Eton: an Ode

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

For the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Foundation of the College


I
Four hundred summers and fifty have shone on the meadows of Thames and died
Since Eton arose in an age that was darkness, and shone by his radiant side
As a star that the spell of a wise man's word bade live and ascend and abide.
And ever as time's flow brightened, a river more dark than the storm-clothed sea,
And age upon age rose fairer and larger in promise of hope set free,
With England Eton her child kept pace as a fostress of men to be.
And ever as earth waxed wiser, and softer the beating of time's wide wings,
Since fate fell dark on her father, most hapless and gentlest of star-crossed kings,
Her praise has increased as the chant of the dawn that the choir of the noon outsings.

II
Storm and cloud in the skies were loud, and lightning mocked at the blind sun's light;
War and woe on the land below shed heavier shadow than falls from night;
Dark was earth at her dawn of birth as here her record of praise is bright.
Clear and fair through her morning air the light first laugh of the sunlit stage
Rose and rang as a fount that sprang from depths yet dark with a spent storm's rage,
Loud and glad as a boy's, and bade the sunrise open on Shakespeare's age.
Lords of state and of war, whom fate found strong in battle, in counsel strong,
Here, ere fate had approved them great, abode their season, and thought not long:
Here too first was the lark's note nursed that filled and flooded the skies with song.

III
Shelley, lyric lord of England's lordliest singers, here first heard
Ring from lips of poets crowned and dead the Promethean word
Whence his soul took fire, and power to outsoar the sunward-soaring bird.
Still the reaches of the river, still the light on field and hill,
Still the memories held aloft as lamps for hope's young fire to fill,
Shine, and while the light of England lives shall shine for England still.
When four hundred more and fifty years have risen and shone and set,
Bright with names that men remember, loud with names that men forget,
Haply here shall Eton's record be what England finds it yet.

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