Studies in Song

Off Shore

Algernon Charles Swinburne

                        WHEN the might of the summer
                            Is most on the sea;
                        When the days overcome her
                            With joy but to be,
With rapture of royal enchantment, and sorcery that sets her not free,

                        But for hours upon hours
                            As a thrall she remains
                        Spell-bound as with flowers
                            And content in their chains,
And her loud steeds fret not, and lift not a lock of their deep white manes;

                        Then only, far under
                            In the depths of her hold,
                        Some gleam of its wonder
                            Man’s eye may behold,
Its wild-weed forests of crimson and russet and olive and gold.

                        Still deeper and dimmer
                            And goodlier they glow
                        For the eyes of the swimmer
                            Who scans them below
As he crosses the zone of their flowerage that knows not of sunshine and snow.

                        Soft blossomless frondage
                            And foliage that gleams
                        As to prisoners in bondage
                            The light of their dreams,
The desire of a dawn unbeholden, with hope on the wings of its beams.

                        Not as prisoners entombed
                            Waxen haggard and wizen,
                        But consoled and illumed
                            In the depths of their prison
With delight of the light everlasting and vision of dawn on them risen,

                        From the banks and the beds
                            Of the waters divine
                        They lift up their heads
                            And the flowers of them shine
Through the splendour of darkness that clothes them of water that glimmers like wine.

                        Bright bank over bank
                            Making glorious the gloom,
                        Soft rank upon rank,
                            Strange bloom after bloom,
They kindle the liquid low twilight, the dusk of the dim sea’s womb.

                        Through the subtle and tangible
                            Gloom without form,
                        Their branches, infrangible
                            Ever of storm,
Spread softer their sprays than the shoots of the woodland when April is warm.

                        As the flight of the thunder, full
                            Charged with its word,
                        Dividing the wonderful
                            Depths like a bird,
Speaks wrath and delight to the heart of the night that exults to have heard,

                        So swiftly, though soundless
                            In silence’s ear,
                        Light, winged from the boundless
                            Blue depths full of cheer,
Speaks joy to the heart of the waters that part not before him, but hear.

                        Light, perfect and visible
                            Godhead of God,
                        God indivisible,
                            Lifts but his rod,
And the shadows are scattered in sunder, and darkness is light at his nod.

                        At the touch of his wand,
                            At the nod of his head
                        From the spaces beyond
                            Where the dawn hath her bed,
Earth, water, and air are transfigured, and rise as one risen from the dead.

                        He puts forth his hand,
                            And the mountains are thrilled
                        To the heart as they stand
                            In his presence, fulfilled
With his glory that utters his grace upon earth, and her sorrows are stilled.

                        The moan of her travail
                            That groans for the light
                        Till dayspring unravel
                            The weft of the night,
At the sound of the strings of the music of morning, falls dumb with delight.

                        He gives forth his word,
                            And the word that he saith,
                        Ere well it be heard,
                            Strikes darkness to death;
For the thought of his heart is the sunrise, and dawn as the sound of his breath.

                        And the strength of its pulses
                            That passion makes proud
                        Confounds and convulses
                            The depths of the cloud
Of the darkness that heaven was engirt with, divided and rent as a shroud,

                        As the veil of the shrine
                            Of the temple of old
                        When darkness divine
                            Over noonday was rolled;
So the heart of the night by the pulse of the light is convulsed and controlled.

                        And the sea’s heart, groaning
                            For glories withdrawn,
                        And the waves’ mouths, moaning
                            All night for the dawn,
Are uplift as the hearts and the mouths of the singers on leaside and lawn.

                        And the sound of the quiring
                            Of all these as one,
                        Desired and desiring
                            Till dawn’s will be done,
Fills full with delight of them heaven till it burns as the heart of the sun.

                        Till the waves too inherit
                            And waters take part
                        In the sense of the spirit
                            That breathes from his heart,
And are kindled with music as fire when the lips of the morning part,

                        With music unheard
                            In the light of her lips,
                        In the life-giving word
                            Of the dewfall that drips
On the grasses of earth, and the wind that enkindles the wings of the ships.

                        White glories of wings
                            As of seafaring birds
                        That flock from the springs
                            Of the sunrise in herds
With the wind for a herdsman, and hasten or halt at the change of his words.

                        At the watchword’s change
                            When the wind’s note shifts,
                        And the skies grow strange,
                            And the white squall drifts
Up sharp from the sea-line, vexing the sea till the low cloud lifts.

                        At the charge of his word
                            Bidding pause, bidding haste,
                        When the ranks are stirred
                            And the lines displaced,
They scatter as wild swans parting adrift on the wan green waste.

                        At the hush of his word
                            In a pause of his breath
                        When the waters have heard
                            His will that he saith,
They stand as a flock penned close in its fold for division of death.

                        As a flock by division
                            Of death to be thinned,
                        As the shades in a vision
                            Of spirits that sinned;
So glimmer their shrouds and their sheetings as clouds on the stream of the wind.

                        But the sun stands fast,
                            And the sea burns bright,
                        And the flight of them past
                            Is no more than the flight
Of the snow-soft swarm of serene wings poised and afloat in the light.

                        Like flowers upon flowers
                            In a festival way
                        When hours after hours
                            Shed grace on the day,
White blossomlike butterflies hover and gleam through the snows of the spray.

                        Like snow-coloured petals
                            Of blossoms that flee
                        From storm that unsettles
                            The flower as the tree
They flutter, a legion of flowers on the wing, through the field of the sea.

                        Through the furrowless field
                            Where the foam-blossoms blow
                        And the secrets are sealed
                            Of their harvest below
They float in the path of the sunbeams, as flakes or as blossoms of snow.

                        Till the sea’s ways darken,
                            And the God, withdrawn,
                        Give ear not or hearken
                            If prayer on him fawn,
And the sun’s self seem but a shadow, the noon as a ghost of the dawn.

                        No shadow, but rather
                            God, father of song,
                        Show grace to me, Father
                            God, loved of me long,
That I lose not the light of thy face, that my trust in thee work me not wrong.

                        While yet I make forward
                            With face toward thee
                        Not turned yet in shoreward,
                            Be thine upon me;
Be thy light on my forehead or ever I turn it again from the sea.

                        As a kiss on my brow
                            Be the light of thy grace,
                        Be thy glance on me now
                            From the pride of thy place:
As the sign of a sire to a son be the light on my face of thy face.

                        Thou wast father of olden
                            Times hailed and adored,
                        And the sense of thy golden
                            Great harp’s monochord
Was the joy in the soul of the singers that hailed thee for master and lord.

                        Fair father of all
                            In thy ways that have trod,
                        That have risen at thy call,
                            That have thrilled at thy nod,
Arise, shine, lighten upon me, O sun that we see to be God.

                        As my soul has been dutiful
                            Only to thee,
                        O God most beautiful,
                            Lighten thou me,
As I swim through the dim long rollers, with eyelids uplift from the sea.

                        Be praised and adored of us
                            All in accord,
                        Father and lord of us
                            Alway adored,
The slayer and the stayer and the harper, the light of us all and our lord.

                        At the sound of thy lyre,
                            At the touch of thy rod,
                        Air quickens to fire
                            By the foot of thee trod,
The saviour and healer and singer, the living and visible God.

                        The years are before thee
                            As shadows of thee,
                        As men that adore thee,
                            As cloudlets that flee:
But thou art the God, and thy kingdom is heaven, and thy shrine is the sea.

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