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Algernon Charles Swinburne: Death made drunk with war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A gospel of war and damnation for the bestial by birth

Algernon Charles Swinburne: There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
From the Epilogue to Songs Before Sunrise

Out where the breath of war may bear,
Out in the rank moist reddened air
That sounds and smells of death, and hath
No light but death’s upon its path
Seen through the black wind’s tangled hair,
I send you past the wild time’s wrath
To find his face who bade you bear
Fruit of his seed to faith and love,
That he may take the heart thereof.

***

In this black wind of war they fly
Now, ere that hour be in the sky
That brings back hope, and memory back,
And light and law to lands that lack;
That spiritual sweet hour whereby
The bloody-handed night and black
Shall be cast out of heaven to die;
Kingdom by kingdom, crown by crown,
The fires of darkness are blown down.

Yet heavy, grievous yet the weight
Sits on us of imperfect fate.
From wounds of other days and deeds
Still this day’s breathing body bleeds;
Still kings for fear and slaves for hate
Sow lives of men on earth like seeds
In the red soil they saturate;
And we, with faces eastward set,
Stand sightless of the morning yet.

***

One light, one law, that burns up strife,
And one sufficiency of life.
Self-stablished, the sufficing soul
Hears the loud wheels of changes roll,
Sees against man man bare the knife,
Sees the world severed, and is whole;
Sees force take dowerless fraud to wife,
And fear from fraud’s incestuous bed
Crawl forth and smite his father dead:

Sees death made drunk with war, sees time
Weave many-coloured crime with crime,
State overthrown on ruining state,
And dares not be disconsolate.
Only the soul hath feet to climb,
Only the soul hath room to wait,
Hath brows and eyes to hold sublime
Above all evil and all good,
All strength and all decrepitude.

***

We that see wars and woes and kings,
And portents of enormous things,
Empires, and agonies, and slaves,
And whole flame of town-swallowing graves;
That hear the harsh hours clap sharp wings
Above the roar of ranks like waves,
From wreck to wreck as the world swings;
Know but that men there are who see
And hear things other far than we.

By the light sitting on their brows,
The fire wherewith their presence glows,
The music falling with their feet,
The sweet sense of a spirit sweet
That with their speech or motion grows
And breathes and burns men’s hearts with heat;
By these signs there is none but knows
Men who have life and grace to give,
Men who have seen the soul and live.

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