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by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909)
In the grey beginning of years, in the...
In the grey beginning of years, in the twilight of things that began, The word of the earth in the ears of the world, was it God? was it man? The word of the earth to the spheres her sisters, the note of her song, The sound of her speech in the ears of the starry and sisterly throng, Was it praise or passion or prayer, was it love or devotion or dread, When the veils of the shining air first wrapt her jubilant head? When her eyes new-born of the night saw yet no star out of reach; When her maiden mouth was alight with the flame of musical speech; When her virgin feet were set on the terrible heavenly way, And her virginal lids were wet with the dew of the birth of the day: Eyes that had looked not on time, and ears that had heard not of death; Lips that had learnt not the rhyme of change and passionate breath, The rhythmic anguish of growth, and the motion of mutable things, Of love that longs and is loth, and plume-plucked hope without wings, Passions and pains without number, and life that runs and is lame, From slumber again to slumber, the same race set for the same, Where the runners outwear each other, but running with lampless hands No man takes light from his brother till blind at the goal he stands: Ah, did they know, did they dream of it, counting the cost and the worth? The ways of her days, did they seem then good to the new-souled earth? Did her heart rejoice, and the might of her spirit exult in her then, Child yet no child of the night, and motherless mother of men? Was it Love brake forth flower-fashion, a bird with gold on his wings, Lovely, her firstborn passion, and impulse of firstborn things? Was Love that nestling indeed that under the plumes of the night Was hatched and hidden as seed in the furrow, and brought forth bright? Was it Love lay shut in the shell world-shaped, having over him there Black world-wide wings that impel the might of the night through air? And bursting his shell as a bird, night shook through her sail-stretched vans, And her heart as a water was stirred, and its heat was the firstborn man's. For the waste of the dead void air took form of a world at birth, And the waters and firmaments were, and light, and the life-giving earth. The beautiful bird unbegotten that night brought forth without pain In the fathomless years forgotten whereover the dead gods reign, Was it love, life, godhead, or fate? we say the spirit is one That moved on the dark to create out of darkness the stars and the sun. Before the growth was the grower, and the seed ere the plant was sown; But what was seed of the sower? and the grain of him, whence was it grown? Foot after foot ye go back and travail and make yourselves mad; Blind feet that feel for the track where highway is none to be had. Therefore the God that ye make you is grievous, and gives not aid, Because it is but for your sake that the God of your making is made. Thou and I and he are not gods made men for a span, But God, if a God there be, is the substance of men which is man. Our lives are as pulses or pores of his manifold body and breath; As waves of his sea on the shores where birth is the beacon of death. We men, the multiform features of man, whatsoever we be, Recreate him of whom we are creatures, and all we only are he. Not each man of all men is God, but God is the fruit of the whole; Indivisible spirit and blood, indiscernible body from soul. Not men's but man's is the glory of godhead, the kingdom of time, The mountainous ages made hoary with snows for the spirit to climb. A God with the world inwound whose clay to his footsole clings; A manifold God fast-bound as with iron of adverse things. A soul that labours and lives, an emotion, a strenuous breath, From the flame that its own mouth gives reillumed, and refreshed with death. In the sea whereof centuries are waves the live God plunges and swims; His bed is in all men's graves, but the worm hath not hold on his limbs. Night puts out not his eyes, nor time sheds change on his head; With such fire as the stars of the skies are the roots of his heart are fed. Men are the thoughts passing through it, the veins that fulfil it with blood, With spirit of sense to renew it as springs fulfilling a flood. Men are the heartbeats of man, the plumes that feather his wings, Storm-worn, since being began, with the wind and thunder of things. Things are cruel and blind; their strength detains and deforms: And the wearying wings of the mind still beat up the stream of their storms. Still, as one swimming up stream, they strike out blind in the blast, In thunders of vision and dream, and lightnings of future and past. We are baffled and caught in the current and bruised upon edges of shoals; As weeds or as reeds in the torrent of things are the wind-shaken souls. Spirit by spirit goes under, a foam-bell's bubble of breath, That blows and opens in sunder and blurs not the mirror of death. For a worm or a thorn in his path is a man's soul quenched as a flame; For his lust of an hour or his wrath shall the worm and the man be the same. O God sore stricken of things! they have wrought him a raiment of pain; Can a God shut eyelids and wings at a touch on the nerves of the brain? O shamed and sorrowful God, whose force goes out at a blow! What world shall shake at his nod? at his coming what wilderness glow? What help in the work of his hands? what light in the track of his feet? His days are snowflakes or sands, with cold to consume him and heat. He is servant with Change for lord, and for wages he hath to his hire Folly and force, and a sword that devours, and a ravening fire. From the bed of his birth to his grave he is driven as a wind at their will; Lest Change bow down as his slave, and the storm and the sword be still; Lest earth spread open her wings to the sunward, and sing with the spheres; Lest man be master of things, to prevail on their forces and fears. By the spirit are things overcome; they are stark, and the spirit hath breath; It hath speech, and their forces are dumb; it is living, and things are of death. But they know not the spirit for master, they feel not force from above, While man makes love to disaster, and woos desolation with love. Yea, himself too hath made himself chains, and his own hands plucked out his eyes; For his own soul only constrains him, his own mouth only denies. The herds of kings and their hosts and the flocks of the high priests bow To a master whose face is a ghost's; O thou that wast God, is it thou? Thou madest man in the garden; thou temptedst man, and he fell; Thou gavest him poison and pardon for blood and burnt-offering to sell. Thou hast sealed thine elect to salvation, fast locked with faith for the key; Make now for thyself expiation, and be thine atonement for thee. Ah, thou that darkenest heaven--ah, thou that bringest a sword - By the crimes of thine hands unforgiven they beseech thee to hear them, O Lord. By the balefires of ages that burn for thine incense, by creed and by rood, By the famine and passion that yearn and that hunger to find of thee food, By the children that asked at thy throne of the priests that were fat with thine hire For bread, and thou gavest a stone; for light, and thou madest them fire; By the kiss of thy peace like a snake's kiss, that leaves the soul rotten at root; By the savours of gibbets and stakes thou hast planted to bear to thee fruit; By torture and terror and treason, that make to thee weapons and wings; By thy power upon men for a season, made out of the malice of things; O thou that hast built thee a shrine of the madness of man and his shame, And hast hung in the midst for a sign of his worship the lamp of thy name; That hast shown him for heaven in a vision a void world's shadow and shell, And hast fed thy delight and derision with fire of belief as of hell; That hast fleshed on the souls that believe thee the fang of the death-worm fear, With anguish of dreams to deceive them whose faith cries out in thine ear; By the face of the spirit confounded before thee and humbled in dust, By the dread wherewith life was astounded and shamed out of sense of its trust, By the scourges of doubt and repentance that fell on the soul at thy nod, Thou art judged, O judge, and the sentence is gone forth against thee, O God. Thy slave that slept is awake; thy slave but slept for a span; Yea, man thy slave shall unmake thee, who made thee lord over man. For his face is set to the east, his feet on the past and its dead; The sun rearisen is his priest, and the heat thereof hallows his head. His eyes take part in the morning; his spirit out-sounding the sea Asks no more witness or warning from temple or tripod or tree. He hath set the centuries at union; the night is afraid at his name; Equal with life, in communion with death, he hath found them the same. Past the wall unsurmounted that bars out our vision with iron and fire He hath sent forth his soul for the stars to comply with and suns to conspire. His thought takes flight for the centre wherethrough it hath part in the whole; The abysses forbid it not enter: the stars make room for the soul. Space is the soul's to inherit; the night is hers as the day; Lo, saith man, this is my spirit; how shall not the worlds make way? Space is thought's, and the wonders thereof, and the secret of space; Is thought not more than the thunders and lightnings? shall thought give place? Is the body not more than the vesture, the life not more than the meat? The will than the word or the gesture, the heart than the hands or the feet? Is the tongue not more than the speech is? the head not more than the crown? And if higher than is heaven be the reach of the soul, shall not heaven bow down? Time, father of life, and more great than the life it begat and began, Earth's keeper and heaven's and their fate, lives, thinks, and hath substance in man. Time's motion that throbs in his blood is the thought that gives heart to the skies, And the springs of the fire that is food to the sunbeams are light to his eyes. The minutes that beat with his heart are the words to which worlds keep chime, And the thought in his pulses is part of the blood and the spirit of time. He saith to the ages, Give; and his soul foregoes not her share; Who are ye that forbid him to live, and would feed him with heavenlier air? Will ye feed him with poisonous dust, and restore him with hemlock for drink, Till he yield you his soul up in trust, and have heart not to know or to think? He hath stirred him, and found out the flaw in his fetters, and cast them behind; His soul to his soul is a law, and his mind is a light to his mind. The seal of his knowledge is sure, the truth and his spirit are wed; Men perish, but man shall endure; lives die, but the life is not dead. He hath sight of the secrets of season, the roots of the years and the fruits; His soul is at one with the reason of things that is sap to the roots. He can hear in their changes a sound as the conscience of consonant spheres; He can see through the years flowing round him the law lying under the years. Who are ye that would bind him with curses and blind him with vapour of prayer? Your might is as night that disperses when light is alive in the air. The bow of your godhead is broken, the arm of your conquest is stayed; Though ye call down God to bear token, for fear of you none is afraid. Will ye turn back times, and the courses of stars, and the season of souls? Shall God's breath dry up the sources that feed time full as it rolls? Nay, cry on him then till he show you a sign, till he lift up a rod; Hath he made not the nations to know him of old if indeed he be God? Is no heat of him left in the ashes of thousands burnt up for his sake? Can prayer not rekindle the flashes that shone in his face from the stake? Cry aloud; for your God is a God and a Saviour; cry, make yourselves lean; Is he drunk or asleep, that the rod of his wrath is unfelt and unseen? Is the fire of his old loving-kindness gone out, that his pyres are acold? Hath he gazed on himself unto blindness, who made men blind to behold? Cry out, for his kingdom is shaken; cry out, for the people blaspheme; Cry aloud till his godhead awaken; what doth he to sleep and to dream? Cry, cut yourselves, gash you with knives and with scourges, heap on to you dust; Is his life but as other gods' lives? is not this the Lord God of your trust? Is not this the great God of your sires, that with souls and with bodies was fed, And the world was on flame with his fires? O fools, he was God, and is dead. He will hear not again the strong crying of earth in his ears as before, And the fume of his multitudes dying shall flatter his nostrils no more. By the spirit he ruled as his slave is he slain who was mighty to slay, And the stone that is sealed on his grave he shall rise not and roll not away. Yea, weep to him, lift up your hands; be your eyes as a fountain of tears; Where he stood there is nothing that stands; if he call, there is no man that hears. He hath doffed his king's raiment of lies now the wane of his kingdom is come; Ears hath he, and hears not; and eyes, and he sees not; and mouth, and is dumb. His red king's raiment is ripped from him naked, his staff broken down; And the signs of his empire are stripped from him shuddering; and where is his crown? And in vain by the wellsprings refrozen ye cry for the warmth of his sun - O God, the Lord God of thy chosen, thy will in thy kingdom be done. Kingdom and will hath he none in him left him, nor warmth in his breath; Till his corpse be cast out of the sun will ye know not the truth of his death? Surely, ye say, he is strong, though the times be against him and men; Yet a little, ye say, and how long, till he come to show judgment again? Shall God then die as the beasts die? who is it hath broken his rod? O God, Lord God of thy priests, rise up now and show thyself God. They cry out, thine elect, thine aspirants to heavenward, whose faith is as flame; O thou the Lord God of our tyrants, they call thee, their God, by thy name. By thy name that in hell-fire was written, and burned at the point of thy sword, Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten; thy death is upon thee, O Lord. And the love-song of earth as thou diest resounds through the wind of her wings - Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is the master of things.
About the headline (FAQ)
- by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909), "Hymn of Man", appears in Songs Before Sunrise, first published 1871 [author's text checked 1 time against a primary source]
Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive):
- by (Agnes) Elisabeth Lutyens (1906 - 1983), "The Hymn of Man", 1965, rev. 1970. [motet for men's chorus a cappella] [text not verified]
Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]
This text was added to the website: 2009-01-27
Line count: 200
Word count: 2818