Hertha

By Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909
I am that which began;
               Out of me the years roll;
       Out of me God and man;
               I am equal and whole;
God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the soul.

       Before ever land was,
               Before ever the sea,
       Or soft hair of the grass,
               Or fair limbs of the tree,
Or the fresh-coloured fruit of my branches, I was, and thy soul was in me.

       First life on my sources
               First drifted and swam;
       Out of me are the forces
               That save it or damn;
Out of me man and woman, and wild-beast and bird; before God was, I am.

       Beside or above me
               Nought is there to go;
       Love or unlove me,
               Unknow me or know,
I am that which unloves me and loves; I am stricken, and I am the blow.

       I the mark that is missed
               And the arrows that miss,
       I the mouth that is kissed
               And the breath in the kiss,
The search, and the sought, and the seeker, the soul and the body that is.

       I am that thing which blesses
               My spirit elate;
       That which caresses
               With hands uncreate
My limbs unbegotten that measure the length of the measure of fate.

       But what thing dost thou now,
               Looking Godward, to cry
       "I am I, thou art thou,
               I am low, thou art high"?
I am thou, whom thou seekest to find him; find thou but thyself, thou art I.

       I the grain and the furrow,
               The plough-cloven clod
       And the ploughshare drawn thorough,
               The germ and the sod,
The deed and the doer, the seed and the sower, the dust which is God.

       Hast thou known how I fashioned thee,
               Child, underground?
       Fire that impassioned thee,
               Iron that bound,
Dim changes of water, what thing of all these hast thou known of or found?

       Canst thou say in thine heart
               Thou hast seen with thine eyes
       With what cunning of art
               Thou wast wrought in what wise,
By what force of what stuff thou wast shapen, and shown on my breast to the skies?

       Who hath given, who hath sold it thee,
               Knowledge of me?
       Hath the wilderness told it thee?
               Hast thou learnt of the sea?
Hast thou communed in spirit with night? have the winds taken counsel with thee?

       Have I set such a star
               To show light on thy brow
       That thou sawest from afar
               What I show to thee now?
Have ye spoken as brethren together, the sun and the mountains and thou?

       What is here, dost thou know it?
               What was, hast thou known?
       Prophet nor poet
               Nor tripod nor throne
Nor spirit nor flesh can make answer, but only thy mother alone.

       Mother, not maker,
               Born, and not made;
       Though her children forsake her,
               Allured or afraid,
Praying prayers to the God of their fashion, she stirs not for all that have prayed.

       A creed is a rod,
               And a crown is of night;
       But this thing is God,
               To be man with thy might,
To grow straight in the strength of thy spirit, and live out thy life as the light.

       I am in thee to save thee,
               As my soul in thee saith;
       Give thou as I gave thee,
               Thy life-blood and breath,
Green leaves of thy labour, white flowers of thy thought, and red fruit of thy death.

       Be the ways of thy giving
               As mine were to thee;
       The free life of thy living,
               Be the gift of it free;
Not as servant to lord, nor as master to slave, shalt thou give thee to me.

       O children of banishment,
               Souls overcast,
       Were the lights ye see vanish meant
               Alway to last,
Ye would know not the sun overshining the shadows and stars overpast.

       I that saw where ye trod
               The dim paths of the night
       Set the shadow called God
               In your skies to give light;
But the morning of manhood is risen, and the shadowless soul is in sight.

       The tree many-rooted
               That swells to the sky
       With frondage red-fruited,
               The life-tree am I;
In the buds of your lives is the sap of my leaves: ye shall live and not die.

       But the Gods of your fashion
               That take and that give,
       In their pity and passion
               That scourge and forgive,
They are worms that are bred in the bark that falls off; they shall die and not live.

       My own blood is what stanches
               The wounds in my bark;
       Stars caught in my branches
               Make day of the dark,
And are worshipped as suns till the sunrise shall tread out their fires as a spark.

       Where dead ages hide under
               The live roots of the tree,
       In my darkness the thunder
               Makes utterance of me;
In the clash of my boughs with each other ye hear the waves sound of the sea.

       That noise is of Time,
               As his feathers are spread
       And his feet set to climb
               Through the boughs overhead,
And my foliage rings round him and rustles, and branches are bent with his tread.

       The storm-winds of ages
               Blow through me and cease,
       The war-wind that rages,
               The spring-wind of peace,
Ere the breath of them roughen my tresses, ere one of my blossoms increase.

       All sounds of all changes,
               All shadows and lights
       On the world's mountain-ranges
               And stream-riven heights,
Whose tongue is the wind's tongue and language of storm-clouds on earth-shaking nights;

       All forms of all faces,
               All works of all hands
       In unsearchable places
               Of time-stricken lands,
All death and all life, and all reigns and all ruins, drop through me as sands.

       Though sore be my burden
               And more than ye know,
       And my growth have no guerdon
               But only to grow,
Yet I fail not of growing for lightnings above me or deathworms below.

       These too have their part in me,
               As I too in these;
       Such fire is at heart in me,
               Such sap is this tree's,
Which hath in it all sounds and all secrets of infinite lands and of seas.

       In the spring-coloured hours
               When my mind was as May's,
       There brake forth of me flowers
               By centuries of days,
Strong blossoms with perfume of manhood, shot out from my spirit as rays.

       And the sound of them springing
               And smell of their shoots
       Were as warmth and sweet singing
               And strength to my roots;
And the lives of my children made perfect with freedom of soul were my fruits.

       I bid you but be;
               I have need not of prayer;
       I have need of you free
               As your mouths of mine air;
That my heart may be greater within me, beholding the fruits of me fair.

       More fair than strange fruit is
               Of faiths ye espouse;
       In me only the root is
               That blooms in your boughs;
Behold now your God that ye made you, to feed him with faith of your vows.

       In the darkening and whitening
               Abysses adored,
       With dayspring and lightning
               For lamp and for sword,
God thunders in heaven, and his angels are red with the wrath of the Lord.

       O my sons, O too dutiful
               Toward Gods not of me,
       Was not I enough beautiful?
               Was it hard to be free?
For behold, I am with you, am in you and of you; look forth now and see.

       Lo, winged with world's wonders,
               With miracles shod,
       With the fires of his thunders
               For raiment and rod,
God trembles in heaven, and his angels are white with the terror of God.

       For his twilight is come on him,
               His anguish is here;
       And his spirits gaze dumb on him,
               Grown grey from his fear;
And his hour taketh hold on him stricken, the last of his infinite year.

       Thought made him and breaks him,
               Truth slays and forgives;
       But to you, as time takes him,
               This new thing it gives,
Even love, the beloved Republic, that feeds upon freedom and lives.

       For truth only is living,
               Truth only is whole,
       And the love of his giving,
               Man's polestar and pole;
Man, pulse of my centre, and fruit of my body, and seed of my soul.

       One birth of my bosom;
               One beam of mine eye;
       One topmost blossom
               That scales the sky;
Man, equal and one with me, man that is made of me, man that is I.

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Poet Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Religion, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Algernon Charles Swinburne

Biography

Swinburne was one of the most accomplished lyric poets of the Victorian era and was a preeminent symbol of rebellion against the conservative values of his time. The explicit and often pathological sexual themes of his most important collection of poetry, Poems and Ballads (1866), delighted some, shocked many, and became the dominant feature of Swinburne's image as both an artist and an individual. Nevertheless, critics have . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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