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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)


              1I saw my soul at rest upon a day
              2    As a bird sleeping in the nest of night,
              3Among soft leaves that give the starlight way
              4    To touch its wings but not its eyes with light;
              5So that it knew as one in visions may,
              6    And knew not as men waking, of delight.

              7This was the measure of my soul's delight;
              8    It had no power of joy to fly by day,
              9Nor part in the large lordship of the light;
            10    But in a secret moon-beholden way
            11Had all its will of dreams and pleasant night,
            12    And all the love and life that sleepers may.

            13But such life's triumph as men waking may
            14    It might not have to feed its faint delight
            15Between the stars by night and sun by day,
            16    Shut up with green leaves and a little light;
            17Because its way was as a lost star's way,
            18    A world's not wholly known of day or night.

            19All loves and dreams and sounds and gleams of night
            20    Made it all music that such minstrels may,
            21And all they had they gave it of delight;
            22    But in the full face of the fire of day
            23What place shall be for any starry light,
            24    What part of heaven in all the wide sun's way?

            25Yet the soul woke not, sleeping by the way,
            26    Watched as a nursling of the large-eyed night,
            27And sought no strength nor knowledge of the day,
            28    Nor closer touch conclusive of delight,
            29Nor mightier joy nor truer than dreamers may,
            30    Nor more of song than they, nor more of light.

            31For who sleeps once and sees the secret light
            32    Whereby sleep shows the soul a fairer way
            33Between the rise and rest of day and night,
            34    Shall care no more to fare as all men may,
            35But be his place of pain or of delight,
            36    There shall he dwell, beholding night as day.

            37Song, have thy day and take thy fill of light
            38    Before the night be fallen across thy way;
            39Sing while he may, man hath no long delight.

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, 330-31.
First publication date: 6 January 1872
Publication date note: Once-a-week (Jan. 6, 1872): 1; then Poems and Ballads, 2nd ser. (1878).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Composition date: 15 November 1871
Composition date note: (letter to Frederick Locker; The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise [London: William Heinemann, 1926]: II, 171.)
Rhyme: ababab

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne