Birthday Ode for the Anniversary Festival of Victor Hugo

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Strophe 1.
Spring, born in heaven ere many a springtime flown,
Dead spring that sawest on earth
A babe of deathless birth,
A flower of rosier flowerage than thine own,
A glory of goodlier godhead; even this day,
That floods the mist of February with May,
And strikes death dead with sunlight, and the breath
Whereby the deadly doers are done to death,
They that in day's despite
Would crown the imperial night,
And in deep hate of insubmissive spring
Rethrone the royal winter for a king,
This day that casts the days of darkness down
Low as a broken crown,
We call thee from the gulf of deeds and days,
Deathless and dead, to hear us whom we praise.

Antistrophe 1.
A light of many lights about thine head,
Lights manifold and one,
Stars molten in a sun,
A sun of divers beams incorporated,
Compact of confluent aureoles, each more fair
Than man, save only at highest of man, may wear,
So didst thou rise, when this our grey-grown age
Had trod two paces of his pilgrimage,
Two paces through the gloom
From his fierce father's tomb,
Led by cross lights of lightnings, and the flame
That burned in darkness round one darkling name;
So didst thou rise, nor knewest thy glory, O thou
Re-risen upon us now,
The glory given thee for a grace to give,
And take the praise of all men's hearts that live.

Epode 1.
First in the dewy ray
Ere dawn be slain of day
The fresh crowned lilies of discrowned kings' prime
Sprang splendid as of old
With moonlight-coloured gold
And rays refract from the oldworld heaven of time;
Pale with proud light of stars decreased
In westward wane reluctant from the conquering east.

Str. 2.
But even between their golden olden bloom
Strange flowers of wildwood glory,
With frost and moonshine hoary,
Thrust up the new growths of their green-leaved gloom,
Red buds of ballad blossom, where the dew
Blushed as with bloodlike passion, and its hue
Was as the life and love of hearts on flame,
And fire from forth of each live chalice came:
Young sprays of elder song,
Stem straight and petal strong,
Bright foliage with dark frondage overlaid,
And light the lovelier for its lordlier shade;
And morn and even made loud in woodland lone
With cheer of clarions blown,
And through the tournay's clash and clarion's cheer
Laugh to laugh echoing, tear washed off by tear.

Ant. 2.
Then eastward far past northland lea and lawn
Beneath a heavier light
Of stormier day and night
Began the music of the heaven of dawn;
Bright sound of battle along the Grecian waves,
Loud light of thunder above the Median graves,
New strife, new song on Æschylean seas,
Canaris risen above Themistocles;
Old glory of warrior ghosts
Shed fresh on filial hosts,
With dewfall redder than the dews of day,
And earth-born lightnings out of bloodbright spray;
Then through the flushed grey gloom on shadowy sheaves
Low flights of falling leaves;
And choirs of birds transfiguring as they throng
All the world's twilight and the soul's to song.

Ep. 2.
Voices more dimly deep
Than the inmost heart of sleep,
And tenderer than the rose-mouthed morning's lips;
And midmost of them heard
The viewless water's word,
The sea's breath in the wind's wing and the ship's,
That bids one swell and sound and smite
And rend that other in sunder as with fangs by night.

Str. 3.
But ah! the glory of shadow and mingling ray,
The story of morn and even
Whose tale was writ in heaven
And had for scroll the night, for scribe the day!
For scribe the prophet of the morning, far
Exalted over twilight and her star;
For scroll beneath his Apollonian hand
The dim twin wastes of sea and glimmering land.
Hark, on the hill-wind, clear
For all men's hearts to hear
Sound like a stream at nightfall from the steep
That all time's depths might answer, deep to deep,
With trumpet-measures of triumphal wail
From windy vale to vale,
The crying of one for love that strayed and sinned
Whose brain took madness of the mountain wind.

Ant. 3.

Between the birds of brighter and duskier wing,
What mightier-moulded forms
Girt with red clouds and storms
Mix their strong hearts with theirs that soar and sing?
Before the storm-blast blown of death's dark horn
The marriage moonlight withers, that the morn
For two made one may find three made by death
One ruin at the blasting of its breath:
Clothed with heart's flame renewed
And strange new maidenhood,
Faith lightens on the lips that bloomed for hire
Pure as the lightning of love's first-born fire:
Wide-eyed and patient ever, till the curse
Find where to fall and pierce,
Keen expiation whets with edge more dread
A father's wrong to smite a father's head.

Ep. 3.
Borgia, supreme from birth
As loveliest born on earth
Since earth bore ever women that were fair;
Scarce known of her own house
If daughter or sister or spouse;
Who holds men's hearts yet helpless with her hair;
The direst of divine things made,
Bows down her amorous aureole half suffused with shade.

Str. 4.
As red the fire-scathed royal northland bloom,
That left our story a name
Dyed through with blood and flame
Ere her life shrivelled from a fierier doom
Than theirs her priests bade pass from earth in fire
To slake the thirst of God their Lord's desire:
As keen the blast of love-enkindled fate
That burst the Paduan tyrant's guarded gate:
As sad the softer moan
Made one with music's own
For one whose feet made music as they fell
On ways by loveless love made hot from hell:
But higher than these and all the song thereof
The perfect heart of love,
The heart by fraud and hate once crucified,
That, dying, gave thanks, and in thanksgiving died.

Ant. 4.
Above the windy walls that rule the Rhine
A noise of eagles' wings
And wintry war-time rings,
With roar of ravage trampling corn and vine
And storm of wrathful wassail dashed with song,
And under these the watch of wreakless wrong,
With fire of eyes anhungered; and above
These, the light of the stricken eyes of love,
The faint sweet eyes that follow
The wind-outwinging swallow,
And face athirst with young wan yearning mouth
Turned after toward the unseen all-golden south,
Hopeless to see the birds back ere life wane,
Or the leaves born again;
And still the might and music mastering fate
Of life more strong than death and love than hate.

Ep. 4.
In spectral strength biform
Stand the twin sons of storm
Transfigured by transmission of one hand
That gives the new-born time
Their semblance more sublime
Than once it lightened over each man's land;
There Freedom's winged and wide-mouthed hound,
And here our high Dictator, in his son discrowned.

Str. 5.
What strong-limbed shapes of kindred throng round these
Before, between, behind,
Sons born of one man's mind,
Fed at his hands and fostered round his knees?
Fear takes the spirit in thraldom at his nod,
And pity makes it as the spirit of God,
As his own soul that from her throne above
Sheds on all souls of men her showers of love,
On all earth's evil and pain
Pours mercy forth as rain
And comfort as the dewfall on dry land;
And feeds with pity from a faultless hand
All by their own fault stricken, all cast out
By all men's scorn or doubt,
Or with their own hands wounded, or by fate
Brought into bondage of men's fear or hate.

Ant. 5.
In violence of strange visions north and south
Confronted, east and west,
With frozen or fiery breast,
Eyes fixed or fevered, pale or bloodred mouth,
Kept watch about his dawn-enkindled dreams;
But ere high noon a light of nearer beams
Made his young heaven of manhood more benign,
And love made soft his lips with spiritual wine,
And left them fired, and fed
With sacramental bread,
And sweet with honey of tenderer words than tears
To feed men's hopes and fortify men's fears,
And strong to silence with benignant breath
The lips that doom to death,
And swift with speech like fire in fiery lands
To melt the steel's edge in the headsman's hands.

Ep. 5.
Higher than they rose of old,
New builded now, behold,
The live great likeness of Our Lady's towers;
And round them like a dove
Wounded, and sick with love,
One fair ghost moving, crowned with fateful flowers,
Watched yet with eyes of bloodred lust
And eyes of love's heart broken and unbroken trust.

Str. 6.
But sadder always under shadowier skies,
More pale and sad and clear
Waxed always, drawn more near,
The face of Duty lit with Love's own eyes;
Till the awful hands that culled in rosier hours
From fairy-footed fields of wild old flowers
And sorcerous woods of Rhineland, green and hoary,
Young children's chaplets of enchanted story,
The great kind hands that showed
Exile its homeward road,
And, as man's helper made his foeman God,
Of pity and mercy wrought themselves a rod,
And opened for Napoleon's wandering kin
France, and bade enter in,
And threw for all the doors of refuge wide,
Took to them lightning in the thunder-tide.

Ant. 6.
For storm on earth above had risen from under,
Out of the hollow of hell,
Such storm as never fell
From darkest deeps of heaven distract with thunder;
A cloud of cursing, past all shape of thought,
More foul than foulest dreams, and overfraught
With all obscene things and obscure of birth
That ever made infection of man's earth;
Having all hell for cloak
Wrapped round it as a smoke
And in its womb such offspring so defiled
As earth bare never for her loathliest child,
Rose, brooded, reddened, broke, and with its breath

Put France to poisonous death; Yea, far as heaven's red labouring eye could glance,
France was not, save in men cast forth of France.

Ep. 6.
Then,—while the plague-sore grew
Two darkling decades through,
And rankled in the festering flesh of time,—
Where darkness binds and frees
The wildest of wild seas
In fierce mutations of the unslumbering clime,
There, sleepless too, o'er shuddering wrong
One hand appointed shook the reddening scourge of song.

Str. 7.
And through the lightnings of the apparent word
Dividing shame's dense night
Sounds lovelier than the light
And light more sweet than song from night's own bird
Mixed each their hearts with other, till the gloom
Was glorious as with all the stars in bloom,
Sonorous as with all the spheres in chime
Heard far through flowering heaven: the sea, sublime
Once only with its own
Old winds' and waters' tone,
Sad only or glad with its own glory, and crowned
With its own light, and thrilled with its own sound,
Learnt now their song, more sweet than heaven's may be,
Who pass away by sea;
The song that takes of old love's land farewell,
With pulse of plangent water like a knell.

Ant. 7.
And louder ever and louder and yet more loud
Till night be shamed of morn
Rings the Black Huntsman's horn
Through darkening deeps beneath the covering cloud,
Till all the wild beasts of the darkness hear;
Till the Czar quake, till Austria cower for fear,
Till the king breathe not, till the priest wax pale,
Till spies and slayers on seats of judgment quail,
Till mitre and cowl bow down
And crumble as a crown,
Till Cæsar driven to lair and hounded Pope
Reel breathless and drop heartless out of hope,
And one the uncleanest kinless beast of all
Lower than his fortune fall;
The wolfish waif of casual empire, born
To turn all hate and horror cold with scorn.

Ep. 7.
Yea, even at night's full noon
Light's birth-song brake in tune,
Spake, witnessing that with us one must be,
God; naming so by name
That priests have brought to shame
The strength whose scourge sounds on the smitten sea;
The mystery manifold of might
Which bids the wind give back to night the things of night.

Str. 8.
Even God, the unknown of all time; force or thought,
Nature or fate or will,
Clothed round with good and ill,
Veiled and revealed of all things and of nought,
Hooded and helmed with mystery, girt and shod
With light and darkness, unapparent God.
Him the high prophet o'er his wild work bent
Found indivisible ever and immanent
At hidden heart of truth,
In forms of age and youth
Transformed and transient ever; masked and crowned,
From all bonds loosened and with all bonds bound,
Diverse and one with all things; love and hate,
Earth, and the starry state
Of heaven immeasurable, and years that flee
As clouds and winds and rays across the sea.

Ant. 8.
But higher than stars and deeper than the waves
Of day and night and morrow
That roll for all time, sorrow
Keeps ageless watch over perpetual graves.
From dawn to morning of the soul in flower,
Through toils and dreams and visions, to that hour
When all the deeps were opened, and one doom
Took two sweet lives to embrace them and entomb,
The strong song plies its wing
That makes the darkness ring
And the deep light reverberate sound as deep;
Song soft as flowers or grass more soft than sleep,
Song bright as heaven above the mounting bird,
Song like a God's tears heard
Falling, fulfilled of life and death and light,
And all the stars and all the shadow of night.

Ep. 8.
Till, when its flight hath past
Time's loftiest mark and last,
The goal where good kills evil with a kiss,
And Darkness in God's sight
Grows as his brother Light,
And heaven and hell one heart whence all the abyss
Throbs with love's music; from his trance
Love waking leads it home to her who stayed in France.

Str. 9.
But now from all the world-old winds of the air
One blast of record rings
As from time's hidden springs
With roar of rushing wings and fires that bear
Toward north and south sonorous, east and west,
Forth of the dark wherein its records rest,
The story told of the ages, writ nor sung
By man's hand ever nor by mortal tongue
Till, godlike with desire,
One tongue of man took fire,
One hand laid hold upon the lightning, one
Rose up to bear time witness what the sun
Had seen, and what the moon and stars of night
Beholding lost not light:
From dawn to dusk what ways man wandering trod
Even through the twilight of the gods to God.

Ant. 9.
From dawn of man and woman twain and one
When the earliest dews impearled
The front of all the world
Ringed with aurorean aureole of the sun,
To days that saw Christ's tears and hallowing breath
Put life for love's sake in the lips of death,
And years as waves whose brine was fire, whose foam
Blood, and the ravage of Neronian Rome;
And the eastern crescent's horn
Mightier awhile than morn;
And knights whose lives were flights of eagles' wings,
And lives like snakes' lives of engendering kings;
And all the ravin of all the swords that reap
Lives cast as sheaves on heap
From all the billowing harvest-fields of fight;
And sounds of love-songs lovelier than the light.

Ep. 9.
The grim dim thrones of the east
Set for death's riotous feast
Round the bright board where darkling centuries wait,
And servile slaughter, mute,
Feeds power with fresh red fruit,
Glitter and groan with mortal food of fate;
And throne and cup and lamp's bright breath
Bear witness to their lord of only night and death.

Str. 10.
Dead freedom by live empire lies defiled,
And murder at his feet
Plies lust with wine and meat,
With offering of an old man and a child,
With holy body and blood, inexpiable
Communion in the sacrament of hell,
Till, reeking from their monstrous eucharist,
The lips wax cold that murdered where they kissed,
And empire in mid feast
Fall as a slaughtered beast
Headless, and ease men's hungering hearts of fear
Lest God were none in heaven, to see nor hear,
And purge his own pollution with the flood
Poured of his black base blood
So first found healing, poisonous as it poured;
And on the clouds the archangel cleanse his sword.

Ant. 10.
As at the word unutterable that made
Of day and night division,
From vision on to vision,
From dream to dream, from darkness into shade,
From sunshine into sunlight, moves and lives
The steersman's eye, the helming hand that gives
Life to the wheels and wings that whirl along
The immeasurable impulse of the sphere of song
Through all the eternal years,
Beyond all stars and spheres,
Beyond the washing of the waves of time,
Beyond all heights where no thought else may climb,
Beyond the darkling dust of suns that were,
Past height and depth of air;
And in the abyss whence all things move that are
Finds only living Love, the sovereign star.

Ep. 10.
Nor less the weight and worth
Found even of love on earth
To wash all stain of tears and sins away,
On dying lips alit
That living knew not it,
In the winged shape of song with death to play:
To warm young children with its wings,
And try with fire the heart elect for godlike things.

Str. 11.
For all worst wants of all most miserable
With divine hands to deal
All balms and herbs that heal,
Among all woes whereunder poor men dwell
Our Master sent his servant Love, to be
On earth his witness; but the strange deep sea,
Mother of life and death inextricate,
What work should Love do there, to war with fate?
Yet there must Love too keep
At heart of the eyeless deep
Watch, and wage war wide-eyed with all its wonders,
Lower than the lightnings of its waves, and thunders
Of seas less monstrous than the births they bred;
Keep high there heart and head,
And conquer: then for prize of all toils past
Feel the sea close them in again at last.

Ant. 11.
A day of direr doom arisen thereafter
With cloud and fire in strife
Lightens and darkens life
Round one by man's hand masked with living laughter,
A man by men bemonstered, but by love,
Watched with blind eyes as of a wakeful dove,
And wooed by lust, that in her rosy den
As fire on flesh feeds on the souls of men,
To take the intense impure
Burnt-offering of her lure,
Divine and dark and bright and naked, strange
With ravenous thirst of life reversed and change,
As though the very heaven should shrivel and swell
With hunger after hell,
Run mad for dear damnation, and desire
To feel its light thrilled through with stings of fire.

Ep. 11.
Above a windier sea,
The glory of Ninety-three
Fills heaven with blood-red and with rose-red beams
That earth beholding grows
Herself one burning rose
Flagrant and fragrant with strange deeds and dreams,
Dreams dyed as love's own flower, and deeds
Stained as with love's own life-blood, that for love's sake bleeds.

Str. 12.
And deeper than all deeps of seas and skies
Wherein the shadows are
Called sun and moon and star
That rapt conjecture metes with mounting eyes,
Loud with strange waves and lustrous with new spheres,
Shines, masked at once and manifest of years,
Shakespeare, a heaven of heavenly eyes beholden;
And forward years as backward years grow golden
With light of deeds and words
And flight of God's fleet birds,
Angels of wrath and love and truth and pity;
And higher on exiled eyes their natural city
Dawns down the depths of vision, more sublime
Than all truths born of time;
And eyes that wept above two dear sons dead
Grow saving stars to guard one hopeless head.

Ant. 12.
Bright round the brows of banished age had shone
In vision flushed with truth
The rosy glory of youth
On streets and woodlands where in days long gone
Sweet love sang light and loud and deep and dear:
And far the trumpets of the dreadful year
Had pealed and wailed in darkness: last arose
The song of children, kindling as a rose
At breath of sunrise, born
Of the red flower of morn
Whose face perfumes deep heaven with odorous light
And thrills all through the wings of souls in flight
Close as the press of children at His knee
Whom if the high priest see,
Dreaming, as homeless on dark earth he trod,
The lips that praise him shall not know for God.

Ep. 12.
O sovereign spirit, above
All offering but man's love,
All praise and prayer and incense undefiled!
The one thing stronger found
Than towers with iron bound;
The one thing lovelier than a little child,
479And deeper than the seas are deep,
And tenderer than such tears of love as angels weep.

Str. 13.
Dante, the seer of all things evil and good,
Beheld two ladies, Beauty
And high life-hallowing Duty,
That strove for sway upon his mind and mood
And held him in alternating accord
Fast bound at feet of either: but our lord,
The seer and singer of righteousness and wrong
Who stands now master of all the keys of song,
Sees both as dewdrops run
Together in the sun,
For him not twain but one thing twice divine;
Even as his speech and song are bread and wine
For all souls hungering and all hearts athirst
At best of days and worst,
And both one sacrament of Love's great giving
To feed the spirit and sense of all souls living.

Ant. 13.
The seventh day in the wind's month, ten years gone
Since heaven-espousing earth
Gave the Republic birth,
The mightiest soul put mortal raiment on
That came forth singing ever in man's ears
Of all souls with us, and through all these years
Rings yet the lordliest, waxen yet more strong,
That on our souls hath shed itself in song,
Poured forth itself like rain
On souls like springing grain
That with its procreant beams and showers were fed
For living wine and sacramental bread;
Given all itself as air gives life and light,
Utterly, as of right;
The goodliest gift our age hath given, to be
Ours, while the sun gives glory to the sea.

Ep. 13.
Our Father and Master and Lord,
Who hast thy song for sword,
For staff thy spirit, and our hearts for throne:
As in past years of wrong,
Take now my subject song,
To no crowned head made humble but thine own;
That on thy day of worldly birth
Gives thanks for all thou hast given past thanks of all on earth.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Birthday Ode for the Anniversary Festival of Victor Hugo' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

comments powered by Disqus

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