Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of English Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
Algernon Charles Swinburne. 1837–1909
809. Hertha
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.         5
          Before ever land was, 
            Before ever the sea, 
          Or soft hair of the grass, 
            Or fair limbs of the tree, 
Or the flesh-colour'd fruit of my branches, I was, and thy soul was in me.  10
          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.  15
          Beside or above me 
            Naught 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.  20
          I the mark that is miss'd 
            And the arrows that miss, 
          I the mouth that is kiss'd 
            And the breath in the kiss, 
The search, and the sought, and the seeker, the soul and the body that is.  25
          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.  30
          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.  35
          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.  40
          Hast thou known how I fashion'd thee, 
            Child, underground? 
          Fire that impassion'd thee, 
            Iron that bound, 
Dim changes of water, what thing of all these hast thou known of or found?  45
          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?  50
          Who hath given, who hath sold it thee, 
            Knowledge of me? 
          Has 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?  55
          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?  60
          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.  65
          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 pray'd.  70
          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.  75
          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.  80
          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.  85
          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.  90
          I that saw where ye trod 
            The dim paths of the night 
          Set the shadow call'd God 
            In your skies to give light; 
But the morning of manhood is risen, and the shadowless soul is in sight.  95
          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. 100
          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. 105
          My own blood is what stanches 
            The wounds in my bark; 
          Stars caught in my branches 
            Make day of the dark, 
And are worshipp'd as suns till the sunrise shall tread out their fires as a spark. 110
          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. 115
          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. 120
          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. 125
          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; 130
          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. 135
          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. 140
          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. 145
          In the spring-colour'd 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. 150
          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. 155
          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. 160
          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. 165
          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. 170
          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. 175
          Lo, wing'd 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. 180
          For his twilight is come on him, 
            His anguish is here; 
          And his spirits gaze dumb on him, 
            Grown gray from his fear; 
And his hour taketh hold on him stricken, the last of his infinite year. 185
          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 belovèd Republic, that feeds upon freedom and lives. 190
          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. 195
          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. 200
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