On the South Coast

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On the South Coast
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.


To Theodore Watts


     Hills and valleys where April rallies his radiant squadron of
           flowers and birds,
     Steep strange beaches and lustrous reaches of fluctuant sea that
           the land engirds,
     Fields and downs that the sunrise crowns with life diviner than
           lives in words,

     Day by day of resurgent May salute the sun with sublime acclaim,
     Change and brighten with hours that lighten and darken, girdled
           with cloud or flame;
     Earth's fair face in alternate grace beams, blooms, and lowers, and
           is yet the same.

     Twice each day the divine sea's play makes glad with glory that
           comes and goes
     Field and street that her waves keep sweet, when past the bounds of
           their old repose,
     Fast and fierce in renewed reverse, the foam-flecked estuary ebbs
           and flows.

     Broad and bold through the stays of old staked fast with trunks of
           the wildwood tree,
     Up from shoreward, impelled far forward, by marsh and meadow, by
           lawn and lea,
     Inland still at her own wild will swells, rolls, and revels the
           surging sea.

     Strong as time, and as faith sublime,--clothed round with shadows
           of hopes and fears,
     Nights and morrows, and joys and sorrows, alive with passion of
           prayers and tears,--
     Stands the shrine that has seen decline eight hundred waxing and
           waning years.

     Tower set square to the storms of air and change of season that
           glooms and glows,
     Wall and roof of it tempest-proof, and equal ever to suns and
           snows,
     Bright with riches of radiant niches and pillars smooth as a
           straight stem grows.

     Aisle and nave that the whelming wave of time has whelmed not or
           touched or neared,
     Arch and vault without stain or fault, by hands of craftsmen we
           know not reared,
     Time beheld them, and time was quelled; and change passed by them
           as one that feared.

     Time that flies as a dream, and dies as dreams that die with the
           sleep they feed,
     Here alone in a garb of stone incarnate stands as a god indeed,
     Stern and fair, and of strength to bear all burdens mortal to man's
           frail seed.

     Men and years are as leaves or tears that storm or sorrow is fain
           to shed:
     These go by as the winds that sigh, and none takes note of them
           quick or dead:
     Time, whose breath is their birth and death, folds here his
           pinions, and bows his head.

     Still the sun that beheld begun the work wrought here of unwearied
           hands
     Sees, as then, though the Red King's men held ruthless rule over
           lawless lands,
     Stand their massive design, impassive, pure and proud as a virgin
           stands.

     Statelier still as the years fulfil their count, subserving her
           sacred state,
     Grows the hoary grey church whose story silence utters and age
           makes great:
     Statelier seems it than shines in dreams the face unveiled of
           unvanquished fate.

     Fate, more high than the star-shown sky, more deep than waters
           unsounded, shines
     Keen and far as the final star on souls that seek not for charms or
           signs;
     Yet more bright is the love-shown light of men's hands lighted in
           songs or shrines.

     Love and trust that the grave's deep dust can soil not, neither may
           fear put out,
     Witness yet that their record set stands fast, though years be as
           hosts in rout,
     Spent and slain; but the signs remain that beat back darkness and
           cast forth doubt.

     Men that wrought by the grace of thought and toil things goodlier
           than praise dare trace,
     Fair as all that the world may call most fair, save only the sea's
           own face,
     Shrines or songs that the world's change wrongs not, live by grace
           of their own gift's grace.

     Dead, their names that the night reclaims--alive, their works that
           the day relumes--
     Sink and stand, as in stone and sand engraven: none may behold
           their tombs:
     Nights and days shall record their praise while here this flower of
           their grafting blooms.

     Flower more fair than the sun-thrilled air bids laugh and lighten
           and wax and rise,
     Fruit more bright than the fervent light sustains with strength
           from the kindled skies,
     Flower and fruit that the deathless root of man's love rears though
           the man's name dies.

     Stately stands it, the work of hands unknown of: statelier, afar
           and near,
     Rise around it the heights that bound our landward gaze from the
           seaboard here;
     Downs that swerve and aspire, in curve and change of heights that
           the dawn holds dear.

     Dawn falls fair on the grey walls there confronting dawn, on the
           low green lea,
     Lone and sweet as for fairies' feet held sacred, silent and strange
           and free,
     Wild and wet with its rills; but yet more fair falls dawn on the
           fairer sea.

     Eastward, round by the high green bound of hills that fold the
           remote fields in,
     Strive and shine on the low sea-line fleet waves and beams when the
           days begin;
     Westward glow, when the days burn low, the sun that yields and the
           stars that win.

     Rose-red eve on the seas that heave sinks fair as dawn when the
           first ray peers;
     Winds are glancing from sunbright Lancing to Shoreham, crowned with
           the grace of years;
     Shoreham, clad with the sunset, glad and grave with glory that
           death reveres.

     Death, more proud than the kings' heads bowed before him, stronger
           than all things, bows
     Here his head: as if death were dead, and kingship plucked from his
           crownless brows,
     Life hath here such a face of cheer as change appals not and time
           avows.

     Skies fulfilled with the sundown, stilled and splendid, spread as a
           flower that spreads,
     Pave with rarer device and fairer than heaven's the luminous
           oyster-beds,
     Grass-embanked, and in square plots ranked, inlaid with gems that
           the sundown sheds.

     Squares more bright and with lovelier light than heaven that
           kindled it shines with shine
     Warm and soft as the dome aloft, but heavenlier yet than the sun's
           own shrine:
     Heaven is high, but the water-sky lit here seems deeper and more
           divine.

     Flowers on flowers, that the whole world's bowers may show not,
           here may the sunset show,
     Lightly graven in the waters paven with ghostly gold by the clouds
           aglow:
     Bright as love is the vault above, but lovelier lightens the wave
           below.

     Rosy grey, or as fiery spray full-plumed, or greener than emerald,
           gleams
     Plot by plot as the skies allot for each its glory, divine as
           dreams
     Lit with fire of appeased desire which sounds the secret of all
           that seems;

     Dreams that show what we fain would know, and know not save by the
           grace of sleep,
     Sleep whose hands have removed the bands that eyes long waking and
           fain to weep
     Feel fast bound on them--light around them strange, and darkness
           above them steep.

     Yet no vision that heals division of love from love, and renews
           awhile
     Life and breath in the lips where death has quenched the spirit of
           speech and smile,
     Shows on earth, or in heaven's mid mirth, where no fears enter or
           doubts defile,

     Aught more fair than the radiant air and water here by the twilight
           wed,
     Here made one by the waning sun whose last love quickens to
           rosebright red
     Half the crown of the soft high down that rears to northward its
           wood-girt head.

     There, when day is at height of sway, men's eyes who stand, as we
           oft have stood,
     High where towers with its world of flowers the golden spinny that
           flanks the wood,
     See before and around them shore and seaboard glad as their gifts
           are good.

     Higher and higher to the north aspire the green smooth-swelling
           unending downs;
     East and west on the brave earth's breast glow girdle-jewels of
           gleaming towns;
     Southward shining, the lands declining subside in peace that the
           sea's light crowns.

     Westward wide in its fruitful pride the plain lies lordly with
           plenteous grace;
     Fair as dawn's when the fields and lawns desire her glitters the
           glad land's face:
     Eastward yet is the sole sign set of elder days and a lordlier
           race.

     Down beneath us afar, where seethe in wilder weather the tides
           aflow,
     Hurled up hither and drawn down thither in quest of rest that they
           may not know,
     Still as dew on a flower the blue broad stream now sleeps in the
           fields below.

     Mild and bland in the fair green land it smiles, and takes to its
           heart the sky;
     Scarce the meads and the fens, the reeds and grasses, still as they
           stand or lie,
     Wear the palm of a statelier calm than rests on waters that pass
           them by.

     Yet shall these, when the winds and seas of equal days and coequal
           nights
     Rage, rejoice, and uplift a voice whose sound is even as a sword
           that smites,
     Felt and heard as a doomsman's word from seaward reaches to
           landward heights,

     Lift their heart up, and take their part of triumph, swollen and
           strong with rage,
     Rage elate with desire and great with pride that tempest and storm
           assuage;
     So their chime in the ear of time has rung from age to rekindled
           age.

     Fair and dear is the land's face here, and fair man's work as a
           man's may be:
     Dear and fair as the sunbright air is here the record that speaks
           him free;
     Free by birth of a sacred earth, and regent ever of all the sea.