Algernon Charles Swinburne
Perinde Ac Cadaver - Poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne
In a vision Liberty stood
By the childless charm-stricken bed
Where, barren of glory and good,
Knowing nought if she would not or would,
England slept with her dead.
Her face that the foam had whitened,
Her hands that were strong to strive,
Her eyes whence battle had lightened,
Over all was a drawn shroud tightened
To bind her asleep and alive.
She turned and laughed in her dream
With grey lips arid and cold;
She saw not the face as a beam
Burn on her, but only a gleam
Through her sleep as of new-stamped gold.
But the goddess, with terrible tears
In the light of her down-drawn eyes,
Spake fire in the dull sealed ears;
"Thou, sick with slumbers and fears,
Wilt thou sleep now indeed or arise?
"With dreams and with words and with light
Memories and empty desires
Thou hast wrapped thyself round all night;
Thou hast shut up thine heart from the right,
And warmed thee at burnt-out fires.
"Yet once if I smote at thy gate,
Thy sons would sleep not, but heard;
O thou that wast found so great,
Art thou smitten with folly or fate
That thy sons have forgotten my word?
O Cromwell's mother, O breast
That suckled Milton! thy name
That was beautiful then, that was blest,
Is it wholly discrowned and deprest,
Trodden under by sloth into shame?
"Why wilt thou hate me and die?
For none can hate me and live.
What ill have I done to thee? why
Wilt thou turn from me fighting, and fly,
Who would follow thy feet and forgive?
"Thou hast seen me stricken, and said,
What is it to me? I am strong:
Thou hast seen me bowed down on my dead
And laughed and lifted thine head,
And washed thine hands of my wrong.
"Thou hast put out the soul of thy sight;
Thou hast sought to my foemen as friend,
To my traitors that kiss me and smite,
To the kingdoms and empires of night
That begin with the darkness, and end.
"Turn thee, awaken, arise,
With the light that is risen on the lands,
With the change of the fresh-coloured skies;
Set thine eyes on mine eyes,
Lay thy hands in my hands."
She moved and mourned as she heard,
Sighed and shifted her place,
As the wells of her slumber were stirred
By the music and wind of the word,
Then turned and covered her face.
"Ah," she said in her sleep,
"Is my work not done with and done?
Is there corn for my sickle to reap?
And strange is the pathway, and steep,
And sharp overhead is the sun.
"I have done thee service enough,
Loved thee enough in my day;
Now nor hatred nor love
Nor hardly remembrance thereof
Lives in me to lighten my way.
"And is it not well with us here?
Is change as good as is rest?
What hope should move me, or fear,
That eye should open or ear,
Who have long since won what is best?
"Where among us are such things
As turn men's hearts into hell?
Have we not queens without stings,
Scotched princes, and fangless kings?
Yea," she said, "we are well.
"We have filed the teeth of the snake
Monarchy, how should it bite?
Should the slippery slow thing wake,
It will not sting for my sake;
Yea," she said, "I do right."
So spake she, drunken with dreams,
Mad; but again in her ears
A voice as of storm-swelled streams
Spake; "No brave shame then redeems
Thy lusts of sloth and thy fears?
"Thy poor lie slain of thine hands,
Their starved limbs rot in thy sight;
As a shadow the ghost of thee stands
Among men living and lands,
And stirs not leftward or right.
"Freeman he is not, but slave,
Who stands not out on my side;
His own hand hollows his grave,
Nor strength is in me to save
Where strength is none to abide.
"Time shall tread on his name
That was written for honour of old,
Who hath taken in change for fame
Dust, and silver, and shame,
Ashes, and iron, and gold."
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