The Descent into Hell

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne


O Night and death, to whom we grudged him then,
When in man's sight he stood not yet undone,
Your king, your priest, your saviour, and your son,
We grudge not now, who know that not again
Shall this curse come upon the sins of men,
Nor this face look upon the living sun
That shall behold not so abhorred an one
In all the days whereof his eye takes ken.
The bond is cancelled, and the prayer is heard
That seemed so long but weak and wasted breath;
Take him, for he is yours, O night and death.
Hell yawns on him whose life was as a word
Uttered by death in hate of heaven and light,
A curse now dumb upon the lips of night.


What shapes are these and shadows without end
That fill the night full as a storm of rain
With myriads of dead men and women slain,
Old with young, child with mother, friend with friend,
That on the deep mid wintering air impend,
Pale yet with mortal wrath and human pain,
Who died that this man dead now too might reign,
Toward whom their hands point and their faces bend?
The ruining flood would redden earth and air
If for each soul whose guiltless blood was shed
There fell but one drop on this one man's head
Whose soul to-night stands bodiless and bare,
For whom our hearts give thanks who put up prayer,
That we have lived to say, The dog is dead.

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