A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

After reading Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia in the garden of an old English manor house

A star in the silence that follows
The song of the death of the sun
Speaks music in heaven, and the hollows
And heights of the world are as one;
One lyre that outsings and outlightens
The rapture of sunset, and thrills
Mute night till the sense of it brightens
The soul that it fills.
The flowers of the sun that is sunken
Hang heavy of heart as of head;
The bees that have eaten and drunken
The soul of their sweetness are fled;
But a sunflower of song, on whose honey
My spirit has fed as a bee,
Makes sunnier than morning was sunny
The twilight for me.
The letters and lines on the pages
That sundered mine eyes and the flowers
Wax faint as the shadows of ages
That sunder their season and ours;
As the ghosts of the centuries that sever
A season of colourless time
From the days whose remembrance is ever,
As they were, sublime.
The season that bred and that cherished
The soul that I commune with yet,
Had it utterly withered and perished
To rise not again as it set,
Shame were it that Englishmen living
Should read as their forefathers read
The books of the praise and thanksgiving
Of Englishmen dead.
O light of the land that adored thee
And kindled thy soul with her breath,
Whose life, such as fate would afford thee,
Was lovelier than aught but thy death,
By what name, could thy lovers but know it,
Might love of thee hail thee afar,
Philisides, Astrophel, poet
Whose love was thy star?
A star in the moondawn of Maytime,
A star in the cloudland of change;
Too splendid and sad for the daytime
To cheer or eclipse or estrange;
Too sweet for tradition or vision
To see but through shadows of tears
Rise deathless across the division
Of measureless years.
The twilight may deepen and harden
As nightward the stream of it runs
Till starshine transfigure a garden
Whose radiance responds to the sun's:
The light of the love of thee darkens
The lights that arise and that set:
The love that forgets thee not hearkens
If England forget.

Bright and brief in the sight of grief and love the light of thy lifetime shone,
Seen and felt by the gifts it dealt, the grace it gave, and again was gone:
Ay, but now it is death, not thou, whom time has conquered as years pass on.
Ay, not yet may the land forget that bore and loved thee and praised and wept,
Sidney, lord of the stainless sword, the name of names that her heart's love kept
Fast as thine did her own, a sign to light thy life till it sank and slept.
Bright as then for the souls of men thy brave Arcadia resounds and shines,
Lit with love that beholds above all joys and sorrows the steadfast signs,
Faith, a splendour that hope makes tender, and truth, whose presage the soul divines.
All the glory that girds the story of all thy life as with sunlight round,
All the spell that on all souls fell who saw thy spirit, and held them bound,
Lives for all that have heard the call and cadence yet of its music sound.
Music bright as the soul of light, for wings an eagle, for notes a dove,
Leaps and shines from the lustrous lines wherethrough thy soul from afar above
Shone and sang till the darkness rang with light whose fire is the fount of love.
Love that led thee alive, and fed thy soul with sorrows and joys and fears,
Love that sped thee, alive and dead, to fame's fair goal with thy peerless peers,
Feeds the flame of thy quenchless name with light that lightens the rayless years.
Dark as sorrow though night and morrow may lower with presage of clouded fame,
How may she that of old bare thee, may Sidney's England, be brought to shame?
How should this be, while England is? What need of answer beyond thy name?

From the love that transfigures thy glory,
From the light of the dawn of thy death,
The life of thy song and thy story
Took subtler and fierier breath.
And we, though the day and the morrow
Set fear and thanksgiving at strife,
Hail yet in the star of thy sorrow
The sun of thy life.
Shame and fear may beset men here, and bid thanksgiving and pride be dumb:
Faith, discrowned of her praise, and wound about with toils till her life wax numb,
Scarce may see if the sundawn be, if darkness die not and dayrise come.
But England, enmeshed and benetted
With spiritless villainies round,
With counsels of cowardice fretted,
With trammels of treason enwound,
Is yet, though the season be other
Than wept and rejoiced over thee,
Thine England, thy lover, thy mother,
Sublime as the sea.
Hers wast thou: if her face be now less bright, or seem for an hour less brave,
Let but thine on her darkness shine, thy saviour spirit revive and save,
Time shall see, as the shadows flee, her shame entombed in a shameful grave.
If death and not life were the portal
That opens on life at the last,
If the spirit of Sidney were mortal
And the past of it utterly past,
Fear stronger than honour was ever,
Forgetfulness mightier than fame,
Faith knows not if England should never
Subside into shame.
Yea, but yet is thy sun not set, thy sunbright spirit of trust withdrawn:
England's love of thee burns above all hopes that darken or fears that fawn:
Hers thou art: and the faithful heart that hopes begets upon darkness dawn.
The sunset that sunrise will follow
Is less than the dream of a dream:
The starshine on height and on hollow
Sheds promise that dawn shall redeem:
The night, if the daytime would hide it,
Shows lovelier, aflame and afar,
Thy soul and thy Stella's beside it,
A star by a star.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Astrophel' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

comments powered by Disqus

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