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A Watch In The Night

Written by: Algernon Charles Swinburne | Biography
 Watchman, what of the night? - 
Storm and thunder and rain, 
Lights that waver and wane,
Leaving the watchfires unlit.
Only the balefires are bright, And the flash of the lamps now and then From a palace where spoilers sit, Trampling the children of men.
Prophet, what of the night? - I stand by the verge of the sea, Banished, uncomforted, free, Hearing the noise of the waves And sudden flashes that smite Some man's tyrannous head, Thundering, heard among graves That hide the hosts of his dead.
Mourners, what of the night? - All night through without sleep We weep, and we weep, and we weep.
Who shall give us our sons ? Beaks of raven and kite, Mouths of wolf and of hound, Give us them back whom the guns Shot for you dead on the ground.
Dead men, what of the night? - Cannon and scaffold and sword, Horror of gibbet and cord, Mowed us as sheaves for the grave, Mowed us down for the right.
We do not grudge or repent.
Freely to freedom we gave Pledges, till life should be spent.
Statesman, what of the night? - The night will last me my time.
The gold on a crown or a crime Looks well enough yet by the lamps.
Have we not fingers to write, Lips to swear at a need? Then, when danger decamps, Bury the word with the deed.
Warrior, what of the night? - Whether it be not or be Night, is as one thing to me.
I for one, at the least, Ask not of dews if they blight, Ask not of flames if they slay, Ask not of prince or of priest How long ere we put them away.
Master, what of the night? - Child, night is not at all Anywhere, fallen or to fall, Save in our star-stricken eyes.
Forth of our eyes it takes flight, Look we but once nor before Nor behind us, but straight on the skies; Night is not then any more.
Exile, what of the night? - The tides and the hours run out, The seasons of death and of doubt, The night-watches bitter and sore.
In the quicksands leftward and right My feet sink down under me; But I know the scents of the shore And the broad blown breaths of the sea.
Captives, what of the night? - It rains outside overhead Always, a rain that is red, And our faces are soiled with the rain.
Here in the seasons' despite Day-time and night-time are one, Till the curse of the kings and the chain Break, and their toils be undone.
Christian, what of the night? - I cannot tell; I am blind.
I halt and hearken behind If haply the hours will go back And return to the dear dead light, To the watchfires and stars that of old Shone where the sky now is black, Glowed where the earth now is cold.
High priest, what of the night? - The night is horrible here With haggard faces and fear, Blood, and the burning of fire.
Mine eyes are emptied of sight, Mine hands are full of the dust, If the God of my faith be a liar, Who is it that I shall trust? Princes, what of the night? - Night with pestilent breath Feeds us, children of death, Clothes us close with her gloom.
Rapine and famine and fright Crouch at our feet and are fed.
Earth where we pass is a tomb, Life where we triumph is dead.
Martyrs, what of the night? - Nay, is it night with you yet? We, for our part, we forget What night was, if it were.
The loud red mouths of the fight Are silent and shut where we are.
In our eyes the tempestuous air Shines as the face of a star.
England, what of the night? - Night is for slumber and sleep, Warm, no season to weep.
Let me alone till the day.
Sleep would I still if I might, Who have slept for two hundred years.
Once I had honour, they say; But slumber is sweeter than tears.
France, what of the night? - Night is the prostitute's noon, Kissed and drugged till she swoon, Spat upon, trod upon, whored.
With bloodred rose-garlands dight, Round me reels in the dance Death, my saviour, my lord, Crowned; there is no more France.
Italy, what of the night? - Ah, child, child, it is long! Moonbeam and starbeam and song Leave it dumb now and dark.
Yet I perceive on the height Eastward, not now very far, A song too loud for the lark, A light too strong for a star.
Germany, what of the night ? - Long has it lulled me with dreams; Now at midwatch, as it seems, Light is brought back to mine eyes, And the mastery of old and the might Lives in the joints of mine hands, Steadies my limbs as they rise, Strengthens my foot as it stands.
Europe, what of the night ? - Ask of heaven, and the sea, And my babes on the bosom of me, Nations of mine, but ungrown.
There is one who shall surely requite All that endure or that err: She can answer alone: Ask not of me, but of her.
Liberty, what of the night ? - I feel not the red rains fall, Hear not the tempest at all, Nor thunder in heaven any more.
All the distance is white With the soundless feet of the sun.
Night, with the woes that it wore, Night is over and done.



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