In Memory of Aurelio Saffi

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

The wider world of men that is not ours
Receives a soul whose life on earth was light.
Though darkness close the date of human hours,
Love holds the spirit and sense of life in sight,
That may not, even though death bid fly, take flight.
Faith, love, and hope fulfilled with memory, see
As clear and dear as life could bid it be
The present soul that is and is not he.
He, who held up the shield and sword of Rome
Against the ravening brood of recreant France,
Beside the man of men whom heaven took home
When earth beheld the spring's first eyebeams glance
And life and winter seemed alike a trance
Eighteen years since, in sight of heaven and spring
That saw the soul above all souls take wing,
He too now hears the heaven we hear not sing.
He too now dwells where death is dead, and stands
Where souls like stars exult in life to be:
Whence all who linked heroic hearts and hands
Shine on our sight, and give it strength to see
What hope makes fair for all whom faith makes free:
Free with such freedom as we find in sleep,
The light sweet shadow of death, when dreams are deep
And high as heaven whence light and lightning leap.
And scarce a month yet gone, his living hand
Writ loving words that sealed me friend of his.
Are heaven and earth as near as sea to strand?
May life and death as bride and bridegroom kiss?
His last month's written word abides, and is;
Clear as the sun that lit through storm and strife
And darkling days when hope took fear to wife
The faith whose fire was light of all his life.
A life so fair, so pure of earthlier leaven,
That none hath won through higher and harder ways
The deathless life of death which earth calls heaven;
Heaven, and the light of love on earth, and praise
Of silent memory through subsiding days
Wherein the light subsides not whence the past
Feeds full with life the future. Time holds fast
Their names whom faith forgets not, first and last.
Forget? The dark forgets not dawn, nor we
The suns that sink to rise again, and shine
Lords of live years and ages. Earth and sea
Forget not heaven that makes them seem divine,
Though night put out their fires and bid their shrine
Be dark and pale as storm and twilight. Day,
Not night, is everlasting: life's full sway
Bids death bow down as dead, and pass away.
What part has death in souls that past all fear
Win heavenward their supernal way, and smite
With scorn sublime as heaven such dreams as here
Plague and perplex with cloud and fire the light
That leads men's waking souls from glimmering night
To the awless heights of day, whereon man's awe,
Transfigured, dies in rapture, seeing the law
Sealed of the sun that earth arising saw?
Faith, justice, mercy, love, and heaven-born hate
That sets them all on fire and bids them be
More than soft words and dreams that wake too late,
Shone living through the lordly life that we
Beheld, revered, and loved on earth, while he
Dwelt here, and bade our eyes take light thereof;
Light as from heaven that flamed or smiled above
In light or fire whose very hate was love.
No hate of man, but hate of hate whose foam
Sheds poison forth from tongues of snakes and priests,
And stains the sickening air with steams whence Rome
Now feeds not full the God that slays and feasts;
For now the fangs of all the ravenous beasts
That ramped about him, fain of prayer and prey,
Fulfil their lust no more: the tide of day
Swells, and compels him down the deathward way.
Night sucks the Church its creature down, and hell
Yawns, heaves, and yearns to clasp its loathliest child
Close to the breasts that bore it. All the spell
Whence darkness saw the dawn in heaven defiled
Is dumb as death: the lips that lied and smiled
Wax white for fear as ashes. She that bore
The banner up of darkness now no more
Sheds night and fear and shame from shore to shore.
When they that cast her kingdom down were born,
North cried on south and east made moan to west
For hopes that love had hardly heart to mourn,
For Italy that was not. Kings on quest,
By priests whose blessings burn as curses blest,
Made spoil of souls and bodies bowed and bound,
Hunted and harried, leashed as horse or hound,
And hopeless of the hope that died unfound.
And now that faith has brought forth fruit to time,
How should not memory praise their names, and hold
Their record even as Dante's life sublime,
Who bade his dream, found fair and false of old,
Live? Not till earth and heaven be dead and cold
May man forget whose work and will made one
Italy, fair as heaven or freedom won,
And left their fame to shine beside her sun.

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