First and Last

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Upon the borderlands of being,
Where life draws hardly breath
Between the lights and shadows fleeing
Fast as a word one saith,
Two flowers rejoice our eyesight, seeing
The dawns of birth and death.

Behind the babe his dawn is lying
Half risen with notes of mirth
From all the winds about it flying
Through new-born heaven and earth:
Before bright age his day for dying
Dawns equal-eyed with birth.

Equal the dews of even and dawn,
Equal the sun’s eye seen
A hand’s breadth risen and half withdrawn
But no bright hour between
Brings aught so bright by stream or lawn
To noonday growths of green.

Which flower of life may smell the sweeter
To love’s insensual sense,
Which fragrance move with offering meeter
His soothed omnipotence,
Being chosen as fairer or as fleeter,
Borne hither or borne hence,

Love’s foiled omniscience knows not: this
Were more than all he knows
With all his lore of bale and bliss,
The choice of rose and rose,
One red as lips that touch with his,
One white as moonlit snows.

No hope is half so sweet and good,
No dream of saint or sage
So fair as these are: no dark mood
But these might best assuage;
The sweet red rose of babyhood,
The white sweet rose of age,

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