Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
Super Flumina Babylonis
By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909)
BY the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
        Remembering thee,
That for ages of agony hast endured, and slept,
        And wouldst not see.
By the waters of Babylon we stood up and sang,        5
        Considering thee,
That a blast of deliverance in the darkness rang,
        To set thee free.
And with trumpets and thunderings and with morning song
        Came up the light;        10
And thy spirit uplifted thee to forget thy wrong
        As day doth night.
And thy sons were dejected not any more, as then
        When thou wast shamed;
When thy lovers went heavily without heart, as men        15
        Whose life was maim’d.
In the desolate distances, with a great desire,
        For thy love’s sake,
With our hearts going back to thee, they were fill’d with fire,
        Were nigh to break.        20
It was said to us: ‘Verily ye are great of heart,
        But ye shall bend;
Ye are bondmen and bondwomen, to be scourged and smart,
        To toil and tend.
And with harrows men harrow’d us, and subdued with spears,        25
        And crush’d with shame;
And the summer and winter was, and the length of years,
        And no change came.
By the rivers of Italy, by the sacred streams,
        By town, by tower,        30
There was feasting with revelling, there was sleep with dreams,
        Until thine hour.
And they slept and they rioted on their rose-hung beds,
        With mouths on flame,
And with love-locks vine-chapleted, and with rose-crown’d heads        35
        And robes of shame.
And they knew not their forefathers, nor the hills and streams
        And words of power,
Nor the gods that were good to them, but with songs and dreams
        Fill’d up their hour.        40
By the rivers of Italy, by the dry streams’ beds,
        When thy time came,
There was casting of crowns from them, from their young men’s heads,
        The crowns of shame.
By the horn of Eridanus, by the Tiber mouth,        45
        As thy day rose,
They arose up and girded them to the north and south,
        By seas, by snows.
As a water in January the frost confines,
        Thy kings bound thee;        50
As a water in April is, in the new-blown vines,
        Thy sons made free.
And thy lovers that look’d for thee, and that mourn’d from far,
        For thy sake dead,
We rejoiced in the light of thee, in the signal star        55
        Above thine head.
In thy grief had we follow’d thee, in thy passion loved,
        Loved in thy loss;
In thy shame we stood fast to thee, with thy pangs were moved,
        Clung to thy cross.        60
By the hillside of Calvary we beheld thy blood,
        Thy blood-red tears,
As a mother’s in bitterness, an unebbing flood,
        Years upon years.
And the north was Gethsemane, without leaf or bloom,        65
        A garden seal’d;
And the south was Aceldama, for a sanguine fume
        Hid all the field.
By the stone of the sepulchre we return’d to weep,
        From far, from prison;        70
And the guards by it keeping it we beheld asleep,
        But thou wast risen.
And an angel’s similitude by the unseal’d grave,
        And by the stone:
And the voice was angelical, to whose words God gave        75
        Strength like his own.
‘Lo, the graveclothes of Italy that are folded up
        In the grave’s gloom!
And the guards as men wrought upon with a charmèd cup,
        By the open tomb.        80
‘And her body most beautiful, and her shining head,
        These are not here;
For your mother, for Italy, is not surely dead:
        Have ye no fear.
‘As of old time she spake to you, and you hardly heard,        85
        Hardly took heed,
So now also she saith to you, yet another word,
        Who is risen indeed.
‘By my saying she saith to you, in your ears she saith,
        Who hear these things,        90
Put no trust in men’s royalties, nor in great men’s breath,
        Nor words of kings.
‘For the life of them vanishes and is no more seen,
        Nor no more known;
Nor shall any remember him if a crown hath been,        95
        Or where a throne.
‘Unto each man his handiwork, unto each his crown,
        The just Fate gives;
Whoso takes the world’s life on him and his own lays down,
        He, dying so, lives.        100
‘Whoso bears the whole heaviness of the wrong’d world’s weight
        And puts it by,
It is well with him suffering, though he face man’s fate;
        How should he die?
‘Seeing death has no part in him any more, no power        105
        Upon his head;
He has bought his eternity with a little hour,
        And is not dead.
‘For an hour if ye look for him, he is no more found,
        For one hour’s space;        110
Then ye lift up your eyes to him and behold him crown’d,
        A deathless face.
‘On the mountains of memory, by the world’s wellsprings,
        In all men’s eyes,
Where the light of the life of him is on all past things,        115
        Death only dies.
‘Not the light that was quench’d for us, nor the deeds that were,
        Nor the ancient days,
Nor the sorrows not sorrowful, nor the face most fair
        Of perfect praise.’        120
So the angel of Italy’s resurrection said,
        So yet he saith;
So the son of her suffering, that from breasts nigh dead
        Drew life, not death.
That the pavement of Golgotha should be white as snow,        125
        Not red, but white;
That the waters of Babylon should no longer flow,
        And men see light.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.