Dedication to Alice Swinburne

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

I.

The love that comes and goes like wind or fire
Hath words and wings wherewith to speak and flee.
But love more deep than passion's deep desire,
Clear and inviolable as the unsounded sea,
What wings of words may serve to set it free,
To lift and lead it homeward? Time and death
Are less than love: or man's live spirit saith
False, when he deems his life is more than breath.

II.

No words may utter love; no sovereign song
Speak all it would for love's sake. Yet would I
Fain cast in moulded rhymes that do me wrong
Some little part of all my love: but why
Should weak and wingless words be fain to fly?
For us the years that live not are not dead:
Past days and present in our hearts are wed:
My song can say no more than love hath said.

III.

Love needs nor song nor speech to say what love
Would speak or sing, were speech and song not weak
To bear the sense-belated soul above
And bid the lips of silence breathe and speak.
Nor power nor will has love to find or seek
Words indiscoverable, ampler strains of song
Than ever hailed him fair or shewed him strong:
And less than these should do him worse than wrong.

IV.

We who remember not a day wherein
We have not loved each other, - who can see
No time, since time bade first our days begin,
Within the sweep of memory's wings, when we
Have known not what each other's love must be, -
We are well content to know it, and rest on this,
And call not words to witness that it is.
To love aloud is oft to love amiss.

V.

But if the gracious witness borne of words
Take not from speechless love the secret grace
That binds it round with silence, and engirds
Its heart with memories fair as heaven's own face,
Let love take courage for a little space
To speak and be rebuked not of the soul,
Whose utterance, ere the unwitting speech be whole,
Rebukes itself, and craves again control.

VI.

A ninefold garland wrought of song-flowers nine
Wound each with each in chance-inwoven accord
Here at your feet I lay as on a shrine
Whereof the holiest love that lives is lord.
With faint strange hues their leaves are freaked and scored:
The fable-flowering land wherein they grew
Hath dreams for stars, and grey romance for dew:
Perchance no flower thence plucked may flower anew.

VII.

No part have these wan legends in the sun
Whose glory lightens Greece and gleams on Rome.
Their elders live: but these - their day is done,
Their records written of the wind in foam
Fly down the wind, and darkness takes them home.
What Homer saw, what Virgil dreamed, was truth,
And dies not, being divine: but whence, in sooth,
Might shades that never lived win deathless youth?

VIII.

The fields of fable, by the feet of faith
Untrodden, bloom not where such deep mist drives.
Dead fancy's ghost, not living fancy's wraith,
Is now the storied sorrow that survives
Faith in the record of these lifeless lives.
Yet Milton's sacred feet have lingered there,
His lips have made august the fabulous air,
His hands have touched and left the wild weeds fair.

IX.

So, in some void and thought-untrammelled hour,
Let these find grace, my sister, in your sight,
Whose glance but cast on casual things hath power
To do the sun's work, bidding all be bright
With comfort given of love: for love is light.
Were all the world of song made mine to give,
The best were yours of all its flowers that live:
Though least of all be this my gift, forgive.

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