List Of Contents | Contents of Songs before Sunrise, by Swinburne
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Look thou and listen, and let be
All the dead quick, all the bond free;
In the blind eyes let there be sight;
In the eighteen centuries of the night
Let there be light.

Bow down the beauty of thine head,
   Sweet, and with lips of living breath
Kiss thy sons sleeping and thy dead,
   That there be no more sleep or death.
Give us thy light, thy might, thy love,
Whom thy face seen afar above
Drew to thy feet; and when, being free,
Thou hast blest thy children born to thee,
Bless also me.

Me that when others played or slept
Sat still under thy cross and wept;
Me who so early and unaware
Felt fall on bent bared brows and hair
 (Thin drops of the overflowing flood!)
The bitter blessing of thy blood;
The sacred shadow of thy pain,
Thine, the true maiden-mother, slain
And raised again.

Me consecrated, if I might,
   To praise thee, or to love at least,
O mother of all men's dear delight,
   Thou madest a choral-souled boy-priest,
Before my lips had leave to sing,
Or my hands hardly strength to cling
About the intolerable tree
Whereto they had nailed my heart and thee
And said, "Let be."

For to thee too the high Fates gave
Grace to be sacrificed and save,
That being arisen, in the equal sun,
God and the People should be one;
By those red roads thy footprints trod,
Man more divine, more human God,
Saviour; that where no light was known
But darkness, and a daytime flown,
Light should be shown.

Let there be light, O Italy!
   For our feet falter in the night.
O lamp of living years to be,
   O light of God, let there be light!
Fill with a love keener than flame
Men sealed in spirit with thy name,
The cities and the Roman skies,
Where men with other than man's eyes
Saw thy sun rise.

For theirs thou wast and thine were they
Whose names outshine thy very day;
For they are thine and theirs thou art
Whose blood beats living in man's heart,
Remembering ages fled and dead
Wherein for thy sake these men bled;
They that saw Trebia, they that see
Mentana, they in years to be
That shall see thee.

For thine are all of us, and ours
   Thou; till the seasons bring to birth
A perfect people, and all the powers
   Be with them that bear fruit on earth;
Till the inner heart of man be one
With freedom, and the sovereign sun;
And Time, in likeness of a guide,
Lead the Republic as a bride
Up to God's side.


O heart of hearts, the chalice of love's fire,
   Hid round with flowers and all the bounty of bloom;
   O wonderful and perfect heart, for whom
The lyrist liberty made life a lyre;
O heavenly heart, at whose most dear desire
   Dead love, living and singing, cleft his tomb,
   And with him risen and regent in death's room
All day thy choral pulses rang full choir;
O heart whose beating blood was running song,
   O sole thing sweeter than thine own songs were,
      Help us for thy free love's sake to be free,
True for thy truth's sake, for thy strength's sake strong,
   Till very liberty make clean and fair
      The nursing earth as the sepulchral sea.


Is thine hour come to wake, O slumbering Night?
   Hath not the Dawn a message in thine ear?
   Though thou be stone and sleep, yet shalt thou hear
When the word falls from heaven--Let there be light.
Thou knowest we would not do thee the despite
   To wake thee while the old sorrow and shame were near;
   We spake not loud for thy sake, and for fear
Lest thou shouldst lose the rest that was thy right,
The blessing given thee that was thine alone,
The happiness to sleep and to be stone:
   Nay, we kept silence of thee for thy sake
Albeit we knew thee alive, and left with thee
The great good gift to feel not nor to see;
   But will not yet thine Angel bid thee wake?



It is an hour before the hour of dawn.
   Set in mine hand my staff and leave me here
   Outside the hollow house that blind men fear,
More blind than I who live on life withdrawn
   And feel on eyes that see not but foresee
   The shadow of death which clothes Antigone.

Here lay her living body that here lies
   Dead, if man living know what thing is death,
   If life be all made up of blood and breath,
And no sense be save as of ears and eyes.
   But heart there is not, tongue there is not found,
   To think or sing what verge hath life or bound.

In the beginning when the powers that made
   The young child man a little loved him, seeing
   His joy of life and fair face of his being,
And bland and laughing with the man-child played,
   As friends they saw on our divine one day
   King Cadmus take to queen Harmonia.

The strength of soul that builds up as with hands
   Walls spiritual and towers and towns of thought
   Which only fate, not force, can bring to nought,
Took then to wife the light of all men's lands,
   War's child and love's, most sweet and wise and strong,
   Order of things and rule and guiding song.

It was long since:  yea, even the sun that saw
   Remembers hardly what was, nor how long.
   And now the wise heart of the worldly song
Is perished, and the holy hand of law
   Can set no tune on time, nor help again
   The power of thought to build up life for men.

Yea, surely are they now transformed or dead,
   And sleep below this world, where no sun warms,
   Or move about it now in formless forms
Incognizable, and all their lordship fled;
   And where they stood up singing crawl and hiss,
   With fangs that kill behind their lips that kiss.

Yet though her marriage-garment, seeming fair,
   Was dyed in sin and woven of jealousy
   To turn their seed to poison, time shall see
The gods reissue from them, and repair
   Their broken stamp of godhead, and again
   Thought and wise love sing words of law to men.

I, Tiresias the prophet, seeing in Thebes
   Much evil, and the misery of men's hands
   Who sow with fruitless wheat the stones and sands,
With fruitful thorns the fallows and warm glebes,
   Bade their hands hold lest worse hap came to pass;
   But which of you had heed of Tiresias?

I am as Time's self in mine own wearied mind,
   Whom the strong heavy-footed years have led
   From night to night and dead men unto dead,
And from the blind hope to the memory blind;
   For each man's life is woven, as Time's life is,
   Of blind young hopes and old blind memories.

I am a soul outside of death and birth.
   I see before me and afterward I see,
   O child, O corpse, the live dead face of thee,
Whose life and death are one thing upon earth
   Where day kills night and night again kills day
   And dies; but where is that Harmonia?

O all-beholden light not seen of me,
   Air, and warm winds that under the sun's eye
   Stretch your strong wings at morning; and thou, sky,
Whose hollow circle engirdling earth and sea
   All night the set stars limit, and all day
   The moving sun remeasures; ye, I say,

Ye heights of hills, and thou Dircean spring
   Inviolable, and ye towers that saw cast down
   Seven kings keen-sighted toward your seven-faced town
And quenched the red seed of one sightless king;
   And thou, for death less dreadful than for birth,
   Whose wild leaves hide the horror of the earth,

O mountain whereon gods made chase of kings,
   Cithaeron, thou that sawest on Pentheus dead
   Fangs of a mother fasten and wax red
And satiate with a son thy swollen springs,
   And heardst her cry fright all thine eyries' nests
   Who gave death suck at sanguine-suckling breasts;

Yea, and a grief more grievous, without name,
   A curse too grievous for the name of grief,
   Thou sawest, and heardst the rumour scare belief
Even unto death and madness, when the flame
   Was lit whose ashes dropped about the pyre
   That of two brethren made one sundering fire;

O bitter nurse, that on thine hard bare knees
   Rear'dst for his fate the bloody-footed child
   Whose hands should be more bloodily defiled
And the old blind feet walk wearier ways than these,
   Whose seed, brought forth in darkness unto doom,
   Should break as fire out of his mother's womb;

I bear you witness as ye bear to me,
   Time, day, night, sun, stars, life, death, air, sea, earth,
   And ye that round the human house of birth
Watch with veiled heads and weaponed hands, and see
   Good things and evil, strengthless yet and dumb,
   Sit in the clouds with cloudlike hours to come;

Ye forces without form and viewless powers
   That have the keys of all our years in hold,
   That prophesy too late with tongues of gold,
In a strange speech whose words are perished hours,
   I witness to you what good things ye give
   As ye to me what evil while I live.

What should I do to blame you, what to praise,
   For floral hours and hours funereal?
   What should I do to curse or bless at all
For winter-woven or summer-coloured days?
   Curse he that will and bless you whoso can,
   I have no common part in you with man.

I hear a springing water, whose quick sound
   Makes softer the soft sunless patient air,
   And the wind's hand is laid on my thin hair
Light as a lover's, and the grasses round
   Have odours in them of green bloom and rain
   Sweet as the kiss wherewith sleep kisses pain.

I hear the low sound of the spring of time
   Still beating as the low live throb of blood,
   And where its waters gather head and flood
I hear change moving on them, and the chime
   Across them of reverberate wings of hours
   Sounding, and feel the future air of flowers.

The wind of change is soft as snow, and sweet
   The sense thereof as roses in the sun,
   The faint wind springing with the springs that run,
The dim sweet smell of flowering hopes, and heat
   Of unbeholden sunrise; yet how long
   I know not, till the morning put forth song.

I prophesy of life, who live with death;
   Of joy, being sad; of sunlight, who am blind;
   Of man, whose ways are alien from mankind
And his lips are not parted with man's breath;
   I am a word out of the speechless years,
   The tongue of time, that no man sleeps who hears.

I stand a shadow across the door of doom,
   Athwart the lintel of death's house, and wait;
   Nor quick nor dead, nor flexible by fate,
Nor quite of earth nor wholly of the tomb;
   A voice, a vision, light as fire or air,
   Driven between days that shall be and that were.

I prophesy, with feet upon a grave,
   Of death cast out and life devouring death
   As flame doth wood and stubble with a breath;
Of freedom, though all manhood were one slave;
   Of truth, though all the world were liar; of love,
   That time nor hate can raze the witness of.

Life that was given for love's sake and his law's
   Their powers have no more power on; they divide
   Spoils wrung from lust or wrath of man or pride,
And keen oblivion without pity or pause
   Sets them on fire and scatters them on air
   Like ashes shaken from a suppliant's hair.

But life they lay no hand on; life once given
   No force of theirs hath competence to take;
   Life that was given for some divine thing's sake,
To mix the bitterness of earth with heaven,
   Light with man's night, and music with his breath,
   Dies not, but makes its living food of death.

I have seen this, who live where men are not,
   In the high starless air of fruitful night
   On that serenest and obscurest height
Where dead and unborn things are one in thought
   And whence the live unconquerable springs
   Feed full of force the torrents of new things.

I have seen this, who saw long since, being man,
   As now I know not if indeed I be,
   The fair bare body of Wisdom, good to see
And evil, whence my light and night began;
   Light on the goal and darkness on the way,
   Light all through night and darkness all through day.

Mother, that by that Pegasean spring
   Didst fold round in thine arms thy blinded son,
   Weeping "O holiest, what thing hast thou done,
What, to my child? woe's me that see the thing!
   Is this thy love to me-ward, and hereof
   Must I take sample how the gods can love?

"O child, thou hast seen indeed, poor child of mine,
   The breasts and flanks of Pallas bare in sight,
   But never shalt see more the dear sun's light;
O Helicon, how great a pay is thine
   For some poor antelopes and wild-deer dead,
   My child's eyes hast thou taken in their stead--"

Mother, thou knewest not what she had to give,
   Thy goddess, though then angered, for mine eyes;
   Fame and foreknowledge, and to be most wise,
And centuries of high-thoughted life to live,
   And in mine hand this guiding staff to be
   As eyesight to the feet of men that see.

Perchance I shall not die at all, nor pass
   The general door and lintel of men dead;
   Yet even the very tongue of wisdom said
What grace should come with death to Tiresias,
   What special honour that God's hand accord
   Who gathers all men's nations as their lord.

And sometimes when the secret eye of thought
   Is changed with obscuration, and the sense
   Aches with long pain of hollow prescience,
And fiery foresight with foresuffering bought
   Seems even to infect my spirit and consume,
   Hunger and thirst come on me for the tomb.

I could be fain to drink my death and sleep,
   And no more wrapped about with bitter dreams
   Talk with the stars and with the winds and streams
And with the inevitable years, and weep;
   For how should he who communes with the years
   Be sometime not a living spring of tears?

O child, that guided of thine only will
   Didst set thy maiden foot against the gate
   To strike it open ere thine hour of fate,
Antigone, men say not thou didst ill,
   For love's sake and the reverence of his awe
   Divinely dying, slain by mortal law;

For love is awful as immortal death.
   And through thee surely hath thy brother won
   Rest, out of sight of our world-weary sun,
And in the dead land where ye ghosts draw breath
   A royal place and honour; so wast thou
   Happy, though earth have hold of thee too now.

So hast thou life and name inviolable
   And joy it may be, sacred and severe,
   Joy secret-souled beyond all hope or fear,
A monumental joy wherein to dwell
   Secluse and silent, a selected state,
   Serene possession of thy proper fate.

Thou art not dead as these are dead who live
   Full of blind years, a sorrow-shaken kind,
   Nor as these are am I the prophet blind;
They have not life that have not heart to give
   Life, nor have eyesight who lack heart to see
   When to be not is better than to be.

O ye whom time but bears with for a span,
   How long will ye be blind and dead, how long
   Make your own souls part of your own soul's wrong?
Son of the word of the most high gods, man,
   Why wilt thou make thine hour of light and breath
   Emptier of all but shame than very death?

Fool, wilt thou live for ever? though thou care
   With all thine heart for life to keep it fast,
   Shall not thine hand forego it at the last?
Lo, thy sure hour shall take thee by the hair
   Sleeping, or when thou knowest not, or wouldst fly;
   And as men died much mightier shalt thou die.

Yea, they are dead, men much more worth than thou;

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: