Algernon Charles Swinburne

Before the Beginning of Years

This is one of my favourite poems of all times. Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote it in 1865, more than one hundred years before I was born. Those who still can, bring more poets to this world, will you.

Before the beginning of years

There came to the making of man

Time, with a gift of tears;

Grief, with a glass that ran;

Pleasure, with pain for leaven;

Summer, with flowers that fell;

Remembrance, fallen from heaven,

And madness risen from hell;

Strength without hands to smite;

Love that endures for a breath;

Night, the shadow of light,

And life, the shadow of death.

And the high gods took in hand

Fire, and the falling of tears,

And a measure of sliding sand

From under the feet of the years;

And froth and the drift of the sea;

And dust of the laboring earth;

And bodies of things to be

In the houses of death and of birth;

And wrought with weeping and laughter,

And fashioned with loathing and love,

With life before and after

And death beneath and above,

For a day and a night and a morrow,

That his strength might endure for a span

With travail and heavy sorrow,

The holy spirit of man.

From the winds of the north and the south,

They gathered as unto strife;

They breathed upon his mouth,

They filled his body with life;

Eyesight and speech they wrought

For the veils of the soul therein,

A time for labor and thought,

A time to serve and to sin;

They gave him light in his ways,

And love, and space for delight,

And beauty, and length of days,

And night, and sleep in the night.

His speech is a burning fire;

With his lips he travaileth;

In his heart is a blind desire,

In his eyes foreknowledge of death;

He weaves, and is clothed with derision;

Sows, and he shall not reap;

His life is a watch or a vision

Between a sleep and a sleep.

Image

Church by Jože Plečnik in Prague (I get a certain Monty Python feel from it). Photo: MM