Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems

A Child’s Battles

πὺξ ἀρετὰν εὑρών—PINDAR.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

PRAISE of the knights of old
May sleep: their tale is told,
        And no man cares:
The praise which fires our lips is
A knight’s whose fame eclipses
            All of theirs.

The ruddiest light in heaven
Blazed as his birth-star seven
        Long years ago:
All glory crown that old year
Which brought our stout small soldier
            With the snow!

Each baby born has one
Star, for his friends a sun,
        The first of stars:
And we, the more we scan it,
The more grow sure your planet,
            Child, was Mars.

For each one flower, perchance,
Blooms as his cognizance:
        The snowdrop chill,
The violet unbeholden,
For some: for you the golden

Erect, a fighting flower,
It breasts the breeziest hour
        That ever blew,
And bent or broke things brittle
Or frail, unlike a little
            Knight like you.

Its flower is firm and fresh
And stout like sturdiest flesh
        Of children: all
The strenuous blast that parches
Spring hurts it not till March is
            Near his fall

If winds that prate and fret
Remark, rebuke, regret,
        Lament, or blame
The brave plant’s martial passion,
It keeps its own free fashion
            All the same.

We that would fain seem wise
Assume grave mouths and eyes
        Whose looks reprove
Too much delight in battle:
But your great heart our prattle
            Cannot move.

We say, small children should
Be placid, mildly good
        And blandly meek:
Whereat the broad smile rushes
Full on your lips, and flushes
            All your cheek.

If all the stars that are
Laughed out, and every star
        Could here be heard,
Such peals of golden laughter
We should not hear, as after
            Such a word.

For all the storm saith, still,
Stout stands the daffodil:
        For all we say,
Howe’er he look demurely,
Our martialist will surely
            Have his way.

We may not bind with bands
Those large and liberal hands,
        Nor stay from fight,
Nor hold them back from giving i
No lean mean laws of living
            Bind a knight

And always here of old
Such gentle hearts and bold
        Our land has bred:
How durst her eye rest else on
The glory shed from Nelson
            Quick and dead?

Shame were it, if but one
Such once were born her son,
        That one to have borne,
And brought him ne’er a brother:
His praise should bring his mother
            Shame and scorn.

A child high-souled as he
Whose manhood shook the sea
        Smiles haply here:
His face, where love lies basking,
With bright shut mouth seems asking,
            What is fear?

The sunshine-coloured fists
Beyond his dimpling wrists
        Were never closed
For saving or for sparing—
For only deeds of daring

Unclenched, the gracious hands
Let slip their gifts like sands
        Made rich with ore
That tongues of beggars ravish
From small stout hands so lavish
            Of their store.

Sweet hardy kindly hands
Like these were his that stands
        With heel on gorge
Seen trampling down the dragon
On sign or flask or flagon,
            Sweet Saint George.

Some tournament, perchance,
Of hands that couch no lance,
        Might mark this spot
Your lists, if here some pleasant
Small Guenevere were present,

My brave bright flower, you need
No foolish song, nor heed
        It more than spring
The sighs of winter stricken
Dead when your haunts requicken
            Here, my king.

Yet O, how hardly may
The wheels of singing stay
        That whirl along
Bright paths whence echo raises
The phantom of your praises,
            Child, my song!

Beyond all other things
That give my words fleet wings,
        Fleet wings and strong,
You set their jesses ringing
Till hardly can I, singing,
            Stint my song.

But all things better, friend,
And worse must find an end:
        And, right or wrong,
’Tis time, lest rhyme should baffle,
I doubt, to put a snaffle
            On my song.

And never may your ear
Aught harsher hear or fear,
        Nor wolfish night
Nor dog-toothed winter snarling
Behind your steps, my darling
            My delight!

For all the gifts you give
Me, dear, each day you live,
        Of thanks above
All thanks that could be spoken
Take not my song in token,
            Take my love.

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