The Garden of Cymodoce

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Sea, and bright wind, and heaven of ardent air,
More dear than all things earth-born; O to me
Mother more dear than love's own longing, sea,
More than love's eyes are, fair,
Be with my spirit of song as wings to bear,
As fire to feel and breathe and brighten; be
A spirit of sense more deep of deity,
A light of love, if love may be, more strong
In me than very song.
For song I have loved with second love, but thee,
Thee first, thee, mother; ere my songs had breath,
That love of loves, whose bondage makes man free,
Was in me strong as death.
And seeing no slave may love thee, no, not one
That loves not freedom more,
And more for thy sake loves her, and for hers
Thee; or that hates not, on whate'er thy shore
Or what thy wave soever, all things done
Of man beneath the sun
In his despite and thine, to cross and curse
Your light and song that as with lamp and verse
Guide safe the strength of our sphered universe,
Thy breath it was, thou knowest, and none but thine,
That taught me love of one thing more divine.

Str. 1.
Ah, yet my youth was old
Its first years dead and cold
As last year's autumn's gold,
And all my spirit of singing sick and sad and sere,
Or ever I might behold
The fairest of thy fold
Engirt, enringed, enrolled,
In all thy flower-sweet flock of islands dear and near.

Str. 2.
Yet in my heart I deemed
The fairest things, meseemed,
Truth, dreaming, ever dreamed,
Had made mine eyes already like a god's to see:
Of all sea-things that were
Clothed on with water and air,
That none could live more fair
Than thy sweet love long since had shown for love to me.

Ant. 1.
I knew not, mother of mine,
That one birth more divine
Than all births else of thine
That hang like flowers or jewels on thy deep soft breast
Was left for me to shine
Above thy girdling line
Of bright and breathing brine,
To take mine eyes with rapture and my sense with rest.

Ant.2.
That this was left for me,
Mother, to have of thee,
To touch, to taste, to see,
To feel as fire fulfilling all my blood and breath,
As wine of living fire
Keen as the heart's desire
That makes the heart its pyre
And on its burning visions burns itself to death.
For here of all thy waters, here of all
Thy windy ways the wildest, and beset
As some beleaguered city's war-breached wall
With deaths enmeshed all round it in deep net,
Thick sown with rocks deadlier than steel, and fierce
With loud cross-countering currents, where the ship
Flags, flickering like a wind-bewildered leaf,
The densest weft of waves that prow may pierce
Coils round the sharpest warp of shoals that dip
Suddenly, scarce well under for one brief
Keen breathing-space between the streams adverse,
Scarce showing the fanged edge of one hungering lip
Or one tooth lipless of the ravening reef;
And midmost of the murderous water's web
All round it stretched and spun,
Laughs, reckless of rough tide and raging ebb,
The loveliest thing that shines against the sun.

Str. 3.
O flower of all wind-flowers and sea-flowers,
Made lovelier by love of the sea
Than thy golden own field-flowers, or tree-flowers
Like foam of the sea-facing tree!
No foot but the seamew's there settles
On the spikes of thine anthers like horns,
With snow-coloured spray for thy petals,
Black rocks for thy thorns.

Ant. 3.
Was it here, in the waste of his waters,
That the lordly north wind, when his love
On the fairest of many king's daughters
Bore down for a spoil from above,
Chose forth of all farthest far islands
As a haven to harbour her head,
Of all lowlands on earth and all highlands,
His bride-worthy bed?

Str. 4.
Or haply, my sea-flower, he found thee
Made fast as with anchors to land,
And broke, that his waves might be round thee,
Thy fetters like rivets of sand?
And afar by the blast of him drifted
Thy blossom of beauty was borne,
As a lark by the heart in her lifted
To mix with the morn?

Ant. 4.
By what rapture of rage, by what vision
Of a heavenlier heaven than above,
Was he moved to devise thy division
From the land as a rest for his love?
As a nest when his wings would remeasure
The ways where of old they would be,
As a bride-bed upbuilt for his pleasure
By sea-rock and sea?
For in no deeps of midmost inland May
More flowerbright flowers the hawthorn, or more sweet
Swells the wild gold of the earth for wandering feet;
For on no northland way
Crowds the close whin-bloom closer, set like thee
With thorns about for fangs of sea-rock shown
Through blithe lips of the bitter brine to lee;
Nor blithelier landward comes the sea-wind blown,
Nor blithelier leaps the land-wind back to sea:
Nor louder springs the living song of birds
To shame our sweetest words.
And in the narrowest of thine hollowest hold
For joy thine aspens quiver as though for cold,
And many a self-lit flower-illumined tree
Outlaughs with snowbright or with rosebright glee
The laughter of the fields whose laugh is gold.
Yea, even from depth to height,
Even thine own beauty with its own delight
Fulfils thine heart in thee an hundredfold
Beyond the larger hearts of islands bright
With less intense contraction of desire
Self-satiate, centred in its own deep fire;
Of shores not self-enchanted and entranced
By heavenly severance from all shadow of mirth
Or mourning upon earth:
As thou, by no similitude enhanced,
By no fair foil made fairer, but alone
Fair as could be no beauty save thine own,
And wondrous as no world-beholden wonder:
Throned, with the world's most perilous sea for throne,
And praised from all its choral throats of thunder.

Str. 5.
Yet one praise hast thou, holier
Than praise of theirs may be,
To exalt thee, wert thou lowlier
Than all that take the sea
With shores whence waves ebb slowlier
Than these fall off from thee;

Ant. 5.
That One, whose name gives glory,
One man whose life makes light,
One crowned and throned in story
Above all empire's height,
Came, where thy straits run hoary,
To hold thee fast in sight;

Str. 6.
With hallowing eyes to hold thee,
With rapturous heart to read,
To encompass and enfold thee
With love whence all men feed,
To brighten and behold thee,
Who is mightiest of man's seed:

Ant. 6.
More strong than strong disaster,
For fate and fear too strong;
Earth's friend, whose eyes look past her,
Whose hands would purge of wrong;
Our lord, our light, our master,
Whose word sums up all song.

Str. 7.
Be it April or September
That plays his perfect part,
Burn June or blow December,
Thou canst not in thine heart
But rapturously remember,
All heavenlike as thou art,

Ant. 7.
Whose footfall made thee fairer,
Whose passage more divine,
Whose hand, our thunder-bearer,
Held fire that bade thee shine
With subtler glory and rarer
Than thrills the sun's own shrine.
Who knows how then his godlike banished gaze
Turned haply from its goal of natural days
And homeward hunger for the clear French clime,
Toward English earth, whereunder now the Accursed
Rots, in the hate of all men's hearts inhearsed,
A carrion ranker to the sense of time
For that sepulchral gift of stone and lime
By royal grace laid on it, less of weight
Than the load laid by fate,
Fate, misbegotten child of his own crime,
Son of as foul a bastard-bearing birth
As even his own on earth;
Less heavy than the load of cursing piled
By loyal grace of all souls undefiled
On one man's head, whose reeking soul made rotten
The loathed live corpse on earth once misbegotten?
But when our Master's homeless feet were here
France yet was foul with joy more foul than fear,
And slavery chosen, more vile by choice of chance
Than dull damnation of inheritance
From Russian year to year
Alas fair mother of men, alas my France,
What ailed thee so to fall, that wert so dear
For all men's sake to all men, in such trance,
Plague-stricken? Had the very Gods, that saw
Thy glory lighten on us for a law,
Thy gospel go before us for a guide,
Had these waxed envious of our love and awe,
Or was it less their envy than thy pride
That bared thy breast for the obscene vulture-claw,
High priestess, by whose mouth Love prophesied
That fate should yet mean freedom? Howsoever,
That hour, the helper of men's hearts, we praise,
Which blots out of man's book of after days
The name above all names abhorred for ever.
And His name shall we praise not, whom these flowers,
These rocks and ravening waters bound for girth
Round this wild starry spanlong plot of earth,
Beheld, the mightier for those heavier hours
That bowed his heart not down
Nor marred one crowning blossom of his crown?
For surely, might we say,
Even from the dark deep sea-gate that makes way
Through channelled darkness for the darkling day
Hardly to let men's faltering footfall win
The sunless passage in,
Where breaks a world aflower against the sun,
A small sweet world of wave-encompassed wonder
Kept from the wearier landward world asunder
With violence of wild waters, and with thunder
Of many winds as one,
To where the keen sea-current grinds and frets
The black bright sheer twin flameless Altarlets
That lack no live blood-sacrifice they crave
Of shipwreck and the shrine-subservient wave,
Having for priest the storm-wind, and for choir
Lightnings and clouds whose prayer and praise are fire,
All the isle acclaimed him coming; she, the least
Of all things loveliest that the sea's love hides
From strange men's insult, walled about with tides
That bid strange guests back from her flower-strewn feast,
Set all her fields aflower, her flowers aflame,
To applaud him that he came.
Nor surely flashed not something of delight
Through that steep strait of rock whose twin-cliffed height
Links crag with crag reiterate, land with land,
By one sheer thread of narrowing precipice
Bifront, that binds and sunders
Abyss from hollower imminent abyss
And wilder isle with island, blind for bliss
Of sea that lightens and of wind that thunders;
Nor pealed not surely back from deep to steep
Reverberate acclamation, steep to deep
Inveterately reclaiming and replying
Praise, and response applausive; nor the sea,
For all the sea-wind's crying,
Knew not the song her sister, even as she
Thundering, or like her confluent spring-tides brightening,
And like her darkness lightening;
The song that moved about him silent, now
Both soundless wings refolded and refurled
On that Promethean brow,
Then quivering as for flight that wakes the world.

Str. 8.
From the roots of the rocks underlying the gulfs that engird it around
Was the isle not enkindled with light of him landing, or thrilled not with sound?
Yea, surely the sea like a harper laid hand on the shore as a lyre,
As the lyre in his own for a birthright of old that was given of his sire,
And the hand of the child was put forth on the chords yet alive and aflame
From the hand of the God that had wrought it in heaven; and the hand was the same.
And the tongue of the child spake, singing; and never a note that he sang,
But the strings made answer unstricken, as though for the God they rang.
And the eyes of the child shone, lightening; and touched as by life at his nod,
They shuddered with music, and quickened as though from the glance of the God.
So trembled the heart of the hills and the rocks to receive him, and yearned
With desirous delight of his presence and love that beholding him burned.
Yea, down through the mighty twin hollows where never the sunlight shall be,
Deep sunk under imminent earth, and subdued to the stress of the sea,
That feel when the dim week changes by change of their tides in the dark,
As the wave sinks under within them, reluctant, removed from its mark,
Even there in the terror of twilight in bloom with its blossoms ablush,
Did a sense of him touch not the gleam of their flowers with a fierier flush?
Though the sun they behold not for ever, yet knew they not over them One
Whose soul was the soul of the morning, whose song was the song of the sun?
But the secrets inviolate of sunlight in hollows untrodden of day,
Shall he dream what are these who beholds not? or he that hath seen, shall he say?
For the path is for passage of sea-mews; and he that hath glided and leapt
Over sea-grass and sea-rock, alighting as one from a citadel crept
That his foemen beleaguer, descending by darkness and stealth, at the last
Peers under, and all is as hollow to hellward, agape and aghast.

Ant. 8.
But afloat and afar in the darkness a tremulous colour subsides
From the crimson high crest of the purple-peaked roof to the soft-coloured sides
That brighten as ever they widen till downward the level is won
Of the soundless and colourless water that knows not the sense of the sun:
From the crown of the culminant arch to the floor of the lakelet abloom,
One infinite blossom of blossoms innumerable aflush through the gloom.
All under the deeps of the darkness are glimmering; all over impends
An immeasurable infinite flower of the dark that dilates and descends,
That exults and expands in its breathless and blind efflorescence of heart
As it broadens and bows to the wave-ward, and breathes not, and hearkens apart.
As a beaker inverse at a feast on Olympus, exhausted of wine,
But inlaid as with rose from the lips of Dione that left it divine:
From the lips everliving of laughter and love everlasting, that leave
In the cleft of his heart who shall kiss them a snake to corrode it and cleave.
So glimmers the gloom into glory, the glory recoils into gloom,
That the eye of the sun could not kindle, the lip not of Love could relume.
So darkens reverted the cup that the kiss of her mouth set on fire:
So blackens a brand in his eyeshot asmoulder awhile from the pyre.
For the beam from beneath and without it refrangent again from the wave
Strikes up through the portal a ghostly reverse on the dome of the cave,
On the depth of the dome ever darkling and dim to the crown of its arc:
That the sun-coloured tapestry, sunless for ever, may soften the dark.
But within through the side-seen archway a glimmer again from the right
Is the seal of the sea's tide set on the mouth of the mystery of night.
And the seal on the seventh day breaks but a little, that man by its mean
May behold what the sun hath not looked on, the stars of the night have not seen.
Even like that hollow-bosomed rose, inverse
And infinite, the heaven of thy vast verse,
Our Master, over all our souls impends,
Imminent; we, with heart-enkindled eyes
Upwondering, search the music-moulded skies
Sphere by sweet sphere, concordant as it blends
Light of bright sound, sound of clear light, in one,
As all the stars found utterance through the sun.
And all that heaven is like a rose in bloom,
Flower-coloured, where its own sun's fires illume
As from one central and imperious heart
The whole sky's every part:
But lightening still and darkling downward, lo
The light and darkness of it,
The leaping of the lamping levin afar
Between the full moon and the sunset star,
The war-song of the sounding skies aglow,
That have the herald thunder for their prophet:
From north to south the lyric lights that leap,
The tragic sundawns reddening east and west
As with bright blood from one Promethean breast,
The peace of noon that strikes the sea to sleep,
The wail over the world of all that weep,
The peace of night when death brings life on rest.
Goddess who gatherest all the herded waves
Into thy great sweet pastureless green fold,
Even for our love of old,
I pray thee by thy power that slays and saves,
Take thou my song of this thy flower to keep
Who hast my heart in hold;
And from thine high place of thy garden-steep,
Where one sheer terrace oversees thy deep
From the utmost rock-reared height
Down even to thy dear depths of night and light,
Take my song's salutation; and on me
Breathe back the benediction of thy sea.


Between two seas the sea-bird's wing makes halt,
Wind-weary; while with lifting head he waits
For breath to reinspire him from the gates
That open still toward sunrise on the vault
High-domed of morning, and in flight's default
With spreading sense of spirit anticipates
What new sea now may lure beyond the straits
His wings exulting that her winds exalt
And fill them full as sails to seaward spread,
Fulfilled with fair speed's promise. Pass, my song,
Forth to the haven of thy desire and dread,
The presence of our lord, long loved and long
Far off above beholden, who to thee
Was as light kindling all a windy sea.

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