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Prelude

Written by: Algernon Charles Swinburne | Biography
 Between the green bud and the red
Youth sat and sang by Time, and shed
From eyes and tresses flowers and tears,
From heart and spirit hopes and fears,
Upon the hollow stream whose bed
Is channelled by the foamless years;
And with the white the gold-haired head
Mixed running locks, and in Time's ears
Youth's dreams hung singing, and Time's truth
Was half not harsh in the ears of Youth.
Between the bud and the blown flower Youth talked with joy and grief an hour, With footless joy and wingless grief And twin-born faith and disbelief Who share the seasons to devour; And long ere these made up their sheaf Felt the winds round him shake and shower The rose-red and the blood-red leaf, Delight whose germ grew never grain, And passion dyed in its own pain.
Then he stood up, and trod to dust Fear and desire, mistrust and trust, And dreams of bitter sleep and sweet, And bound for sandals on his feet Knowledge and patience of what must And what things may be, in the heat And cold of years that rot and rust And alter; and his spirit's meat Was freedom, and his staff was wrought Of strength, and his cloak woven of thought.
For what has he whose will sees clear To do with doubt and faith and fear, Swift hopes and slow despondencies? His heart is equal with the sea's And with the sea-wind's, and his ear Is level to the speech of these, And his soul communes and takes cheer With the actual earth's equalities, Air, light, and night, hills, winds, and streams, And seeks not strength from strengthless dreams.
His soul is even with the sun Whose spirit and whose eye are one, Who seeks not stars by day, nor light And heavy heat of day by night.
Him can no God cast down, whom none Can lift in hope beyond the height Of fate and nature and things done By the calm rule of might and right That bids men be and bear and do, And die beneath blind skies or blue.
To him the lights of even and morn Speak no vain things of love or scorn, Fancies and passions miscreate By man in things dispassionate.
Nor holds he fellowship forlorn With souls that pray and hope and hate, And doubt they had better not been born, And fain would lure or scare off fate And charm their doomsman from their doom And make fear dig its own false tomb.
He builds not half of doubts and half Of dreams his own soul's cenotaph, Whence hopes and fears with helpless eyes, Wrapt loose in cast-off cerecloths, rise And dance and wring their hands and laugh, And weep thin tears and sigh light sighs, And without living lips would quaff The living spring in man that lies, And drain his soul of faith and strength It might have lived on a life's length.
He hath given himself and hath not sold To God for heaven or man for gold, Or grief for comfort that it gives, Or joy for grief's restoratives.
He hath given himself to time, whose fold Shuts in the mortal flock that lives On its plain pasture's heat and cold And the equal year's alternatives.
Earth, heaven, and time, death, life, and he, Endure while they shall be to be.
"Yet between death and life are hours To flush with love and hide in flowers; What profit save in these?" men cry: "Ah, see, between soft earth and sky, What only good things here are ours!" They say, "what better wouldst thou try, What sweeter sing of? or what powers Serve, that will give thee ere thou die More joy to sing and be less sad, More heart to play and grow more glad?" Play then and sing; we too have played, We likewise, in that subtle shade.
We too have twisted through our hair Such tendrils as the wild Loves wear, And heard what mirth the Maenads made, Till the wind blew our garlands bare And left their roses disarrayed, And smote the summer with strange air, And disengirdled and discrowned The limbs and locks that vine-wreaths bound.
We too have tracked by star-proof trees The tempest of the Thyiades Scare the loud night on hills that hid The blood-feasts of the Bassarid, Heard their song's iron cadences Fright the wolf hungering from the kid, Outroar the lion-throated seas, Outchide the north-wind if it chid, And hush the torrent-tongued ravines With thunders of their tambourines.
But the fierce flute whose notes acclaim Dim goddesses of fiery fame, Cymbal and clamorous kettledrum, Timbrels and tabrets, all are dumb That turned the high chill air to flame; The singing tongues of fire are numb That called on Cotys by her name Edonian, till they felt her come And maddened, and her mystic face Lightened along the streams of Thrace.
For Pleasure slumberless and pale, And Passion with rejected veil, Pass, and the tempest-footed throng Of hours that follow them with song Till their feet flag and voices fail, And lips that were so loud so long Learn silence, or a wearier wail; So keen is change, and time so strong, To weave the robes of life and rend And weave again till life have end.
But weak is change, but strengthless time, To take the light from heaven, or climb The hills of heaven with wasting feet.
Songs they can stop that earth found meet, But the stars keep their ageless rhyme; Flowers they can slay that spring thought sweet, But the stars keep their spring sublime; Passions and pleasures can defeat, Actions and agonies control, And life and death, but not the soul.
Because man's soul is man's God still, What wind soever waft his will Across the waves of day and night To port or shipwreck, left or right, By shores and shoals of good and ill; And still its flame at mainmast height Through the rent air that foam-flakes fill Sustains the indomitable light Whence only man hath strength to steer Or helm to handle without fear.
Save his own soul's light overhead, None leads him, and none ever led, Across birth's hidden harbour-bar, Past youth where shoreward shallows are, Through age that drives on toward the red Vast void of sunset hailed from far, To the equal waters of the dead; Save his own soul he hath no star, And sinks, except his own soul guide, Helmless in middle turn of tide.
No blast of air or fire of sun Puts out the light whereby we run With girded loins our lamplit race, And each from each takes heart of grace And spirit till his turn be done, And light of face from each man's face In whom the light of trust is one; Since only souls that keep their place By their own light, and watch things roll, And stand, have light for any soul.
A little time we gain from time To set our seasons in some chime, For harsh or sweet or loud or low, With seasons played out long ago And souls that in their time and prime Took part with summer or with snow, Lived abject lives out or sublime, And had their chance of seed to sow For service or disservice done To those days daed and this their son.
A little time that we may fill Or with such good works or such ill As loose the bonds or make them strong Wherein all manhood suffers wrong.
By rose-hung river and light-foot rill There are who rest not; who think long Till they discern as from a hill At the sun's hour of morning song, Known of souls only, and those souls free, The sacred spaces of the sea.



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