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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

In the Bay

              1Beyond the hollow sunset, ere a star
              2Take heart in heaven from eastward, while the west,
              3Fulfilled of watery resonance and rest,
              4Is as a port with clouds for harbour bar
              5To fold the fleet in of the winds from far
              6That stir no plume now of the bland sea's breast:

              7Above the soft sweep of the breathless bay
              8Southwestward, far past flight of night and day,
              9Lower than the sunken sunset sinks, and higher
            10Than dawn can freak the front of heaven with fire,
            11My thought with eyes and wings made wide makes way
            12To find the place of souls that I desire.

            13If any place for any soul there be,
            14Disrobed and disentrammelled; if the might,
            15The fire and force that filled with ardent light
            16The souls whose shadow is half the light we see,
            17Survive and be suppressed not of the night;
            18This hour should show what all day hid from me.

            19Night knows not, neither is it shown to day,
            20By sunlight nor by starlight is it shown,
            21Nor to the full moon's eye nor footfall known,
            22Their world's untrodden and unkindled way.
            23Nor is the breath nor music of it blown
            24With sounds of winter or with winds of May.

            25But here, where light and darkness reconciled
            26Held earth between them as a weanling child
            27Between the balanced hands of death and birth,
            28Even as they held the new-born shape of earth
            29When first life trembled in her limbs and smiled,
            30Here hope might think to find what hope were worth.

            31Past Hades, past Elysium, past the long
            32Slow smooth strong lapse of Lethe--past the toil
            33Wherein all souls are taken as a spoil,
            34The Stygian web of waters--if your song
            35Be quenched not, O our brethren, but be strong
            36As ere ye too shook off our temporal coil;

            37If yet these twain survive your worldly breath,
            38Joy trampling sorrow, life devouring death,
            39If perfect life possess your life all through
            40And like your words your souls be deathless too,
            41To-night, of all whom night encompasseth,
            42My soul would commune with one soul of you.

            43Above the sunset might I see thine eyes
            44That were above the sundawn in our skies,
            45Son of the songs of morning,--thine that were
            46First lights to lighten that rekindling air
            47Wherethrough men saw the front of England rise
            48And heard thine loudest of the lyre-notes there--

            49If yet thy fire have not one spark the less,
            50O Titan, born of her a Titaness,
            51Across the sunrise and the sunset's mark
            52Send of thy lyre one sound, thy fire one spark,
            53To change this face of our unworthiness,
            54Across this hour dividing light from dark.

            55To change this face of our chill time, that hears
            56No song like thine of all that crowd its ears,
            57Of all its lights that lighten all day long
            58Sees none like thy most fleet and fiery sphere's
            59Outlightening Sirius--in its twilight throng
            60No thunder and no sunrise like thy song.

            61Hath not the sea-wind swept the sea-line bare
            62To pave with stainless fire through stainless air
            63A passage for thine heavenlier feet to tread
            64Ungrieved of earthly floor-work? hath it spread
            65No covering splendid as the sun-god's hair
            66To veil or to reveal thy lordlier head?

            67Hath not the sunset strewn across the sea
            68A way majestical enough for thee?
            69What hour save this should be thine hour--and mine,
            70If thou have care of any less divine
            71Than thine own soul; if thou take thought of me,
            72Marlowe, as all my soul takes thought of thine?

            73Before the morn's face as before the sun
            74The morning star and evening star are one
            75For all men's lands as England. O, if night
            76Hang hard upon us,--ere our day take flight,
            77Shed thou some comfort from thy day long done
            78On us pale children of the latter light!

            79For surely, brother and master and lord and king,
            80Where'er thy footfall and thy face make spring
            81In all souls' eyes that meet thee wheresoe'er,
            82And have thy soul for sunshine and sweet air--
            83Some late love of thine old live land should cling,
            84Some living love of England, round thee there.

            85Here from her shore across her sunniest sea
            86My soul makes question of the sun for thee,
            87And waves and beams make answer. When thy feet
            88Made her ways flowerier and their flowers more sweet
            89With childlike passage of a god to be,
            90Like spray these waves cast off her foemen's fleet.

            91Like foam they flung it from her, and like weed
            92Its wrecks were washed from scornful shoal to shoal,
            93From rock to rock reverberate; and the whole
            94Sea laughed and lightened with a deathless deed
            95That sowed our enemies in her field for seed
            96And made her shores fit harbourage for thy soul.

            97Then in her green south fields, a poor man's child,
            98Thou hadst thy short sweet fill of half-blown joy,
            99That ripens all of us for time to cloy
          100With full-blown pain and passion; ere the wild
          101World caught thee by the fiery heart, and smiled
          102To make so swift end of the godlike boy.

          103For thou, if ever godlike foot there trod
          104These fields of ours, wert surely like a god.
          105Who knows what splendour of strange dreams was shed
          106With sacred shadow and glimmer of gold and red
          107From hallowed windows, over stone and sod,
          108On thine unbowed bright insubmissive head?

          109The shadow stayed not, but the splendour stays,
          110Our brother, till the last of English days.
          111No day nor night on English earth shall be
          112For ever, spring nor summer, Junes nor Mays,
          113But somewhat as a sound or gleam of thee
          114Shall come on us like morning from the sea.

          115Like sunrise never wholly risen, nor yet
          116Quenched; or like sunset never wholly set,
          117A light to lighten as from living eyes
          118The cold unlit close lids of one that lies
          119Dead, or a ray returned from death's far skies
          120To fire us living lest our lives forget.

          121For in that heaven what light of lights may be,
          122What splendour of what stars, what spheres of flame
          123Sounding, that none may number nor may name,
          124We know not, even thy brethren; yea, not we
          125Whose eyes desire the light that lightened thee,
          126Whose ways and thine are one way and the same.

          127But if the riddles that in sleep we read,
          128And trust them not, be flattering truth indeed,
          129As he that rose our mightiest called them,--he,
          130Much higher than thou as thou much higher than we--
          131There, might we say, all flower of all our seed,
          132All singing souls are as one sounding sea.

          133All those that here were of thy kind and kin,
          134Beside thee and below thee, full of love,
          135Full-souled for song,--and one alone above
          136Whose only light folds all your glories in--
          137With all birds' notes from nightingale to dove
          138Fill the world whither we too fain would win.

          139The world that sees in heaven the sovereign light
          140Of sunlike Shakespeare, and the fiery night
          141Whose stars were watched of Webster; and beneath,
          142The twin-souled brethren of the single wreath,
          143Grown in kings' gardens, plucked from pastoral heath,
          144Wrought with all flowers for all men's heart's delight.

          145And that fixed fervour, iron-red like Mars,
          146In the mid moving tide of tenderer stars,
          147That burned on loves and deeds the darkest done,
          148Athwart the incestuous prisoner's bride-house bars;
          149And thine, most highest of all their fires but one,
          150Our morning star, sole risen before the sun.

          151And one light risen since theirs to run such race
          152Thou hast seen, O Phosphor, from thy pride of place.
          153Thou hast seen Shelley, him that was to thee
          154As light to fire or dawn to lightning; me,
          155Me likewise, O our brother, shalt thou see,
          156And I behold thee, face to glorious face?

          157You twain the same swift year of manhood swept
          158Down the steep darkness, and our father wept.
          159And from the gleam of Apollonian tears
          160A holier aureole rounds your memories, kept
          161Most fervent-fresh of all the singing spheres,
          162And April-coloured through all months and years.

          163You twain fate spared not half your fiery span;
          164The longer date fulfils the lesser man.
          165Ye from beyond the dark dividing date
          166Stand smiling, crowned as gods with foot on fate.
          167For stronger was your blessing than his ban,
          168And earliest whom he struck, he struck too late.

          169Yet love and loathing, faith and unfaith yet
          170Bind less to greater souls in unison,
          171And one desire that makes three spirits as one
          172Takes great and small as in one spiritual net
          173Woven out of hope toward what shall yet be done
          174Ere hate or love remember or forget.

          175Woven out of faith and hope and love too great
          176To bear the bonds of life and death and fate:
          177Woven out of love and hope and faith too dear
          178To take the print of doubt and change and fear:
          179And interwoven with lines of wrath and hate
          180Blood-red with soils of many a sanguine year.

          181Who cannot hate, can love not; if he grieve,
          182His tears are barren as the unfruitful rain
          183That rears no harvest from the green sea's plain,
          184And as thorns crackling this man's laugh is vain.
          185Nor can belief touch, kindle, smite, reprieve
          186His heart who has not heart to disbelieve.

          187But you, most perfect in your hate and love,
          188Our great twin-spirited brethren; you that stand
          189Head by head glittering, hand made fast in hand,
          190And underfoot the fang-drawn worm that strove
          191To wound you living; from so far above,
          192Look love, not scorn, on ours that was your land.

          193For love we lack, and help and heat and light
          194To clothe us and to comfort us with might.
          195What help is ours to take or give? but ye--
          196O, more than sunrise to the blind cold sea,
          197That wailed aloud with all her waves all night,
          198Much more, being much more glorious, should you be.

          199As fire to frost, as ease to toil, as dew
          200To flowerless fields, as sleep to slackening pain,
          201As hope to souls long weaned from hope again
          202Returning, or as blood revived anew
          203To dry-drawn limbs and every pulseless vein,
          204Even so toward us should no man be but you.

          205One rose before the sunrise was, and one
          206Before the sunset, lovelier than the sun.
          207And now the heaven is dark and bright and loud
          208With wind and starry drift and moon and cloud,
          209And night's cry rings in straining sheet and shroud,
          210What help is ours if hope like yours be none?

          211O well-beloved, our brethren, if ye be,
          212Then are we not forsaken. This kind earth
          213Made fragrant once for all time with your birth,
          214And bright for all men with your love, and worth
          215The clasp and kiss and wedlock of the sea,
          216Were not your mother if not your brethren we.

          217Because the days were dark with gods and kings
          218And in time's hand the old hours of time as rods,
          219When force and fear set hope and faith at odds,
          220Ye failed not nor abased your plume-plucked wings;
          221And we that front not more disastrous things,
          222How should we fail in face of kings and gods?

          223For now the deep dense plumes of night are thinned
          224Surely with winnowing of the glimmering wind
          225Whose feet we fledged with morning; and the breath
          226Begins in heaven that sings the dark to death.
          227And all the night wherein men groaned and sinned
          228Sickens at heart to hear what sundawn saith.

          229O first-born sons of hope and fairest, ye
          230Whose prows first clove the thought-unsounded sea
          231Whence all the dark dead centuries rose to bar
          232The spirit of man lest truth should make him free,
          233The sunrise and the sunset, seeing one star,
          234Take heart as we to know you that ye are.

          235Ye rise not and ye set not; we that say
          236Ye rise and set like hopes that set and rise
          237Look yet but seaward from a land-locked bay;
          238But where at last the sea's line is the sky's
          239And truth and hope one sunlight in your eyes,
          240No sunrise and no sunset marks their day.


1] Swinburne describes this as "... my poem in honour of [Christopher] Marlowe, which is a favourite of my own -- partly on account of my love for the scenery in which it was composed after a swim across `the bay' on a splendid summer evening" (letter to Theodor Opitz, June 24, 1879; The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise [London: William Heinemann, 1926]: IV, 65).

26] Weanling: recently weaned.

34] Stygian web. The river Styx flows several times round the lower world, that is, Hades.

59] Sirius: the brightest star.

72] Christopher Marlowe, dramatist and free-thinker, born in 1564, the son of a shoemaker, fatally stabbed in Deptford in 1593.

90] A reference to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

141] John Webster, tragedian, author of The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, written at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

142] Francis Beaumont, 1584-1616, and John Fletcher, 1579-1625, dramatists, flourished at the same time as Webster.

145] A reference to John Ford, 1586-1639?, author of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.

152] Phosphor: the morning star.

153] Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet and rebel, born 1792, drowned 1822.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1924): I, 307-17.
First publication date: 1878
Publication date note: Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads, Second Series (London: Chatto and Windus, 1878). PR 5506 .P62 1878 Trinity College Library
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.392.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Rhyme: abbaab

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne