List Of Contents | Contents of Songs before Sunrise, by Swinburne
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Mourners, what of the night? -
   All night through without sleep
   We weep, and we weep, and we weep.
Who shall give us our sons?
Beaks of raven and kite,
   Mouths of wolf and of hound,
Give us them back whom the guns
   Shot for you dead on the ground.


Dead men, what of the night? -
   Cannon and scaffold and sword,
   Horror of gibbet and cord,
Mowed us as sheaves for the grave,
Mowed us down for the right.
   We do not grudge or repent.
Freely to freedom we gave
   Pledges, till life should be spent.


Statesman, what of the night? -
   The night will last me my time.
   The gold on a crown or a crime
Looks well enough yet by the lamps.
Have we not fingers to write,
   Lips to swear at a need?
Then, when danger decamps,
   Bury the word with the deed.


Warrior, what of the night? -
   Whether it be not or be
   Night, is as one thing to me.
I for one, at the least,
Ask not of dews if they blight,
   Ask not of flames if they slay,
Ask not of prince or of priest
   How long ere we put them away.


Master, what of the night? -
   Child, night is not at all
   Anywhere, fallen or to fall,
Save in our star-stricken eyes.
Forth of our eyes it takes flight,
   Look we but once nor before
Nor behind us, but straight on the skies;
   Night is not then any more.


Exile, what of the night? -
   The tides and the hours run out,
   The seasons of death and of doubt,
The night-watches bitter and sore.
In the quicksands leftward and right
   My feet sink down under me;
But I know the scents of the shore
   And the broad blown breaths of the sea.


Captives, what of the night? -
   It rains outside overhead
   Always, a rain that is red,
And our faces are soiled with the rain.
Here in the seasons' despite
   Day-time and night-time are one,
Till the curse of the kings and the chain
   Break, and their toils be undone.


Christian, what of the night? -
   I cannot tell; I am blind.
   I halt and hearken behind
If haply the hours will go back
And return to the dear dead light,
   To the watchfires and stars that of old
Shone where the sky now is black,
   Glowed where the earth now is cold.


High priest, what of the night? -
   The night is horrible here
   With haggard faces and fear,
Blood, and the burning of fire.
Mine eyes are emptied of sight,
   Mine hands are full of the dust.
If the God of my faith be a liar,
   Who is it that I shall trust?


Princes, what of the night? -
   Night with pestilent breath
   Feeds us, children of death,
Clothes us close with her gloom.
Rapine and famine and fright
   Crouch at our feet and are fed.
Earth where we pass is a tomb,
   Life where we triumph is dead.


Martyrs, what of the night? -
   Nay, is it night with you yet?
   We, for our part, we forget
What night was, if it were.
The loud red mouths of the fight
   Are silent and shut where we are.
In our eyes the tempestuous air
   Shines as the face of a star.


England, what of the night? -
   Night is for slumber and sleep,
   Warm, no season to weep.
Let me alone till the day.
Sleep would I still if I might,
   Who have slept for two hundred years.
Once I had honour, they say;
   But slumber is sweeter than tears.


France, what of the night? -
   Night is the prostitute's noon,
   Kissed and drugged till she swoon,
Spat upon, trod upon, whored.
With bloodred rose-garlands dight,
   Round me reels in the dance
Death, my saviour, my lord,
   Crowned; there is no more France.


Italy, what of the night? -
   Ah, child, child, it is long!
   Moonbeam and starbeam and song
Leave it dumb now and dark.
Yet I perceive on the height
   Eastward, not now very far,
A song too loud for the lark,
   A light too strong for a star.


Germany, what of the night? -
   Long has it lulled me with dreams;
   Now at midwatch, as it seems,
Light is brought back to mine eyes,
And the mastery of old and the might
   Lives in the joints of mine hands,
Steadies my limbs as they rise,
   Strengthens my foot as it stands.


Europe, what of the night? -
   Ask of heaven, and the sea,
   And my babes on the bosom of me,
Nations of mine, but ungrown.
There is one who shall surely requite
   All that endure or that err:
She can answer alone:
   Ask not of me, but of her.


Liberty, what of the night? -
   I feel not the red rains fall,
   Hear not the tempest at all,
Nor thunder in heaven any more.
All the distance is white
   With the soundless feet of the sun.
Night, with the woes that it wore,
   Night is over and done.


By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
      Remembering thee,
That for ages of agony hast endured, and slept,
      And wouldst not see.

By the waters of Babylon we stood up and sang,
      Considering thee,
That a blast of deliverance in the darkness rang,
      To set thee free.

And with trumpets and thunderings and with morning song
      Came up the light;
And thy spirit uplifted thee to forget thy wrong
      As day doth night.

And thy sons were dejected not any more, as then
      When thou wast shamed;
When thy lovers went heavily without heart, as men
      Whose life was maimed.

In the desolate distances, with a great desire,
      For thy love's sake,
With our hearts going back to thee, they were filled with fire,
      Were nigh to break.

It was said to us:  "Verily ye are great of heart,
      But ye shall bend;
Ye are bondmen and bondwomen, to be scourged and smart,
      To toil and tend."

And with harrows men harrowed us, and subdued with spears,
      And crushed with shame;
And the summer and winter was, and the length of years,
      And no change came.

By the rivers of Italy, by the sacred streams,
      By town, by tower,
There was feasting with revelling, there was sleep with dreams,
      Until thine hour.

And they slept and they rioted on their rose-hung beds,
      With mouths on flame,
And with love-locks vine-chapleted, and with rose-crowned heads
      And robes of shame.

And they knew not their forefathers, nor the hills and streams
      And words of power,
Nor the gods that were good to them, but with songs and dreams
      Filled up their hour.

By the rivers of Italy, by the dry streams' beds,
      When thy time came,
There was casting of crowns from them, from their young men's heads,
      The crowns of shame.

By the horn of Eridanus, by the Tiber mouth,
      As thy day rose,
They arose up and girded them to the north and south,
      By seas, by snows.

As a water in January the frost confines,
      Thy kings bound thee;
As a water in April is, in the new-blown vines,
      Thy sons made free.

And thy lovers that looked for thee, and that mourned from far,
      For thy sake dead,
We rejoiced in the light of thee, in the signal star
      Above thine head.

In thy grief had we followed thee, in thy passion loved,
      Loved in thy loss;
In thy shame we stood fast to thee, with thy pangs were moved,
      Clung to thy cross.

By the hillside of Calvary we beheld thy blood,
      Thy bloodred tears,
As a mother's in bitterness, an unebbing flood,
      Years upon years.

And the north was Gethsemane, without leaf or bloom,
      A garden sealed;
And the south was Aceldama, for a sanguine fume
      Hid all the field.

By the stone of the sepulchre we returned to weep,
      From far, from prison;
And the guards by it keeping it we beheld asleep,
      But thou wast risen.

And an angel's similitude by the unsealed grave,
      And by the stone:
And the voice was angelical, to whose words God gave
      Strength like his own.

"Lo, the graveclothes of Italy that are folded up
      In the grave's gloom!
And the guards as men wrought upon with a charmed cup,
      By the open tomb.

"And her body most beautiful, and her shining head,
      These are not here;
For your mother, for Italy, is not surely dead:
      Have ye no fear.

"As of old time she spake to you, and you hardly heard,
      Hardly took heed,
So now also she saith to you, yet another word,
      Who is risen indeed.

"By my saying she saith to you, in your ears she saith,
      Who hear these things,
Put no trust in men's royalties, nor in great men's breath,
      Nor words of kings.

"For the life of them vanishes and is no more seen,
      Nor no more known;
Nor shall any remember him if a crown hath been,
      Or where a throne.

"Unto each man his handiwork, unto each his crown,
      The just Fate gives;
Whoso takes the world's life on him and his own lays down,
      He, dying so, lives.

"Whoso bears the whole heaviness of the wronged world's weight
      And puts it by,
It is well with him suffering, though he face man's fate;
      How should he die?

"Seeing death has no part in him any more, no power
      Upon his head;
He has bought his eternity with a little hour,
      And is not dead.

"For an hour, if ye look for him, he is no more found,
      For one hour's space;
Then ye lift up your eyes to him and behold him crowned,
      A deathless face.

"On the mountains of memory, by the world's wellsprings,
      In all men's eyes,
Where the light of the life of him is on all past things,
      Death only dies.

"Not the light that was quenched for us, nor the deeds that were,
      Nor the ancient days,
Nor the sorrows not sorrowful, nor the face most fair
      Of perfect praise."

So the angel of Italy's resurrection said,
      So yet he saith;
So the son of her suffering, that from breasts nigh dead
      Drew life, not death.

That the pavement of Golgotha should be white as snow,
      Not red, but white;
That the waters of Babylon should no longer flow,
      And men see light.


Is it so, that the sword is broken,
   Our sword, that was halfway drawn?
Is it so, that the light was a spark,
That the bird we hailed as the lark
Sang in her sleep in the dark,
And the song we took for a token
   Bore false witness of dawn?

Spread in the sight of the lion,
   Surely, we said, is the net
Spread but in vain, and the snare
Vain; for the light is aware,
And the common, the chainless air,
Of his coming whom all we cry on;
   Surely in vain is it set.

Surely the day is on our side,
   And heaven, and the sacred sun;
Surely the stars, and the bright
Immemorial inscrutable night:
Yea, the darkness, because of our light,
Is no darkness, but blooms as a bower-side
   When the winter is over and done;

Blooms underfoot with young grasses
   Green, and with leaves overhead,
Windflowers white, and the low
New-dropped blossoms of snow;
And or ever the May winds blow,
And or ever the March wind passes,
   Flames with anemones red.

We are here in the world's bower-garden,
   We that have watched out the snow.
Surely the fruitfuller showers,
The splendider sunbeams are ours;
Shall winter return on the flowers,
And the frost after April harden,
   And the fountains in May not flow?

We have in our hands the shining
   And the fire in our hearts of a star.
Who are we that our tongues should palter,
Hearts bow down, hands falter,
Who are clothed as with flame from the altar,
That the kings of the earth, repining,
   Far off, watch from afar?

Woe is ours if we doubt or dissemble,
   Woe, if our hearts not abide.
Are our chiefs not among us, we said,
Great chiefs, living and dead,
To lead us glad to be led?
For whose sake, if a man of us tremble,
   He shall not be on our side.

What matter if these lands tarry,
   That tarried (we said) not of old?
France, made drunken by fate,
England, that bore up the weight
Once of men's freedom, a freight
Holy, but heavy to carry
   For hands overflowing with gold.

Though this be lame, and the other
   Fleet, but blind from the sun,
And the race be no more to these,
Alas! nor the palm to seize,
Who are weary and hungry of ease,
Yet, O Freedom, we said, O our mother,
   Is there not left to thee one?

Is there not left of thy daughters,
   Is there not one to thine hand?
Fairer than these, and of fame
Higher from of old by her name;
Washed in her tears, and in flame
Bathed as in baptism of waters,
   Unto all men a chosen land.

Her hope in her heart was broken,
   Fire was upon her, and clomb,
Hiding her, high as her head;
And the world went past her, and said
(We heard it say) she was dead;
And now, behold, she bath spoken,
   She that was dead, saying, "Rome."

O mother of all men's nations,
   Thou knowest if the deaf world heard!
Heard not now to her lowest
Depths, where the strong blood slowest
Beats at her bosom, thou knowest,
In her toils, in her dim tribulations,
   Rejoiced not, hearing the word.

The sorrowful, bound unto sorrow,
   The woe-worn people, and all
That of old were discomforted,
And men that famish for bread,
And men that mourn for their dead,
She bade them be glad on the morrow,
   Who endured in the day of her thrall.

The blind, and the people in prison,
   Souls without hope, without home,
How glad were they all that heard!
When the winged white flame of the word
Passed over men's dust, and stirred
Death; for Italia was risen,
   And risen her light upon Rome.

The light of her sword in the gateway
   Shone, an unquenchable flame,
Bloodless, a sword to release,
A light from the eyes of peace,
To bid grief utterly cease,
And the wrong of the old world straightway
   Pass from the face of her fame:

Hers, whom we turn to and cry on,
   Italy, mother of men:
From the light of the face of her glory,
At the sound of the storm of her story,
That the sanguine shadows and hoary
Should flee from the foot of the lion,
   Lion-like, forth of his den.

As the answering of thunder to thunder
   Is the storm-beaten sound of her past;
As the calling of sea unto sea
Is the noise of her years yet to be;
For this ye knew not is she,
Whose bonds are broken in sunder;
   This is she at the last.

So spake we aloud, high-minded,
   Full of our will; and behold,
The speech that was halfway spoken
Breaks, as a pledge that is broken,
As a king's pledge, leaving in token
Grief only for high hopes blinded,
   New grief grafted on old.

We halt by the walls of the city,
   Within sound of the clash of her chain.
Hearing, we know that in there
The lioness chafes in her lair,
Shakes the storm of her hair,
Struggles in hands without pity,
   Roars to the lion in vain.

Whose hand is stretched forth upon her?
   Whose curb is white with her foam?
Clothed with the cloud of his deeds,
Swathed in the shroud of his creeds,
Who is this that has trapped her and leads,
Who turns to despair and dishonour
   Her name, her name that was Rome?

Over fields without harvest or culture,
   Over hordes without honour or love,
Over nations that groan with their kings,
As an imminent pestilence flings
Swift death from her shadowing wings,
So he, who hath claws as a vulture,
   Plumage and beak as a dove.

He saith, "I am pilot and haven,

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