Algernon Charles Swinburne

Here you will find the Long Poem Before A Crucifix of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

Before A Crucifix

Here, down between the dusty trees,
 At this lank edge of haggard wood,
Women with labour-loosened knees,
 With gaunt backs bowed by servitude,
Stop, shift their loads, and pray, and fare
Forth with souls easier for the prayer.

The suns have branded black, the rains
 Striped grey this piteous God of theirs;
The face is full of prayers and pains,
 To which they bring their pains and prayers;
Lean limbs that shew the labouring bones,
And ghastly mouth that gapes and groans.

God of this grievous people, wrought
 After the likeness of their race,
By faces like thine own besought,
 Thine own blind helpless eyeless face,
I too, that have nor tongue nor knee
For prayer, I have a word to thee.

It was for this then, that thy speech
 Was blown about the world in flame
And men's souls shot up out of reach
 Of fear or lust or thwarting shame -
That thy faith over souls should pass
As sea-winds burning the grey grass?

It was for this, that prayers like these
 Should spend themselves about thy feet,
And with hard overlaboured knees
 Kneeling, these slaves of men should beat
Bosoms too lean to suckle sons
And fruitless as their orisons?

It was for this, that men should make
 Thy name a fetter on men's necks,
Poor men's made poorer for thy sake,
 And women's withered out of sex?
It was for this, that slaves should be,
Thy word was passed to set men free?

The nineteenth wave of the ages rolls
 Now deathward since thy death and birth.
Hast thou fed full men's starved-out souls?
 Hast thou brought freedom upon earth?
Or are there less oppressions done
In this wild world under the sun?

Nay, if indeed thou be not dead,
 Before thy terrene shrine be shaken,
Look down, turn usward, bow thine head;
 O thou that wast of God forsaken,
Look on thine household here, and see
These that have not forsaken thee.

Thy faith is fire upon their lips,
 Thy kingdom golden in their hands;
They scourge us with thy words for whips,
 They brand us with thy words for brands;
The thirst that made thy dry throat shrink
To their moist mouths commends the drink.

The toothed thorns that bit thy brows
 Lighten the weight of gold on theirs;
Thy nakedness enrobes thy spouse
 With the soft sanguine stuff she wears
Whose old limbs use for ointment yet
Thine agony and bloody sweat.

The blinding buffets on thine head
 On their crowned heads confirm the crown;
Thy scourging dyes their raiment red,
 And with thy bands they fasten down
For burial in the blood-bought field
The nations by thy stripes unhealed.

With iron for thy linen bands
 And unclean cloths for winding-sheet
They bind the people's nail-pierced hands,
 They hide the people's nail-pierced feet;
And what man or what angel known
Shall roll back the sepulchral stone?

But these have not the rich man's grave
 To sleep in when their pain is done.
These were not fit for God to save.
 As naked hell-fire is the sun
In their eyes living, and when dead
These have not where to lay their head.

They have no tomb to dig, and hide;
 Earth is not theirs, that they should sleep.
On all these tombless crucified
 No lovers' eyes have time to weep.
So still, for all man's tears and creeds,
The sacred body hangs and bleeds.

Through the left hand a nail is driven,
 Faith, and another through the right,
Forged in the fires of hell and heaven,
 Fear that puts out the eye of light:
And the feet soiled and scarred and pale
Are pierced with falsehood for a nail.

And priests against the mouth divine
 Push their sponge full of poison yet
And bitter blood for myrrh and wine,
 And on the same reed is it set
Wherewith before they buffeted
The people's disanointed head.

O sacred head, O desecrate,
 O labour-wounded feet and hands,
O blood poured forth in pledge to fate
 Of nameless lives in divers lands,
O slain and spent and sacrificed
People, the grey-grown speechless Christ!

Is there a gospel in the red
 Old witness of thy wide-mouthed wounds?
From thy blind stricken tongueless head
 What desolate evangel sounds
A hopeless note of hope deferred?
What word, if there be any word?

O son of man, beneath man's feet
 Cast down, O common face of man
Whereon all blows and buffets meet,
 O royal, O republican
Face of the people bruised and dumb
And longing till thy kingdom come!

The soldiers and the high priests part
 Thy vesture: all thy days are priced,
And all the nights that eat thine heart.
 And that one seamless coat of Christ,
The freedom of the natural soul,
They cast their lots for to keep whole.

No fragment of it save the name
 They leave thee for a crown of scorns
Wherewith to mock thy nak