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Thursday, 12 April 2012

On The South Coast

Continuing in the theme of poetry about the South Downs, I thought I would add Algernon Swinburne's lengthy epic about the south country. Swinburne spent time living in Lancing in the 1880s, the poem itself I believe refers to Shoreham-by-Sea.

On the South Coast

Algernon Charles Swinburne

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 urging 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.

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