Songs Before Sunrise


Algernon Charles Swinburne

AT the chill high tide of the night,
    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.”

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