Prologue to The Broken Heart

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

The mightiest choir of song that memory hears
Gave England voice for fifty lustrous years.
Sunrise and thunder fired and shook the skies
That saw the sun-god Marlowe's opening eyes.
The morn's own music, answered of the sea,
Spake, when his living lips bade Shakespeare be,
And England, made by Shakespeare's quickening breath
Divine and deathless even till life be death,
Brought forth to time such godlike sons of men
That shamefaced love grows pride, and now seems then.
Shame that their day so shone, so sang, so died,
Remembering, finds remembrance one with pride.
That day was clouding toward a stormlit close
When Ford's red sphere upon the twilight rose.
Sublime with stars and sunset fire, the sky
Glowed as though day, nigh dead, should never die.
Sorrow supreme and strange as chance or doom
Shone, spake, and shuddered through the lustrous gloom.
Tears lit with love made all the darkening air
Bright as though death's dim sunrise thrilled it there
And life re-risen took comfort. Stern and still
As hours and years that change and anguish fill,
The strong secluded spirit, ere it woke,
Dwelt dumb till power possessed it, and it spoke.
Strange, calm, and sure as sense of beast or bird,
Came forth from night the thought that breathed the word;
That chilled and thrilled with passion-stricken breath
Halls where Calantha trod the dance of death.
A strength of soul too passionately pure
To change for aught that horror bids endure,
To quail and wail and weep faint life away
Ere sovereign sorrow smite, relent, and slay,
Sustained her silent, till her bridal bloom
Changed, smiled, and waned in rapture toward the tomb.
Terror twin-born with pity kissed and thrilled
The lips that Shakespeare's word or Webster's filled:
Here both, cast out, fell silent: pity shrank,
Rebuked, and terror, spirit-stricken, sank:
The soul assailed arose afar above
All reach of all but only death and love.

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