Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems

Eight Years Old

Algernon Charles Swinburne


SUN, whom the faltering snow-cloud fears,
    Rise, let the time of year be May,
Speak now the word that April hears,
    Let March have all his royal way;
Bid all spring raise in winter’s ears
    All tunes her children hear or play,
Because the crown of eight glad years
    On one bright head is set to-day.


What matters cloud or sun to-day
    To him who wears the wreath of years
So many, and all like flowers at play
    With wind and sunshine, while his ears
Hear only song on every way?
    More sweet than spring triumphant hears
Ring through the revel-rout of May
    Are these, the notes that winter fears.


Strong-hearted winter knows and fears
    The music made of love at play,
Or haply loves the tune he hears
    From hearts fulfilled with flowering May,
Whose molten music thaws his ears
    Late frozen, deaf but yesterday
To sounds of dying and dawning years,
    Now quickened on his deathward way.


For deathward now lies winter’s way
    Down the green vestibule of years
That each year brightens day by day
    With flower and shower till hope scarce fears
And fear grows wholly hope of May.
    But we—the music in our ears
Made of love’s pulses as they play
    The heart alone that makes it hears.


The heart it is that plays and hears
    High salutation of to-day.
Tongue falters, hand shrinks back, song fears
    Its own unworthiness to play
Fit music for those eight sweet years,
    Or sing their blithe accomplished way.
No song quite worth a young child’s ears
    Broke ever even from birds in May.


There beats not in the heart of May,
    When summer hopes and springtide fears,
There falls not from the height of day,
    When sunlight speaks and silence hears,
So sweet a psalm as children play
    And sing, each hour of all their years,
Each moment of their lovely way,
    And know not how it thrills our ears.


Ah child, what are we, that our ears
    Should hear you singing on your way,
Should have this happiness? The years
    Whose hurrying wings about us play
Are not like yours, whose flower-time fears
    Nought worse than sunlit showers in May,
Being sinless as the spring, that hears
    Her own heart praise her every day.


Yet we too triumph in the day
    That bare, to entrance our eyes and ears,
To lighten daylight, and to play
    Such notes as darkness knows and fears,
The child whose face illumes our way,
    Whose voice lifts up the heart that hears,
Whose hand is as the hand of May
    To bring us flowers from eight full years.

February 4, 1882.

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