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Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

The Triumph of Time


              1Before our lives divide for ever,
              2    While time is with us and hands are free,
              3(Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever
              4    Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea)
              5I will say no word that a man might say
              6Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
              7For this could never have been; and never,
              8    Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.

              9Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
            10    To think of things that are well outworn?
            11Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
            12    The dream foregone and the deed forborne?
            13Though joy be done with and grief be vain,
            14Time shall not sever us wholly in twain;
            15Earth is not spoilt for a single shower;
            16    But the rain has ruined the ungrown corn.

            17It will grow not again, this fruit of my heart,
            18    Smitten with sunbeams, ruined with rain.
            19The singing seasons divide and depart,
            20    Winter and summer depart in twain.
            21It will grow not again, it is ruined at root,
            22The bloodlike blossom, the dull red fruit;
            23Though the heart yet sickens, the lips yet smart,
            24    With sullen savour of poisonous pain.

            25I have given no man of my fruit to eat;
            26    I trod the grapes, I have drunken the wine.
            27Had you eaten and drunken and found it sweet,
            28    This wild new growth of the corn and vine,
            29This wine and bread without lees or leaven,
            30We had grown as gods, as the gods in heaven,
            31Souls fair to look upon, goodly to greet,
            32    One splendid spirit, your soul and mine.

            33In the change of years, in the coil of things,
            34    In the clamour and rumour of life to be,
            35We, drinking love at the furthest springs,
            36    Covered with love as a covering tree,
            37We had grown as gods, as the gods above,
            38Filled from the heart to the lips with love,
            39Held fast in his hands, clothed warm with his wings,
            40    O love, my love, had you loved but me!

            41We had stood as the sure stars stand, and moved
            42    As the moon moves, loving the world; and seen
            43Grief collapse as a thing disproved,
            44    Death consume as a thing unclean.
            45Twain halves of a perfect heart, made fast
            46Soul to soul while the years fell past;
            47Had you loved me once, as you have not loved;
            48    Had the chance been with us that has not been.

            49I have put my days and dreams out of mind,
            50    Days that are over, dreams that are done.
            51Though we seek life through, we shall surely find
            52    There is none of them clear to us now, not one.
            53But clear are these things; the grass and the sand,
            54Where, sure as the eyes reach, ever at hand,
            55With lips wide open and face burnt blind,
            56    The strong sea-daisies feast on the sun.

            57The low downs lean to the sea; the stream,
            58    One loose thin pulseless tremulous vein,
            59Rapid and vivid and dumb as a dream,
            60    Works downward, sick of the sun and the rain;
            61No wind is rough with the rank rare flowers;
            62The sweet sea, mother of loves and hours,
            63Shudders and shines as the grey winds gleam,
            64    Turning her smile to a fugitive pain.

            65Mother of loves that are swift to fade,
            66    Mother of mutable winds and hours.
            67A barren mother, a mother-maid,
            68    Cold and clean as her faint salt flowers.
            69I would we twain were even as she,
            70Lost in the night and the light of the sea,
            71Where faint sounds falter and wan beams wade,
            72    Break, and are broken, and shed into showers.

            73The loves and hours of the life of a man,
            74    They are swift and sad, being born of the sea.
            75Hours that rejoice and regret for a span,
            76    Born with a man's breath, mortal as he;
            77Loves that are lost ere they come to birth,
            78Weeds of the wave, without fruit upon earth.
            79I lose what I long for, save what I can,
            80    My love, my love, and no love for me!

            81It is not much that a man can save
            82    On the sands of life, in the straits of time,
            83Who swims in sight of the great third wave
            84    That never a swimmer shall cross or climb.
            85Some waif washed up with the strays and spars
            86That ebb-tide shows to the shore and the stars;
            87Weed from the water, grass from a grave,
            88    A broken blossom, a ruined rhyme.

            89There will no man do for your sake, I think,
            90    What I would have done for the least word said.
            91I had wrung life dry for your lips to drink,
            92    Broken it up for your daily bread:
            93Body for body and blood for blood,
            94As the flow of the full sea risen to flood
            95That yearns and trembles before it sink,
            96    I had given, and lain down for you, glad and dead.

            97Yea, hope at highest and all her fruit,
            98    And time at fullest and all his dower,
            99I had given you surely, and life to boot,
          100    Were we once made one for a single hour.
          101But now, you are twain, you are cloven apart,
          102Flesh of his flesh, but heart of my heart;
          103And deep in one is the bitter root,
          104    And sweet for one is the lifelong flower.

          105To have died if you cared I should die for you, clung
          106    To my life if you bade me, played my part
          107As it pleased you -- these were the thoughts that stung,
          108    The dreams that smote with a keener dart
          109Than shafts of love or arrows of death;
          110These were but as fire is, dust, or breath,
          111Or poisonous foam on the tender tongue
          112    Of the little snakes that eat my heart.

          113I wish we were dead together to-day,
          114    Lost sight of, hidden away out of sight,
          115Clasped and clothed in the cloven clay,
          116    Out of the world's way, out of the light,
          117Out of the ages of worldly weather,
          118Forgotten of all men altogether,
          119As the world's first dead, taken wholly away,
          120    Made one with death, filled full of the night.

          121How we should slumber, how we should sleep,
          122    Far in the dark with the dreams and the dews!
          123And dreaming, grow to each other, and weep,
          124    Laugh low, live softly, murmur and muse;
          125Yea, and it may be, struck through by the dream,
          126Feel the dust quicken and quiver, and seem
          127Alive as of old to the lips, and leap
          128    Spirit to spirit as lovers use.

          129Sick dreams and sad of a dull delight;
          130    For what shall it profit when men are dead
          131To have dreamed, to have loved with the whole soul's might,
          132    To have looked for day when the day was fled?
          133Let come what will, there is one thing worth,
          134To have had fair love in the life upon earth:
          135To have held love safe till the day grew night,
          136    While skies had colour and lips were red.

          137Would I lose you now? would I take you then,
          138    If I lose you now that my heart has need?
          139And come what may after death to men,
          140    What thing worth this will the dead years breed?
          141Lose life, lose all; but at least I know,
          142O sweet life's love, having loved you so,
          143Had I reached you on earth, I should lose not again,
          144    In death nor life, nor in dream or deed.

          145Yea, I know this well: were you once sealed mine,
          146    Mine in the blood's beat, mine in the breath,
          147Mixed into me as honey in wine,
          148    Not time, that sayeth and gainsayeth,
          149Nor all strong things had severed us then;
          150Not wrath of gods, nor wisdom of men,
          151Nor all things earthly, nor all divine,
          152    Nor joy nor sorrow, nor life nor death.

          153I had grown pure as the dawn and the dew,
          154    You had grown strong as the sun or the sea.
          155But none shall triumph a whole life through:
          156    For death is one, and the fates are three.
          157At the door of life, by the gate of breath,
          158There are worse things waiting for men than death;
          159Death could not sever my soul and you,
          160    As these have severed your soul from me.

          161You have chosen and clung to the chance they sent you,
          162    Life sweet as perfume and pure as prayer.
          163But will it not one day in heaven repent you?
          164    Will they solace you wholly, the days that were?
          165Will you lift up your eyes between sadness and bliss,
          166Meet mine, and see where the great love is,
          167And tremble and turn and be changed? Content you;
          168    The gate is strait; I shall not be there.

          169But you, had you chosen, had you stretched hand,
          170    Had you seen good such a thing were done,
          171I too might have stood with the souls that stand
          172    In the sun's sight, clothed with the light of the sun;
          173But who now on earth need care how I live?
          174Have the high gods anything left to give,
          175Save dust and laurels and gold and sand?
          176    Which gifts are goodly; but I will none.

          177O all fair lovers about the world,
          178    There is none of you, none, that shall comfort me.
          179My thoughts are as dead things, wrecked and whirled
          180    Round and round in a gulf of the sea;
          181And still, through the sound and the straining stream,
          182Through the coil and chafe, they gleam in a dream,
          183The bright fine lips so cruelly curled,
          184    And strange swift eyes where the soul sits free.

          185Free, without pity, withheld from woe,
          186    Ignorant; fair as the eyes are fair.
          187Would I have you change now, change at a blow,
          188    Startled and stricken, awake and aware?
          189Yea, if I could, would I have you see
          190My very love of you filling me,
          191And know my soul to the quick, as I know
          192    The likeness and look of your throat and hair?

          193I shall not change you. Nay, though I might,
          194    Would I change my sweet one love with a word?
          195I had rather your hair should change in a night,
          196    Clear now as the plume of a black bright bird;
          197Your face fail suddenly, cease, turn grey,
          198Die as a leaf that dies in a day.
          199I will keep my soul in a place out of sight,
          200    Far off, where the pulse of it is not heard.

          201Far off it walks, in a bleak blown space,
          202    Full of the sound of the sorrow of years.
          203I have woven a veil for the weeping face,
          204    Whose lips have drunken the wine of tears;
          205I have found a way for the failing feet,
          206A place for slumber and sorrow to meet;
          207There is no rumour about the place,
          208    Nor light, nor any that sees or hears.

          209I have hidden my soul out of sight, and said
          210    "Let none take pity upon thee, none
          211Comfort thy crying: for lo, thou art dead,
          212    Lie still now, safe out of sight of the sun.
          213Have I not built thee a grave, and wrought
          214Thy grave-clothes on thee of grievous thought,
          215With soft spun verses and tears unshed,
          216    And sweet light visions of things undone?

          217"I have given thee garments and balm and myrrh,
          218    And gold, and beautiful burial things.
          219But thou, be at peace now, make no stir;
          220    Is not thy grave as a royal king's?
          221Fret not thyself though the end were sore;
          222Sleep, be patient, vex me no more.
          223Sleep; what hast thou to do with her?
          224    The eyes that weep, with the mouth that sings?"

          225Where the dead red leaves of the years lie rotten,
          226    The cold old crimes and the deeds thrown by,
          227The misconceived and the misbegotten,
          228    I would find a sin to do ere I die,
          229Sure to dissolve and destroy me all through,
          230That would set you higher in heaven, serve you
          231And leave you happy, when clean forgotten,
          232    As a dead man out of mind, am I.

          233Your lithe hands draw me, your face burns through me,
          234    I am swift to follow you, keen to see;
          235But love lacks might to redeem or undo me;
          236    As I have been, I know I shall surely be;
          237"What should such fellows as I do?" Nay,
          238My part were worse if I chose to play;
          239For the worst is this after all; if they knew me,
          240    Not a soul upon earth would pity me.

          241And I play not for pity of these; but you,
          242    If you saw with your soul what man am I,
          243You would praise me at least that my soul all through
          244    Clove to you, loathing the lives that lie;
          245The souls and lips that are bought and sold,
          246The smiles of silver and kisses of gold,
          247The lapdog loves that whine as they chew,
          248    The little lovers that curse and cry.

          249There are fairer women, I hear; that may be;
          250    But I, that I love you and find you fair,
          251Who are more than fair in my eyes if they be,
          252    Do the high gods know or the great gods care?
          253Though the swords in my heart for one were seven,
          254Should the iron hollow of doubtful heaven,
          255That knows not itself whether night-time or day be,
          256    Reverberate words and a foolish prayer?

          257I will go back to the great sweet mother,
          258    Mother and lover of men, the sea.
          259I will go down to her, I and none other,
          260    Close with her, kiss her and mix her with me;
          261Cling to her, strive with her, hold her fast:
          262O fair white mother, in days long past
          263Born without sister, born without brother,
          264    Set free my soul as thy soul is free.

          265O fair green-girdled mother of mine,
          266    Sea, that art clothed with the sun and the rain,
          267Thy sweet hard kisses are strong like wine,
          268    Thy large embraces are keen like pain.
          269Save me and hide me with all thy waves,
          270Find me one grave of thy thousand graves,
          271Those pure cold populous graves of thine
          272    Wrought without hand in a world without stain.

          273I shall sleep, and move with the moving ships,
          274    Change as the winds change, veer in the tide;
          275My lips will feast on the foam of thy lips,
          276    I shall rise with thy rising, with thee subside;
          277Sleep, and not know if she be, if she were,
          278Filled full with life to the eyes and hair,
          279As a rose is fulfilled to the roseleaf tips
          280    With splendid summer and perfume and pride.

          281This woven raiment of nights and days,
          282    Were it once cast off and unwound from me,
          283Naked and glad would I walk in thy ways,
          284    Alive and aware of thy ways and thee;
          285Clear of the whole world, hidden at home,
          286Clothed with the green and crowned with the foam,
          287A pulse of the life of thy straits and bays,
          288    A vein in the heart of the streams of the sea.

          289Fair mother, fed with the lives of men,
          290    Thou art subtle and cruel of heart, men say.
          291Thou hast taken, and shalt not render again;
          292    Thou art full of thy dead, and cold as they.
          293But death is the worst that comes of thee;
          294Thou art fed with our dead, O mother, O sea,
          295But when hast thou fed on our hearts? or when,
          296    Having given us love, hast thou taken away?

          297O tender-hearted, O perfect lover,
          298    Thy lips are bitter, and sweet thine heart.
          299The hopes that hurt and the dreams that hover,
          300    Shall they not vanish away and apart?
          301But thou, thou art sure, thou art older than earth;
          302Thou art strong for death and fruitful of birth;
          303Thy depths conceal and thy gulfs discover;
          304    From the first thou wert; in the end thou art.

          305And grief shall endure not for ever, I know.
          306    As things that are not shall these things be;
          307We shall live through seasons of sun and of snow,
          308    And none be grievous as this to me.
          309We shall hear, as one in a trance that hears,
          310The sound of time, the rhyme of the years;
          311Wrecked hope and passionate pain will grow
          312    As tender things of a spring-tide sea.

          313Sea-fruit that swings in the waves that hiss,
          314    Drowned gold and purple and royal rings.
          315And all time past, was it all for this?
          316    Times unforgotten, and treasures of things?
          317Swift years of liking and sweet long laughter,
          318That wist not well of the years thereafter
          319Till love woke, smitten at heart by a kiss,
          320    With lips that trembled and trailing wings?

          321There lived a singer in France of old
          322    By the tideless dolorous midland sea.
          323In a land of sand and ruin and gold
          324    There shone one woman, and none but she.
          325And finding life for her love's sake fail,
          326Being fain to see her, he bade set sail,
          327Touched land, and saw her as life grew cold,
          328    And praised God, seeing; and so died he.

          329Died, praising God for his gift and grace:
          330    For she bowed down to him weeping, and said
          331"Live;" and her tears were shed on his face
          332    Or ever the life in his face was shed.
          333The sharp tears fell through her hair, and stung
          334Once, and her close lips touched him and clung
          335Once, and grew one with his lips for a space;
          336    And so drew back, and the man was dead.

          337O brother, the gods were good to you.
          338    Sleep, and be glad while the world endures.
          339Be well content as the years wear through;
          340    Give thanks for life, and the loves and lures;
          341Give thanks for life, O brother, and death,
          342For the sweet last sound of her feet, her breath,
          343For gifts she gave you, gracious and few,
          344    Tears and kisses, that lady of yours.

          345Rest, and be glad of the gods; but I,
          346    How shall I praise them, or how take rest?
          347There is not room under all the sky
          348    For me that know not of worst or best,
          349Dream or desire of the days before,
          350Sweet things or bitterness, any more.
          351Love will not come to me now though I die,
          352    As love came close to you, breast to breast.

          353I shall never be friends again with roses;
          354    I shall loathe sweet tunes, where a note grown strong
          355Relents and recoils, and climbs and closes,
          356    As a wave of the sea turned back by song.
          357There are sounds where the soul's delight takes fire,
          358Face to face with its own desire;
          359A delight that rebels, a desire that reposes;
          360    I shall hate sweet music my whole life long.

          361The pulse of war and passion of wonder,
          362    The heavens that murmur, the sounds that shine,
          363The stars that sing and the loves that thunder,
          364    The music burning at heart like wine,
          365An armed archangel whose hands raise up
          366All senses mixed in the spirit's cup
          367Till flesh and spirit are molten in sunder --
          368    These things are over, and no more mine.

          369These were a part of the playing I heard
          370    Once, ere my love and my heart were at strife;
          371Love that sings and hath wings as a bird,
          372    Balm of the wound and heft of the knife.
          373Fairer than earth is the sea, and sleep
          374Than overwatching of eyes that weep,
          375Now time has done with his one sweet word,
          376    The wine and leaven of lovely life.

          377I shall go my ways, tread out my measure,
          378    Fill the days of my daily breath
          379With fugitive things not good to treasure,
          380    Do as the world doth, say as it saith;
          381But if we had loved each other -- O sweet,
          382Had you felt, lying under the palms of your feet,
          383The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure
          384    To feel you tread it to dust and death --

          385Ah, had I not taken my life up and given
          386    All that life gives and the years let go,
          387The wine and honey, the balm and leaven,
          388    The dreams reared high and the hopes brought low?
          389Come life, come death, not a word be said;
          390Should I lose you living, and vex you dead?
          391I never shall tell you on earth; and in heaven,
          392    If I cry to you then, will you hear or know?


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, 34-47.
First publication date: 1866
Publication date note: Poems and Ballads (London: J. C. Hotten, 1866): 40-55.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2


Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne