Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
 
Extracts from Atalanta in Calydon: Chorus: ‘Before the beginning of years’
By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
 
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;        5
  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;        10
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        15
  From under the feet of the years;
And froth and drift of the sea;
  And dust of the labouring earth;
And bodies of things to be
  In the houses of death and of birth;        20
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,        25
  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;        30
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 labour and thought,        35
  A time to serve and to sin;
They gave him light in his ways,
  And love, and a space for delight,
And beauty and length of days,
  And night, and sleep in the night.        40
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;        45
  Sows, and he shall not reap;
His life is a watch or a vision
  Between a sleep and a sleep.
 
 
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