Astræa Victrix

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

England, elect of time,
By freedom sealed sublime,
And constant as the sun that saw thy dawn
Outshine upon the sea
His own in heaven, to be
A light that night nor day should see withdrawn,
If song may speak not now thy praise,
Fame writes it higher than song may soar or faith may gaze.
Dark months of months beheld
Hope thwarted, crossed, and quelled,
And heard the heartless hounds of hatred bay
Aloud against thee, glad
As now their souls are sad
Who see their hope in hatred pass away
And wither into shame and fear
And shudder down to darkness, loth to see or hear.
Nought now they hear or see
That speaks or shows not thee
Triumphant; not as empires reared of yore,
The imperial commonweal
That bears thy sovereign seal
And signs thine orient as thy natural shore
Free, as no sons but thine may stand,
Steers lifeward ever, guided of thy pilot hand.
Fear, masked and veiled by fraud,
Found shameful time to applaud
Shame, and bow down thy banner towards the dust,
And call on godly shame
To desecrate thy name
And bid false penitence abjure thy trust:
Till England's heart took thought at last,
And felt her future kindle from her fiery past.
Then sprang the sunbright fire
High as the sun, and higher
Than strange men's eyes might watch it undismayed:
But winds athwart it blew
Storm, and the twilight grew
Darkness awhile, an unenduring shade:
And all base birds and beasts of night
Saw no more England now to fear, no loathsome light.
All knaves and slaves at heart
Who, knowing thee what thou art,
Abhor thee, seeing what none save here may see,
Strong freedom, taintless truth,
Supreme in ageless youth,
Howled all their hate and hope aloud at thee
While yet the wavering wind of strife
Bore hard against her sail whose freight is hope and life.
And now the quickening tide
That brings back power and pride
To faith and love whose ensign is thy name
Bears down the recreant lie
That doomed thy name to die,
Sons, friends, and foes behold thy star the same
As when it stood in heaven a sun
And Europe saw no glory left her sky save one.
And now, as then she saw,
She sees with shamefast awe
How all unlike all slaves and tyrants born
Where bondmen champ the bit
And anarchs foam and flit,
And day mocks day, and year puts year to scorn,
Our mother bore us, English men,
Ashamed of shame and strong in mercy, now as then.
We loosed not on these knaves
Their scourge-tormented slaves:
We held the hand that fain had risen to smite
The torturer fast, and made
Justice awhile afraid,
And righteousness forego her ruthless right:
We warred not even with these as they;
We bade not them they preyed on make of them their prey.
All murderous fraud that lurks
In hearts where hell's craft works
Fought, crawled, and slew in darkness: they that died
Dreamed not of foes too base
For scorn to grant them grace:
Men wounded, women, children at their side,
Had found what faith in fiends may live:
And yet we gave not back what righteous doom would give.
No false white flag that fawns
On faith till murder dawns
Blood-red from hell-black treason's heart of hate
Left ever shame's foul brand
Seared on an English hand:
And yet our pride vouchsafes them grace too great
For other pride to dream of: scorn
Strikes retribution silent as the stars at morn.
And now the living breath
Whose life puts death to death,
Freedom, whose name is England, stirs and thrills
The burning darkness through
Whence fraud and slavery grew,
We scarce may mourn our dead whose fame fulfils
The record where her foes have read
That earth shall see none like her born ere earth be dead.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Astræa Victrix' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy