The Armada

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne


England, mother born of seamen, daughter fostered of the sea,
Mother more beloved than all who bear not all their children free,
Reared and nursed and crowned and cherished by the sea-wind and the sun,
Sweetest land and strongest, face most fair and mightiest heart in one,
Stands not higher than when the centuries known of earth were less by three,
When the strength that struck the whole world pale fell back from hers undone.

At her feet were the heads of her foes bowed down, and the strengths of the storm of them stayed,
And the hearts that were touched not with mercy with terror were touched and amazed and affrayed:
Yea, hearts that had never been molten with pity were molten with fear as with flame,
And the priests of the Godhead whose temple is hell, and his heart is of iron and fire,
And the swordsmen that served and the seamen that sped them, whom peril could tame not or tire,
Were as foam on the winds of the waters of England which tempest can tire not or tame.

They were girded about with thunder, and lightning came forth of the rage of their strength,
And the measure that measures the wings of the storm was the breadth of their force and the length:
And the name of their might was Invincible, covered and clothed with the terror of God;
With his wrath were they winged, with his love were they fired, with the speed of his winds were they shod;
With his soul were they filled, in his trust were they comforted: grace was upon them as night,
And faith as the blackness of darkness: the fume of their balefires was fair in his sight,
The reek of them sweet as a savour of myrrh in his nostrils: the world that he made,
Theirs was it by gift of his servants: the wind, if they spake in his name, was afraid,
And the sun was a shadow before it, the stars were astonished with fear of it: fire
Went up to them, fed with men living, and lit of men's hands for a shrine or a pyre;
And the east and the west wind scattered their ashes abroad, that his name should be blest
Of the tribes of the chosen whose blessings are curses from uttermost east unto west.


Hell for Spain, and heaven for England,—God to God, and man to man,—
Met confronted, light with darkness, life with death: since time began,
Never earth nor sea beheld so great a stake before them set,
Save when Athens hurled back Asia from the lists wherein they met;
Never since the sands of ages through the glass of history ran
Saw the sun in heaven a lordlier day than this that lights us yet.

For the light that abides upon England, the glory that rests on her godlike name,
The pride that is love and the love that is faith, a perfume dissolved in flame,
Took fire from the dawn of the fierce July when fleets were scattered as foam
And squadrons as flakes of spray; when galleon and galliass that shadowed the sea
Were swept from her waves like shadows that pass with the clouds they fell from, and she
Laughed loud to the wind as it gave to her keeping the glories of Spain and Rome.

Three hundred summers have fallen as leaves by the storms in their season thinned,
Since northward the war-ships of Spain came sheer up the way of the south-west wind:
Where the citadel cliffs of England are flanked with bastions of serpentine,
Far off to the windward loomed their hulls, an hundred and twenty-nine,
All filled full of the war, full-fraught with battle and charged with bale;
Then store-ships weighted with cannon; and all were an hundred and fifty sail.
The measureless menace of darkness anhungered with hope to prevail upon light,
The shadow of death made substance, the present and visible spirit of night,
Came, shaped as a waxing or waning moon that rose with the fall of day,
To the channel where couches the Lion in guard of the gate of the lustrous bay.
Fair England, sweet as the sea that shields her, and pure as the sea from stain,
Smiled, hearing hardly for scorn that stirred her the menace of saintly Spain.


"They that ride over ocean wide with hempen bridle and horse of tree,"
How shall they in the darkening day of wrath and anguish and fear go free?
How shall these that have curbed the seas not feel his bridle who made the sea?
God shall bow them and break them now: for what is man in the Lord God's sight?
Fear shall shake them, and shame shall break, and all the noon of their pride be night:
These that sinned shall the ravening wind of doom bring under, and judgment smite.
England broke from her neck the yoke, and rent the fetter, and mocked the rod:
Shrines of old that she decked with gold she turned to dust, to the dust she trod:
What is she, that the wind and sea should fight beside her, and war with God?
Lo, the cloud of his ships that crowd her channel's inlet with storm sublime,
Darker far than the tempests are that sweep the skies of her northmost clime;
Huge and dense as the walls that fence the secret darkness of unknown time.
Mast on mast as a tower goes past, and sail by sail as a cloud's wing spread;
Fleet by fleet, as the throngs whose feet keep time with death in his dance of dread;
Galleons dark as the helmsman's bark of old that ferried to hell the dead.
Squadrons proud as their lords, and loud with tramp of soldiers and chant of priests;
Slaves there told by the thousandfold, made fast in bondage as herded beasts;
Lords and slaves that the sweet free waves shall feed on, satiate with funeral feasts.
Nay, not so shall it be, they know; their priests have said it; can priesthood lie?
God shall keep them, their God shall sleep not: peril and evil shall pass them by:
Nay, for these are his children; seas and winds shall bid not his children die.

So they boast them, the monstrous host whose menace mocks at the dawn: and here
They that wait at the wild sea's gate, and watch the darkness of doom draw near,
How shall they in their evil day sustain the strength of their hearts for fear?
Full July in the fervent sky sets forth her twentieth of changing morns:
Winds fall mild that of late waxed wild: no presage whispers or wails or warns:
Far to west on the bland sea's breast a sailing crescent uprears her horns.
Seven wide miles the serene sea smiles between them stretching from rim to rim:
Soft they shine, but a darker sign should bid not hope or belief wax dim:
God's are these men, and not the sea's: their trust is set not on her but him.
God's? but who is the God whereto the prayers and incense of these men rise?
What is he, that the wind and sea should fear him, quelled by his sunbright eyes?
What, that men should return again, and hail him Lord of the servile skies?
Hell's own flame at his heavenly name leaps higher and laughs, and its gulfs rejoice:
Plague and death from his baneful breath take life and lighten, and praise his choice:
Chosen are they to devour for prey the tribes that hear not and fear his voice.
Ay, but we that the wind and sea gird round with shelter of storms and waves
Know not him that ye worship, grim as dreams that quicken from dead men's graves:
God is one with the sea, the sun, the land that nursed us, the love that saves.
Love whose heart is in ours, and part of all things noble and all things fair;
Sweet and free as the circling sea, sublime and kind as the fostering air;
Pure of shame as is England's name, whose crowns to come are as crowns that were.


But the Lord of darkness, the God whose love is a flaming fire,
The master whose mercy fulfils wide hell till its torturers tire,
He shall surely have heed of his servants who serve him for love, not hire.
They shall fetter the wing of the wind whose pinions are plumed with foam:
For now shall thy horn be exalted, and now shall thy bolt strike home;
Yea, now shall thy kingdom come, Lord God of the priests of Rome.
They shall cast thy curb on the waters, and bridle the waves of the sea:
They shall say to her, Peace, be still: and stillness and peace shall be:
And the winds and the storms shall hear them, and tremble, and worship thee.
Thy breath shall darken the morning, and wither the mounting sun;
And the daysprings, frozen and fettered, shall know thee, and cease to run;
The heart of the world shall feel thee, and die, and thy will be done.
The spirit of man that would sound thee, and search out causes of things,
Shall shrink and subside and praise thee: and wisdom, with plume-plucked wings,
Shall cower at thy feet and confess thee, that none may fathom thy springs.
The fountains of song that await but the wind of an April to be
To burst the bonds of the winter, and speak with the sound of a sea,
The blast of thy mouth shall quench them: and song shall be only of thee.
The days that are dead shall quicken, the seasons that were shall return;
And the streets and the pastures of England, the woods that burgeon and yearn,
Shall be whitened with ashes of women and children and men that burn.
For the mother shall burn with the babe sprung forth of her womb in fire,
And bride with bridegroom, and brother with sister, and son with sire;
And the noise of the flames shall be sweet in thine ears as the sound of a lyre.
Yea, so shall thy kingdom be stablished, and so shall the signs of it be:
And the world shall know, and the wind shall speak, and the sun shall see,
That these are the works of thy servants, whose works bear witness to thee.

But the dusk of the day falls fruitless, whose light should have lit them on:
Sails flash through the gloom to shoreward, eclipsed as the sun that shone:
And the west wind wakes with dawn, and the hope that was here is gone.
Around they wheel and around, two knots to the Spaniard's one,
The wind-swift warriors of England, who shoot as with shafts of the sun,
With fourfold shots for the Spaniard's, that spare not till day be done.
And the wind with the sundown sharpens, and hurtles the ships to the lee,
And Spaniard on Spaniard smites, and shatters, and yields; and we,
Ere battle begin, stand lords of the battle, acclaimed of the sea.
And the day sweeps round to the nightward; and heavy and hard the waves
Roll in on the herd of the hurtling galleons; and masters and slaves
Reel blind in the grasp of the dark strong wind that shall dig their graves.
For the sepulchres hollowed and shaped of the wind in the swerve of the seas,
The graves that gape for their pasture, and laugh, thrilled through by the breeze,
The sweet soft merciless waters, await and are fain of these.
As the hiss of a Python heaving in menace of doom to be
They hear through the clear night round them, whose hours are as clouds that flee,
The whisper of tempest sleeping, the heave and the hiss of the sea.
But faith is theirs, and with faith are they girded and helmed and shod:
Invincible are they, almighty, elect for a sword and a rod;
Invincible even as their God is omnipotent, infinite, God.
In him is their strength, who have sworn that his glory shall wax not dim:
In his name are their war-ships hallowed as mightiest of all that swim:
The men that shall cope with these, and conquer, shall cast out him.
In him is the trust of their hearts; the desire of their eyes is he;
The light of their ways, made lightning for men that would fain be free:
Earth's hosts are with them, and with them is heaven: but with us is the sea.


And a day and a night pass over;
And the heart of their chief swells high;
For England, the warrior, the rover,
Whose banners on all winds fly,
Soul-stricken, he saith, by the shadow of death, holds off him, and draws not nigh.
And the wind and the dawn together
Make in from the gleaming east:
And fain of the wild glad weather
As famine is fain of feast,
And fain of the fight, forth sweeps in its might the host of the Lord's high priest.
And lightly before the breeze
The ships of his foes take wing:
Are they scattered, the lords of the seas?
Are they broken, the foes of the king?
And ever now higher as a mounting fire the hopes of the Spaniard spring.
And a windless night comes down:
And a breezeless morning, bright
With promise of praise to crown
The close of the crowning fight,
Leaps up as the foe's heart leaps, and glows with lustrous rapture of light.
And stinted of gear for battle
The ships of the sea's folk lie,
Unwarlike, herded as cattle,
Six miles from the foeman's eye
That fastens as flame on the sight of them tame and offenceless, and ranged as to die.
Surely the souls in them quail,
They are stricken and withered at heart,
When in on them, sail by sail,
Fierce marvels of monstrous art,
Tower darkening on tower till the sea-winds cower crowds down as to hurl them apart.
And the windless weather is kindly,
And comforts the host in these;
And their hearts are uplift in them blindly,
And blindly they boast at ease
That the next day's fight shall exalt them, and smite with destruction the lords of the seas.

And lightly the proud hearts prattle,
And lightly the dawn draws nigh,
The dawn of the doom of the battle
When these shall falter and fly;
No day more great in the roll of fate filled ever with fire the sky.
To fightward they go as to feastward,
And the tempest of ships that drive
Sets eastward ever and eastward,
Till closer they strain and strive;
And the shots that rain on the hulls of Spain are as thunders afire and alive.
And about them the blithe sea smiles
And flashes to windward and lee
Round capes and headlands and isles
That heed not if war there be;
Round Sark, round Wight, green jewels of light in the ring of the golden sea.
But the men that within them abide
Are stout of spirit and stark
As rocks that repel the tide,
As day that repels the dark;
And the light bequeathed from their swords unsheathed shines lineal on Wight and on Sark.
And eastward the storm sets ever,
The storm of the sails that strain
And follow and close and sever
And lose and return and gain;
And English thunder divides in sunder the holds of the ships of Spain.
Southward to Calais, appalled
And astonished, the vast fleet veers;
And the skies are shrouded and palled,
But the moonless midnight hears
And sees how swift on them drive and drift strange flames that the darkness fears.
They fly through the night from shoreward,
Heart-stricken till morning break,
And ever to scourge them forward
Drives down on them England's Drake,
And hurls them in as they hurtle and spin and stagger, with storm to wake.


And now is their time come on them. For eastward they drift and reel,
With the shallows of Flanders ahead, with destruction and havoc at heel,
With God for their comfort only, the God whom they serve; and here
Their Lord, of his great loving-kindness, may revel and make good cheer;
Though ever his lips wax thirstier with drinking, and hotter the lusts in him swell;
For he feeds the thirst that consumes him with blood, and his winepress fumes with the reek of hell.

Fierce noon beats hard on the battle; the galleons that loom to the lee
Bow down, heel over, uplifting their shelterless hulls from the sea:
From scuppers aspirt with blood, from guns dismounted and dumb,
The signs of the doom they looked for, the loud mute witnesses come.
They press with sunset to seaward for comfort: and shall not they find it there?
O servants of God most high, shall his winds not pass you by, and his waves not spare?

The wings of the south-west wind are widened; the breath of his fervent lips,
More keen than a sword's edge, fiercer than fire, falls full on the plunging ships.
The pilot is he of their northward flight, their stay and their steersman he;
A helmsman clothed with the tempest, and girdled with strength to constrain the sea.
And the host of them trembles and quails, caught fast in his hand as a bird in the toils;
For the wrath and the joy that fulfil him are mightier than man's, whom he slays and spoils.
And vainly, with heart divided in sunder, and labour of wavering will,
The lord of their host takes counsel with hope if haply their star shine still,
If haply some light be left them of chance to renew and redeem the fray;
But the will of the black south-wester is lord of the councils of war to-day.
One only spirit it quells not, a splendour undarkened of chance or time;
Be the praise of his foes with Oquendo for ever, a name as a star sublime.
But here what aid in a hero's heart, what help in his hand may be?
For ever the dark wind whitens and blackens the hollows and heights of the sea,
And galley by galley, divided and desolate, founders; and none takes heed,
Nor foe nor friend, if they perish; forlorn, cast off in their uttermost need,
They sink in the whelm of the waters, as pebbles by children from shoreward hurled,
In the North Sea's waters that end not, nor know they a bourn but the bourn of the world.
Past many a secure unavailable harbour, and many a loud stream's mouth,
Past Humber and Tees and Tyne and Tweed, they fly, scourged on from the south,
And torn by the scourge of the storm-wind that smites as a harper smites on a lyre,
And consumed of the storm as the sacrifice loved of their God is consumed with fire,
And devoured of the darkness as men that are slain in the fires of his love are devoured,
And deflowered of their lives by the storms, as by priests is the spirit of life deflowered.
For the wind, of its godlike mercy, relents not, and hounds them ahead to the north,
With English hunters at heel, till now is the herd of them past the Forth,
All huddled and hurtled seaward; and now need none wage war upon these,
Nor huntsmen follow the quarry whose fall is the pastime sought of the seas.
Day upon day upon day confounds them, with measureless mists that swell,
With drift of rains everlasting and dense as the fumes of ascending hell.
The visions of priest and of prophet beholding his enemies bruised of his rod
Beheld but the likeness of this that is fallen on the faithful, the friends of God.
Northward, and northward, and northward they stagger and shudder and swerve and flit,
Dismantled of masts and of yards, with sails by the fangs of the storm-wind split.
But north of the headland whose name is Wrath, by the wrath or the ruth of the sea,
They are swept or sustained to the westward, and drive through the rollers aloof to the lee.
Some strive yet northward for Iceland, and perish: but some through the storm-hewn straits
That sunder the Shetlands and Orkneys are borne of the breath which is God's or fate's:
And some, by the dawn of September, at last give thanks as for stars that smile,
For the winds have swept them to shelter and sight of the cliffs of a Catholic isle.
Though many the fierce rocks feed on, and many the merciless heretic slays,
Yet some that have laboured to land with their treasure are trustful, and give God praise.
And the kernes of murderous Ireland, athirst with a greed everlasting of blood,
Unslakable ever with slaughter and spoil, rage down as a ravening flood,
To slay and to flay of their shining apparel their brethren whom shipwreck spares;
Such faith and such mercy, such love and such manhood, such hands and such hearts are theirs.
Short shrift to her foes gives England, but shorter doth Ireland to friends; and worse
Fare they that came with a blessing on treason than they that come with a curse.
Hacked, harried, and mangled of axes and skenes, three thousand naked and dead
Bear witness of Catholic Ireland, what sons of what sires at her breasts are bred.
Winds are pitiful, waves are merciful, tempest and storm are kind:
The waters that smite may spare, and the thunder is deaf, and the lightning is blind:
Of these perchance at his need may a man, though they know it not, yet find grace;
But grace, if another be hardened against him, he gets not at this man's face.
For his ear that hears and his eye that sees the wreck and the wail of men,
And his heart that relents not within him, but hungers, are like as the wolf's in his den.
Worthy are these to worship their master, the murderous Lord of lies,
Who hath given to the pontiff his servant the keys of the pit and the keys of the skies.
Wild famine and red-shod rapine are cruel, and bitter with blood are their feasts;
But fiercer than famine and redder than rapine the hands and the hearts of priests.
God, God bade these to the battle; and here, on a land by his servants trod,
They perish, a lordly blood-offering, subdued by the hands of the servants of God.
These also were fed of his priests with faith, with the milk of his word and the wine;
These too are fulfilled with the spirit of darkness that guided their quest divine.
And here, cast up from the ravening sea on the mild land's merciful breast,
This comfort they find of their fellows in worship; this guerdon is theirs of their quest.
Death was captain, and doom was pilot, and darkness the chart of their way;
Night and hell had in charge and in keeping the host of the foes of day.
Invincible, vanquished, impregnable, shattered, a sign to her foes of fear,
A sign to the world and the stars of laughter, the fleet of the Lord lies here.
Nay, for none may declare the place of the ruin wherein she lies;
Nay, for none hath beholden the grave whence never a ghost shall rise.
The fleet of the foemen of England hath found not one but a thousand graves;
And he that shall number and name them shall number by name and by tale the waves.


Sixtus, Pope of the Church whose hope takes flight for heaven to dethrone the sun,
Philip, king that wouldst turn our spring to winter, blasted, appalled, undone,
Prince and priest, let a mourner's feast give thanks to God for your conquest won.
England's heel is upon you: kneel, O priest, O prince, in the dust, and cry,
"Lord, why thus? art thou wroth with us whose faith was great in thee, God most high?
Whence is this, that the serpent's hiss derides us? Lord, can thy pledged word lie?
"God of hell, are its flames that swell quenched now for ever, extinct and dead?
Who shall fear thee? or who shall hear the word thy servants who feared thee said?
Lord, art thou as the dead gods now, whose arm is shortened, whose rede is read?
"Yet we thought it was not for nought thy word was given us, to guard and guide:
Yet we deemed that they had not dreamed who put their trust in thee. Hast thou lied?
God our Lord, was the sacred sword we drew not drawn on thy Church's side?
"England hates thee as hell's own gates; and England triumphs, and Rome bows down:
England mocks at thee; England's rocks cast off thy servants to drive and drown:
England loathes thee; and fame betroths and plights with England her faith for crown.
"Spain clings fast to thee; Spain, aghast with anguish, cries to thee; where art thou?
Spain puts trust in thee; lo, the dust that soils and darkens her prostrate brow!
Spain is true to thy service; who shall raise up Spain for thy service now?
"Who shall praise thee, if none may raise thy servants up, nor affright thy foes?
Winter wanes, and the woods and plains forget the likeness of storms and snows:
So shall fear of thee fade even here: and what shall follow thee no man knows."
Lords of night, who would breathe your blight on April's morning and August's noon,
God your Lord, the condemned, the abhorred, sinks hellward, smitten with deathlike swoon:
Death's own dart in his hateful heart now thrills, and night shall receive him soon.
God the Devil, thy reign of revel is here for ever eclipsed and fled:
God the Liar, everlasting fire lays hold at last on thee, hand and head:
God the Accurst, the consuming thirst that burns thee never shall here be fed.

England, queen of the waves whose green inviolate girdle enrings thee round,
Mother fair as the morning, where is now the place of thy foemen found?
Still the sea that salutes us free proclaims them stricken, acclaims thee crowned.
Times may change, and the skies grow strange with signs of treason and fraud and fear:
Foes in union of strange communion may rise against thee from far and near:
Sloth and greed on thy strength may feed as cankers waxing from year to year.
Yet, though treason and fierce unreason should league and lie and defame and smite,
We that know thee, how far below thee the hatred burns of the sons of night,
We that love thee, behold above thee the witness written of life in light.
Life that shines from thee shows forth signs that none may read not but eyeless foes:
Hate, born blind, in his abject mind grows hopeful now but as madness grows:
Love, born wise, with exultant eyes adores thy glory, beholds and glows.
Truth is in thee, and none may win thee to lie, forsaking the face of truth:
Freedom lives by the grace she gives thee, born again from thy deathless youth:
Faith should fail, and the world turn pale, wert thou the prey of the serpent's tooth.
Greed and fraud, unabashed, unawed, may strive to sting thee at heel in vain:
Craft and fear and mistrust may leer and mourn and murmur and plead and plain:
Thou art thou: and thy sunbright brow is hers that blasted the strength of Spain.
Mother, mother beloved, none other could claim in place of thee England's place:
Earth bears none that beholds the sun so pure of record, so clothed with grace:
Dear our mother, nor son nor brother is thine, as strong or as fair of face.
How shalt thou be abased? or how shall fear take hold of thy heart? of thine,
England, maiden immortal, laden with charge of life and with hopes divine?
Earth shall wither, when eyes turned hither behold not light in her darkness shine.
England, none that is born thy son, and lives, by grace of thy glory, free,
Lives and yearns not at heart and burns with hope to serve as he worships thee;
None may sing thee: the sea-wind's wing beats down our songs as it hails the sea.

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