men in scorn,
    Turn their scorn to love.

Thou whose face gives grace
    As the sun’s doth heat,
Let thy sunbright face
Lighten time and space
    Here beneath thy feet.

Bid our peace increase,
    Thou that madest morn;
Bid oppressions cease;
Bid the night be peace;
    Bid the day be born.



We whose days and ways
    All the night makes dark,
What day shall we praise
Of these weary days
    That our life-drops mark?

We whose mind is blind,
    Fed with hope of nought;
Wastes of worn mankind,
Without heart or mind,
    Without meat or thought;

We with strife of life
    Worn till all life cease,
Want, a whetted knife,
Sharpening strife on strife,
    How should we love peace?

Ye whose meat is sweet
    And your wine-cup red,
Us beneath your feet
Hunger grinds as wheat,
    Grinds to make you bread.

Ye whose night is bright
    With soft rest and heat,
Clothed like day with light,
Us the naked night
    Slays from street to street.

Hath your God no rod,
    That ye tread so light?
Man on us as God,
God as man hath trod,
    Trod us down with might.

We that one by one
    Bleed from either’s rod.
What for us hath done
Man beneath the sun,
    What for us hath God?

We whose blood is food
    Given your wealth to feed,
From the Christless rood
Red with no God’s blood,
    But with man’s indeed;

How shall we that see
    Nightlong overhead
Life, the flowerless tree,
Nailed whereon as we
    Were our fathers dead—

We whose ear can hear,
    Not whose tongue can name,
Famine, ignorance, fear,
Bleeding tear by tear
    Year by year of shame,

Till the dry life die
    Out of bloodless breast,
Out of beamless eye,
Out of mouths that cry
    Till death feed with rest—

How shall we as ye,
    Though ye bid us, pray?
Though ye call, can we
Hear you call, or see,
    Though ye show us day?

We whose name is shame,
    We whose souls walk bare,
Shall we call the same
God as ye by name,
    Teach our lips your prayer?

God, forgive and give,
    For His sake who died?
Nay, for ours who live,
How shall we forgive
    Thee, then, on our side?

We whose right to light
    Heaven’s high noon denies,
Whom the blind beams smite
That for you shine bright,
    And but burn our eyes,

With what dreams of beams
    Shall we build up day,
At what sourceless streams
Seek to drink in dreams
    Ere they pass away?

In what street shall meet,
    At what market-place,
Your feet and our feet,
With one goal to greet,
    Having run one race?

What one hope shall ope
    For us all as one
One same horoscope,
Where the soul sees hope
    That outburns the sun?

At what shrine what wine,
    At what board what bread,
Salt as blood or brine,
Shall we share in sign
    How we poor were fed?

In what hour what power
    Shall we pray for morn,
If your perfect hour,
When all day bears flower,
    Not for us is born?



Ye that weep in sleep,
    Souls and bodies bound,
Ye that all night keep
Watch for change, and weep
    That no change is found;

Ye that cry and die,
    And the world goes on
Without ear or eye,
And the days go by
    Till all days are gone;

Man shall do for you,
    Men the sons of man,
What no God would do
That they sought unto
    While the blind years ran.

Brotherhood of good,
    Equal laws and rights,
Freedom, whose sweet food
Feeds the multitude
    All their days and nights

With the bread full-fed
    Of her body blest
And the soul’s wine shed
From her table spread
    Where the world is guest,

Mingling me and thee,
    When like light of eyes
Flashed through thee and me
Truth shall make us free,
    Liberty make wise;

These are they whom day
    Follows and gives light
Whence they see to slay
Night, and burn away
    All the seed of night.

What of thine and mine,
    What of want and wealth,
When one faith is wine
For my heart and thine
    And one draught is health?

For no sect elect
    Is the soul’s wine poured
And her table decked;
Whom should man reject
    From man’s common board?

Gods refuse and choose,
    Grudge and sell and spare;
None shall man refuse,
None of all men lose,
    None leave out of care.

No man’s might of sight
    Knows that hour before;
No man’s hand hath might
To put back that light
    For one hour the more.

Not though all men call,
    Kneeling with void hands,
Shall they see light fall
Till it come for all
    Tribes of men and lands.

No desire brings fire
    Down from heaven by prayer,
Though man’s vain desire
Hang faith’s wind-struck lyre
    Out in tuneless air.

One hath breath and saith
    What the tune shall be—
Time, who puts his breath
Into life and death,
    Into earth and sea.

To and fro years flow,
    Fill their tides and ebb,
As his fingers go
Weaving to and fro
    One unfinished web.

All the range of change
    Hath its bounds therein,
All the lives that range
All the byways strange
    Named of death or sin.

Star from far to star
    Speaks, and white moons wake,
Watchful from afar
What the night’s ways are
    For the morning’s sake.

Many names and flames
    Pass and flash and fall,
Night-begotten names,
And the night reclaims,
    As she bare them, all.

But the sun is one,
    And the sun’s name Right;
And when light is none
Saving of the sun,
    All men shall have light.

All shall see and be
    Parcel of the morn;
Ay, though blind were we,
None shall choose but see
    When that day is born.

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