List Of Contents | Contents of Songs before Sunrise, by Swinburne
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So more precious than gold.


A praise so sweet in our ears,
That thou in the tempest of things
As a rock for a refuge shouldst stand,
In the bloodred river of tears
Poured forth for the triumph of kings;
A safeguard, a sheltering land,
In the thunder and torrent of years.


Strangers came gladly to thee,
Exiles, chosen of men,
Safe for thy sake in thy shade,
Sat down at thy feet and were free.
So men spake of thee then;
Now shall their speaking be stayed?
Ah, so let it not be!


Not for revenge or affright,
Pride, or a tyrannous lust,
Cast from thee the crown of thy praise.
Mercy was thine in thy might;
Strong when thou wert, thou wert just;
Now, in the wrong-doing days,
Cleave thou, thou at least, to the right.


How should one charge thee, how sway,
Save by the memories that were?
Not thy gold nor the strength of thy ships,
Nor the might of thine armies at bay,
Made thee, mother, most fair;
But a word from republican lips
Said in thy name in thy day.


Hast thou said it, and hast thou forgot?
Is thy praise in thine ears as a scoff?
Blood of men guiltless was shed,
Children, and souls without spot,
Shed, but in places far off;
Let slaughter no more be, said
Milton; and slaughter was not.


Was it not said of thee too,
Now, but now, by thy foes,
By the slaves that had slain their France,
And thee would slay as they slew -
"Down with her walls that enclose
Freemen that eye us askance,
Fugitives, men that are true!"


This was thy praise or thy blame
From bondsman or freeman--to be
Pure from pollution of slaves,
Clean of their sins, and thy name
Bloodless, innocent, free;
Now if thou be not, thy waves
Wash not from off thee thy shame.


Freeman he is not, but slave,
Whoso in fear for the State
Cries for surety of blood,
Help of gibbet and grave;
Neither is any land great
Whom, in her fear-stricken mood,
These things only can save.


Lo, how fair from afar,
Taintless of tyranny, stands
Thy mighty daughter, for years
Who trod the winepress of war;
Shines with immaculate hands;
Slays not a foe, neither fears;
Stains not peace with a scar.


Be not as tyrant or slave,
England; be not as these,
Thou that wert other than they.
Stretch out thine hand, but to save;
Put forth thy strength, and release;
Lest there arise, if thou slay,
Thy shame as a ghost from the grave.

November 20, 1867.


In a vision Liberty stood
   By the childless charm-stricken bed
Where, barren of glory and good,
Knowing nought if she would not or would,
   England slept with her dead.

Her face that the foam had whitened,
   Her hands that were strong to strive,
Her eyes whence battle had lightened,
Over all was a drawn shroud tightened
   To bind her asleep and alive.

She turned and laughed in her dream
   With grey lips arid and cold;
She saw not the face as a beam
Burn on her, but only a gleam
   Through her sleep as of new-stamped gold.

But the goddess, with terrible tears
   In the light of her down-drawn eyes,
Spake fire in the dull sealed ears;
"Thou, sick with slumbers and fears,
   Wilt thou sleep now indeed or arise?

"With dreams and with words and with light
   Memories and empty desires
Thou hast wrapped thyself round all night;
Thou hast shut up thine heart from the right,
   And warmed thee at burnt-out fires.

"Yet once if I smote at thy gate,
   Thy sons would sleep not, but heard;
O thou that wast found so great,
Art thou smitten with folly or fate
   That thy sons have forgotten my word?

O Cromwell's mother, O breast
   That suckled Milton! thy name
That was beautiful then, that was blest,
Is it wholly discrowned and deprest,
   Trodden under by sloth into shame?

"Why wilt thou hate me and die?
   For none can hate me and live.
What ill have I done to thee? why
Wilt thou turn from me fighting, and fly,
   Who would follow thy feet and forgive?

"Thou hast seen me stricken, and said,
   What is it to me?  I am strong:
Thou hast seen me bowed down on my dead
And laughed and lifted thine head,
   And washed thine hands of my wrong.

"Thou hast put out the soul of thy sight;
   Thou hast sought to my foemen as friend,
To my traitors that kiss me and smite,
To the kingdoms and empires of night
   That begin with the darkness, and end.

"Turn thee, awaken, arise,
   With the light that is risen on the lands,
With the change of the fresh-coloured skies;
Set thine eyes on mine eyes,
   Lay thy hands in my hands."

She moved and mourned as she heard,
   Sighed and shifted her place,
As the wells of her slumber were stirred
By the music and wind of the word,
   Then turned and covered her face.

"Ah," she said in her sleep,
   "Is my work not done with and done?
Is there corn for my sickle to reap?
And strange is the pathway, and steep,
   And sharp overhead is the sun.

"I have done thee service enough,
   Loved thee enough in my day;
Now nor hatred nor love
Nor hardly remembrance thereof
   Lives in me to lighten my way.

"And is it not well with us here?
   Is change as good as is rest?
What hope should move me, or fear,
That eye should open or ear,
   Who have long since won what is best?

"Where among us are such things
   As turn men's hearts into hell?
Have we not queens without stings,
Scotched princes, and fangless kings?
   Yea," she said, "we are well.

"We have filed the teeth of the snake
   Monarchy, how should it bite?
Should the slippery slow thing wake,
It will not sting for my sake;
   Yea," she said, "I do right."

So spake she, drunken with dreams,
   Mad; but again in her ears
A voice as of storm-swelled streams
Spake; "No brave shame then redeems
   Thy lusts of sloth and thy fears?

"Thy poor lie slain of thine hands,
   Their starved limbs rot in thy sight;
As a shadow the ghost of thee stands
Among men living and lands,
   And stirs not leftward or right.

"Freeman he is not, but slave,
   Who stands not out on my side;
His own hand hollows his grave,
Nor strength is in me to save
   Where strength is none to abide.

"Time shall tread on his name
   That was written for honour of old,
Who hath taken in change for fame
Dust, and silver, and shame,
   Ashes, and iron, and gold."


Because there is but one truth;
   Because there is but one banner;
      Because there is but one light;
Because we have with us our youth
   Once, and one chance and one manner
      Of service, and then the night;

Because we have found not yet
   Any way for the world to follow
      Save only that ancient way;
Whosoever forsake or forget,
   Whose faith soever be hollow,
      Whose hope soever grow grey;

Because of the watchwords of kings
   That are many and strange and unwritten,
      Diverse, and our watchword is one;
Therefore, though seven be the strings,
   One string, if the harp be smitten,
      Sole sounds, till the tune be done;

Sounds without cadence or change
   In a weary monotonous burden,
      Be the keynote of mourning or mirth;
Free, but free not to range;
   Taking for crown and for guerdon
      No man's praise upon earth;

Saying one sole word evermore,
   In the ears of the charmed world saying,
      Charmed by spells to its death;
One that chanted of yore
   To a tune of the sword-sweep's playing
      In the lips of the dead blew breath;

Therefore I set not mine hand
   To the shifting of changed modulations,
      To the smiting of manifold strings;
While the thrones of the throned men stand,
   One song for the morning of nations,
      One for the twilight of kings.

One chord, one word, and one way,
   One hope as our law, one heaven,
      Till slain be the great one wrong;
Till the people it could not slay,
   Risen up, have for one star seven,
      For a single, a sevenfold song.


Ask nothing more of me, sweet;
   All I can give you I give.
      Heart of my heart, were it more,
More would be laid at your feet:
   Love that should help you to live,
      Song that should spur you to soar.

All things were nothing to give
   Once to have sense of you more,
      Touch you and taste of you sweet,
Think you and breathe you and live,
   Swept of your wings as they soar,
      Trodden by chance of your feet.

I that have love and no more
   Give you but love of you, sweet:
      He that hath more, let him give;
He that hath wings, let him soar;
   Mine is the heart at your feet
      Here, that must love you to live.


Fire and wild light of hope and doubt and fear,
Wind of swift change, and clouds and hours that veer
As the storm shifts of the tempestuous year;
   Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

Hope sits yet hiding her war-wearied eyes,
Doubt sets her forehead earthward and denies,
But fear brought hand to hand with danger dies,
   Dies and is burnt up in the fire of fight.

Hearts bruised with loss and eaten through with shame
Turn at the time's touch to devouring flame;
Grief stands as one that knows not her own name,
   Nor if the star she sees bring day or night.

No song breaks with it on the violent air,
But shrieks of shame, defeat, and brute despair;
Yet something at the star's heart far up there
   Burns as a beacon in our shipwrecked sight.

O strange fierce light of presage, unknown star,
Whose tongue shall tell us what thy secrets are,
What message trembles in thee from so far?
   Cry wellaway. but well befall the right.

From shores laid waste across an iron sea
Where the waifs drift of hopes that were to be,
Across the red rolled foam we look for thee,
   Across the fire we look up for the light.

From days laid waste across disastrous years,
From hopes cut down across a world of fears,
We gaze with eyes too passionate for tears,
   Where faith abides though hope be put to flight.

Old hope is dead, the grey-haired hope grown blind
That talked with us of old things out of mind,
Dreams, deeds and men the world has left behind;
   Yet, though hope die, faith lives in hope's despite.

Ay, with hearts fixed on death and hopeless hands
We stand about our banner while it stands
Above but one field of the ruined lands;
   Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

Though France were given for prey to bird and beast,
Though Rome were rent in twain of king and priest,
The soul of man, the soul is safe at least
   That gives death life and dead men hands to smite.

Are ye so strong, O kings, O strong men?  Nay,
Waste all ye will and gather all ye may,
Yet one thing is there that ye shall not slay,
   Even thought, that fire nor iron can affright.

The woundless and invisible thought that goes
Free throughout time as north or south wind blows,
Far throughout space as east or west sea flows,
   And all dark things before it are made bright.

Thy thought, thy word, O soul republican,
O spirit of life, O God whose name is man:
What sea of sorrows but thy sight shall span?
   Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

With all its coils crushed, all its rings uncurled,
The one most poisonous worm that soiled the world
Is wrenched from off the throat of man, and hurled
   Into deep hell from empire's helpless height.

Time takes no more infection of it now;
Like a dead snake divided of the plough,
The rotten thing lies cut in twain; but thou,
   Thy fires shall heal us of the serpent's bite.

Ay, with red cautery and a burning brand
Purge thou the leprous leaven of the land;
Take to thee fire, and iron in thine hand,
   Till blood and tears have washed the soiled limbs white.

We have sinned against thee in dreams and wicked sleep;
Smite, we will shrink not; strike, we will not weep;
Let the heart feel thee; let thy wound go deep;
   Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

Wound us with love, pierce us with longing, make
Our souls thy sacrifices; turn and take
Our hearts for our sin-offerings lest they break,
   And mould them with thine hands and give them might.

Then, when the cup of ills is drained indeed,
Will we come to thee with our wounds that bleed,
With famished mouths and hearts that thou shalt feed,
   And see thee worshipped as the world's delight.

There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won,
But in thy sight whose eyes are as the sun
All names shall be one name, all nations one,
   All souls of men in man's one soul unite.

O sea whereon men labour, O great sea
That heaven seems one with, shall these things not be?
O earth, our earth, shall time not make us free?
   Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.


Between the wave-ridge and the strand
I let you forth in sight of land,
   Songs that with storm-crossed wings and eyes
   Strain eastward till the darkness dies;
Let signs and beacons fall or stand,
   And stars and balefires set and rise;
Ye, till some lordlier lyric hand
   Weave the beloved brows their crown,
   At the beloved feet lie down.

O, whatsoever of life or light
Love hath to give you, what of might
   Or heart or hope is yours to live,
   I charge you take in trust to give
For very love's sake, in whose sight,
   Through poise of hours alternative
And seasons plumed with light or night,
   Ye live and move and have your breath
   To sing with on the ridge of death.

I charge you faint not all night through
For love's sake that was breathed on you
   To be to you as wings and feet
   For travel, and as blood to heat
And sense of spirit to renew
   And bloom of fragrance to keep sweet
And fire of purpose to keep true
   The life, if life in such things be,
   That I would give you forth of me.

Out where the breath of war may bear,
Out in the rank moist reddened air
   That sounds and smells of death, and hath
   No light but death's upon its path
Seen through the black wind's tangled hair,
   I send you past the wild time's wrath
To find his face who bade you bear
   Fruit of his seed to faith and love,
   That he may take the heart thereof.

By day or night, by sea or street,
Fly till ye find and clasp his feet
   And kiss as worshippers who bring
   Too much love on their lips to sing,
But with hushed heads accept and greet
   The presence of some heavenlier thing
In the near air; so may ye meet
   His eyes, and droop not utterly
   For shame's sake at the light you see.

Not utterly struck spiritless
For shame's sake and unworthiness
   Of these poor forceless hands that come
   Empty, these lips that should be dumb,
This love whose seal can but impress
   These weak word-offerings wearisome
Whose blessings have not strength to bless
   Nor lightnings fire to burn up aught
   Nor smite with thunders of their thought.

One thought they have, even love; one light,
Truth, that keeps clear the sun by night;
   One chord, of faith as of a lyre;
   One heat, of hope as of a fire;
One heart, one music, and one might,
   One flame, one altar, and one choir;
And one man's living head in sight
   Who said, when all time's sea was foam,
   "Let there be Rome"--and there was Rome.

As a star set in space for token

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