Algernon Charles Swinburne

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Though our works
Find righteous or unrighteous judgment, this
At least is ours, to make them righteous.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (5 April 183710 April 1909) was an English poet.

Sourced[edit]

Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark till the dawn of the day that we die.
Our way is where God knows
And Love knows where:
We are in Love’s hand to-day.
Fear that makes faith may break faith; and a fool Is but in folly stable.
  • I can truly say with Shelley I have been fortunate in friendships: that I have been no less fortunate in my enemies than in my friends.
    • From his own Dedicatory Epistle to his Poems & Ballads 1904
  • Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark till the dawn of the day that we die.
    • "Nephelidia", line 16, from The Heptalogia (1880); Swinburne intended "Nephelidia" as a self-parody.
  • A crown and justice? Night and day
    Shall first be yoked together.
    • Marino Faliero (1885).
  • God by God flits past in thunder, till His glories turn to shades;
    God to God bears wondering witness how His gospel flames and fades.

    More was each of these, yet they were, than man their servant seemed:
    Dead are all of these, and man survives who made them while he dreamed.
    • "The Altar of Righteousness" in Harper's Monthly (June 1904).

Atalanta in Calydon (1865)[edit]

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time with a gift of tears,
Grief with a glass that ran…
  • Before the beginning of years
    There came to the making of man
    Time with a gift of tears
    ,
    Grief with a glass that ran,
    Pleasure with pain for leaven,
    Summer with flowers that fell,
    Remembrance fallen from heaven,
    And Madness risen from hell,
    Strength without hands to smite,
    Love that endures for a breath;
    Night, the shadow of light,
    And Life, the shadow of death.
    • Second chorus, lines 1-12.
  • His speech is a burning fire.
    • Second chorus, line 51.
  • His life is a watch or a vision
    Between a sleep and a sleep.
    • Second chorus, lines 57-58.
  • When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
    The mother of months in meadow or plain
    Fills the shadows and windy places
    With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain.
    • First chorus, line 65.

Poems and Ballads (1866-89)[edit]

If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf,
Our lives would grow together
In sad or singing weather [...]
  • Wilt thou fear that, and fear not my desire?
    • "Anactoria", line 8.
  • Ah, ah, thy beauty! like a beast it bites,
    Stings like an adder, like an arrow smites.
    • "Anactoria", line 115.
  • Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
    We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
    • "Hymn to Proserpine", line 35.
  • If love were what the rose is,
    And I were like the leaf,
    Our lives would grow together
    In sad or singing weather
    ,
    Blown fields or flowerful closes,
    Green pasture or gray grief;
    If love were what the rose is,
    And I were like the leaf.
    • "A Match", line 1.
  • She hath wasted with fire thine high places,
    She hath hidden and marred and made sad
    The fair limbs of the Loves, the fair faces
    Of gods that were goodly and glad.
    She slays, and her hands are not bloody;
    She moves as a moon in the wane,
    White-robed, and thy raiment is ruddy,
    Our Lady of Pain.
Dream that the lips once breathless
Might quicken if they would;
Say that the soul is deathless;
Dream that the gods are good;
Say March may wed September,
And time divorce regret;
But not that you remember,
And not that I forget.
  • Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name.
    • "A Ballad of Francois Villon", lines 10, 20 and 30.
  • Forget that I remember
    And dream that I forget.
  • Time found our tired love sleeping,
    And kissed away his breath;
    But what should we do weeping,
    Though light love sleep to death?
    We have drained his lips at leisure,
    Till there's not left to drain
    A single sob of pleasure,
    A single pulse of pain.
    • "Rococo", lines 17-24.
  • Dream that the lips once breathless
    Might quicken if they would;
    Say that the soul is deathless;
    Dream that the gods are good;
    Say March may wed September,
    And time divorce regret;
    But not that you remember,
    And not that I forget.
    • "Rococo", lines 25-32.

The Triumph of Time[edit]

I will say no word that a man might say
Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
For this could never have been; and never,
Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.
Full text online, with links to related essays - Full text with line numbers
I have put my days and dreams out of mind,
Days that are over, dreams that are done.
Though we seek life through, we shall surely find
There is none of them clear to us now, not one.
It is not much that a man can save
On the sands of life, in the straits of time,
Who swims in sight of the great third wave
That never a swimmer shall cross or climb.
There will no man do for your sake, I think,
What I would have done for the least word said.
I had wrung life dry for your lips to drink,
Broken it up for your daily bread:
Body for body and blood for blood…
At the door of life, by the gate of breath,
There are worse things waiting for men than death;
Death could not sever my soul and you,
As these have severed your soul from me.
Come life, come death, not a word be said;
Should I lose you living, and vex you dead?
I never shall tell you on earth; and in heaven,
If I cry to you then, will you hear or know?
  • Before our lives divide for ever,
    While time is with us and hands are free
    ,
    (Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever
    Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea)
    I will say no word that a man might say
    Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
    For this could never have been; and never,
    Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.

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

We, drinking love at the furthest springs,
Covered with love as a covering tree,
We had grown as gods, as the gods above,
Filled from the heart to the lips with love,
Held fast in his hands, clothed warm with his wings,
O love, my love, had you loved but me!
  • In the change of years, in the coil of things,
    In the clamour and rumour of life to be,
    We, drinking love at the furthest springs,
    Covered with love as a covering tree,
    We had grown as gods, as the gods above,
    Filled from the heart to the lips with love,
    Held fast in his hands, clothed warm with his wings,
    O love, my love, had you loved but me!
  • We had stood as the sure stars stand, and moved
    As the moon moves, loving the world; and seen
    Grief collapse as a thing disproved,
    Death consume as a thing unclean.

    Twain halves of a perfect heart, made fast
    Soul to soul while the years fell past;
    Had you loved me once, as you have not loved;
    Had the chance been with us that has not been.

    I have put my days and dreams out of mind,
    Days that are over, dreams that are done.
    Though we seek life through, we shall surely find
    There is none of them clear to us now, not one.

  • The loves and hours of the life of a man,
    They are swift and sad, being born of the sea.

    Hours that rejoice and regret for a span,
    Born with a man's breath, mortal as he;
    Loves that are lost ere they come to birth,
    Weeds of the wave, without fruit upon earth.
    I lose what I long for, save what I can,
    My love, my love, and no love for me!
  • It is not much that a man can save
    On the sands of life, in the straits of time,
    Who swims in sight of the great third wave
    That never a swimmer shall cross or climb.

    Some waif washed up with the strays and spars
    That ebb-tide shows to the shore and the stars;
    Weed from the water, grass from a grave,
    A broken blossom, a ruined rhyme.

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

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

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

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

    These were a part of the playing I heard
    Once, ere my love and my heart were at strife;
    Love that sings and hath wings as a bird,
    Balm of the wound and heft of the knife.

    Fairer than earth is the sea, and sleep
    Than overwatching of eyes that weep,
    Now time has done with his one sweet word,
    The wine and leaven of lovely life.

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

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

Under the Microscope (1872)[edit]

  • It is long since Mr. Carlyle expressed his opinion that if any poet or other literary creature could really be "killed off by one critique" or many, the sooner he was so despatched the better; a sentiment in which I for one humbly but heartily concur.
  • To wipe off the froth of falsehood from the foaming lips of inebriated virtue, when fresh from the sexless orgies of morality and reeling from the delirious riot of religion, may doubtless be a charitable office.
  • The more congenial page of some tenth-rate poeticule worn out with failure after failure and now squat in his hole like the tailless fox, he is curled up to snarl and whimper beneath the inaccessible vine of song.
  • The tadpole poet will never grow into anything bigger than a frog; not though in that stage of development he should puff and blow himself till he bursts with windy adulation at the heels of the laureled ox.

Bothwell : A Tragedy (1874)[edit]

  • Sins are sin-begotten, and their seed
    Bred of itself and singly procreative
    ;
    Nor is God served with setting this to this
    For evil evidence of several shame,
    That one may say, Lo now! so many are they;
    But if one, seeing with God-illumined eyes
    In his full face the encountering face of sin,
    Smite once the one high-fronted head, and slay,
    His will we call good service.
    For myself,
    If ye will make a counsellor of me,
    I bid you set your hearts against one thing
    To burn it up, and keep your hearts on fire,
    Not seeking here a sign and there a sign,
    Nor curious of all casual sufferances,
    But steadfast to the undoing of that thing done
    Whereof ye know the being, however it be,
    And all the doing abominable of God.
    Who questions with a snake if the snake sting?
    Who reasons of the lightning if it burn?
    While these things are, deadly will these things be;
    And so the curse that comes of cursed faith.
    • John Knox as portrayed in Bothwell : A Tragedy (1874) Act I, Sc. 2.
  • Fear that makes faith may break faith; and a fool Is but in folly stable.
    • Queen Mary Stuart as portrayed in Bothwell. Act I. Sc. 3.
  • I have no remedy for fear; there grows
    No herb of help to heal a coward heart.
    • Queen Mary Stuart as portrayed in Bothwell. Act II, Sc. 13.

Marino Faliero (1885)[edit]

My loss may shine yet goodlier than your gain
When time and God give judgment.
A play based upon the life of Marino Faliero
  • God's own hand
    Holds fast all issues of our deeds
    : with him
    The end of all our ends is, but with us
    Our ends are, just or unjust: though our works
    Find righteous or unrighteous judgment, this
    At least is ours, to make them righteous.
    Go.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • What sentence shall be given on mine? Of man,
    As ill or well God means me, well or ill
    Shall judgment pass upon me : but of God,
    If God himself be righteous or be God,
    Who being unrighteous were but god of hell,
    The sentence given shall judge me just...
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • A poor man's wrong and mine and all the world's,
    Diverse and individual, many and one,
    Insufferable of long-suffering less than God's,
    Of all endurance unendurable else,
    Being come to flood and fullness now, the tide
    Is risen in mine as in the sea's own heart
    To tempest and to triumph. Not for nought
    Am I that wild wife's bridegroom — old and hoar,
    Not sapless yet nor soulless.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • So be it the wind and sun
    That reared thy limbs and lit thy veins with life
    Have blown and shone upon thee not for nought—
    If these have fed and fired thy spirit as mine
    With love, with faith that casts out fear, with joy,
    With trust in truth and pride in trust — if thou
    Be theirs indeed as theirs am I, with me
    Shalt thou take part and with my sea-folk — aye,
    Make thine eyes wide and give God wondering thanks
    That grace like ours is given thee — thou shalt bear
    Part of our praise for ever.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • Friends, citizens, and brethren. This our friend
    Hath given you by my charge to know of me
    Thus much, that if your ends and mine be one,
    As one our wrongs are, and this people's need
    One, toward the goal forefelt of our desire
    No heart shall beat, no foot shall press, no hand
    Strain, strive, and strike with steadier will than mine
    And faith more strenuous toward the purpose.
    This
    If ye believe not, here our hope hath end;
    If ye believe, here under happier stars
    Begins the date of Venice.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • I believe
    Not more in God's word than in yours; and this
    Not for your station's sake, nor yet your fame's,
    How high soe'er the wind of war have blown
    The splendour of your standard: but, my lord,
    Your face and heart and speech, being one, require
    Of any not base-born and servile-souled
    Faith: and my faith I give you.
    • Calendaro, Act III, Sc. 1.
  • Farewell, and peace be with you if it may.
    I have lost, ye have won this hazard: yet perchance
    My loss may shine yet goodlier than your gain
    When time and God give judgment.
    If there be
    Truth, true is this, that I desired the right
    And ye with hands as red sustain the wrong
    As mine had been in triumph. Have your will:
    And God send each no bitterer end than mine.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 2.
  • They do not ill, being lords of ours, to slay
    Me; nay, they could not spare: but thee to slay,
    To spill thy strong young life for truth to me,
    In all men's eyes would mark them monstrous : thou
    Must live, and serve my slayers, and serving them
    Sustain my memory by the proof — if God
    Shall give thee grace to prove it — that thy name,
    Thy father's name and mine, in true men's ears
    Rings truth, and means not treason.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 3.
  • Though they be
    Ill rulers of this household, be not thou
    Too swift to strike ere time be ripe to strike,
    Nor then by darkling stroke, against them: I
    Have erred, who thought by wrong to vanquish wrong,
    To smite by violence violence, and by night
    Put out the power of darkness: time shall bring
    A better way than mine, if God's will be —
    As how should God's will be not? — to redeem
    Venice.
    I was not worthy — nor may man,
    Till one as Christ shall come again, be found
    Worthy to think, speak, strike, foresee, foretell,
    The thought, the word, the stroke, the dawn, the day,
    That verily and indeed shall bid the dead
    Live, and this old dear land of all men's love
    Arise and shine for ever: but if Christ
    Came, haply such an one may come, and do
    With hands and heart as pure as his a work
    That priests themselves may mar not.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 3.

Astrophel and Other Poems (1894)[edit]

Not from without us, only from within,
Comes or can ever come upon us light
Whereby the soul keeps ever truth in sight.
  • Not from without us, only from within,
    Comes or can ever come upon us light
    Whereby the soul keeps ever truth in sight.

    No truth, no strength, no comfort man may win,
    No grace for guidance, no release from sin,
    Save of his own soul's giving.

Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899)[edit]

  • Did I bid thee
    Mock, and forget me for thy friend — I say not,
    King? Is thy heart so light and lean a thing,
    So loose in faith and faint in love? I bade thee
    Stand to me, help me, hold my hand in thine
    And give my heart back answer. This it is,
    Old friend and fool, that gnaws my life in twain —
    The worm that writhes and feeds about my heart —
    The devil and God are crying in either ear
    One murderous word for ever, night and day,
    Dark day and deadly night and deadly day,
    Can she love thee who slewest her father? I
    Love her.
    • Alboine, Act 1, Scene 1.
  • I. But he hears not. Now, my warrior guests,
    I drink to the onward passage of his soul
    Death. Had my hand turned coward or played me false,
    This man that is my hand, and less than I
    And less than he bloodguilty, this my death
    Had been my husband's: now he has left it me.
    [Drinks]
    How innocent are all but he and I
    No time is mine to tell you. Truth shall tell.
    I pardon thee, my husband: pardon me. [Dies]
    • Rosamund, Act 5, Scene 1.

The Age of Shakespeare (1908)[edit]

Full text online
  • Æschylus is above all things the poet of righteousness. "But in any wise, I say unto thee, revere thou the altar of righteousness": this is the crowning admonition of his doctrine, as its crowning prospect is the reconciliation or atonement of the principle of retribution with the principle of redemption, of the powers of the mystery of darkness with the coeternal forces of the spirit of wisdom, of the lord of inspiration and of light. The doctrine of Shakespeare, where it is not vaguer, is darker in its implication of injustice, in its acceptance of accident, than the impression of the doctrine of Æschylus. Fate, irreversible and inscrutable, is the only force of which we feel the impact, of which we trace the sign, in the upshot of Othello or King Lear. The last step into the darkness remained to be taken by "the most tragic" of all English poets. With Shakespeare — and assuredly not with Æschylus — righteousness itself seems subject and subordinate to the masterdom of fate: but fate itself, in the tragic world of Webster, seems merely the servant or the synonym of chance. The two chief agents in his two great tragedies pass away — the phrase was, perhaps, unconsciously repeated — "in a mist": perplexed, indomitable, defiant of hope and fear bitter and sceptical and bloody in penitence or impenitence alike. And the mist which encompasses the departing spirits of these moody and mocking men of blood seems equally to involve the lives of their chastisers and their victims. Blind accident and blundering mishap — "such a mistake", says one of the criminals, "as I have often seen in a play" — are the steersmen of their fortunes and the doomsmen of their deeds. The effect of this method or the result of this view, whether adopted for dramatic objects or ingrained in the writer's temperament, is equally fit for pure tragedy and unfit for any form of drama not purely tragic in evolution and event.

Undated[edit]

These quotes need further sourcing and sorting by publication dates
  • And lo, between the sundawn and the sun
    His day’s work and his night’s work are undone:
    And lo, between the nightfall and the light,
    He is not, and none knoweth of such an one.
    • Laus Veneris.
  • Ah, yet would God this flesh of mine might be
    Where air might wash and long leaves cover me;
    Where tides of grass break into foam of flowers,
    Or where the wind’s feet shine along the sea.
    • Laus Veneris.
  • Marvellous mercies and infinite love.
    • Les Noyades.
  • Our way is where God knows
    And Love knows where:
    We are in Love’s hand to-day.
    • Love at Sea.
  • From too much love of living,
    From hope and fear set free,
    We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no man lives forever,
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.
    • The Garden of Proserpine.
  • For in the days we know not of
    Did fate begin
    Weaving the web of days that wove
    Your doom.
    • Faustine.
  • I remember the way we parted,
    The day and the way we met;
    You hoped we were both broken-hearted
    And knew we should both forget.
    • An Interlude.
  • And the best and the worst of this is
    That neither is most to blame,
    If you have forgotten my kisses
    And I have forgotten your name.
    • An Interlude.
  • Change lays not her hand upon truth.
    • Dedication.
  • Stately, kindly, lordly friend
    Condescend
    Here to sit by me.
    • To a Cat.
  • Not with dreams, but with blood and with iron,
    Shall a nation be moulded at last.
    • A Word for the Country.
  • Who knows but on their sleep may rise
    Such light as never heaven let through
    To lighten earth from Paradise?
    • A Baby’s Death.
  • A baby's feet, like sea-shells pink
    Might tempt, should heaven see meet,
    An angel's lips to kiss, we think,
    A baby's feet.
    • Étude Réaliste.
  • Like rose-hued sea-flowers toward the heat,
    They stretch and spread and wink
    Their ten soft buds that part and meet.
    • Étude Réaliste.
  • The sweetest flowers in all the world—
    A baby's hands.
    • Étude Réaliste.
  • Is not Precedent indeed a King of men?
    • A Word from the Psalmist.
  • The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
    The rocks are left when he wastes the plain;
    The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
    These remain.
    • A forsaken Garden.
  • Though one were fair as roses
    His beauty clouds and closes.
    • The Garden of Proserpine.
  • Gone deeper than all plummets sound. {cf. Shak.: I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded… (The Tempest)}
    • Félise.
  • Ah that such sweet things should be fleet,
    Such fleet things sweet!
    • Félise.
  • Those eyes the greenest of things blue
    The bluest of things grey.
    • Félise.

Quotes about Swinburne[edit]

Alphabetized by author
  • I attempt to describe Mr. Swinburne; and lo! the Bacchanal screams, the sterile Dolores sweats, serpents dance, men and women wrench, wriggle and foam in an endless alliteration of heated and meaningless words, the veriest garbage of Baudelaire flowered over with the epithets of the Della Cruscans.
  • Swinburne was perpetually talking shop: the bookish spirit in which he looked on nature and mankind, with his head full of his own trade, is essentially the same as the spirit in which The Tailor and Cutter annually criticises the portraits in the Royal Academy, interested, not in the artist, not in the subject, but in the cut of the subject's clothes.
    • A. E. Housman, "Swinburne", a lecture delivered at University College, London in 1910, published posthumously in the Cornhill Magazine (Autumn 1969).
  • Mr. Swinburne … expresses in verse what he finds in books as passionately as a poet expresses what he finds in life.
  • Mr. Swinburne is already the Poet Laureate of England. The fact that his appointment to this high post has not been degraded by official confirmation renders his position all the more unassailable. He whom all poets love is the Laureate Poet always.

External links[edit]

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