A Ballad at Parting

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Sea to sea that clasps and fosters England, uttering ever-more
Song eterne and praise immortal of the indomitable shore,
Lifts aloud her constant heart up, south to north and east to west,
Here in speech that shames all music, there in thunder-throated roar,
Chiming concord out of discord, waking rapture out of rest.
All her ways are lovely, all her works and symbols are divine,
Yet shall man love best what first bade leap his heart and bend his knee;
Yet where first his whole soul worshipped shall his soul set up her shrine:
Nor may love not know the lovelier, fair as both beheld may be,
Here the limitless north-eastern, there the strait south-western sea.
Though their chant bear all one burden, as ere man was born it bore;
Though the burden be diviner than the songs all souls adore;
Yet may love not choose but choose between them which to love the best.
Me the sea my nursing-mother, me the Channel green and hoar,
Holds at heart more fast than all things, bares for me the goodlier breast,
Lifts for me the lordlier love-song, bids for me more sunlight shine,
Sounds for me the stormier trumpet of the sweeter strain to me.
So the broad pale Thames is loved not like the tawny springs of Tyne:
Choice is clear between them for the soul whose vision holds in fee
Here the limitless north-eastern, there the strait south-western sea.
Choice is clear, but dear is either; nor has either not in store
Many a likeness, many a written sign of spirit-searching lore,
Whence the soul takes fire of sweet remembrance, magnified and blest.
Thought of songs whose flame-winged feet have trod the unfooted water-floor
When the lord of all the living lords of souls bade speed their quest,
Soft live sound like children’s babble down the rippling sand’s incline,
Or the lovely song that loves them, hailed with thankful prayer and plea;
These are parcels of the harvest here whose gathered sheaves are mine,
Garnered now, but sown and reaped where winds make wild with wrath or glee
Here the limitless north-eastern, there the strait south-western sea.
Song, thy name is freedom, seeing thy strength was born of breeze and brine.
Fare now forth and fear no fortune; such a seal is set on thee.
Joy begat and memory bare thee, seeing in spirit a two-fold sign,
Even the sign of those thy fosters, each as thou from all time free,
Here the limitless north-eastern, there the strait south-western sea.

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