An Evening at Vichy

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Written on the news of the death of Lord Leighton
A light has passed that never shall pass away,
A sun has set whose rays are unquelled of night.
The loyal grace, the courtesy bright as day,
The strong sweet radiant spirit of life and light
That shone and smiled and lightened on all men's sight,
The kindly life whose tune was the tune of May,
For us now dark, for love and for fame is bright.
Nay, not for us that live as the fen-fires live,
As stars that shoot and shudder with life and die,
Can death make dark that lustre of life, or give
The grievous gift of trust in oblivion's lie.
Days dear and far death touches, and draws them nigh,
And bids the grief that broods on their graves forgive
The day that seems to mock them as clouds that fly.
If life be life more faithful than shines on sleep
When dreams take wing and lighten and fade like flame,
Then haply death may be not a death so deep
That all things past are past for it wholly, fame,
Love, loving-kindness, seasons that went and came,
And left their light on life as a seal to keep
Winged memory fast and heedful of time's dead claim.
Death gives back life and light to the sunless years
Whose suns long sunken set not for ever. Time,
Blind, fierce, and deaf as tempest, relents, and hears
And sees how bright the days and how sweet their chime
Rang, shone, and passed in music that matched the clime
Wherein we met rejoicing, a joy that cheers
Sorrow, to see the night as the dawn sublime.
The days that were outlighten the days that are,
And eyes now darkened shine as the stars we see
And hear not sing, impassionate star to star,
As once we heard the music that haply he
Hears, high in heaven if ever a voice may be
The same in heaven, the same as on earth, afar
From pain and earth as heaven from the heaving sea.
A woman's voice, divine as a bird's by dawn
Kindled and stirred to sunward, arose and held
Our souls that heard, from earth as from sleep withdrawn,
And filled with light as stars, and as stars compelled
To move by might of music, elate while quelled,
Subdued by rapture, lit as a mountain lawn
By morning whence all heaven in the sunrise welled.
And her the shadow of death as a robe clasped round
Then: and as morning's music she passed away.
And he then with us, warrior and wanderer, crowned
With fame that shone from eastern on western day,
More strong, more kind, than praise or than grief might say,
Has passed now forth of shadow by sunlight bound,
Of night shot through with light that is frail as May.
May dies, and light grows darkness, and life grows death:
Hope fades and shrinks and falls as a changing leaf:
Remembrance, touched and kindled by love's live breath,
Shines, and subdues the shadow of time called grief,
The shade whose length of life is as life's date brief,
With joy that broods on the sunlight past, and saith
That thought and love hold sorrow and change in fief.
Sweet, glad, bright spirit, kind as the sun seems kind
When earth and sea rejoice in his gentler spell,
Thy face that was we see not; bereft and blind,
We see but yet, rejoicing to see, and dwell
Awhile in days that heard not the death-day's knell,
A light so bright that scarcely may sorrow find
One old sweet word that hails thee and mourns, Farewell.

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