Astrophel (Swinburne)

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For works with similar titles, see Astrophel.
Astrophel
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
This poem is from the collection Astrophel and Other Poems, Book I of The Collected Poetical Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vol. VI.


After reading Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia in the Garden of an old English manor house


     I

     A star in the silence that follows
       The song of the death of the sun
     Speaks music in heaven, and the hollows
       And heights of the world are as one;
     One lyre that outsings and outlightens
       The rapture of sunset, and thrills
     Mute night till the sense of it brightens
             The soul that it fills.

     The flowers of the sun that is sunken
       Hang heavy of heart as of head;
     The bees that have eaten and drunken
       The soul of their sweetness are fled;
     But a sunflower of song, on whose honey
       My spirit has fed as a bee,
     Makes sunnier than morning was sunny
             The twilight for me.

     The letters and lines on the pages
       That sundered mine eyes and the flowers
     Wax faint as the shadows of ages
       That sunder their season and ours;
     As the ghosts of the centuries that sever
       A season of colourless time
     From the days whose remembrance is ever,
             As they were, sublime.

     The season that bred and that cherished
       The soul that I commune with yet,
     Had it utterly withered and perished
       To rise not again as it set,
     Shame were it that Englishmen living
       Should read as their forefathers read
     The books of the praise and thanksgiving
             Of Englishmen dead.

     O light of the land that adored thee
       And kindled thy soul with her breath,
     Whose life, such as fate would afford thee,
       Was lovelier than aught but thy death,
     By what name, could thy lovers but know it,
       Might love of thee hail thee afar,
     Philisides, Astrophel, poet
             Whose love was thy star?

     A star in the moondawn of Maytime,
       A star in the cloudland of change;
     Too splendid and sad for the daytime
       To cheer or eclipse or estrange;
     Too sweet for tradition or vision
       To see but through shadows of tears
     Rise deathless across the division
             Of measureless years.

     The twilight may deepen and harden
       As nightward the stream of it runs
     Till starshine transfigure a garden
       Whose radiance responds to the sun's:
     The light of the love of thee darkens
       The lights that arise and that set:
     The love that forgets thee not hearkens
             If England forget.


     II

     Bright and brief in the sight of grief and love the light of thy
           lifetime shone,
     Seen and felt by the gifts it dealt, the grace it gave, and again
           was gone:
     Ay, but now it is death, not thou, whom time has conquered as years
           pass on.

     Ay, not yet may the land forget that bore and loved thee and
           praised and wept,
     Sidney, lord of the stainless sword, the name of names that her
           heart's love kept
     Fast as thine did her own, a sign to light thy life till it sank
           and slept.

     Bright as then for the souls of men thy brave Arcadia resounds and
           shines,
     Lit with love that beholds above all joys and sorrows the steadfast
           signs,
     Faith, a splendour that hope makes tender, and truth, whose presage
           the soul divines.

     All the glory that girds the story of all thy life as with sunlight
           round,
     All the spell that on all souls fell who saw thy spirit, and held
           them bound,
     Lives for all that have heard the call and cadence yet of its music
           sound.

     Music bright as the soul of light, for wings an eagle, for notes a
           dove,
     Leaps and shines from the lustrous lines wherethrough thy soul from
           afar above
     Shone and sang till the darkness rang with light whose fire is the
           fount of love.

     Love that led thee alive, and fed thy soul with sorrows and joys
           and fears,
     Love that sped thee, alive and dead, to fame's fair goal with thy
           peerless peers,
     Feeds the flame of thy quenchless name with light that lightens the
           rayless years.

     Dark as sorrow though night and morrow may lower with presage of
           clouded fame,
     How may she that of old bare thee, may Sidney's England, be brought
           to shame?
     How should this be, while England is? What need of answer beyond
           thy name?


     III

     From the love that transfigures thy glory,
       From the light of the dawn of thy death,
     The life of thy song and thy story
       Took subtler and fierier breath.
     And we, though the day and the morrow
       Set fear and thanksgiving at strife,
     Hail yet in the star of thy sorrow
             The sun of thy life.

     Shame and fear may beset men here, and bid thanksgiving and pride
           be dumb:
     Faith, discrowned of her praise, and wound about with toils till
           her life wax numb,
     Scarce may see if the sundawn be, if darkness die not and dayrise
           come.

     But England, enmeshed and benetted
       With spiritless villainies round,
     With counsels of cowardice fretted,
       With trammels of treason enwound,
     Is yet, though the season be other
       Than wept and rejoiced over thee,
     Thine England, thy lover, thy mother,
             Sublime as the sea.

     Hers wast thou: if her face be now less bright, or seem for an hour
           less brave,
     Let but thine on her darkness shine, thy saviour spirit revive and
           save,
     Time shall see, as the shadows flee, her shame entombed in a
           shameful grave.

     If death and not life were the portal
       That opens on life at the last,
     If the spirit of Sidney were mortal
       And the past of it utterly past,
     Fear stronger than honour was ever,
       Forgetfulness mightier than fame,
     Faith knows not if England should never
             Subside into shame.

     Yea, but yet is thy sun not set, thy sunbright spirit of trust
           withdrawn:
     England's love of thee burns above all hopes that darken or fears
           that fawn:
     Hers thou art: and the faithful heart that hopes begets upon
           darkness dawn.

     The sunset that sunrise will follow
       Is less than the dream of a dream:
     The starshine on height and on hollow
       Sheds promise that dawn shall redeem:
     The night, if the daytime would hide it,
       Shows lovelier, aflame and afar,
     Thy soul and thy Stella's beside it,
             A star by a star.