Studies in Song

The Launch of the Livadia

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Malâ soluta navis exit alite.

Rigged with curses dark.

GOLD, and fair marbles, and again more gold,
    And space of halls afloat that glance and gleam
    Like the green heights of sunset heaven, or seem
The golden steeps of sunrise red and cold
On deserts where dark exile keeps the fold
    Fast of the flocks of torment, where no beam
    Falls of kind light or comfort save in dream,
These we far off behold not, who behold
The cordage woven of curses, and the decks
    With mortal hate and mortal peril paven;
    From stem to stern the lines of doom engraven
That mark for sure inevitable wrecks
Those sails predestinate, though no storm vex,
    To miss on earth and find in hell their haven.


All curses be about her, and all ill
    Go with her; heaven be dark above her way,
    The gulf beneath her glad and sure of prey,
And, wheresoe’er her prow be pointed, still
The winds of heaven have all one evil will
    Conspirant even as hearts of kings to slay
    With mouths of kings to lie and smile and pray,
And chiefliest his whose wintrier breath makes chill
With more than winter’s and more poisonous cold
    The horror of his kingdom toward the north,
        The deserts of his kingdom toward the east.
And though death hide not in her direful hold
    Be all stars adverse toward her that come forth
        Nightly, by day all hours till all have ceased:


Till all have ceased for ever, and the sum
    Be summed of all the sumless curses told
    Out on his head by all dark seasons rolled
Over its cursed and crowned existence, dumb
And blind and stark as though the snows made numb
    All sense within it, and all conscience cold,
    That hangs round hearts of less imperial mould
Like a snake feeding till their doomsday come.
O heart fast bound of frozen poison, be
All nature’s as all true men’s hearts to thee,
    A two-edged sword of judgment; hope be far
And fear at hand for pilot oversea
    With death for compass and despair for star,
    And the white foam a shroud for the White Czar.

            September 30, 1880.

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