Ode on the Proclamation of the French Republic

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne


(Greek: ailenon ailenon eipe, to d' eu nikato)


With songs and crying and sounds of acclamations,
Lo, the flame risen, the fire that falls in showers!
Hark; for the word is out among the nations:
Look; for the light is up upon the hours:
O fears, O shames, O many tribulations,
Yours were all yesterdays, but this day ours.
Strong were your bonds linked fast with lamentations,
With groans and tears built into walls and towers;
Strong were your works and wonders of high stations,
Your forts blood-based, and rampires of your powers:
Lo now the last of divers desolations,
The hand of time, that gathers hosts like flowers;
Time, that fills up and pours out generations;
Time, at whose breath confounded empire cowers.


What are these moving in the dawn's red gloom?
What is she waited on by dread and doom,
Ill ministers of morning, bondmen born of night?
If that head veiled and bowed be morning's head,
If she come walking between doom and dread,
Who shall rise up with song and dance before her sight?

Are not the night's dead heaped about her feet?
Is not death swollen, and slaughter full of meat?
What, is their feast a bride-feast, where men sing and dance?
A bitter, a bitter bride-song and a shrill
Should the house raise that such bride-followers fill,
Wherein defeat weds ruin, and takes for bride-bed France.

For nineteen years deep shame and sore desire
Fed from men's hearts with hungering fangs of fire,
And hope fell sick with famine for the food of change.
Now is change come, but bringing funeral urns;
Now is day nigh, but the dawn blinds and burns;
Now time long dumb hath language, but the tongue is strange.

We that have seen her not our whole lives long,
We to whose ears her dirge was cradle-song,
The dirge men sang who laid in earth her living head,
Is it by such light that we live to see
Rise, with rent hair and raiment, Liberty?
Does her grave open only to restore her dead?

Ah, was it this we looked for, looked and prayed,
This hour that treads upon the prayers we made,
This ravening hour that breaks down good and ill alike?
Ah, was it thus we thought to see her and hear,
The one love indivisible and dear?
Is it her head that hands which strike down wrong must strike?


Where is hope, and promise where, in all these things,
Shocks of strength with strength, and jar of hurtling kings?
Who of all men, who will show us any good?
Shall these lightnings of blind battles give men light?
Where is freedom? who will bring us in her sight,
That have hardly seen her footprint where she stood?


Who is this that rises red with wounds and splendid,
All her breast and brow made beautiful with scars,
Burning bare as naked daylight, undefended,
In her hands for spoils her splintered prison-bars,
In her eyes the light and fire of long pain ended,
In her lips a song as of the morning stars?


O torn out of thy trance,
O deathless, O my France,
O many-wounded mother, O redeemed to reign!
O rarely sweet and bitter
The bright brief tears that glitter
On thine unclosing eyelids, proud of their own pain;
The beautiful brief tears
That wash the stains of years
White as the names immortal of thy chosen and slain.
O loved so much so long,
O smitten with such wrong,
O purged at last and perfect without spot or stain,
Light of the light of man,
Reborn republican,
At last, O first Republic, hailed in heaven again!
Out of the obscene eclipse
Rerisen, with burning lips
To witness for us if we looked for thee in vain.


Thou wast the light whereby men saw
Light, thou the trumpet of the law
Proclaiming manhood to mankind;
And what if all these years were blind
And shameful? Hath the sun a flaw
Because one hour hath power to draw
Mist round him wreathed as links to bind?
And what if now keen anguish drains
The very wellspring of thy veins
And very spirit of thy breath?
The life outlives them and disdains;
The sense which makes the soul remains,
And blood of thought which travaileth
To bring forth hope with procreant pains.
O thou that satest bound in chains
Between thine hills and pleasant plains
As whom his own soul vanquisheth,
Held in the bonds of his own thought,
Whence very death can take off nought,
Nor sleep, with bitterer dreams than death,
What though thy thousands at thy knees
Lie thick as grave-worms feed on these,
Though thy green fields and joyous places
Are populous with blood-blackening faces
And wan limbs eaten by the sun?
Better an end of all men's races,
Better the world's whole work were done,
And life wiped out of all our traces,
And there were left to time not one,
Than such as these that fill thy graves
Should sow in slaves the seed of slaves.


Not of thy sons, O mother many-wounded,
Not of thy sons are slaves ingrafted and grown.
Was it not thine, the fire whence light rebounded
From kingdom on rekindling kingdom thrown,
From hearts confirmed on tyrannies confounded,
From earth on heaven, fire mightier than his own?
Not thine the breath wherewith time's clarion sounded,
And all the terror in the trumpet blown?
The voice whereat the thunders stood astounded
As at a new sound of a God unknown?
And all the seas and shores within them bounded
Shook at the strange speech of thy lips alone,
And all the hills of heaven, the storm-surrounded,
Trembled, and all the night sent forth a groan.


What hast thou done that such an hour should be
More than another clothed with blood to thee?
Thou hast seen many a bloodred hour before this one.
What art thou that thy lovers should misdoubt?
What is this hour that it should cast hope out?
If hope turn back and fall from thee, what hast thou done?

Thou hast done ill against thine own soul; yea,
Thine own soul hast thou slain and burnt away,
Dissolving it with poison into foul thin fume.
Thine own life and creation of thy fate
Thou hast set thine hand to unmake and discreate;
And now thy slain soul rises between dread and doom.

Yea, this is she that comes between them led;
That veiled head is thine own soul's buried head,
The head that was as morning's in the whole world's sight.
These wounds are deadly on thee, but deadlier
Those wounds the ravenous poison left on her;
How shall her weak hands hold thy weak hands up to fight?

Ah, but her fiery eyes, her eyes are these
That, gazing, make thee shiver to the knees
And the blood leap within thee, and the strong joy rise.
What, doth her sight yet make thine heart to dance?
O France, O freedom, O the soul of France,
Are ye then quickened, gazing in each other's eyes?

Ah, and her words, the words wherewith she sought thee
Sorrowing, and bare in hand the robe she wrought thee
To wear when soul and body were again made one,
And fairest among women, and a bride,
Sweet-voiced to sing the bridegroom to her side,
The spirit of man, the bridegroom brighter than the sun!


Who shall help me? who shall take me by the hand?
Who shall teach mine eyes to see, my feet to stand,
Now my foes have stripped and wounded me by night?
Who shall heal me? who shall come to take my part?
Who shall set me as a seal upon his heart,
As a seal upon his arm made bare for fight?


If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,
If thou see not where the signs of him abide,
Lift thine eyes up to the light that stars grow dim in,
To the morning whence he comes to take thy side.
None but he can bear the light that love wraps him in,
When he comes on earth to take himself a bride.


Light of light, name of names,
Whose shadows are live flames,
The soul that moves the wings of worlds upon their way;
Life, spirit, blood and breath
In time and change and death
Substant through strength and weakness, ardour and decay;
Lord of the lives of lands,
Spirit of man, whose hands
Weave the web through wherein man's centuries fall as prey;
That art within our will
Power to make, save, and kill,
Knowledge and choice, to take extremities and weigh;
In the soul's hand to smite
Strength, in the soul's eye sight;
That to the soul art even as is the soul to clay;
Now to this people be
Love; come, to set them free,
With feet that tread the night, with eyes that sound the day.


Thou that wast on their fathers dead
As effluent God effused and shed,
Heaven to be handled, hope made flesh,
Break for them now time's iron mesh;
Give them thyself for hand and head,
Thy breath for life, thy love for bread,
Thy thought for spirit to refresh,
Thy bitterness to pierce and sting,
Thy sweetness for a healing spring.
Be to them knowledge, strength, life, light,
Thou to whose feet the centuries cling
And in the wide warmth of thy wing
Seek room and rest as birds by night,
O thou the kingless people's king,
To whom the lips of silence sing,
Called by thy name of thanksgiving
Freedom, and by thy name of might
Justice, and by thy secret name
Love; the same need is on the same
Men, be the same God in their sight!
From this their hour of bloody tears
Their praise goes up into thine ears,
Their bruised lips clothe thy name with praises,
The song of thee their crushed voice raises,
Their grief seeks joy for psalms to borrow,
With tired feet seeks her through time's mazes
Where each day's blood leaves pale the morrow,
And from their eyes in thine there gazes
A spirit other far than sorrow--
A soul triumphal, white and whole
And single, that salutes thy soul.


All the lights of the sweet heaven that sing together;
All the years of the green earth that bare man free;
Rays and lightnings of the fierce or tender weather,
Heights and lowlands, wastes and headlands of the sea,
Dawns and sunsets, hours that hold the world in tether,
Be our witnesses and seals of things to be.
Lo the mother, the Republic universal,
Hands that hold time fast, hands feeding men with might,
Lips that sing the song of the earth, that make rehearsal
Of all seasons, and the sway of day with night,
Eyes that see as from a mountain the dispersal,
The huge ruin of things evil, and the flight;
Large exulting limbs, and bosom godlike moulded
Where the man-child hangs, and womb wherein he lay;
Very life that could it die would leave the soul dead,
Face whereat all fears and forces flee away,
Breath that moves the world as winds a flower-bell folded,
Feet that trampling the gross darkness beat out day.
In the hour of pain and pity,
Sore spent, a wounded city,
Her foster-child seeks to her, stately where she stands;
In the utter hour of woes,
Wind-shaken, blind with blows,
Paris lays hold upon her, grasps her with child's hands;
Face kindles face with fire,
Hearts take and give desire,
Strange joy breaks red as tempest on tormented lands.
Day to day, man to man,
Plights love republican,
And faith and memory burn with passion toward each other;
Hope, with fresh heavens to track,
Looks for a breath's space back,
Where the divine past years reach hands to this their brother;
And souls of men whose death
Was light to her and breath
Send word of love yet living to the living mother.
They call her, and she hears;
O France, thy marvellous years,
The years of the strong travail, the triumphant time,
Days terrible with love,
Red-shod with flames thereof,
Call to this hour that breaks in pieces crown and crime;
The hour with feet to spurn,
Hands to crush, fires to burn
The state whereto no latter foot of man shall climb.
Yea, come what grief, now may
By ruinous night or day,
One grief there cannot, one the first and last grief, shame.
Come force to break thee and bow
Down, shame can come not now,
Nor, though hands wound thee, tongues make mockery of thy name:
Come swords and scar thy brow,
No brand there burns it now,
No spot but of thy blood marks thy white-fronted fame.
Now, though the mad blind morrow
With shafts of iron sorrow
Should split thine heart, and whelm thine head with sanguine waves;
Though all that draw thy breath
Bled from all veins to death,
And thy dead body were the grave of all their graves,
And thine unchilded womb
For all their tombs a tomb,
At least within thee as on thee room were none for slaves.
This power thou hast, to be,
Come death or come not, free;
That in all tongues of time's this praise be chanted of thee,
That in thy wild worst hour
This power put in thee power,
And moved as hope around and hung as heaven above thee,
And while earth sat in sadness
In only thee put gladness,
Put strength and love, to make all hearts of ages love thee.
That in death's face thy chant
Arose up jubilant,
And thy great heart with thy great peril grew more great:
And sweet for bitter tears
Put out the fires of fears,
And love made lovely for thee loveless hell and hate;
And they that house with error,
Cold shame and burning terror,
Fled from truth risen and thee made mightier than thy fate.
This shall all years remember;
For this thing shall September
Have only name of honour, only sign of white.
And this year's fearful name,
France, in thine house of fame
Above all names of all thy triumphs shalt thou write,
When, seeing thy freedom stand
Even at despair's right hand,
The cry thou gavest at heart was only of delight.


Guai a voi, anime prave.

Soyez maudits, d'abord d'être ce que vous êtes,
Et puis soyez maudits d'obséder les poëtes!
- Victor Hugo.

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